The Galapagos Islands are volcanic islands on the equator, off the coast of Ecuador. Because the islands were never connected to the mainland, many species of plants and animals are unique to the Galapagos. In 1835, the young naturalist Charles Darwin, arrived on the islands. His collections from the Galapagos became central to his theory of how species evolve. Today, traveling in the Galapagos with kids, everyone in the family will be awed and amazed by nature.
To preserve the animal habitats of the Galapagos, you cruise around the islands on boats, sleeping on board. Cruises are typically five days to two weeks. The boats are staffed with guides who are very knowledgeable about plants, animals and geology, and speak English. Each day is divided into water activities and exploring an island.
On each island, you will see an abundance of wild life, and it's boggling how the animals birds are undisturbed by the presence of humans. You can walk right by a blue footed booby with two eggs, sitting in the middle of the path, and she won't even notice you're there.
Depending on which islands you visit, and the time of year, you will see different birds, reptiles, mammals and marine animals. If you really like warm water for snorkeling, choose a cruise that goes to the northern islands; around the southern islands, the water is much colder.
On your cruise, you're sure to stop at the Charles Darwin Research Station to see the Galapagos tortoises. Due to a dwindling population, they raise tortoises from hatchlings; when the tortoises are big enough, they are released back into the wild. At the Research Station, you can see the baby hatchlings, medium size tortoises, and big old tortoises.
Close to the station is also a wonderful sand beach at Puerto Ayora, where you can build sand castles and see the nifty Sally Lightfoot crabs (the baby crabs are black, like the rocks, the adults are a brilliant red and yellow).
Tips for enjoying the Galapagos
Water gear - Bring snorkels and fins (especially fins) in kid's sizes. If you are cruising around the southern islands, July and August is a good time because plenty of birds are in residence, but the water is cold. Our family used wet suits, the short sleeved ones, and were glad to have them. For an extra layer of warmth, add a "rash guard" shirt under the wetsuit. The boats provide life vests, but if you have a toddler, consider bringing a life vest suited to a small child.
Footwear - Sometimes when you go ashore, you have a "wet landing" in the shallow water on the beach. Bring water shoes or sandals that are good in the water, but sturdy enough for walking on rocky paths around the islands.
Binoculars - Take along a pair of binoculars for bird watching. With binoculars, you can see how an albatross comes in for a landing, a blue footed booby diving into the water for fish, a masked booby readying itself for takeoff from a cliff, or a frigate bird puffing up it's red pouch.
Flashlights - Some islands have lava tubes, which are like caves inside. Bring along flashlights for your lava tube explorations. The lava tube on Floreana (Charles) Island has water in it. If your flashlight is waterproof, use it as you swim or wade in the water, casting a spooky glow in the inky blackness.
Underwater cameras - Take a waterproof camera, and capture your snorkeling adventures!
Sea sickness - In some of the smaller boats, you will feel the swells, especially at night when the boats run through rougher water. If your child is prone to motion sickness, talk to your pediatrician about remedies. We use acidophilus for everything, including the queasy stomach.
Sun screen - The Galapagos are on the equator and you are out in the sun most of the day. Slather on the sun screen, and keep putting it on throughout the day. Also, wear hats while hiking around the islands.
In Puerto Ayora and at the airport, you'll find wood carvings of Galapagos penguins, turtles, or boobies, stuffed animal frigate birds and tortoises, bead jewelry and Galapagos T-shirts.
If your cruise stops at Floreana (Charles) Island, stock up on postcards to send from the "Post Office." This post office is like days of old, when people would leave their letters to send, taking others to post when they get back to the mainland. We left postcards in the "Post Office," they were picked up by someone else, and sent off to our family and friends. (No stamps necessary.)