Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands-A UNESCO World Heritage Site

While serving as the Chairman and CEO of Appvion, Inc. in Appleton, WI, I had the pleasure to take my family to the Galapagos Islands. Situated in the Pacific Ocean 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, surrounded by open ocean, these 19 islands and the surrounding marine reserve are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Galapagos Islands are a volcanic archipelago that straddles the Equator. The Galapagos Islands, forged of black lava and named for the giant tortoises that are among their most noted inhabitants, are like no other place on Earth. Home to a profuse array of unique wildlife, the islands offer an immersion in nature that feels primeval. Iguanas and blue-footed boobies share the beaches with you, unfazed by humans. Author Herman Melville, who visited the islands in 1841, shortly after Darwin’s momentous visit, called them the “Enchanted Isles”.

Located at the confluence of three ocean currents, the Galápagos are a unique mix of marine species. Ongoing seismic and volcanic activity reflects the processes that formed the islands. These processes, together with the extreme isolation of the islands, led to the development of unusual animal life – such as the land iguana, the giant tortoise and the many types of bird species – all inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection following his visit in 1835.

The Galapagos Islands is an unrivaled experience. The only way to see the islands is by a boat equipped with exploration equipment. Zodiac or kayak to pristine beaches along volcanic shores and discover an incredible abundance of sea life through daily snorkeling and land excursions. You encounter abundant wildlife—blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, Darwin’s finches, pink flamingos, and giant tortoises. The wildlife of Galapagos is without fear in the presence of humans. Many islands have their own endemic species. When snorkeling in clear turquoise water, expect to swim with playful sea lions and the occasional porpoise as penguins dart by and sea turtles glide past. Don’t be alarmed as they may swim right up to you and engage in playful behavior.

The Galapagos Islands are one of the world’s premier nature travel destinations. There may be no better place on Earth for close encounters with wildlife than this remote archipelago. For nature photographers, capturing close-up images of wildlife is the ultimate travel photography experience. It’s essential to experience the islands in a way that affords intimate interactions with wildlife, with personalized interpretation by top naturalists so look for smaller expedition outfitters and avoid the larger cruise ships. They can’t get into some of the more fragile, remote areas and often employ less-qualified guides. Look for a guide-to-guest ratio of 1:8 as smaller groups result in higher quality, more intimate experiences.

Expect to fly into Quito, Ecuador and spend an overnight. Ecuador, though small in size, is one of the world’s most geographically and culturally diverse countries. Make time to explore Quito’s complex colonial history, reflected in extravagant churches and European, Moorish and indigenous influences that have made the well-preserved 16th-century Old Town a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Galapagos gateway city is Guayaquil, which is located on the Pacific Ocean. It is another beautiful place, but lacks the richer cultural experience you get in Quito.

Plan your trip at least six months in advance and secure it with adequate travel insurance. Pack light and bring a high-quality pair of binoculars, camera and dry bag. If you have snorkeling gear (mask and snorkel), bring it. Though the outfitters carry full sets of gear too. Since you are located on the Equator, just about every day is a “ray” day and temperatures are consistently warm. Enjoy!