Galapagos Islands



ClickCruising the Galápagos


The best way to experience the wonders of the Galápagos is to explore the islands as Charles Darwin did in 1835 – by boat. The reason for this is that many of the most spectacular sites are too far away to be reached on a day’s trip from land-based hotels. The solution is to charter a yacht, and cruise the islands in style, sailing from place to place.

    All the boats sailing the waters of the Galápagos now-a-days are clean and comfortable, most being categorized ‘Superior Class’. The ‘budget class’ cruise yachts have all been withdrawn.

    In 2008, Summit Ventures chartered a 5-star yacht, and 15 South Africans accompanied me on the ‘cruise of a lifetime’. Everyone on board was a nature lover, outdoor enthusiast, or had an interest in birds (the Galapagos is a birding paradise!)

    Life aboard the yacht was relaxed and well organized. We had a crew of seven to take care of all our needs. The food, prepared by a specialist chef, showed variety and imagination, and was nutritious, appetizing and attractively presented. There was also a small ‘canteen’ on board, where one could help one’s self to tea or coffee 24 hours of the day, and a bar with a good assortment wines, beers, and iced cool drinks. The vessel was air conditioned with ample lounge and dining areas, and spacious viewing decks.

    We set out each morning after an early breakfast in our inflatable dinghies (pangas) for one of the islands, negotiating on arrival either a wet landing (wading ashore) or a dry landing (on rocks or a dock). A guided tour followed with stunning sightings of the indigenous plant-life, birds and reptiles. Its true that the birds and animals have no fear of humans! Its also true that the islands are a living laboratory where plant and animal specialization can be studied first hand.

    After three or four hours, we returned to the boat for lunch and a siesta before embarking in the late afternoon for another island adventure. Most days, there was a chance to have a swim or to snorkel. The bays were exquisitely beautiful, with clear turquoise water, sunlit and calm. We swam with impunity among giant stingrays and shoals of fish of every sort. From the cruise boat we observed sharks close at hand, and porpoises sporting in the waves.

    Our cruise boat provided snorkeling gear and sandals, but some members of our team brought their wet suits and diving equipment. We had been warned not to assume that the surrounding ocean would be warm, even though the Equator cuts right across the Galápagos. The waters were in fact decidedly cool for a tropical destination! We were also warned to avoid submarine caves, areas where there were strong currents or surf action; to bring wide-brimmed hats, and copious supplies of skin-protection cream.

    Our boat set sail for its next destination every evening after dinner, arriving sometime during the night. We awoke each day to find ourselves anchored in a new bay, with enticing views and new horizons awaiting us. Our cruise, which lasted eight days, was hardly long enough.  

    We are currently planning another trip for 2012, and are busy taking names. In order to make the tour financially viable, we need 16 people (the number the yachts can accommodate).  



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ClickGalápagos archipelago


The Galápagos archipelago is arguably the most compelling nature spot on earth, and the best way to experience its beauty, variety and uniqueness is to visit the islands (as we have said) by boat. Cruise boats can be chartered from companies licensed to ply the waters of the Galápagos, but they are all in great demand, necessitating booking a boat a year or two in advance.

    When, as a young man of only 22, Charles Darwin came to the islands in 1835 during his epic voyage of discovery on HMS Beagle, he was particularly impressed by the nature of the flora and fauna in the Galápagos. Darwin saw much that would later inspire his great thesis, On the Origin of Species (1859), in which he formulated his theory of evolution, based on observations made during the voyage of the HMS Beagle.

    Today, the unique coastal formations of the islands, the crystal-clear inlets of turquoise-coloured water where people can swim with an amazing variety of fish and rare creatures like giant turtles, sea lions, iguanas, penguins and sting rays, give the visitor an unparalleled insight into the mechanics of nature at work. Indeed, the islands have been described as a ‘living laboratory’ where the principals of evolution can be studied.

    The Galápagos consist of 13 major islands (ranging in area from 14 to 4,588 square km), 6 smaller islands, and scores of islets and rocks lying athwart the Equator 1,000 km west of the mainland of Ecuador. Their total land area of 8,010 square km is scattered over 59,500 square km of ocean.

    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 government of Ecuador designated part of the Galápagos a wildlife sanctuary in 1935, and in 1959 the sanctuary became the Galápagos National Park. In 1978 UNESCO added the islands to its World Heritage List, and in 1986 the Galápagos Marine Resources Reserve was created to protect the surrounding waters. The Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island promotes scientific studies and protects the indigenous vegetation and animal life of the Galápagos.


ClickOverview of the islands


The Galápagos Islands were discovered in 1535 by the bishop of Panama, Tomás de Bertanga, whose ship had drifted off course while en route to Peru. He named them Las Encantadas (‘The Enchanted Islands’), and in his writings he marveled at the thousands of large a1ápa (tortoises) found there. Later, the islands were renamed ‘Galápagos’ - Galápagos being the Spanish word for ‘tortoise’.

    Numerous Spanish voyagers stopped at the islands from the 16th century, and the Galápagos also came to be used by pirates and by whale and seal hunters.

    The area had been unclaimed for almost 300 years before colonization began on what is now Santa Maria Island in 1832, when Ecuador took official possession of the archipelago.

    The islands became internationally famous as a result of their being visited in 1835 by the English naturalist Charles Darwin; their unusual fauna contributed to the groundbreaking theories on natural selection presented in his Origin of Species.

    The climate of the Galápagos Islands is characterized by low rainfall, low humidity, and relatively low air and water temperatures. Even though the islands are located on the equator, they are considered to be a cold-water environment, and are classified as ‘subtropical’ rather than tropical because of the affect of the trade winds and the cold currents from the Antarctic that influence them. The Humboldt Current, sweeping up from the south, is strongest in September, when the sea becomes choppy.

In terms of how tour operators divide up the year, high season begins around mid-June and lasts till August, starting up again in December and carrying on until mid-January. However, exact times vary, usually according to demand, with some operators only counting May to mid-June, and September, as low season.

    The Galápagos islands can be visited throughout the year, as good wildlife watching is assured throughout the 12-month period. However, seasonal variations in climate affect wildlife activity and should be considered when planning a trip.

    The islands have thousands of plant and animal species, of which the vast majority are endemic. The giant tortoises are thought to have some of the longest life spans (up to 150 years) of any creature on Earth. The swimming marine iguanas, which feed on seaweed and in some places cover the coastal rocks by the hundreds, are also unique and endemic.

    The Gal«pagos islands are purely volcanic in origin, and remains one of the most volatile regions on the planet. Unlike most of the world’s volcanic areas, however, the islands do not lie on the border of two tectonic plates (slowly moving portions of the Earth’s crust floating on a layer of magma), a fact that puzzled scientists for a long time.

    The most plausible explanation for the formation of these islands is the hot spot theory. According to this, in an area of extraordinary heat and instability in the oceanic crust, magma breaks free and bubbles up to form a volcano. Sometimes this activity continues over a long period of time until a whole series of islands have been built. Hawaii, with an age of about 20 million years, is a classic example of this process. The Galápagos islands are thought to be much younger – 10 to 15 million years old.

    The archipelago sits on the Nazca plate, which is moving eastwards and downwards to South America at a rate of 3.4 centimeters a year. As the plate shifts, so each volcano moves off the hot spot, becomes extinct, and is eventually eroded by the elements and submerged beneath the sea. Meanwhile, new volcanoes appear over the hot spot. This explains why most easterly islands are the oldest and most weathered, while the volcanoes on the westerly islands are the newest and most active.


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