Along with Antarctica and the Arctic, the Galapagos is one of the 'big three' expedition cruising destinations, and regular readers will know that we talk about it a lot. Whether you've always dreamed of visiting the islands, or you've never really considered it, here are ten reasons why we think you should book a cruise to the Galapagos:
1. A once-in-a-lifetime trip
The Galapagos Islands are unique: located on the Equator in the Pacific Ocean, over 600 miles from the nearest land (South America), they have pristine ecosystems which mean that you will never, ever, visit anywhere like this.
2. 97% National Park
In the 18th century whalers and pirates calling at this island brought with them alien species and took away indigenous creatures, damaging the fragile environment. In the 20th century, naturalists recognised the importance of these islands, and designated the whole region as a protected national park, working to restore the damage and maintain the biodiversity of the region. You pay for entry, visitor numbers are controlled, and the vast majority of the region is closed to visitors.
3. Extraordinary wildlife
Over 7,000 species are endemic or native to these islands, and visitors are blown away by the extraordinary diversity, the fearlessness and the beauty as they witness a highly unusual co-existence with the human race. You will see extraordinary reptiles and birds, lounge on pristine beaches with sea lions and marine iguanas, and swim with a variety of curious companions.
4. Beautiful scenery
The islands are situated on a volcanic plate, with the newer islands to the northwest, the older to the southeast. As a result, the scenery is diverse but stunningly beautiful, with craggy peaks, lava floes, pristine beaches and lush uplands.
5. The perfect climate
Located as they are on the Equator, the Galapagos Islands are a year round destination. Whilst the wildlife changes through the year and you can choose the hot season or the dry season, there is no month in which you should not travel, so just check out what you want to see, and make sure you plan accordingly.
6. Fascinating learning opportunities
It was whilst exploring the Galapagos islands that Darwin developed his theory of natural selection. Nowadays, the park rangers, naturalist guides and experts in their various fields, will share with you their research, reveal the results of years of investigations, unveil extraordinary ecological programmes and help you to support the conservation of this extraordinary environment.
7. The Galapagos Marine Reserve
It is not only on land that you will encounter the amazing diversity of wildlife. In the seas around the islands, fed by currents coming northwards from Antarctica and south from Central America, you will encounter undreamed of riches. Snorkel or dive with sea lions and Galapagos penguins, and search for sharks, whales and an amazing diversity of fish.
8. Small ship experience
The best way to explore the Galapagos islands, the vast majority of which are closed to tourists, is by ship, and here you will find some of the most special small ships in the world, limited to a maximum of 100 guests, and beautifully equipped with zodiacs, kayaks, wetsuits and snorkels to ensure you explore as much as you can.
9. Amazing star gazing
Situated 600 miles from the mainland, with few inhabited islands and no metropolis, the light pollution here is minimal and the stars really shine. Furthermore, here on the Equator, you can see constellations and stars from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
10. Easy to combine with a land tour
The Galapagos are reached by air from mainland Ecuador, so a trip to the islands is perfect to combine with a land tour in Ecuador or Peru. In Ecuador you can visit the lovely city of Quito, follow the avenue of the volcanoes and ride the Devil's Nose train, buy a Panama hat in Cuenca and cross the mountains to the verdant coastal plain. In Peru explore the Andes, visiting the Sacred Valley, Cusco and Machu Picchu, and maybe venturing as far as Lake Titicaca and Colca Canyon.