The BBC’s wonderful recent documentary ‘Galapagos’ has certainly generated great interest in this, one of the world’s greatest wildlife destinations. I visited for the first time in October 2012 and thought the experience was simply outstanding. Highlights were the close encounters with marine life – we snorkelled with turtles, Galapagos penguins, seal lions, sharks and huge shoals of tropical fish. Walking on these otherworldly volcanic landscapes was a wonderful experience – I’ve been fortunate to experience other amazing wildlife destinations like South Georgia, Antarctica, Tanzania and Greenland, but this very close to the top of the list! It’s well worth reading up on Charles Darwin and his theories before you visit, so you can put what you are experiencing into historical context, and imagine what it must have been to see these strange animals through the eyes of a young scientist all that time ago. The recent history of the islands is also fascinating, with all manner of strange and scandalous stories originating from the first European settlers in the 1930’s, through it’s wartime role as a US Naval base, and now the ongoing ecological issues which are arising from a growing native population.
I’d highly recommend cruising the islands for as long as your schedule and budget permit, you won’t want to leave! A 7 night cruise from Baltra is ideal, and if you have to choose one region, head West to the actively volcanic islands of Isabela and Fernandina where the slightly cold currents create ideal conditions for a wide variety of marine life. We were fortunate to held North to Genovesa Island, home to huge numbers of seabirds, red footed boobies and uniquely, owls that hunt in the daytime!
Ecuador can be quite literally breath-taking at the altitude of Quito, where a visit to the extraordinary Jesuit church of La Compañía is a must, as is the pre-Colombian art museum of Museo Casa del Alabado in downtown. If you have time, head out of Quito to the Equator Line at La Mitad Del Mundo, or stay on a hacienda at Otavalo, home to South America’s most famous outdoor markets on a Saturday.
Ecuador is also home to some of our favourite and well established Amazon lodges like Sacha and La Selva, and it’s small enough to explore in a relatively short time, a bit like New Zealand really!