One thing you should know about the Galapagos Islands, is that you have to visit them with a tour group. The Ecuadorian government only allows a certain number of people onto the islands each year, in an effort to conserve the area, prevent it from becoming too touristy and disrupting the already vulnerable eco-system.
We went with Friendly Planet which includes a flight from Miami, all accommodations, meals, transportation, entrance fees and a guide. Our guide Charlie was a native of Ecuador, but spoke fluent English and was a trained naturalist, who was extremely knowledgeable about the animals and areas we visited.
This tour was excellent, because it allowed us to go from island to island and see the different species that were on each one. The Galapagos are famous for animals which can only be found on their islands.
The animals do not see people as any real threat (most are strictly protected, so they have the right idea) and as a result, you can get very close to sea lions, sea turtles, giant tortoises, penguins, iguanas, the infamous finches that Darwin wrote about and many, many more.
We were astonished by the amount of active wildlife we saw everywhere we went. Motor boats took us from island to island and during one of these trips we saw a huge pod of dolphins and a whale!
Some of the highlights for me were the snorkeling and swimming alongside sea turtles, watching iguanas fighting over mates, climbing up the side of an active volcano, watching the giant bonfires and fireworks that make up Ecuadorian New Year's Eve traditions and watching a sea lion catch an octopus for lunch!
The accommodations were excellent, with buffet-style meals and clean, comfortable rooms. We had a notion that we were going to be “roughing it” when we heard about things like spending the night in cabins on the beach, but even there we were happily surprised to see quaint little cottage-like cabins that overlooked the water and were small, but very comfortable.
This may truly be the chance of a lifetime, as there are many rumors that Ecuador may shut off the Galapagos islands to tourists in the future, to continue preserving this fragile eco-system. This is not one of those places where you should wait until you're retired to visit. Furthermore, that 10-mile hike up the volcano is not for the faint of heart, OR body! --- Katie Adamchick