The beguiling Galapagos Islands, where Charles Darwin established his theory of natural selection and endemic species rule the lands. It’s no wonder, then, that this fascinating archipelago has been charming naturalists for years.
None more so than young Lucy Drayson, a budding ecologist who has spent the last three months studying in San Cristobal as part of her degree. Having been hopping from island to island to investigate all creatures great and small, she’s become quite the expert on all things Galapagos. We quizzed her to find out how to make the most out of a holiday to these fascinating isles.
This would have to be Isabela. It's the youngest of the four inhabited islands and has spectacular habitats and nature. The village of Puerto Villamil perches alongside a gorgeous long white coral beach, where the sunsets are just incredible. Isabela also holds many of the Galapagos’ endemic species, like flamingos, Galápagos penguins, whitetip and blacktip sharks, blue-footed boobies, and the flightless cormorant.
This question is so hard because everything you see here is spectacular! I would probably say the view of Pinnacle Rock on Bartholemew Island – it’s the image you see on all the postcards and tour books, but nothing beats seeing it in its all glory.
So many must sees: Punta Pitt, a volcanic hill on San Cristobal; Kicker Rock, the remains of an old lava cone; Volcano Chico; El Junco Crater Lake; and, of course, seeing all of the endemic animals. But topping the list would have to be the bioluminescence; this is when the plankton in the waters light up at night, which is best experienced by snorkelling off a pier. It’s like swimming in stars.
The waters surrounding Kicker Rock and the lava tunnels beneath Isabela are some of the best spots in the Galapagos to swim with sharks – including hammerheads, reef sharks and whitetips; you’ll also see spotted eagle rays and green sea turtles roaming the waters here.
It really depends why you're coming here. Between October and December the air and water temperature is cooler, which can often mean you’ll see more marine life. Feb- April is spring, when flowers start to blossom and the islands are awash with colour. If you can, it’s best to avoid the summer months, which are the busiest time of year in the Galapagos as many people come during their summer vacation.
I would have to say that travelling by cruise boat is best. These often have specific itineraries, which can be useful for big families, and have excellent local guides who offer insights that you would never get from a guide book. For families with older children, Santa Cruz has lots going on and a better nightlife.
In my opinion, Isabela is the most romantic and isolated island out of the four you can stay on. It has a lot of outdoor activities and is unique because it does not follow the vegetation zones of the other islands.
This can be hard because tourism is one of the main economic activities in the Galapagos, but I would suggest not spending too much time on Santa Cruz. Also, travelling by land on the islands and not by cruise can definitely help to get away from the crowds. There are some beaches and locations that guides don't tell you about, so chat to the locals to discover these hidden gems.
First step could be for visitors to spend time on land and interact and get to know locals, which in turn will help tourism income for local communities. Reducing pollution is of course another important step; this can be done via the simplest of actions, such as buying a reusable water bottle and not plastic ones. And DO NOT touch or disrupt the animals! What’s so special about the Galapagos is how it still remains almost entirely unaffected by human interference.
I've learnt so much! The most interesting thing that I've learnt is that locals in the Galapagos and national park institutions have different views of the Galapagos. Locals consider it as a place where resources are available, while scientist and conservationist see it as a mecca of science that absolutely must be protected. The Ecuadorian government is very corrupt, which is causing a lot of conflict and having a negative impact on the environment here, which is a great shame.
You can help protect the ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands by donating to the Galapagos Conservation Trust. Click here to find out more.