Thursday, 25 July 2013

Galapagos Islands

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The Galapagos Islands, an archipelago of 13 major volcanic islands and more than 40 small islands, is a treasure chest of plants and animals -- many found no where else in the world. The islands are situated on the equator 600 miles from the coast of Ecuador. A three-hour flight from Quito, with a short stop-over, takes you to the island to Baltra, where you pass through the Galapagos National Park gate. You're then whisked off by buses taking you to a passenger ferry that crosses the Canal de Itabaca, the narrow stretch of water between Baltra and Santa Cruz island. Upon arrival at Santa Cruz, you'll find a wealth of information on accommodations and also the 80 operators with licenses to tour the Galapagos on varying sizes of yachts. Most of the Galapagos' matchless wildlife can only be seen from these boat tours. (Independent travel using inter-island flights and ferries is possible, but extremely expensive.)

The Charles Darwin Research Center, on Santa Cruz Island and covered by every tour of the islands, exhibits a wealth of information on the Galapagos' geology, climate, and conservation efforts. You'll also see tortoise-rearing pens, where predator-proof enclosures hold groups of miniature giant tortoises in an effort to boost the severely reduced tortoise population. Touching the tortoises is a big non-no, but you can get close enough for great pictures.

North Seymour Island, just off Baltra, is a bird-lovers paradise, hosting nests of the largest colony of the beautiful frigate birds From small boats, you come ashore to black lava and trails that lead past large colonies of blue-footed booties and the frigate birds. You'll also discover sea lions and nesting marine iguanas.

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