THE GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS
Best for: Wildlife, landscapes, snorkelling, history
DURATION: 5–10 days ROUTE: Fly from Quito or Guayaquil to the Santa Cruz or San Cristóbal islands, then take a cruise or island hop. WHY GO? On everybody’s bucket list, the wildlife of the Galápagos is second to none. WHEN TO GO? All year; hot Dec to May; cool Jun to Nov. High season Jun to Aug, Dec to Jan.
There are two options for visiting the Galápagos: take a cruise or base yourself on an island and visit other stops from there. Each island has its unique wildlife – birds, reptiles, marine mammals and fish – and anyone intending to visit will be familiar with the fundamental role these creatures played in helping Charles Darwin develop his theory of evolution. The fragility of this environment in the face of human activity is undeniable and all visits are strictly controlled by the National Park authorities.
A cruise will take you to more remote islands, sailing at night and giving access to the wildlife at its most active, with opportunities to snorkel with the likes of hammerhead sharks and sea lions. There are also cruises specifically for diving. Four islands have accommodation: Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, Isabela and Floreana. You can stay in one of the towns (such as Puerto Ayora or Santa Cruz), on the beach-front or inland in luxury safari-style tents. From there, you can then take day trips to nearby islands with more scope for activities such as water sports and hiking. There are inter-island flights, but much cheaper (and rougher) are the scheduled boats connecting the four inhabited islands.
Lion around Sea lions relaxing on the beach at Española Island;(right) a marine iguana frolics underwater off the coast of Fernandina