Charles Darwin's legendary visit to the Galapagos Islands in 1835 made the islands and their inhabitants famous, but only in a limited fashion. Although every child in school learns about Darwin's finches and tortoises, these short biology lessons cannot do justice to the rich biodiversity of the Galapagos. Embarking on a Galapagos Island cruise will put you in direct contact with some of the most unique and specialized animals in the world, all living in a pristine environment nearly untouched by modern civilization. Although finches and tortoises tend to attract the most attention, these wildlife experiences showcase the islands' less famous but equally fascinating inhabitants.
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
Surrounding the Galapagos Islands are some of the richest and most beautiful underwater habitats in the world. Manta rays, sharks, sea turtles, eels, iguanas, penguins and tropical fish of every size and color thrive in vibrant coral reefs around the islands, sheltered from fishing and pollution as part of the world's second-largest marine reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Sight. When you visit the Galapagos, do not miss the opportunity to snorkel or scuba dive and witness the astonishing wealth of the islands' aquatic ecosystem.
Bird Watching on the Islands
Besides Darwin's finches, the Galapagos Islands are home to a wide variety of birds, ranging from tiny swifts to flamboyant flamingos. Perhaps most notable among these is the blue-footed booby, a bird notorious for its shockingly blue skin and elaborate courtship dances. Other birds to look out for include great frigatebirds, pelicans, penguins, albatrosses and the clever, specialized mockingbirds that first sparked Darwin's attention and curiosity.
Admiring the Local Reptiles
The Galapagos Islands have remained largely free of mammals throughout history, allowing reptiles to grow and flourish in their absence. The tortoises for which the islands are named are well worth seeing, but they share their habitats with the only ocean-going lizard in the world, the marine iguana. These large iguanas warm up on the rocks over the sea and then make long dives to graze on algae below the surface. Although Darwin was not impressed with the marine iguanas and their land-dwelling cousins, their unique ability to withstand the cold temperatures of the ocean are an excellent example of natural selection overcoming even the most difficult biological barriers.
Taking Galapagos Whale and Dolphin Tours
Because of their warm temperatures and protected waters, the Galapagos Islands are a favorite summer stopping point for whales and dolphins as they migrate. Humpback whales are most common, usually with their young calves in tow. If your tour coincides with the whales' migratory patterns, you will enjoy watching them relax, feed and play in the tropical sea. While on your tour, you may see dolphins, whale sharks, sea lions, birds, turtles and other marine life as well. The Galapagos Islands are famous for their role in history, but after visiting them yourself on your trip, you will be able to truly appreciate the sheer beauty and diversity they have to offer.