Furthermore, the islands sit on a volcanic plate which is constantly moving from northwest to southeast - volcanic eruptions and subsequent erosion mean that there are significant differences in habitat from island to island, so exploring the archipelago is fascinating, with each island offering something new and different.
As a result, exploring the Galapagos by sea is really the only way to get a real insight into the islands. As the whole archipelago is a carefully curated National Park, you will visit with expert naturalist guides at all times, learning about the biology, natural history, geology, marine biology and so much more.
The islands are reached by air from Ecuador (you can fly out of Quito or Guayaquil) which is itself quite difficult to access from the UK, with no direct flights. We recommend UK visitors to make the most of the long flight by planning to spend time along the west coast of South America, maybe in Peru to visit Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, Colca Canyon and more, or, for return visitors, travelling though Ecuador, whose extraordinary biodiversity makes it a most appealing destination.
Once you have flown to Baltra in the Galapagos, you can decide on a land stay in a small hotel or eco lodge, but we recommend selecting one of the many vessels, none with more than 100 guests on board, which explore the islands for four, five, seven or fourteen days, to really get a fuller understanding of the area.
You will see unique wildlife with a number of endemic species, only to be found here. The Galapagos tortoise is one such creature - a worryingly rapid decline in its population over the last 200 years has been staunched by amazing conservation efforts, and you will learn more during your visit.
The extraordinary marine iguana, the only marine lizard on earth, grazes at the bottom of the ocean before returning to lounge on the beaches and igneous rock formed by the lava flows, bringing its body temperature up sufficiently to enable it to return to the water. Swimming back to the shore, it risks being caught and thrown about by playful sea lions frolicking in the surf.
The flightless cormorant, with terrific diving skills and extraordinary bulbous eyes allowing it to hunt underwater, is the only cormorant unable to fly, and has lived safely on the islands until quite recently when visiting ships left predators such as dogs, cats, rats and pigs on the island. Current conservation efforts include an attempt to restore the biological balance that existed prior to the arrival of external visitors.
The seas around the islands are full of creatures such as Galapagos penguins, the only penguin species to exist north of the equator, and Galapagos fur seals, which are frequently seen on land or riding the surf around rocky cliffs and promontories.
The glorious wave albatross spans the globe before returning each year to the Galapagos to breed (these appealing birds mate for life), whilst the comical blue footed booby can be seen elsewhere in the world, but never in such great numbers as here on the islands.
When visiting by ship, you will travel from island to island and from beach to beach, anchoring in secluded bays to explore the rocky cliffs and coastline by rubber zodiac, snorkel with sea lions, manta rays and hammerhead sharks in the deep water, or go ashore where you can come face to face with birds, lizards and mammals, as well as hike inland (although the tourist trails are strictly limited, such is the protection of the National Park). At night you will glory in the starlight, with minimal light pollution out here in the middle of the ocean - and when the ship puts on spotlights to point to the water, a flurry of activity beneath the waves is completely captivating.
They say travel broadens the mind - a visit to the Galapagos is a prime example of mind-broadening travel par excellence. Everyone should do it at least once.
Find out more: Download your free Galapagos guide