By Juan Francisco Carrasco
The Galápagos archipelago, located in the Pacific Ocean at the level of the equator, has an area of 7,970 square kilometers and is made up of more than 233 islands, islets and rocks that were created from many submarine volcanic eruptions a few million years ago.
After many years of evolution, Galápagos has become a unique ecosystem. The main attraction of the islands is the great variety of native and endemic reptiles, birds, fish, and mammals that inhabit only this place in the world. Thousands of tourists visit the islands to admire the natural habitat of some animals such as blue and red-footed boobies, albatrosses, marine and land iguanas, penguins, sea lions, hammerhead sharks, and giant land tortoises.
The Galápagos Islands give shelter to more than 7 thousand species of plants and animals, which have made Galápagos the capital of biodiversity in the world. Because of this, in 1959 the Ecuadorian State declared the archipelago as a National Park. The Galápagos are conformed by two protected areas: the Galápagos National Park that covers 97% of the land surface, and the Galápagos Marine Reserve that covers the ocean territories. According to the official website of the Galápagos National Park, 95% of the original biodiversity of the islands is still conserved today thanks to the joint work between the Ecuadorian State and many private organizations that seek its protection and conservation.
The biodiversity of unique flora and fauna of Galápagos is very famous in the world thanks to the English naturalist, Charles Darwin. The animals and plants of the islands inspired and helped him to develop his theory of evolution by natural selection of species. Now, some birds, ecological reserves, and even an island are named after him to honor his work and affection for the island. Also, the Galápagos National Park was declared a Natural Heritage of Humanity on September 8, 1978, and is one of the few places in the world that meet all the criteria established by the organization for its inclusion in this prestigious list.
I feel very lucky to live in Ecuador and have a place of this importance only two hours away by plane. I have had the opportunity to visit these magical islands twice and each one of the trips were a unique experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. These islands are out of this world and visiting them transports you to a whole new reality full of unmatched animals and plants you can only see there. The first time I visited Galápagos, I went to the island of Santa Cruz, the second biggest island, and visited many beaches such as the beach “Garrapateros” and “Tortuga Bay”, which is my favorite one because of the beautiful manglers and iguanas.
In Galápagos, I snorkeled for the first time and I can’t think of a better place to do it. I had the opportunity to swim with marine turtles, sea lions and tons of fish of rare colors and shapes. One of my favorite places to snorkel there was “Las Grietas” where you can swim in a natural sea strait created by a volcanic fracture where sea and rain water mix creating a beautiful landscape. Even though the beaches of Santa Cruz are incredible, there are many more things you can do such as visiting the Charles Darwin Research Center to learn about the creation of islands, the conservation methods for the different species, and the tortoise hatchery.
Also, walking away from the shores in the northern part of the island there are many ranches where you can see the land tortoises live in the wild. In addition, you can visit “Los Gemelos” which are two giant craters formed by volcanic eruptions in the middle of Santa Cruz that will give you a very different perspective and view of the island. When I was at the northern part of the island, I also visited the “Tunel de Lava”, a tunnel created by a lava flow which you can cross to have an underground adventure.
Besides Santa Cruz, on my first trip to Galápagos, I took a one-day trip to Isabella, the biggest island, by boat. During that day, we visited the lagoons of the flamingos, snorkeled in the natural pools of “Conche Perla”, went to a “Playa Larga” beach and made a tour to see the Galápagos penguins, an animal that I love and saw in its habitat for the first and only time in my life.
The second time I went to Galápagos, I went to a new island, San Cristóbal. I never imagined that my experience on the other island would be so different from the first one. It was surprising to me to see how biodiverse the islands were and how none of them looked alike. This proves how vast and diverse the archipelago really is and how remarkable the ecosystem works. My favorite thing about this island were the sea lions because, although I saw them in my first trip too, there were many more of them. All around the island the sea lions shared the beaches with the humans by sleeping on benches, sunbathing, and even approaching us out of curiosity and for me that was amazing.
The best way to get to know San Cristóbal is by taking the tour 360, a tour that in one day takes you to the most touristic places of the island. This tour took me to beautiful beaches such as “Isla Lobos” and “Punta Carola” to enjoy the sun and the beach accompanied by different animals on each point. This tour allows you to observe birds in “Punta Pitt'', a rock where many diverse birds such as the three different species of boobies (blue footed, red footed and Nazca), pelicans, and frigate birds rest. Throughout the tour you will visit many snorkeling points where you can swim with many fish and even marine turtles. The most famous of these places is Kickerock where you can snorkel or dive in the middle of the ocean and admire the most magnificent secrets of it. In there you can even see hammerhead sharks!
While we were on the boat during the tour we were lucky to see a pod of dolphins pass through. I can't even explain how shocked I was to see more than 50 dolphins in the wild jumping and swimming by our boat, and I am sure that I could only see that because I was in Galápagos. Apart from the tour, you can also visit places like La Loberia, Cerro Tijeretas, Playa Mann, Puerto Chino and Playa Baquerizo to admire how Galápagos isn’t like any other place in this world.
Ecuador is a country with an immense biodiversity and I have been lucky to see every region of it, but there is no place in Ecuador that compares to Galápagos and its diversity. Galápagos and its natural beauty is beyond comparison and I am glad that we have this place in Ecuador.