Where the Wild Things Really Are: The Top Wildlife Tours

By Kathy Ely
  |  Gorp.com
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A wildlife expedition need not be an expensive or laborious undertaking, but to see the greatest variety and number of creatures, you need to go where the wild things are—in their natural habitats, away from civilization. Granted, you may have to travel a bit farther and spend a bit more, but the rewards will be worth the extra effort.

The Ultimate Nature Tour: Cruising the Galapagos

Darwin traveled halfway around the world to discover the wonders of this island archipelago unlike any other. Your visit will be no less momentous, since the giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies, and all manner of species live here and only here. And new species are still being discovered.

But the best part is that you can get close to them: swim with dolphins, penguins, even sharks; walk right up to four-foot-iguanas, tortoises the size of your coffee table, wildly colored crabs, the equator's only penguins, and birds that haven't learned to fear, so they linger near. All on 13 major islands (hundreds of others too small to tred) that are otherwordly in their craggy volcanic landscapes (and surprising caves), with conservation protections that should keep them and their rather bizarre inhabitants in this world for the next millenium. This is an enchanting destination of a lifetime, where the hype is not hollow: it is indeed a nature lover's—not to mention a photographer's—dream trip.

Practically Speaking:
It is no small feat to get to the islands, 500 miles out into the Pacific off the coast of Ecuador. And tough luck if you don't like water or boats; the main way to see the islands is by ship/yacht. To get to the more remote islands, we recommend trips that use the yacht as your base: Sleep and eat on the boat with a couple of daily excursions to specific islands for walking and nature viewing. There are also a few hotels on the main island, and you can do day trips from there. In either case, reasonably fit people should handle the physical demands quite easily. (Do plan to get on and off boats a lot, and perhaps get wet. And think twice about little children... )

No way around it—this is generally a pricey trip: Plan on a minimum of $1000, but more realistically $1500-$3000 per person (before airfare). There are many decisions that can kick this total up: cabin choice, operator, hotel, add-on trips.

The ideal months to go are April and May; it's still hot, but the crowds are somewhat down from peaks of Christmas/Easter and summer, and the waters are not as choppy. Most times are possible—the key is to plan well ahead: boats get booked early, some go out of service certain times of the year. Don't try to do this trip in less than a week; you'll make yourself crazy. Two is even better.


Kathy Ely, former editor of Away.com, is taking her own spring break, writing, editing, and exploring the world at large.

Published: 30 Nov 1999 | Last Updated: 12 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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