The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands on either side of the equator in the Pacific Ocean. There are 18 main islands of the archipelago located 563 miles west of continental Ecuador, the islands are known for their large number of endemic species. The government of Ecuador has designated 97% of the land area of the Galapagos Islands as the country’s first national park, the Galápagos National Park, and the Galápagos Marine Reserve. The Itabaca Channel is used by water taxis who take people from Baltra to Santa Cruz. A favorite of visitors to the Galapagos is Tortuga Bay, located on the Santa Cruz Island, about a 20-minute walk from the main water taxi dock in Puerto Ayora. There is a separate cove where you can swim and view white tip reef sharks swimming in groups, small fish, birds and sometimes the gigantic Galápagos’ tortoise.
Until 1969 the only way to visit the Galápagos was on a private or chartered vessel. Today there are about 85 yachts and ships equipped for overnight guests. Private aircraft must use Baltra as it is the airport equipped with overnight plane accommodations. There are only 116 visitor sites in the Galápagos archipelago. Small groups are allowed to visit in 2- to 4-hour shifts only, to limit impact on the area. All groups are accompanied by licensed guides. A tour of the main attractions takes over a week of a ship-based cruise, and getting to and from the Galápagos takes two travel days from most of the world. Most people book their place well in advance as the boats are usually full during the high season, but please be aware that many budget tours may spend extra time in Puerto Ayora. The National Park sets all of the cruise itineraries. The majority of the islands will be off-limits without a guide. It is possible to travel via speed boat between the towns on San Cristóbal, Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela. Each of these islands offer the possibility of joining organized local daytrips or of traveling on your own while within the town limits. During peak season (Christmas & Easter weeks) all hotels are frequently sold out well in advance. If you are traveling at other times of the year, you may be able to find availability by just showing up: Source WikiVoyage
Cruises are the only option to see the majority of remote islands. All cruise ships are required to have a certified naturalist guide. Each cruise ship has a fixed itinerary for the year which is set by the Galapagos National Park, with the purpose being to control the number of tourists arriving at any time on each island. Cruises are available in 2-, 4-, 5-, 8- and 15-day options. The following is a list of typical sights:
- Climb the hill on Bartolome for the classic Galapagos view
- Visit the Giant Tortoise breeding and rearing program at the Charles Darwin Research Center on Santa Cruz.
- See the red neck sacks of the Magnificent Frigatebird on North Seymour or El Junco, San Cristobal.
- Visit unique species like the Galapagos penguins on Isabela or Floreana.
- Go snorkeling with sea lions and pacific sea turtles.
Snorkeling and diving are very popular activities as the sea life is so rich and colorful. Snorkeling offers a way to be in the water with fish, sea turtles, sea lions, and other creatures. Diving in the Galapagos is incredible, as noted by Rodale’s Scuba Diving Magazine.
The park is strictly regulated. Outside of the towns visitors must be accompanied by guides, and visitors are only allowed on land from sunrise until sunset. Illegal fishing for sharks and sea cucumbers occurs on a massive scale. The number of fishermen has increased rapidly over the last few years, while the number of fish have plunged. Do not bring any plant or animal life with you, and be sure to always clean your footwear when traveling between islands to avoid accidentally transferring seeds. The park service is trying to eliminate goats, rats, cats, dogs, and introduced plant species.
- To visit the National Park you must always be accompanied by a certified Galapagos National Park guide.
- Galapagos is a unique and fragile environment. Take only photographs and video. Professional shooting needs authorization from the National Park.
- Stay within the limits of the walking trails, for your safety and that of the flora and fauna.
- To avoid affecting the wildlife’s natural behavior, avoid getting closer than two meters to the animals.
- Camping is allowed only at specific sites. If you wish to camp, you must first obtain a permit from the Galapagos National Park.
- Help conservation by cooperating with the authorities in their inspection, monitoring and control duties. Report any anomalies to the National Park.
- Do not introduce foreign organisms to the islands, as these can have a negative impact on the ecosystem.
- Do not buy souvenirs which are made from black coral, sea shells, sea lion teeth, tortoise shell, volcanic rock or endemic woods.
- Galapagos animals have their own feeding behavior. Never feed the animals. Feeding them can be detrimental to their health.
- Galapagos landscapes are beautiful and unique. Do not spoil them by writing or etching rocks or trees.
- Do not litter while on the islands. Always dispose of rubbish in a safe and appropriate way.
- Smoking or making camp fires in the national park areas is forbidden and can cause devastating fires.
- Fishing is strictly forbidden, except on those boats specifically authorized by the Galapagos National Park.
- Jet skiing, submarines, water skiing, and aerial tourism are all forbidden.