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The Galapagos Islands

Arguably the most popular tourist destination for those who travel to Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are also the focus of many South America cruises, and it's no wonder as to why: Nowhere else in the world can you experience the sites and wildlife that call the Galapagos “home.” Flamingoes, iguanas, tortoises and eponymous Darwin finches – they're all here, plus plenty of other residents both on the land and in the water. If you make the Galapagos Islands part of your Ecuador travel plans, be prepared to hike and climb aboard a Zodiac boat for up-close encounters, or grab your sweetheart and go snorkeling or diving. Visit the interpretation center near Cerro de las Tijeretas (Frigatebird Hill) for a richer experience and to ensure you get the most from your Ecuador travel. 

Barrington (Santa Fe): Many people who travel to the Galapagos do so to see the huge land iguanas that make the islands their home. Barrington provides plenty of opportunities for Galapagos travelers to see the iguanas, as well as lava lizards and sea lions. The forests of palo santo trees are another prime attraction for Galapagos Islands vacations. 

Bartolome: For a unique look at the islands during your travel to Galapagos, climb the wooden stairway and gaze down on two spectacular bays and winding lava flows. Be sure to visit Pinnacle Rock if your Galapagos travel plans include spotting sea lions and penguins, which are especially active here from May to September. 

Tower (Genovesa): Birding is a central focus of much Galapagos travel, and South America cruises frequently recommend Tower Island as a birder's paradise, thanks to nesting populations of red-footed boobies, lava gulls, storm petrels, frigate birds, and Darwin finches. Many birders who travel to Galapagos also spot the rare Galapagos owl on Tower Island, especially near Prince Philip's steps. 

James (Santiago): No travel to Galapagos is complete without a stroll along the black sand beaches of Sullivan Bay or the lava rocks of James Bay where fur seals make their home. Watch for the Galapagos hawk and go swimming and snorkeling. 

Jervis (Rábida): Flamingos travel to Galapagos to breed and raise their young at this island; look for them past the island's red-sand beach, another must-see for many who travel to Galapagos. Pelicans, boobies, and sea lions are also here. 

Fernandina (Narborough): If you plan to travel to Galapagos in March, make a stop on Fernandina to see the unusual courtship rituals of the flightless cormorants as they prepare to build their nests. Sea lions, pelicans, and penguins also call this island home. 

Hood (Española): Swimming and snorkeling are popular activities here, and many South America cruises include a trip to the island's coral beaches. Plenty of wildlife is here too – marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, Galapagos doves, and sea lions live here, and many people plan their travel to Galapagos to coincide with the arrival of waved albatrosses in April. Don't miss the island's curious blowhole! 

North Seymour: Next to the wildlife, the stark and varied landscape is one of the major attractions for many who travel to Galapagos. North Seymour offers lots to see in and around its tangled palo santo forests. Travel to Galapagos in May to see the courtship of the blue-footed boobies or in June for magnificent red-pouched mating displays of frigate birds. If you prefer mammals, sea lions colonize here as well, lounging and entertaining, providing a focal point of Galapagos travel. 

Isabela (Albemarle): As the largest of the islands, Isabela is a frequent stop for South America cruises. Hike around Tagus Cove and look for ship names carved on the rocks well over a century ago. Take a boat ride along the shore for close-up views of flightless cormorants, pelicans, penguins, and crabs. Head to Urbina Bay to see volcanoes Darwin and Alcedo and look for giant tortoises and both land and marine iguanas. Land iguana eggs hatch in April, so consider planning your Galapagos travel to coincide with that. 

Floreana (Charles): Travel to Galapagos between December and May to see sea turtles coming ashore here to nest. Plan your Galapagos travelfor February, and you can also see flamingos nesting near an olivine-sand beach. Visit the makeshift “barrel” post office used by 18th-century whalers, and snorkel at Devil's Crown. 

Santa Cruz (Indefatigable): Home to the Charles Darwin Research Station in the village of Puerto Ayora, a major stop on Galapagos travel itineraries and many South America cruises. If you travel to Galapagos in February, look for nesting marine iguanas; in June, keep an eye out for giant tortoise nesting sites.

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