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Ecuador Galapagos

Along with its staggering diversity of architecture, landscapes, wildlife and culture, Ecuador also possesses an exceptional natural wonder - the Galapagos Islands

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To Ecuador Galapagos

Despite being one the smallest countries in South America, Ecuador offers a staggering diversity of architecture, landscapes, wildlife and culture, including jungle tribes, colonial towns, thermal springs, vast expanses of rainforest, bird-filled cloud forests, snow-capped mountains, volcanoes and an extensive Pacific coastline. All these facets alone would be ample for a wonderful holiday, but Ecuador also holds a top trump card in the New World natural history pack.

Ecuador is fortunate to possess the volcanic Galapagos Islands, one of the world’s great natural wonders and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Their remarkable collection of endemic birds, reptiles and plants led Charles Darwin to formulate one of the greatest scientific theories of all time: survival of the fittest, or the theory of evolution.

Visit Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands and discover for yourself what made Darwin so excited.

A wonderful shot of an inquisitive young Gorilla in Nyungwe park

Photography by Dan Burton

Best Time To Visit Ecuador Galapagos

The influence of the Andes causes the climate of mainland Ecuador to vary considerably between regions. The Pacific coast is very dry but can be cool and misty from June to September; the Andes have a pleasant spring-like climate and are generally driest between June and September; the Amazonian rainforest is usually hot and wet throughout the year with the highest rainfall from April to September.

The Galapagos Islands receive very limited rainfall and can be visited at any time of the year. They are generally very hot, sunny and humid from December to May when thunderstorms may occur. From June to November the cold Humboldt current brings cooler weather, cloud, wind and mist (garúa). This is also the breeding season for many seabirds (including the waved albatross) and when most migratory whales visit the islands.

Ecuador Galapagos Travel

Getting There

Flight Time

12 Hours

Time Zone

GMT -5

Language

Spanish

Population

15.74 million

Highlights

What To See

Floreana

Floreana is one of the most southerly islands in the Galapagos archipelago and was the first island to be settled by humans. At Punta Cormorant there is a large, brackish lagoon inhabited by one of the largest flamingo populations in the Galapagos Islands. There is excellent snorkelling at Devil’s Crown, a sunken cinder cone with numerous reef fishes inside and larger fish outside the crater. Post Office Bay is mainly of historical interest with its wooden barrel ‘post office’ where visitors can leave postcards and collect and send cards left by previous visitors.

Wolf and Darwin

These northernmost islands are only visited by live-aboard dive boats and consistently rank among the world’s top-10 dive sites. In one single dive at the Arch at Darwin Island it is possible to find schooling hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, large pods of dolphins, thick schools of skipjack and yellow fin tuna, big eye jacks, mobula mobular rays and silky sharks. From June to November, whale sharks in groups of up to eight different individuals in one single dive are almost guaranteed. Wolf Island is also a good location for schooling hammerhead sharks, large aggregations of Galapagos sharks and occasionally whale sharks. Dolphins, large schools of tuna, spotted eagle rays, barracudas, sea lions and sea turtles are also common, and hundreds of moray eels, many of them free swimming on the bottom. As the water here is several degrees warmer than the central islands, many representatives of Indo-Pacific underwater fauna can also be spotted.

Guayaquil

Founded in 1535, Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest city and a useful stopping-off point for the Galapagos Islands. It has some good modern hotels, a colonial centre and vibrant waterfront area, the Malecon. Further up the coast is the Machalilla National Park offering good beaches, seabirds and, from May to September, humpback whale sightings.

Espanola

The southernmost Galapagos island of Espanola has one of the most interesting visitor sites at Punta Suarez. There are numerous sea lions and marine iguanas at the landing point, and a 1.6 mile circular trail passes masked boobies, blue-footed boobies and, from April to December, waved albatross. Espanola is the only place in the Galapagos Islands where waved albatross can be seen, and their mating displays are a memorable sight. The walk also offers views of the island’s rugged coastline, featuring a large blowhole around which marine iguanas congregate. Gardner Bay is a dazzling white coral sand beach and one of the longest in the Galapagos Islands. Visitors are free to roam along the beach, inhabited by many sea lions. There is also very good snorkelling around the islets in the bay.

