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The Top 10 Things to Do in Galápagos​​

The Galápagos Islands abound with activities for travelers who seek adventure in the remote archipelago, where 97% of the land is preserved in a natural park. Covering approximately 3,087 square miles—in terrain alone, not water in between—the islands are only accessible in the company of a licensed naturalist, ensuring that you will learn from the fascinating environment around you. When you visit the archipelago with Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic, our expert naturalists including certified photo instructors, undersea specialists, and field educators help expand your options for exploration in this fascinating part of the world.

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Conservation in Action

Marine Iguana on Shore.jpgOne of the most remarkable things about the Galápagos is the absence of human inhabitants on all but four of the islands, which lets wild creatures flourish and roam, living much as they did prior to human history. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, the Ecuadorian government was given the responsibility of enacting permanent conservation efforts and caring for the islands. From the beginning, strict measures have been taken to preserve the Galápagos, in part by minimizing the impact of visitors. However, conservation efforts are still conducive to discovery for travelers, particularly when they visit with tour operators that have ample experience balancing immersive exploration with appropriate preservation measures.

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A Legacy of Exploration


Galápagos has been a destination for adventurers since the islands received their earliest visitors—at first by definition, as its location 600 miles off the Ecuadorian coastline make it one of the world's most isolated oceanic archipelagos. Even after it was mapped by modern civilizations, its reputation was only burnished by its time as a hideout for pirates seeking their fortune among the ships of the Spanish Empire, and caves on land still bear marks hinting at buried treasure. The archipelago’s most famous visitor, Charles Darwin, spent five weeks in the Galápagos in 1835 gathering samples and ideas aboard the HMS Beagle. He then had weeks of sailing away from the isles to codify his thoughts and change the direction of modern science.

Encounter Wildlife, Uninterrupted

GL536.jpgToday, Galápagos remains wild in a way that few wild places are. The lack of contact with humans means that animals here are completely unafraid—you’re just another species to them. That means you’ll see animal behavior you’re not used to. Blue-footed boobies, lizards, iguanas, and sea turtles will nest on marked trails and cross your path frequently—and they won’t give way, so watch where you step! Similarly, animals that can be aggressive elsewhere, like sea lions, can be quite friendly here. It’s part of the responsibility of visitors to remain neutral and not interact, as keeping them untouched is what preserves the innocence many visitors find so enchanting.

Discover Fascinating Desert Islands

Wildlife isn’t the only aspect of the
Galápagos that is completely unique. From volcanic mountains to cacti-covered spreads at sea level, each island in the Galápagos is a unique ecosystem with its own specific vegetation. There are about five hundred species of flora in the islands, and around one-third of them are endemic, meaning they’re native to the archipelago and not found anywhere else. You might spot Darwin’s aster Darwiniothamnus or native species of cacti, like the candelabra cactus and the lava cactus—a reminder of how harsh the growing conditions on these islands can be. 

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Darwin’s Living Laboratory

The subtle differences island to island have fascinated thousands of travelers on their own Darwinian journeys to understand what “survival of the fittest” really means—not the strongest, but the best able to evolve to suit their unique circumstances. That’s an evolution that modern travelers have kept up with in recent years, as travel restrictions in the area have come and gone. At a time when scheduling travel can be difficult,
Galápagos is a perfect destination because there are things to do here in every season. While the summer weather is especially beautiful, at any time of year you can see tortoises grazing, Galápagos penguins waddling, and iguanas swimming. The only question is, what will you do first? Here follows the top 10 things to do in the Galápagos Islands. 

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1. Birdwatching Beyond Your Wildest Dreams

Whatever ornithological adventure you’re imagining, the Galápagos is better. Due to the nature of the archipelago’s famously fearless birds, your sightings will change as you move throughout the islands—but keep your binoculars up on San Cristobal for red-footed boobies, on Fernandina for flightless cormorants, on North Seymour Island for blue footed-boobies and frigatebirds, and on Espanola for the waved albatross, swallow-tailed gulls, and mockingbirds. Darwin’s famous finches, a now classic example of adaptive radiation, are actually 18 different species within the tanager family, various members of which can be seen across all of the islands year-round. Darwin’s finches face several threats to their existence, and on Floreana, the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic Fund helps support one of the largest conservation efforts of its kind ever attempted on an inhabited island to eradicate invasive species and directly help the local population of finches.

2. Meet the Galápagos Giant Tortoise

Beyond the birds, the local fauna is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. On Santa Cruz island, Tortuga Bay and Rancho Manzanillo provide the perfect combination of places to see both sea turtles and terrestrial tortoises on the same island. Fifteen distinct Galápagos tortoise species once populated the islands, though now only eleven species remain after thousands of years of human hunting. Rancho Manzanillo, located up in the highlands, is one of the best spots to see these gentle giants, who are now mainly living in nature preserves and in conservation-focused environments.

