Galápagos Islands – Ecuador

Evolutionary Miracles Above and Under Water

A modern-day traveler’s rules of thumb: Visit the most fragile places first; stay on the trails; disturb nothing. Nowhere does this apply more than to the fifty-eight fascinating islands and cays of the Galápagos archipelago, essentially unknown until Charles Darwin’s arrival 150 years ago. Here, straddling the Equator 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, Darwin developed his theory of evolution among an amazing roster of all-but-tame wildlife that thrived in an eerie, moonlike landscape.

The islands – each remarkably individual in its topography, flora, and fauna – are still home to the highest propor­tion of endemic species in the world; 400- pound land tortoises, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and thirteen species of finches are peculiar to these islands. The Galápagos and their inhabitants continue to enchant nature buffs and adventurers who visit the twelve large (and dozens of smaller) islands; cruising the pristine and gorgeous waters separating what has been called a liv­ing laboratory of evolution. The animals have no instinctive fear of man – if anything, their curiosity will surpass your own.

The Galápagos Islands also offer an experi­ence that is as stunning underwater as it is top­side. This enchanted archipelago hosts an astonishing variety of marine life: Scuba divers i will see penguins (the hemisphere’s northern­most community lives here, thanks to the cool­ing Humboldt Current), marine iguanas, or dolphins – even the odd migrating whale. Certain departures of the fully equipped Reina Silvia live-aboards head for the remote and completely uninhabited islands of Wolf and Darwin. There, expect to be surrounded by the enormous schools of pelagics that populate these waters – hundreds of hammerheads and manta rays for which the Galápagos are famous.

Landlubbers can now forgo a stay on a pitching boat in favor of the pristine islands’ first luxury resort, the Royal Palm Hotel, occupying a 400-acre site on the island of Santa Cruz. The resort’s private boat ships guests off for wildlife-viewing day trips, but delivers them back to terra firma in time for a spa treatment before their candlelight dinner.

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