Looking back on the first time that I went to the Galapagos, I realized that I had no idea what I was getting myself into (as is often the case when we look behind us!). I had expected to see a few animals here and there, maybe a good sunset every night, and having to battle large groups of people in order to get a dinner table in the evenings. Here are some lessons I learned on my Galapagos trip:
1. It is very, very hot.
Set in the middle of the Pacific Ocean about 500 nautical miles west of mainland Ecuador, the climate of the Galapagos Islands is comparable to that of other oceanic lands. From June to November, temperatures are relatively low during what is known as the rainy season. Rains tend to be scattered throughout the afternoons or sometimes last all day. Cooler winds also pass by. From December to May, it is the dry season, at the height of which it is also incredibly hot and humid. Especially from January to April, it is vital to bring lots of sunscreen, a hat, long sleeves and pants, sunglasses, and any other personal items that may help against the sun's heavy rays. And not only is there a lot of sun, powerful UV rays reflect off the ocean waters as well as the black volcanic rock seen on hikes and beaches. During this season, it may be unbearably hot in the early afternoon, so often cruise itineraries schedule these hours for transit rather than activities.
2. The animals do not fear you.
When I heard that the Galapagos resembles an open zoo, I wasn't sure what to think. On my 4 day cruise, however, I quickly found out what that meant. Because the Galapagos is so remote and have historically been free of human contact, the creatures that call the archipelago home have not come to fear people. From the playful sea lions to the rainbow colored Sally Lightfoot crabs, and from the giant marine tortoises to the blue footed boobies, none of them shy from your approach. With that said, it is important to remember not to get too close in order to respect each animal's personal space and safely.
3. It is not overly touristy.
The Galapagos is on the Must See list of many travelers, so I figured that many of them would be there the same time I was. And while the islands are growing exponentially more popular by the year, only about 170,000 visitors reached this top destination in 2012 (to give you an idea, more than 1 million visited Machu Picchu the same year, and more than 1.2 million visited Rio de Janeiro for its Carnaval celebrations also in 2012). Puerto Ayora remains the largest urban center among the islands with a population of less than 10,000. This means that the Galapagos still retains its ancient natural charm and tranquility, and that personal connections with the myriad of animals, the local people, and mystical energy of the vast landscapes can still be felt out in what truly often feels like the middle of nowhere.
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