The Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador, were made famous by the naturalist Charles Darwin, who wrote about their astonishing variety of wildlife during his voyage of discovery and research in the 1800s. Modern means of travel, notably cruise ships, have made the islands more accessible and visitors can follow in Darwin?s footsteps and discover a wealth of natural beauty unspoilt by modern development.
The Galapagos Islands straddle the Equator in the Pacific Ocean about 600 miles off the coast of mainland Ecuador. There are 19 main islands and hundreds of islets and rocks, which rose out of the ocean through volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. Only four islands have human populations and modern communications. It was the huge variety of species and the observation of small but significant differences among birds and turtles and other animals on the different islands that had a profound effect on Darwin’s thinking of how populations of living things evolve.
You can charter a yacht and visit islands privately at your own pace, or take a cruise ship tour, possibly starting from mainland Ecuador. Your cruise ship will usually have a guest naturalist on board who can give talks on the natural history, ecology and conservation of the Galapagos Islands. Some boats are equipped with gear for diving and offer the services of instructors and qualified dive guides.
The local environment is so sensitive and scientifically important that care must be taken to ensure it is not damaged by over-indulgence. The Islands as a whole are a National Park and ecological research work continues to this day. The number of visits from cruise ships is strictly controlled by the government of Ecuador. A cruise to the Galapagos Islands is therefore not only a delight but a privilege.