Where can your children swim with sea lions, snorkel with penguins, kayak with manta rays, lounge with strange looking lizards, watch male frigate birds puff their throats into red balloons, and talk to giant tortoises -- all in one vacation? Only in the Galapagos Islands, a remote and beautiful chain of islands located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador.
A trip to the Galapagos Islands is the ultimate family eco-adventure. Each day spent here is a living science lesson and a chance to make memories that will last a lifetime. Charles Darwin created a legacy during his five week stay here, and it is likely that your visit will do the same for your children.
Children visiting the Galapagos Islands should be at least 7 years of age, and all travelers should have good mobility. When traveling to the Galapagos with children, it is important to choose a tour company that understands the needs of families and offers a highly personalized vacation experience. Ecoventura offers five- and seven-night cruises aboard their intimate 20-person motor yachts, and the company has achieved an excellent reputation for family-friendly travel. Each cruise is accompanied by Ecoventura guides who are licensed by the National Park Service. These highly experienced naturalists lead their small groups of passengers safely along island trails, share their detailed knowledge of the ecology and history of the islands, enforce National Park Service rules, and offer travelers opportunities for close encounters with wildlife.
The animals are the true stars of the show on the Galapagos Islands. They are often odd looking, curious, seemingly fearless of human beings, and abundant in number. Boobies often nest right on the trail, prehistoric-looking lizards array themselves along the paths, and baby sea lions swim and play with delighted snorkelers.
Families will have no problem encountering animals on this trip. There are 58 species of birds on the Galapagos Islands, including penguins, flamingos, and the colorfully footed boobies. The islands are also home to 22 species of reptiles, 6 species of mammals and 327 species of fish. The most famous Galapagos residents are the Giant Tortoises, which cannot be found anywhere else.
Each island offers something different and no shore excursion is quite the same. On Tower Island, passengers encounter magnificent male frigate birds puffing their throats into giant red billiard balls and red-footed boobies strutting their stunning feet. Giant manta rays may be spotted by parents and children kayaking together, and the swimming here is wonderful.
On North Seymour Island, sea lions are found sunning themselves on the rocks and surfing the waves. Children are always amazed by the electric blue color of the blue-footed boobies here, as well as the strange appearance of the Galapagos land iguana. The geological formations in the Galapagos are both bizarre and enchanting, and North Seymour does not disappoint. The tall cliffs here offer spectacular views.
Families who have visited The Big Island of Hawaii will feel right at home on Isabela. Formed by six volcanoes, Isabela is the largest island in the Galapagos chain. The shore excursion on this island allows travelers to observe rock formations, lava fields, finches and Galapagos penguins.
Huge colonies of marine iguanas make Fernandina Island a popular stop for families, and a visit to these shores is not to be missed. Kids love watching these large, strange-looking lizards swimming in the water, eating green algae, sprawling on top of one another, and basking in the sun. This island is also home to flightless cormorants and colonies of sea lions.
The landscape of the Galapagos Islands is often as interesting as the wildlife, and on Bartolome this is definitely true. The desolate volcanic landscape of Bartolome resembles the moon, and there are wonderful opportunities for hiking and snorkeling here. Hikers can climb to the top of a volcanic cone for great views of famous Pinnacle Rock. Penguins sometimes join families swimming in the surrounding waters, and snorkelers can also encounter sea turtles and large schools of iridescent fish.
The beaches on Espanola (Hood) are fantastic, and this is one of the best places for families to swim and play with the sea lions. In addition, from April to November, the beautiful waved albatross makes this island its home. Families visiting during this time are likely to see these huge beautiful birds performing their famous mating rituals and awkward runway maneuvers when taking off from the cliffs. Marine iguanas here are bedecked in Christmas colors of red and green, and bright red sally lightfoot crabs scamper in and out of the rocks. Wildlife is particularly plentiful on Espanola, making it another "don't miss" destination for kids.
One of the most memorable highlights of the Galapagos vacation is the stop at Santa Cruz. The Charles Darwin Research Station, which is the home of Lonesome George, is located on this island. Lonesome George is the last surviving member of the Pinta subspecies, and he has refused to mate with females from subspecies other than his own. Children find him to be captivating. The Darwin Research Station is also home to a number of other Giant Tortoises, and family pictures can be taken with them. From June until January, Giant Tortoises can also be seen at a private farm in the island's highlands. This island is also somewhat unique for the Galapagos, as civilization can be found here. The island's little town of Puerto Ayora is an excellent place to buy souvenirs, t-shirts, and postcards.
A vacation to the Galapagos Islands offers the family experience of a lifetime. Nature unlike any other place on earth can be found here. Unparalleled family memories can be made here as well. If you go, plan to bring more film or digital media storage space than you can ever imagine using. You'll need every bit.