Following in the footsteps of Alfred Russel Wallace
15 June 2023
Almost 1000 kilometres from the nearest continental landmass lies a group of isolated islands which act as a magnet for wildlife and curious humans. This volcanic archipelago is geologically young at between 2 and 4 million years old. This is the key reason the wildlife here is so fascinating – adaptations to the harsh environment are extreme, unique, and still occurring in many species. These islands allow us to see evolution at close quarters.
For keen naturalists, Darwinophiles, or indeed anyone with an interest in the planet we live on, the Galápagos is a bucket list destination. The opportunity to see the natural world with fresh eyes is not something that comes along everyday, and for many visitors the experience is profound and transformative. Luckily, the value of these unique ecosystems was recognised in time to protect them and their enduring appeal owes a lot to conservation efforts.
The most time efficient and comprehensive way to experience these wondrous islands is on a cruise. There is a range of options in terms of itinerary and levels of comfort, but all include the services of professional guides. Without these local experts, much of this incredible landscape, and its vivid biodiversity, is inaccessible. Different cruise routes cover different islands, and all will give you a great overview of the huge range of species that call the Galápagos home.
The 16 islands are quite diverse; some are barren volcanic outcrops with little vegetation, some much larger, greener and more hospitable. Only four of the islands are inhabited, and even though there are tens of thousands of people living here, their impact only affects 3% of the total Galápagos landmass. Educated from childhood on the importance of conserving the unique environment they call home, many of the inhabitants of these islands are involved in ecotourism in some capacity.
The unusual lava strewn landscapes have their own special charm, not least because they are surrounded by beautifully clear water and populated by a jaw dropping succession of endemic species. One of the reasons that the archipelago supports such a wealth of wildlife is the combination of habitats. From deserts and equatorial rainforest to the beaches and chill waters of the Pacific Ocean, there is a unique combination of ecosystems.
Famous wildlife attractions include the playful Galápagos sea lions, the penguins predominantly found on the westernmost islands of Fernandina and Isabela, and the marine iguana. It is thought that when a group of land iguanas found their way to these islands from Central America, they had to adapt their diet to survive due to the scant vegetation. The only greenery in plentiful supply was seaweed, so they have evolved the ability to swim, dive for long periods, and to cope with the excess salt by expelling it through their nostrils.
The distinctive rainbow colours of the Sally Lightfoot crab are seen throughout the islands, contrasting nicely with the vivid webbed feet of the blue footed booby, one of many endemic bird species. The giant tortoise has thrived here, and in fact reptiles in general are numerous. This is thought to be because of the lack of large mammals who would deprive them of food.
The bird life in the Galápagos is a big draw for visitors. Highlights include the wave albatross, the Galápagos heron, and the flightless cormorant. Even the vegetation includes some bizarre species, 30% of which have evolved specifically to thrive in the unique habitats of the Galápagos, such as the Scalesia tree.
Make it happen
Take the plunge and book your dream Galápagos trip with our fabulous local experts, and before you know it you will be plunging into the Pacific to swim with penguins and turtles. Let us know more about your requirements here to get the ball rolling.