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Friday, February 24, 2012

The Galapagos Archipelago: Encounter the Giant Tortoises of the Galapagos

Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus), Galáp...Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus), Galápagos Islands, Ecuador - foraging under water (Photo credit: Derek Keats)
By John Roney

"The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed around the equator, 525 nautical miles (972 km/604 mi) west of continental Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. The Galpagos archipelago, with a population of around 40,000, is a province of Ecuador; and the islands are all part of Ecuador's national park system. The islands are famed for their vast number of endemic species and the studies by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle that contributed to the inception of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection."

Adventure travel in Galapagos involves kayaking, mountain biking, riding horses or snorkeling next to the world's most fearless wildlife. You can travel between the islands in small private planes or speedboats and enjoy spectacular wildlife encounters. Tower Island is one of the most spectacular of the islands where you can wind your way through a mangrove forest. Octopus, starfish and other sea life can be seen caught in tide pools on Santiago Island. Isabela Island offers spectacular views of lava files, a salt-water lagoon, volcanic formations and the ocean.

Environmental Restrictions: The Galapagos Islands are one of the most fragile, and therefore most heavily protected, environments on the planet's surface. The national park authority does a good job to preserve the pristine environment and protect it from the steady flow of visitors. In return, guests are asked to pay a $100 tax to enter the national park, although this can be taken care of by your tour provider if requested. Several environmental restrictions will apply during your visit too: touching or feeding the wildlife is an absolute no-no, as is picking or interfering with any plant life, leaving litter behind, or even smoking in uninhabited areas. All these regulations are rigorously enforced and are in place to protect the perfectly natural environment and the health and welfare of islands' animal inhabitants.

When to go: The pleasant weather year round means there is not best time to visit Galapagos. During the hot season, the ocean temperature is warmer so you can enjoy swimming and snorkeling better. How to get there: You can get to the islands from the main land by plane from Quito or Guayaquil airports. You can see most of the islands via a motor or sailing yacht. There is strict control on tourist access due to the effort made to protect the natural habitat and you must be accompanied by a certified tour guide.

Whether you cross paths in the wild, on a Galapagos tour, or at the Charles Darwin Research Station, getting up close to an active volcano or a giant tortoise can be found only on the shore of this lush Ecuadorian utopia. For more information please visit The Galapagos Archipelago.

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