The Galapagos Islands are renowned for their unique wildlife and ecosystem. Brought to the world's attention by British naturalist Charles Darwin, a visit to this fascinating archipelago off the coast of Ecuador has become one of the most popular nature-focused experiences available.
Wildlife holidays in Galapagos provide the opportunity to explore these beautiful islands and encounter a host of species, both on land and in the surrounding oceans. While travelling with a reputable ecotourism company will ensure that you make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime experience, there are certain things you really must make sure you don't miss.
Top 10 Things to Do on Wildlife Holidays in Galapagos
Birdwatching: The birdlife of the archipelago is truly magnificent, with a host of resident and endemic species in abundance. Along with the high profile Winged Albatross, Blue-footed Booby and endemic Small Ground Finch, you'll be able to see frigate birds, cormorants, penguins, herons and many, many more.
The Charles Darwin Research Station: A visit to the research station on the island of Santa Cruz is on the itinerary of almost all wildlife holidays in Galapagos. This superb facility details the life and research of the naturalist, and continues his work through the conservation of local species.
Swim with Sea Lions: The opportunity to swim amongst the curious Sea Lions, fur seals and their pups around the beaches of James Island is absolutely delightful and, like the majority of the animals, they are not afraid of humans. However, caution is advised and a safe distance should be maintained from the larger males, as they can be aggressive.
Encounter the Giant Tortoises: Able to reach up to 500 pounds in weight and six feet in length, the magnificent Giant Tortoises really are the iconic symbol of the islands. There's nothing quite like seeing these gentle giants lumbering through the terrain of their natural habitat in their slow, deliberate way.
Head to the Highlands: The lush highlands of Santa Cruz are very different to the lowlands and coastal habitats.They're home to a host of endemic birds and terrestrial wildlife, including the Giant Tortoises and other reptiles.
Visit Bartolome Island: The stark volcanic landscape of this small island makes it one of the most photographed in the archipelago, with the dramatic form of the volcanic cone known as Pinnacle Rock usually holding pride of place.
Encounter the Blue-footed Boobies: With a wingspan reaching up to five feet and bright blue, webbed feet, the male birds perform an elaborate high-stepping courtship dance that must be seen to be believed.
Meet the Marine Iguanas: The spiky, prehistoric appearance of the endemic Marine Iguanas may not be exactly easy on the eye, but their incredible ecological adaptations (they're the only lizard species able to forage in the ocean) make them absolutely unique.
See the Sally Lightfoot Crab: This vividly coloured crab can be seen scurrying along the beaches and darting in and out of rock pools along the coasts of all of the islands. With its bright orange and blue shell, it's definitely one of the most charismatic and striking species.
Experience the Flight of the Waved Albatross: The largest bird to be seen on wildlife holidays in Galapagos is the Waved Albatross. While it may appear ungainly and clumsy on land, its vast wingspan (up to eight feet) affords it an effortless and elegant flight when it takes to the air.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in the Galapagos Islands. For those interested in wildlife holidays in Galapagos, Marissa recommends the itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of species in one of the most spectacular regions on Earth.