Dreaming of Travel: The Galapagos Islands
Lying about 1,000 km off the coast, the Galapagos Islands are a province in Ecuador. Their isolated location makes them home to many plants and animal species, found nowhere else. Current protections are in place to ensure that humans have a limited impact on these fragile ecosystems.
How to Get to the Galapagos Islands
The only way to get to the Galapagos Islands is by air from mainland Ecuador. Most flights from overseas arrive in Quito or Guayaquil. Flights to Galapagos leave in the morning, so you will likely need to stay overnight on the mainland when you arrive in Ecuador before leaving for Galapagos. There are two airports in Galapagos: one on Santa Cruz Island and one on San Cristobal.
In addition to the flights, you are required to pay for an INGALA transit control card. This fee is paid at the airport in mainland Ecuador. There is also a $100-per-person Galapagos National Park Entrance Fee that is paid at the airport in Galapagos.
Many tours and cruises pay for these fees in advance so your entrance into Galapagos is less stressful.
How to get around the Galapagos Islands
There are many options for traveling around Galapagos. You can self-book and island hop, using local guides and boats to see more remote areas. Several islands have small towns with hotels and guest houses. There are local beaches, restaurants, and museums to visit as well.
There is also every level of organized tour available. Week-long private boat charters and small boat cruises are the most popular.
We traveled with National Geographic Cruises on a small cruise ship. The boat was able to move us between islands and offer water activities right off the boat. We were not dependent on towns, though we did disembark in two towns to visit local attractions.
You cannot go into the Galapagos National Park (water or land) without a certified guide. And there are caps on how many people can be in a particular area at any one time.
It's also important to know that there are no docks anywhere. The landings are all made using zodiac boats and we nearly always got wet loading and unloading.
What to do in the Galapagos Islands
A visit to the Galapagos boils down to being out on the water in some form. Sometimes we went out in kayaks or the Zodiak to get a view of the shore. This was often the best way to see birds, including the Galapagos penguins.
You have to put your face into the cold Galapagos water to see what lies underneath. Snorkeling nearly every day will give you the best chance to experience the world that lives below the water.
Most access to the islands is via the water, but hiking on the islands provided views and entry into entirely different ecosystems.
The Galapagos has so many incredible beaches. It's a great place to just enjoy the view or go for a swim.
You literally can't stop yourself from taking just one more as the light changes or the animals move.
What to see in the Galapagos Islands
There is so much to see here! What island you are on will strongly influence what you will see. Each of the islands has its own micro eco-system. The certified guides know the best conditions for seeing different plants and animals, but sightings are not guaranteed. Here is a sampling of what you might see on your adventure.
We were lucky enough to catch some Giant Tortoises in the wild on a hike one morning near Urbana Bay. We also were able to see them at the Rancho El Manzanillo Sanctuary and at Arnaldo Tupiza Tortoise Breeding Center.
The Sea Lions in Galapagos are largely protected from predators and have been their whole life, so they are not at all skittish. It wasn't uncommon for them to join us on a beach, or even try to play with the kids while they swam in the water.
You'll have to hit the water to really get a glimpse of the sea turtles. (Though we did encounter some sunning themselves in a large coastal tide pool.) Some days we were just surrounded by sea turtles while snorkeling, and other days we saw none at all.
Dolphins & Whales
Most mornings our boat would have a dolphin or whale sighting. These creatures would come alongside the ship and frequently put on quite a show.
There are so many birds to see in Galapagos. Each island has its own species of birds living there. It was amazing to see them all as many only live in the Islands.
On an evening hike, we came across a few flamingoes enjoying a salt marsh.
They sneeze salt, blend in with the lava and swim underwater! You can catch these guys sunning on the rocks while you hike and catching a meal while you snorkel.
There are so many amazing things to see and learn in Galapagos. Everyone's experience is so unique, just like this amazing destination.
Has your family been to the Galapagos Islands? What did you think!? If you have any great photos of your family enjoying a day out here (or anywhere for that matter!), be sure to tag us on Instagram @gethappyly for a chance to be featured!
Looking for other fun family vacation ideas? Check out our Dreaming of Travel posts on Costa Rica, Virgin Islands National Park, Maui or White Sands National Park for some inspiration!
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