Bartolome

Visitors who climb the 600-metre boardwalk through a moon-like landscape of volcanic ash and spatter cones to the summit of Bartolome Island are rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view featuring a prominent rock – probably the most photographed landscape of the Galapagos Islands. There is an excellent snorkelling spot at the foot of Pinnacle Rock where it is often possible to be in the water with the charming Galapagos penguins.

Santa Fe

One of the central islands, Santa Fe has just one visitor site in a sheltered bay which is a good location for snorkelling and swimming. The beach is patrolled by male sea-lions which can make for an interesting landing, and vigilance is required when snorkelling. There are two trails, the most commonly used passing through giant prickly pear cactus which are endemic to Santa Fe. The land iguanas here are a much lighter colour than those found elsewhere in the Galapagos Islands and are unique to Santa Fe.

Amazonian Rainforest

To the east of the Andes lies the mighty Amazon basin, home to the largest rainforest in the world and containing around a third of the world’s species of animals and plants. Known locally as the Oriente, the Ecuadorian part of Amazonia has some remarkable rainforest lodges most of which are dotted along the banks of the Napo River close to the Yasuni National Park.

Cloud Forest Reserves

To the west of the Andes, the mountains descend to the Pacific, becoming covered by cloud forests of stunted trees cloaked in a profusion of mosses, bromeliads, orchids and lichens. Thought to have the highest diversity of epiphytic plants in the world, the region is recognised as one of the worlds’ biodiversity hotspots. Mammal sightings are rare but can include spectacled bear, puma, mountain tapir, Andean coati and tayra. Birds dominate, with over 30 species of hummingbird, the rare plate-billed mountain toucan and a number of leks where the brightly coloured cock-of-the-rock displays to females. Each valley has a subtly different microclimate favouring particular species: Mindo, known for cock-of-the-rock sightings, has long been a favourite of birdwatchers; Tandayapa and Bellavista valleys have private cloud forest reserves, good accommodation and superb birdwatching along a comprehensive networks of trails.

The Andes

Running the length of the country and rising to over 6000m (20,000 feet), the Andes dominate the geography and climate of Ecuador, creating a landscape of snow-capped volcanoes, open plateaus and verdant valleys. With an altitude of 2,850m and a pleasant spring-like climate, Quito is the world’s second highest capital city. It has a beautifully renovated Spanish colonial heart with a 16th Century cathedral, central plaza and many museums, galleries and restaurants. To the north lies the town of Otavalo with its vibrant market, farming terraces and exquisite colonial haciendas. Heading south from Quito, the valley of the Avenue of Volcanoes extends 325kms, flanked by farmland and spectacular snow-capped mountains. Cotopaxi Volcano (5,897m) boasts a perfect cone capped with glaciers and snow fields, while the surrounding national park holds a number of high altitude species of birds (including condors), plants and llamas. Hot springs, good walking and rafting can be found at the towns of Papallacta and Banos and in the far south are the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca and the Inca ruins of Ingapirca. Accommodation in this region is mainly in working haciendas and colonial houses.

Genovesa

It is a long way to the northern island of Genovesa, so few ships make the journey, but you should consider it well worth a visit as you sail into a large sunken crater to anchor. The island is home to the biggest colony of red-footed boobies in the Galapagos Islands which can be seen Darwin Bay and Prince Philip’s Steps. Frigatebirds and masked boobies can also be seen at both sites, as well as fur seals and short-eared owls.

Fernandina

Fernandina is the westernmost, third largest, youngest and most volcanically active of the Galapagos Islands, with a dramatic landscape of lava largely devoid of vegetation. It is dominated by a large domed cone reaching almost to 1,500 metres. At Punta Espinosa you can see flightless cormorants, sea lions, blue-footed boobies and an abundance of marine iguanas.

Isabela

One of the youngest, Isabela is also the largest of the Galapagos Islands with five of its greatest volcanoes including Wolf, the highest at 1,646 metres. Despite Isabela’s size, there are relatively few landing sites because most of the island is covered in solidified lava. The town of Puerto Villamil in the south-east houses a giant tortoise breeding station and a trail leads from the town up the Sierra Negra Volcano. In the nearby Los Tintoreras channel, white-tipped reef sharks can be found patrolling the shallows. There is no landing at Elizabeth Bay, but during a panga (small boat) ride it is possible to see the largest red and white mangroves in the Galapagos, penguins, young sea lions, golden eagle rays, spotted eagle rays and baby sharks.

