The Galápagos Islands lie more than 1,000km from mainland Ecuador but have a reputation and place in the history of science and evolution that far exceeds their small size. Rugged and often rough, there's little vegetation or cover as the majority of islands here are the remains of shield volcanoes, created by intense seismic activity.
What makes these islands so special is the sheer quantity and diversity of wildlife, which still behaves as if people weren't a threat. Species to watch out for include Galápagos land iguanas, giant tortoises, fur seals, sea lions and a lot of birds including frigatebirds, Galápagos penguins and the delightfully named blue-footed boobies, as well as the many types of finch that so inspired Darwin.
Luxury Galápagos cruises
Boutique expedition cruise ships are the most explore the islands, and meet their inhabitants. These sailings offer the chance to visit a wide selection of islands, taking in a huge variety of habitats and discovering the diversity of life on display. They also offer a degree of flexibility, which in turn lends itself to the best wildlife encounters. A single cruise itinerary might combine the southern islands of Espanola and Floreana, central and western Fernandina and Isabella, and the northern Genovesa Islands, with most ships visiting two or maybe three islands over the course of several days.
If cruising isn't for you, there's also the option to stay in lodges, hopping between islands to go snorkelling and diving and explore by kayak or on foot to get up close to the wildlife. Indeed, some of the hiking trails are truly stunning, such as the route to the Wall of Tears historic site on Isabella and Cerro Tijeras on Santa Cruz. And, lodges offer all the comforts you'd expect, from gourmet dining to swimming pools and spa treatments.