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Galapagos Cruise and Travel Guide - Details

Tourism in the Galapagos - What will I do and what will I see?

Blue footed boobies

The Galapagos Islands, once known as the Islas Encantadas, offer much to the inquisitive visitor. These islands, volcanic humps shoved above the surface of the Pacific Ocean embrace one of the Earth's premier natural history experiences.

Each day of a Galapagos cruise carries you to new sites, rich and varied vegetation, tropical fish, saltwater lakes, mangrove forests, red, black, and green sand beaches, hardened lava flows from extinct volcanoes, cormorants, herons, finches with distinct beaks, and penguins.

Natural History

Wildlife on the Galapagos makes you stop and wonder. You breathe in the curiosity of biology. From cold-water penguins to leaf-toed gecko lizards to the Galapagos sulphur butterflies, this volcanic archipelago continues to amaze and puzzle its visitors.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, 75 percent of the land birds and 97 percent of the reptiles and mammals on the Galapagos Islands are found nowhere else in the world. Galapagos giant tortoises, which may live as long as 150 years and weigh as much as 400 pounds, lumber so close to you that portrait photography comes naturally. The islands isolation from the mainland means that many birds, iguanas, tortoises, and other animals have no natural predators. Their relative fearlessness of humans stems from this geographic isolation. The Galapagos Islands played a crucial role in the development of biological theories from evolution to island biogeography.

Giant Galapagos tortoiseThe archipelago's largest denizens, the giant tortoises, are endemic to almost all of the islands and, having outlived heavy harvesting in the whaling era, are regarded as a symbol of survival in the Galapagos. The Fernandina, Floreana, and Santa Fe tortoises are extinct, leaving only 11 of the 14 original varieties.

The Galapagos' most famous tortoise, Lonesome George, is the last known tortoise from the island of Pinta. Scientists estimate that over 250,000 tortoises dominated these small islands prior to the arrival of man. Today, 15,000 remain. The Charles Darwin Research Station's 37-year captive breeding program, however, has improved the species' outlook, releasing more than 2,600 tortoises to 6 different islands, including 8 giant tortoise sub-species.

Marine iguanas, the world's only seagoing lizards, fascinated Darwin. As a young man, he grabbed one by the tail and swung it out into the ocean. It swam back. He repeated the exercise until he deduced that on land, the iguana faced no predators, but in the sea, unknown dangers lurked; though fully equipped to swim, the iguana found safety on shore.

Wings fill the skies and shores of the archipelago. Masked boobies and waved albatrosses ride the coastal thermals, while flightless cormorants and penguins patrol the rocky shores. Lava gulls squawk from above and Galapagos hawks scan for prey. Galapagos land birds take a casual attitude toward humans, and although they are not dramatic in color, their relative tameness makes them delightful to observe.

Three species of boobies are found in the Galapagos: the blue-footed, masked (white), and red-footed booby. Blue-footed boobies are the most common species of booby in the Galapagos Islands and are the favorite among visitors, known for their astonishingly brightly colored sky-blue feet. Their famous courtship ritual dance is characterized by raising their feet one after the other, pointing their heads and bills in the air, and spreading their crooked wings.

Boobies hunting technique involves dive-bombing into the ocean from up to 80 feet in the air to feed on squid and fish. Their tapered bills and pointed tail help to streamline their bodies, while their air sacs in the skull and closing nostrils protect them from any impact injuries.

Sally Lightfoot crabs can be easily spotted throughout the islands quickly scurrying about. This swiftness and ability to get out of harm's way is what has given them their name: "Lightfoot." Unlike most of the wildlife in the Galapagos, Sally Lightfoots are inclined to run away as one tries to approach them and to view close up. The young crabs are black and well camouflaged amongst the rocks. The adults, however, are bright red and yellow, which dramatically contrasts against the neutral-colored rocks and sand. When captured by the camera, these crabs offer excellent composition for photographs!

Likely brought to the Galapagos by the Humboldt Current coming from Antarctica, the Galapagos Penguin is the smallest penguin, and the only one to live and breed on the equator. Standing at approximately 14 inches in height, they appear more duck-like than the penguins found in Antarctica. Adult penguins have a bluish-black head, a white underside, and a thin white band from their eye to their chin. In total, Galapagos Penguins number just a couple of thousand. In fact, the breeding population is estimated to be as low as 800 pairs. Visitors are most likely to see them on Fernandina, Isabela, Santiago, Bartolome, northern Santa Cruz and Floreana. Nesting occurs on Fernandina and Isabela.

Dozing sealionUndoubtedly one of the favorite animals in the islands, the playful Galapagos Sea Lions provide endless entertainment for visitors with their amazing abilities in the water. Snorkeling and kayaking with the pups is, not surprisingly, the highlight for many who visit the Galapagos. Over time, Sea Lions have adapted to living more in the water, as their ancestors were land animals who hunted along the coastlines. This evolution, however, has not entirely adapted them to water habitation; they can also be found on most beaches napping, waddling or basking in the sun. Sea Lions live in large colonies, and adult males, known as Bulls, are the head of the colony. Bulls can grow to be up to 7 ft (2 m) in length and can weigh 800 lbs (363 kg).

The Galapagos Fur Seals, far more timid than the Sea Lion, shelter themselves from the sun in shelves or caves of lava cliffs during the day. During the 18th century, these animals were heavily hunted, nearly to extinction. Today, however, their population is more comparable to that of Sea Lions.

