Island Hopping in the Galapagos

Island Hopping in the Galapagos

» Featured Columnists | By Steve Winston | February 13, 2013 8:00 AM ET

Six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador lies a land that time forgot.
From its rocky shores to its volcanic peaks, the Galapagos Islands are a living laboratory of some of Earth's most exotic animal life and habitats. This is, literally, another world...and the basis, of course, for Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution.  
For centuries, these islands lay undisturbed and uninhabited. But modern-day visitors are in for a surprise or two. For example, most people don't realize that there are actually four villages here. And that you can actually stay here, as well. In fact, the four islands of the Galapagos - Santa Cruz, Isabella, San Cristobal and Floreana - now have some 30,000 residents.
A Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, company called ROW Adventures is offering the opportunity for a lodge-to-lodge experience on these islands, with 5-8-day itineraries.
ROW Adventures' tours offer guests a chance to interact with the residents, and to participate in activities such as wildlife viewing, snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, hiking, a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station...and sights you'll see nowhere else on Earth.
Garrapatero Beach, for example, is home to many varieties of finches and the Galapagos mockingbird, along with marine iguanas, the Galapagos penguin - and local shrimpers and oyster fishermen. 
On Santa Cruz Island, guests are taken on a Tortoise Quest. The Scalesia Forest is filled with tree finches and colorful Vermillion Flycatcher. Nearby is a 600-acre reserve with giant tortoises...with whom you'll be able to come face-to-face. Afterwards, guests walk through a massive lava tunnel that's 1,350 feet long and 26 feet wide. You'll be walking on a rippled lava floor, past towering stalagmites and dangling stalactites.
On the island of Floreana, guests sail past penguins on the shore, sea lions laying around the docks, and iguanas sunbathing on black lava rock. An open-top bus takes guests to the beautiful Floreana highlands. Nearby Pirates Cove got its name from early visitors of somewhat-shady reputation who carved a hollow into the soft stone. Because of its unique stone structure, this area has been called "the Stonehenge of Floreana."
Floreana doesn't have a long history of human settlement...only since the 70's. But it's long enough to have spawned legends about "The Baroness" and the "Floreana Mystery," in which several settlers mysteriously died. 
If the weather's clear, your craft will pass Isla Tortuga, filled with fascinating sea birds like the blue-footed booby and the frigate. On the way, the boat passes sea lions, sea turtles, and playful penguins. 
On the island of Isabela, guests walk through lava fields inhabited by striking blue-and-red marine iguanas, and up to a canal filled with reef sharks. From this spot, you can see most of the island - the emerald-hued sea, the black volcanic lava, the lush canopy of the mangrove forest, and the hazy volcanoes in the distance.  
At National Park, you'll drive to the top of Cerro Orchilla, where the views are memorable (you might have to stop once or twice to allow a pedestrian - a giant tortoise - to lumber across the road!). There are more tortoises in Isabela than anywhere else, and lava barriers created separation that brought about several different species. The drive back to town includes a detour at the Interpretation Center, where Galapagos tortoises are bred, and the rare flat-backed tortoises still have scars from the eruption of Sierra Negra.
Evenings are spent in comfortable lodges with modern amenities, and, often, wonderful views. And - like every other human entity in the Galapagos - these lodges adhere to strict environmental standards, so as not to disturb the delicate ecological balance here.
The Galapagos may, indeed, be The Land That Time Forgot. But you certainly won't!

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