3. Cross the Equator

As whales, dolphins, and sharks swim beside the ship, you’ll mark this milestone with a champagne toast and a ceremony on deck. For anyone who loves to travel, this is a true bucket-list item, so to support your lifetime bragging rights, you’ll receive a unique souvenir pin to commemorate the moment. For ancient mariners, the rite was known as the “baptism on the line,” or an equatorial baptism, and it could be quite violent, including beatings and dragging behind the ship. Today, the ceremony is often explained as being an initiation into the court of King Neptune, with attendant ceremony and secret rituals–you’ll have to make the crossing yourself to learn more!

4. Explore the Rich Undersea World

The Galápagos recently announced they've expanded the Galápagos Marine Reserve, which means undersea animals are better protected now than ever before. This is one of the best places in the world for green sea turtles nesting, and it is a key site for their conservation as the islands also provide numerous feeding sites for this species throughout the archipelago. Don’t miss the sea lions at Santa Fe and the penguins of Bartolome as they frolic on the shoreline and under the sea.Whether you’re into diving or snorkeling, there’s so much to see underwater, it’s hard to find the time to come up for air.

5. Kayak, Paddleboard and Take a Zodiac Cruise

Wherever in the Galápagos you are, taking in the wildlife-rich shallows and shorelines—whether alone or with a partner in adventure—is an incredible way to get a different perspective at water level. Kayaks and stand-up paddleboards can bring you within feet of surfacing sea turtles or shark nurseries, and glass-bottom Zodiacs offer a window onto the colorful fish that swim just beneath gentle waves. Take these quiet moments to process the natural marvels you’re observing and experience what’s drawn so many explorers before you to these waters—you’re one with nature, in a natural world unlike any other.

6. Walk in the Footsteps of History

Darwin isn’t the only luminary to have brought the Galápagos into the public imagination. Pack a copy of Herman Melville’s The Encantadas in your luggage to see the islands through the eyes of the famed Moby Dick author. If you’re interested in the seedy side of Galápagos history, cruise along the red cliffs overlooking Buccaneer Cove on Santiago Island, where 17th and 18th century buccaneers hid out when they were up to no good. If you’re more interested in what the good guys were up to during that era, Post Office Bay in Floreana is a local oddity devised in the 1700s by whalers passing through the islands to provision their ships. They devised a way to communicate with their loved ones back home, leaving letters in a barrel on Floreana and picking up whatever letters they found that matched their destination to deliver upon arrival. It could take years to deliver a letter back then, but the Galápagos Post Office Bay moves a little faster these days. Galápagos visitors still drop off postcards and letters at Post Office Bay, and other visitors take them back to the mainland for mailing. You can be the latest link in a tradition going back centuries for the cost of a single stamp!

7. Learn About the Galápagos’ Volcanos

The Galápagos islands were formed by volcanic activity, and to this day many are still active. Recent eruptions of Wolf Volcano and Sierra Negra provide an opportunity to see how lava flows ultimately created the unique landscapes of the islands. Seeing the aftermath is an amazing (and very safe!) way to learn how oddities like lava tubes formed. These tunnels, caves, and craters are just part of an ever-changing landscape, creating an irresistible draw for visitors.


8. Photograph Kicker Rock

One of the Galápagos’ most amazing landmarks rises straight out of the water near San Cristobal Island. Also called Leon Dormido, it’s a remnant of volcanic activity known as a tuff cone—a steep vertical formation of ash, this one rising 500 feet out of the sea. As it’s eroded into its current form, it’s become a destination for photographers who love to test their skills and catch its contours in the warm pink light of the sunset, as the rays at the horizon line up just so with the breaks in the formation.

9. Get a Taste of Local Flavors

Ecuadorian cuisine along the coast and in the Galápagos is as varied as the islands themselves. In a special lunch on the ship, you might try a local suckling pig or arroz marinero, a seafood rice that’s a local favorite—all flavored with condiments and herbs grown right in the Galápagos. You’ll also get a sense of not just the local palate, but also local industry when you visit one of several local coffee plantations, where volcanic soil rich in nutrients and minerals give their product its unique flavor and natural sweetness, a balance between sugar and chocolate with a hint of sea salt.

10. Experience Life on the Mainland

Most travelers to Galápagos must pass through Guayaquil, known as the Gateway to the Islands, and while you're here there are some unique experiences you don't want to miss. If you find yourself strolling near the cathedral, make sure to look up as you walk through the park–you’ll find yourself face-to-face with dozens of iguanas that cover every stationary surface, giving it the nickname Iguana Park. Build in a day trip on one end of your visit out to Hacienda La Danesa, a working cacao plantation and beautiful historic site worth the hour-long trip.