I have been long a fan and follower of natural history writings. And because Charles Darwin wrote much about the Galápagos Islands, it has had a mystical allure for me for decades.
There are daunting varieties of ways to experience the islands. With cruises being the optimal approach because each of the islands is a unique experience geologically. However, cruises can be hard on the stomach. So I opted to visit just two islands on my first visit. (There are likely to be return visits.) The focus of our visit was the southern tip of the western-most island, Isla Isabela, which is less developed than the main island tourists fly into, Isla Santa Cruz. We located close to a small town called Puerto Villamil where we could navigate to lagoons and tortoise reserves by bicycle.
Long boardwalks allow visitors to bike to the edge of habitable area of the island thereafter you can take to sand trails or hike up into the hills. We ended up stopping at the signs that warned of poisonous plants. But along the way we saw flamingo flocks, dozens of birds and a constant scurrying of iguanas who sun on the boardwalk planks.
Snorkeling is adventurous in the shallow tidal areas. You can swim safely near the harbor among lots of small fish and crabs. Mangroves shelter wildlife close to the shores, where seals laze about completely indifferent to the presence of people.
For food, there is a sandy road that serves as the Main Street of the town where amazingly good seafood is on offer, or pizza. It’s so slow and casual a place that you can definitely stay relaxed for your holiday. There’s nothing to distract you from your thoughts besides what you deliberately seek out.
There is a narrow but very specific variety of animals that dominate the islands. Of course the giant tortoises that Charles Darwin wrote about. Most numerous are the giant iguanas that seem to rule the shores. You’ll see hundreds sunning themselves on the rocks of the shore, bobbing their heads regularly to triangulate visually. It might also be a territorial gesture as well I suppose among iguanas or a gesture of signifying presence to others.
The broadest array of animals are the species of birds that hunt in the marshes and tide-pools including penguins, herons, flamingos and blue-footed boobies.
In stark contrast to the Galápagos Islands is the bustling capital of Ecuador, Quito. This city has colonial era architecture rivaling that of Lima, paired with a high altitude mountainous landscape. Here we stayed in the heart of the old town district to experience the excitement of the pedestrian promenades and shopping districts. I found it especially beautiful at night.
Taking day trips we went to botanical gardens, gondolas to the city’s highest peaks and a market town in the Andes highlands. The youth of the mountains makes them impressively steep and awe inspiring.
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Downtown Quito pictures: https://www.flickr.com/photos/63009420@N00/sets/72157663012632701
Galapogos, Isla Isabela: https://www.flickr.com/photos/63009420@N00/sets/72157662688726700