Punta Moreno is visited by very few ships because of its inaccessibility, but is an interesting visitor site with extensive lava fields and brackish lagoons where flamingos converge. Tagus Cove forms an attractive natural harbour with interesting snorkelling and the chance of spotting penguins and colonies of brown noddy terns during a panga ride along the coastline. There is also a trail which climbs to a cinder cone offering panoramic views of Darwin Volcano and across the barren lava fields. At Urbina Bay tortoises and some of the largest land iguanas in the Galapagos Islands can be found along an inland trail, and flightless cormorants along the coast.

Rabida

South of Santiago Island, Rabida has a distinctive red sand beach made from eroded cinder cliffs. Pelicans can sometimes to be seen nesting in the saltbush which backs the beach, and sea lions and the occasional flamingo in a saltwater lagoon behind the beach. There is a steep, looped trail where some of the island’s 9 species of Darwin’s finches can be seen, and the rocks to the eastern end of the beach are a good location to practise snorkelling.

North Seymour

With its location close to Baltra and Santa Cruz, North Seymour is one of the most visited islands in the archipelago. However, it is well worth a visit for its abundant wildlife including nesting areas of marine iguanas, and the islands’ largest colony of magnificent frigatebirds and blue-footed boobies. Land iguanas can also occasionally be seen there.

Santiago

Santiago is one of the central islands and has a number of interesting visitor sites including the fur seal grottos and tidal pools at Puerto Egas and the lava flows at Sullivan Bay. Espumilla Beach is a good location for spotting some of the ten species of finch that can be found on Santiago and which so captivated Charles Darwin.

Sombrero Chino

Sombrero Chino lies off the south-east coast of Santiago Island. It is a volcanic cinder cone with a steep-sided crown like a Chinese hat, hence the name. There is a short trail through interesting lava formations, and very good snorkelling with possible sightings of Galapagos penguins, manta rays and white-tipped reef sharks.

South Plaza

Located close to the north-east coast of Santa Cruz Island and thus within easy reach of Puerto Ayora, South Plaza is one of the most visited sites. Despite that, it has a good variety of wildlife to be seen, including land iguanas and one of the most concentrated sea lion colonies in the whole of the Galapagos Islands.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is the most central and most populated of the Galapagos Islands, with most people living in the town of Puerto Ayora, where the Charles Darwin Research Centre is also found. It includes a visitor centre and a giant tortoise breeding programme, and was the home of Lonesome George, for years the sole survivor of the Pinta Island subspecies but now sadly deceased.

There are a number of interesting visitor sites on Santa Cruz including Bachas Beach (good for swimming), Black Turtle Cove (young white-tipped reef sharks, spotted eagle rays and golden rays), and wild giant tortoises and interesting geological formations including pit craters and lava tubes seen in the island’s highlands.

Baltra Island, which is separated from Santa Cruz by a narrow channel, is one of the two main airports serving the Galapagos Islands.

Galapagos Islands

With dramatic volcanic landscapes and lying directly on the Equator, the geologically-recent Galapagos Islands rate as one of the most unusual wildlife locations in the world. Above water there are plants and semi-tame animals whose geographical isolation and adaptation to the harsh conditions have led to the evolution of many unique natural histories, including marine iguanas, giant tortoises and the famous Darwin finches. Under water, cool currents have introduced otherwise cold water species to these tropical seas: penguins, orcas and fur seals happily rub along with parrot fish, turtles and manta rays.

The Galapagos Islands were instrumental in helping Charles Darwin formulate his theory of evolution. The Victorian scientist noticed there were slight variations in otherwise similar species inhabiting the various islands and concluded that local conditions moulded each species in a particular way.

Each island is different in the species it contains and its particular geographical characteristics. Some islands are much younger than others, some are much bigger; some have high hills, others reveal lava flows frozen in time. It is those differences which make the Galapagos Islands such a rewarding and captivating archipelago to explore.

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Your Very Own

Ecuador Galapagos Specialist

John Melton

Area Specialist

The Galapagos Islands are strongly affected by El Niño events which can dramatically alter the weather at any time.

For those not suited to sea travel, the Galapagos Islands can be visited while staying at various shore-based hotels. You would go out daily on boat excursions, returning to your comfortable hotel in the evening.

If you have any questions regarding travel to Ecuador Galapagos, please feel free to contact me on +44 (0)1803 866965