Whether you choose to watch the sea lions and fur seals in the ocean or the marine iguanas on the rocks, the Galapagos offers an odd assemblage of species that brings out the biologist in all of us.

What do I need to take?

Dress is casual and comfortable, and informality is basic to all activities. We recommend you pack using a soft-side suitcase.  Please remember that the checked luggage you take aboard your TAME flight (from mainland Ecuador to the Galapagos Islands) must weigh no more than 44 pounds (20 kilos) per person. You are also allowed to take one carry-on bag.

  • Digital camera with a minimum of 10 Mega Pixels to give scope for prints and enlargements, with plenty of spare memory capacity in cards. A DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera, provides the better quality, even though the pixel count may be the same as a compact camera, the sensor is larger so pixel density is less = higher quality.
  • A standard lens in the 18-55mm range covers wide angle to short telephoto while being reasonably small and portable, add a telephoto 50-200mm ish and most of your requirements will b covered.
  • Waterproof camera, if this is to be a "one-off", it's still worth getting a cheap single use underwater camera for those shots of seals and family underwater.
  • Spare batteries, and spare spare batteries.
  • Lots of memory cards for your digital camera. More than you think you'll need.
  • Personal Clothing
    • Long Pants (lightweight, breathable - i.e. Ex Officio)
    • Shorts (lightweight, breathable - i.e.: Bermudas)
    • Short sleeve shirts, cotton t-shirts (lightweight)
    • Light windbreaker or fleece/wool sweater (July -November)
    • Waterproof jacket/poncho
    • Wide brimmed hat, bandana
    • Casual summer dress (optional)
  • Footwear
    • Comfortable walking shoes or light hiking boots
    • Rubber-soled shoes or boat shoes
    • Teva's or amphibious-style sandals
  • Luggage and Miscellaneous Items
    • Small backpack or knapsack
    • Water bottle
    • Bathing suit
    • Seasickness medication
    • Photocopy of passport
    • Photocopy of medications
    • Insect repellent
  • Although snorkel gear is often times provided by the ship, you may want to bring your own equipment (masks, fins and snorkel) or wet suits (from July to November).  Beach towels and hair dryers are provided aboard most vessels. Please ask your program manager if you have any questions specific to your cruise.

  • Good quality sun-glasses the extra reflection from the sea makes it particularly important on a sunny day.
  • High factor sun-cream, see above.
  • Good boots. Ankle height, strong sole and water resistant for those wet zodiac landings.
  • Take a good pair of binoculars if you're an avid wildlife watcher.
  • Swiss army pen knife (guys like gadgets), I wouldn't leave home without one.


Tourism and conservation

The Galapagos Islands like other particularly attractive ecosystem in the world is subject to threats from various sources, and also because of the tourists that are attracted to it. The Islands have only been inhabited for a relatively short time as there are few or no natural resources on land that are economically important before money could be made from tourism.

The major threats to the islands are from development and growth of the human population, in 1960, there were only 2,000 people living on the islands, currently the population is at just under 20,000 and is projected to rise to 50,000 by only 2020 if the current rate of increase continues.

The worst impact made on the islands is by the arrival of non-native species, isolated lands such as the Galapagos are always particularly susceptible to such invasions. There are large mammals such as feral pigs, rats, mice, goats and less immediately obvious though particularly serious, invertebrates such as ants, wasps and scale pests.

Plants too, the quinine tree, and elephant grass amongst them can have major effects on the native flora of the Galapagos, squeezing out the native plants and the ecosystem that has evolved to live on them.

More recently there has been pressure on the government of Ecuador from the people living on the islands to be able to fish the waters for food for themselves and also to harvest as a cash crop some of the more exotic life such as sea cucumbers for sale in world markets.

Tourist Dos and Don't

  • Do not disturb or remove any plant, rock or animal
  • Be careful not to transport any organic material from island to island
  • Do not touch, feed, startle or chase any animal
  • Stay on marked trails
  • Do not litter
  • Do not purchase souvenirs made from native materials
  • Do not smoke on the islands

Leave only footprints and take only pictures

Galapagos conservation links: Galapagos Conservation Trust  Charles Darwin Foundation

Tell me more about a trip to the Galapagos

Galapagos Cruises
The following are representative, please use the form above to help us find your perfect trip
Trips leave year round

Santa Cruz - Southeastern
Expedition ship - families
90 passengers
5 days from $2,620
Santa Cruz - Northern
Expedition ship - families
90 passengers
5 days from $2,620
Santa Cruz - Southwestern
Expedition ship - families
90 passengers
6 days from $3,276
Celebrity Xpedition - Southeastern
Luxury vessel
Natural history "lite"
96 passengers
11 days from $6,399
Celebrity Xpedition - Southwestern
Luxury vessel
Natural history "lite"
96 passengers
11 days from $6,399
Galapagos Sky
Diving option
Dive boat
16 passengers
8 days from $5,495
Cachalote I - North-South
Small sailboat, ideal for charter
16 passengers
8 days from $2,960
Cachalote I - Western
Small sailboat, ideal for charter
16 passengers
8 days from $2,960
Eric / Flamingo / Letty
Northwestern Cruise
Motor Yachts, good guides, kayaking options
20 passengers
8 days from $4,100
Eric / Flamingo / Letty
Southern Cruise
Motor Yachts, good guides, kayaking options
20 passengers
8 days from $4,100
Recommended reading

Wildlife of the Galapagos

Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire

Ecuador and Galapagos
Adventure Map

More Galapagos Travel Books

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