Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Galápagos Islands

Photo: Murray Foubister [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D
It’s time to see the Galápagos Islands. You can’t put it off any longer. The islands are in trouble. Climate change is affecting both their pristine landscape and unique species. Most of the world doesn’t seem to care. At least not enough to start changing bad habits. So go now.

The volcanic islands, which are part of Ecuador, lie 600 miles off the west coast of South America and straddle the equator in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The 14 islands are considered a national park, a marine reserve, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to their unparalleled ecosystem. No wonder they’re called the Enchanted Islands.

Cruise ships are the easiest ways to experience the Galápagos. Sure, they allow you to see more of the islands. But cruising just isn’t your thing. The thought of being confined to a boat with the same people for multiple days gives you nightmares. You’d much prefer to have a home base and take day trips—even if it means seeing less—to feel more independent.

Photo: Golden Bay Galapagos

To truly feel independent, you’re not even starting on Santa Cruz. Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the Galápagos, is where most people begin their trips. You’re going a little off the beaten path. You’re starting on San Cristóbal.

San Cristóbal is the easternmost island in the archipelago. In 1835, it was the first island on which Charles Darwin set foot. After the famous biologist discovered several new species, the island went on to become a penal colony, a military base, and a shipping center—its rich, volcanic soil made it easy to grow cassava, coffee, and sugar—for Ecuador. El Junco Lagoon, a crater lake, is the only freshwater source on the islands. It attracts boobies, frigatebirds, and gulls. Galapaguera is a sanctuary where Galápagos tortoises roam on the southeast coast. While Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, its main town, is actually the capital of the Galápagos.

Cristóbal, as Galapagueños call the oldest settlement on the islands, is a sleepy little capital. It’s home to the Governor’s residence that doubles as the Navy’s headquarters, Immaculate Conception Cathedral, and Galápagos National Park’s Interpretation Center. Playa de Oro, the main beach, is reserved for sea lions. Shipwreck Bay is dotted with shipping vessels, fishing boats, and day-trip yachts. Plus Tongo Reef, a popular surfing spot, lies just offshore.

The only thing left is a comfortable hotel. Golden Bay sits across the street from Playa de Oro, so it has a great view of the sea lions, the harbor, and sunset. It has a pool surrounded by gardens, a casual restaurant, and a snack bar with a wood-fired pizza oven, too. It’s your minimal suite, complete with a freestanding tub in front of floor-to-ceiling windows, that’ll make your jaw drop, though. It’s the perfect place to relax, reflect on what you see, and be grateful that you have the chance to visit these amazing islands.

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