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Discover the Wonder and Intrigue of the
Galapagos Islands

by Roy Witman © 2008

It's like a land before time. As you approach the Galapagos Islands from afar, they appear almost desolate. Rough, rocky and jagged from years of volcanic activity (past and present), you may wonder if a mistake was made. This doesn't look like a great place for a vacation. Oh, my, how first impressions can be deceiving!

The Galapagos Islands boast the greatest number species of flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth. Imagine a zoo with no walls or fences where animals roam free. Go ahead, walk right up to a sea lion and make friends. Want to pet a penguin? Help yourself. That's just one more astonishing fact about the Galapagos: The wildlife is completely at ease around humans.

Situated in the Pacific Ocean about 600 miles off the west coast of South America, the Galapagos Islands belong to Ecuador and are part of its National Park System. The 16 main islands and six smaller islands create the Galapagos Archipelago consisting of just less than 5,000 square miles of volcanic rock. While the oldest volcanic eruption is estimated to have occurred between five and 10 million years ago, the most recent was in 2007.

This is the land Charles Darwin discovered some 200 years ago. And this is the place that inspired his theory of evolution. Though never proven, it's easy to understand why Darwin might have made the assumptions he did based on the amazing array of wildlife found in this area.

Only on the Galapagos Islands will you find the marine iguana: The only iguana in the world to feed at sea. And penguins? In Ecuadorian heat? Absolutely! It's here that you can observe the only living tropical penguin. The same can be said for the tropical albatross. It, too, is found exclusively on the Galapagos Islands.

This new and exciting family destination offers a Jurassic Park of sorts for those who love up-close adventures with unique and wondrous creatures. Snorkel with sea lions, swim freely with dolphins and rays, climb volcano summits and look out over miles of Mother Nature's laboratory of the gloriously odd.

Observe the blue-footed boobies' mating ritual - a ballet of stretching and dancing to show off their brilliant blue feet. Or catch a frigate flying overhead with a wingspan of over 90 inches. These and other astonishing creatures can be found on North Seymour, the island with the highest density of animal population.

You'll also want to stop on Rabia. In addition to white-cheeked pintail ducks, you'll discover red lava and sand due to the high concentration of iron. Santa Cruz plays home to the Charles Darwin Research Station as well as the headquarters of the Galapagos National Park Service. With a large turtle population and remarkable lava tunnels, Santa Cruz is not to be missed.

Above all, take your camera along with plenty of film or a very large memory card. If ever there was a place that offered exceptional photo opportunities it is the Galapagos Islands. From massive tortoises to coral hawkfish to the only tropical penguins in the entire world, you are guaranteed to have a once-in-a- lifetime experience that you'll want to capture on film.