As your boat glides into the remote Galapagos Islands your adventure begins when you spot sleepy Galapagos sea lions and flightless birds awaiting your arrival. One of the most famous wildlife spotting destinations in the world, the Galapagos Islands, located 620 miles off the coast of Ecuador, is home to one of the most unique ecosystems and most remarkable wildlife in the world.
Not only will you enjoy spotting and recording all of the amazing creatures you see on your Galapagos vacation, perhaps replicating Darwin himself on a cruise of the islands, but you will also get to immerse yourself in galapagueño life and take part in one of the many activities available on the islands. From taking one-of-a-kind hikes up to the green highlands to snorkeling in the tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean, we’ve compiled 10 of the best things to do on the incredible Galapagos Islands
A highlight for many visitors to the Galapagos Islands, snorkeling is the chance to get up-close and personal with the wildlife of the seas. Unlike scuba diving you do not need any training or experience to snorkel, however, due to the nature of the Pacific Ocean and the currents around the islands, as well as conservation considerations for the reefs and their inhabitants, you will be briefed thoroughly before the activity. It is recommended that you snorkel with a “buddy” or a group and that you bring an underwater camera for shots of green sea turtles, the world’s smallest penguin, and some beautiful reef fish.
Depending on how strong a swimmer you are, there are a number of different snorkel sites around the Galapagos Islands. If you aren’t confident in the water then you should stick to the off-shore sites. In other words, the ones you can walk to from the beach. This makes it easy for you to rest if you get tired. Those who consider themselves strong swimmers can try some of the more challenging snorkeling spots. These sites include Kicker Rock near San Cristobal; Pinnacle Rock on San Bartolomé; and Devil’s Crown off the coast of Floreana. These sites offer the chance to get up close and personal with sharks, eels, rays, and more.
The Galapagos Islands are protected by their national park status and not every part of the park can be explored by visitors. Set trails have been clearly marked for guests hoping to hike around the stunning terrain of the islands. Take a unique lava rock trail where you will see blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, and sea lions, walk to the top of the Sierra Negra, the second largest volcano caldera in the world, and hike across beaches and along mangrove estuaries to get a real idea of the vastly diverse landscape of the Galapagos Islands.
Like snorkeling, you do not need to have any previous experience to try your hand at sea kayaking. Paddle along the rugged shoreline of the Galapagos and explore secret coves, mangrove estuaries, and stunning beaches. You should see a number of creatures swimming by you as you wade through the Pacific Ocean, including Galapagos penguins and sea lions! Note that you do need to have the correct permission to sea kayak in the Galapagos from the Galapagos National Park so make sure you follow the guidelines before taking to the water.
If you are a keen surfer then you can also surf on some of the beaches, such as Galapagos Beach, but make sure you check the beach’s regulations before you hire or buy aboard. Be aware the ground under the water can be a little rocky (so bring water shoes) and the water can be cold! Also be prepared to share the beach with the local residents of the Galapagos, the beach-loving wildlife.
To really take a step back in time try your hand at horseback riding on the Galapagos Islands. Most of the horseback riding activities take place on the hillsides of Santa Cruz, a trail that offers spectacular sights of the surrounding scenery and unbelievable wildlife. Be warned that if you are a beginner it is best to rent a mixed-blood “Criollo” horse.
Cycling on the Galapagos Islands is the ultimate cycling adventure. Sign up for intermediate and advanced cycling tours of the islands, and take part in endurance challenges and fun rides through the impressive scenery. Coast from some of the highest points on the island to the bottom while learning about the way of life on the island as well as the native flora and fauna. It’s both fun and educational!
To really go deep into the hidden world of the Galapagos suit up and dive down on a scuba adventure. You can sign up for a scuba diving course (PADI) on the islands in advance, but without previous training or sufficient experience, you won’t be able to make some of the advanced dives available. Plenty of divers have seen white-tip sharks, marine iguanas, penguins, golden rays, hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, and even whale sharks on their dives! Some of the best spots include Wolf Island and Darwin Island.
Panga and dinghy vessels serve as the main transportation method between cruise boats and visitor sites on the various islands. At several times during a Galapagos travel adventure, you will have the chance to enjoy dinghy or panga rides in shores, coves and caves. This activity is great to photograph Galapagos wildlife on shores.
Close to Puerto Ayora, the Charles Darwin Research Station is worth a visit and is targeted at both adults and children. Learn about the islands’ natural history, as well as the important conservation work the Charles Darwin Foundation has helped to put in place. Here you can also discover the famous giant-tortoise breeding program and meet some baby giant tortoises!
Crystal clear blue waters, white sand, and lazy sea-lions are what a typical Galapagos beach looks like. Whether it’s sun-bathing alongside sea lions, snorkeling with penguins, or watching sea turtles lay their eggs, spending some time on a Galapagos beach is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Just watch out for hidden rocks and rays beneath your feet if you are paddling on certain beaches and always be respectful of your wilder neighbors.
If you are taking a cruise in Galapagos, be aware that some of the activities above may not be included on your Galapagos Cruise itinerary, like horseback riding and mountain biking, however, these can be done if you are island hopping or spending more time on the islands before or after your cruise, maybe in a Galapagos Lodge. Please note that scuba diving is restricted to specific cruises.
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