Wait, people actually live on the Galápagos Islands? Yes, yes they do. Located about 600 miles off the western coast of Ecuador, the island group of the Galápagos is home to several thousand people. Of the thirteen major islands, five are inhabited by Ecuadorians, most of whom live on the islands of Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal. Puerto Ayora, the largest city on Santa Cruz, is a thriving tourist’s paradise complete with gift shops, restaurants, and nearby sightseeing. Many tourists are attracted to these tropical islands, situated less than one degree south of the equator, for their exotic plant and animal life and their breathtaking beaches. It’s not every day that you get to see a five-hundred-pound tortoise or set foot on a beautiful, uninhabited island. Because traveling to the islands can be pricey, plan on staying for a week or longer in order to get the most out of the tropical experience. The following are a few of the most popular sites to help you plan your getaway.

Charles Darwin Research Station

When most people picture the Galápagos Islands, they think of huge land tortoises and iguanas. The place to see these incredible animals is the Charles Darwin Research Station. The research station has a hatchery for tortoises, so you can see baby tortoises grow into the enormous ones you’ve always imagined. Near the tortoise hatchery, you can learn about Charles Darwin’s famous finch find and see large land iguanas. While you’re walking from place to place, it’s common to see a variety of other wildlife, such as marine iguanas sleeping in the sun. So, be sure to watch your step and always carry a camera.

Tortuga Bay

The beaches on the Galápagos are gorgeous. If you go in the early hours of the morning, you’ll find yourself alone, but at any other time of the day, the beaches will be crowded with locals and tourists alike. An especially beautiful and popular beach is Tortuga Bay. You don’t want to miss a chance to wiggle your toes in its white sand while gazing out into the teal-green Pacific Ocean. Just be sure to bring sunscreen.

Restaurant Hub

The closer you get to the boardwalk, the more touristy activities you’ll find. There are dozens of local restaurants to choose from, each with a selection of fresh seafood and typical Ecuadorian dishes, such as encebollado or caldo de bola. Lunch is the largest meal of the day in Ecuador, so don’t be surprised if you can’t find a separate lunch menu when you sit down at a restaurant. Be sure to try the patacones—fried green plantains. You might like them better than you like your typical french fries.

Cruises

Puerto Ayora is a port city for both fishermen boats and cruise ships. If you’d like to travel to the other islands, take a cruise. These cruises offer a variety of tropical activities that will help you enjoy the full experience of visiting the Galápagos. For example, you can snorkel with tropical fish and see marine wildlife up close. Many cruises last longer than a week, so plan accordingly. Authentic Ecuadorian food is served on the ships, so you can’t go wrong with a cruise through the islands.

A hidden gem in the Pacific, the Galápagos Islands will surpass your dreams of visiting exotic places and enjoying the beach, all at the same time. Brush up on your Spanish, pack your swimsuit, and you’ll be sure to have a great time!

—Rebecca Timmons

Source: www.britannica.com