Have you ever snorkeled with penguins, hiked with iguanas, or sunbathed with seals? This is what the Galapagos Islands (an Ecudorian Province) are all about. You and nature, up close and personal. As you're thinking about heading south to warm up your frigid spirit, think Ecuador.
January through March is the rainy season on the South American equator, but rain is minimal, the temperatures are warm—but not bad for hiking--and warm water currents flow down from Panama bringing good snorkeling conditions.
The beginning of the year is also mating season for many species, and so you get more biology for your buck than at other times. It's like sea turtles gone wild.
Evolution is always a debate, so if you want to see some scientific research, follow Darwin's path throughout this living laboratory of islands. The flightless cormorants caught my attention. Flying cormorants are seen around the world, but in the Galapagos, they have adapted to the sea life and lack of vegetation on the volcanic islands. The only way to eat was to dive for food. Through lack of use their wings have grown so short, they no longer fly.
Darwin's finches are another good example, and if you're really interested, you should read the book, Darwin’s Finches.
Genovesa Island was my favorite. It was like Eden for birds. Because of mating season, frigate males with huge, red, heart-shaped sacks inflated below their necks sat on the ground as females flew overhead searching for the most impressive guy. Since the island has no natural enemies, the hopeful gents ignored us as we strolled by.
It was the same with the blue and red-footed boobies. Females sat on the ground guarding eggs and didn't flinch a feather when we approached ever so close.
Lots of companies run trips to the Galapagos. We looked at National Geographic, with its 110 passenger cruise, but opted for Road Scholar’s = smaller boat of 16 people. This company is known for its high quality programs and guides. It no longer has an age limit of sixty and over. And while everyone on board was older than my group of friends, we met the most fascinating people. You can choose the rigor of your tour from 1 = easy to 5 = challenging. We chose 5, which attracted our kind of people, adventurous and eager to learn at any age.
Tourism is tightly controlled in the Galapagos. Tour guides must be island citizens, most with college degrees, and only two boatloads of people are allowed on an island at a time. Since most tours are ten days, you don’t get to see all fifteen islands, so I would definitely book a trip that goes to Genovesa.
In addition, you may want to bring a sea sick patch because of long hours on board. Three of our passengers had them, and no one got sick.
I’ve now crossed the Galapagos off my To Do list, but I sure wouldn’t mind going back.