“The Galápagos Islands may just inspire you to think differently about the world. A trip to this extraordinary region is like visiting an alternate universe, some strange utopian colony organized by sea lions – the golden retrievers of the Galápagos – and arranged on principles of mutual cooperation. What’s so extraordinary for visitors is the fearlessness of the islands’ famous inhabitants. Blue-footed boobies, sea lions, and prehistoric land iguanas – all act as if humans are nothing more than slightly annoying paparazzi. Nowhere else can you engage in a staring contest with wild animals and lose! This is not the Bahamas and these aren’t typical tropical paradises; in fact, most of the islands are devoid of vegetation and some look more like the moon than Hawaii.” Excerpt From: Lonely Planet South America.
The Galápagos Islands were declared a national park in 1959. Organized tourism began in the 1960s and by the 1990s some 60,000 people visited annually. Today, around 150,000 people visit each year, which continues to place added stress on the islands’ delicate ecology. Despite conservation efforts by organizations like the Galapagos Conservancy (www.galapagos.org), the future of the islands remains unclear. Since 2007, Unesco has treated the World Heritage–listed islands as being in danger.
Visiting the islands is not cheap, and the only way to truly ‘experience’ their marvels is by taking a boat cruise. It is possible to visit four of the islands independently, but you are unlikely see the full spectrum of wildlife or the many smaller islands that you would aboard a cruise.
The four boat categories and price per day are roughly as follows: economy class (up to US$200), tourist class (US$200 to $300), first class (US$300 to $400), and luxury (from US$400). This figure does not include your airfare to and from the mainland or the US$110 park-entrance fee. Boat Tours from five to eight days are the most common. You can’t really do the Galápagos Islands justice on a tour shorter than a week, although five days is acceptable. To visit the outlying islands of Isabela and Fernandina, a cruise of eight days or more is recommended. On the first day of a prearranged tour, you arrive from the main land by air at about noon, so this leaves only half a day in the Galápagos; on the last day, you have to be at the airport in the morning. Thus a ‘five-day’ tour gives only three full days in the islands.
I decided to visit the islands independently and accepted that I probably wouldn’t get to see everything. Looking back, I got to see pretty much everything that I wanted to see and for a fraction of the cost of going on an organised cruise.
Next stage: My independent itinerary in depth.