For nature lovers, the opportunity to encounter the world's wildlife in its natural habitat has never been more accessible. The popularity of ecotourism, with a primary focus on the appreciation and conservation of our fragile natural environments, affords ordinary people extraordinary experiences in some of the most amazing places on the planet.
Discover the Enchanted Isles
One of the most sought-after nature tours is a wildlife cruise in Galapagos, and the so-called "Enchanted Isles" are home to an astounding array of plant and animal species. They are so uniquely adapted to their ancient environment that Charles Darwin's research in the region changed the way scientists thought, and formed the basis of our most complex evolutionary knowledge.
In this remote volcanic archipelago, the modern-day traveller on a wildlife cruise in Galapagos can observe a landscape that’s not all that different to that which Darwin encountered in 1835.
What to Expect
A comprehensive wildlife cruise in Galapagos affords the opportunity to get to know this pristine environment in a very intimate way. The selection of an operator is vital to ensure that you not only get the most out of the trip, but also that it's done in the most unobtrusive and environmentally conscious way. UK company Naturetrek has over three decades of experience with operating dedicated nature holidays, and offers two different vessels for an up-close-and-personal encounter with the extraordinarily diverse landscape and wildlife of the archipelago. Along with an expert naturalist guide, you can travel in a two-masted topsail schooner or a first-class motorboat, depending on the style you prefer.
Each island has its own characteristics and charm, and getting to know the region at a slow, relaxed pace gives you the flexibility and independence to explore places many people never get to see. When travelling with a naturalist guide, you’ll not only learn about the plants and animals of the islands (many of which are endemic), but you'll also get to immerse yourself in the fascinating natural history of the region.
The Landscape and its Wildlife
The archipelago's habitats vary greatly from island to island, including otherworldly volcanic landscapes with ragged peaks and lava fields, as well as lush highlands, pristine sandy beaches, rocky coastlines and sea caves. Over the course of a wildlife cruise in Galapagos, you'll walk amongst prehistoric Giant Tortoises on Santa Cruz, swim with fur seals and Sea Lions on St. James, marvel at Marine Iguanas and Waved Albatrosses on Espanola, and encounter the abundance of avian species on Genovesa.
Other iconic species that you'll see as you navigate between the islands include the delightful Sally Lightfoot Crab, Darwin's Finches, Blue-footed Boobies and many, many more. For the amateur photographer, the region is a dream come true – thanks to the animals' fearlessness and curiosity, there's rarely a need for a telephoto lens.
Into the Amazon
Even once your time in the archipelago comes to an end, the adventure is not over. Back on mainland Ecuador, you'll enjoy bird watching on a snow-covered volcano or explore the authentic Indian town of Otavalo. For those with more time at their disposal, an extension to Sacha Lodge, set deep in the Amazonian jungle, tops off the ultimate South American ecotourism experience.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in the Galapagos Islands. For those interested in a wildlife cruise 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.