The Evolutionary Playground: The Ultimate Spring Break Destination


Justin Jacobs, Staff Writer

Imagine a place comprising 19 islands and dozens of islets that are over millions of years old. These islands boast over 400 different species of fish, active volcanoes that continually add new formations to the area’s geography, and animals that are found nowhere else in the world. With spring break just around the corner and many people still without plans, one of the most unique places in the world remains open to travel for all. The archipelago of the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador are full of animals, landscapes, and some of the most unique experiences on the planet. Having traveled to almost 40 countries and territories worldwide, the Galapagos remains as one of the most fascinating places I have ever set foot in.

The Galapagos Islands are a remote island chain 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador in South America. These islands were created roughly 4 million years ago, which is considered very young for any group of islands. The island chain was created by movement between two tectonic plates in an oceanic volcano hotspot, leading to volcanic activity and eventually the creation of a small island chain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Over time, several animals swam or were brought to this archipelago by currents and subsequently established some new features to adapt to the barren life in the empty islands. For instance, iguanas learned to swim and evolved into what are now known as marine iguanas, which have shorter snouts and flatter tails, allowing them to adapt to life underwater. This, and other adaptations like it, takes place through a process called Darwinism (named after scientist Charles Darwin) in which specimens adapt to new environments they are put in. Because they evolved only to the specific conditions of the Galapagos, the only way to see them is to travel to the Galapagos.

This 3,000 square mile island chain is 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Getting here is no easy feat, but since it has become such a popular destination, traveling to the Galapagos is now much easier than it used to be. From San Diego, the quickest way to get to the Galapagos is to take a layover in Atlanta and from there take another flight to Guayaquil. All flights into the Galapagos Islands must originate from Guayaquil or Quito. Once you arrive, there are two ways to explore the island chain. The first is by living it up all on one island, where you can experience everything that that specific island has to offer. If staying on one (or multiple) islands, the best islands are Santa Cruz, San Cristobel, and Isabela. The second option, which is probably the more popular one, is to take a cruise across the entire archipelago, experiencing what each individual islet has to offer. This is what my family did when we visited, and we had a great experience. Some of the best cruise lines that travel in the Galapagos are Silverseas (what I used), Celebrity, or even smaller private boats that travel from island to island. No matter which way you choose to discover the islands, you will still be guaranteed a mesmerizing experience that will leave you stunned by its beauty.

The Galapagos Islands are home to an abundance of unique flora and fauna that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. As mentioned earlier, these animals became unique because they each developed their own adaptations. One of the most iconic animals from the Galapagos is the giant tortoise. Giant tortoises, on average, are over 4 feet tall, weigh about 500 pounds, and live nearly 120 years. Another well-known reptile from these islands is the marine iguana, a species of iguana that has learned to swim over time. The sea lions in the Galapagos are known for being very friendly and social. While kayaking, a group of sea lions was circling us and popping in and out of the water. The sea lions were so social that they even nipped at the GoPro my dad was wearing on his head! Imagine reviewing that footage! Along with mammals and reptiles, the Galapagos is known for its vast variety of birds, including the Galapagos penguin, boobies, cormorants, flamingoes, and the frigatebird, where the male has a brightly colored red chest that inflates to quadruple its size during mating season. The Galapagos is also home to many species of trees, flowers, and cacti, including the lava cactus.

In order to have the best island experience during your break, you have to ensure that you check off all of the must-dos in the Galapagos. These activities range from everything between risky adventures and peaceful sightseeing. Some things I did while I was there that I would highly recommend include snorkeling, where you can see all kinds of fish, sharks, corals, and rays. It’s the one place where you jump INTO the water when someone yells “shark” instead of jumping out! We saw penguins, turtles, and jellyfish as we maneuvered our way through the mangroves. Kayaking, where you can enjoy the mind-blowing Ecuadorian sights along with discovering the ocean through the crystal-clear waters, was our family’s favorite activity. Hikes, however, are probably the best way to discover the land, whether you walk along the crater of a volcano or view baby turtles making their way towards the ocean for the first time. I saw a lot of unique animals during our hikes, such as a flock of flamingos, a mess of iguanas (yes, a group of iguanas is called a mess) who were constantly sneezing, and a few whales that had washed up on shore. Sadly, only these whales’ bones remained. Finally, we were able to dock and disembark at Isla Isabela, where we could immerse ourselves in the Ecuadorian culture by tasting some of their foods and spending time with the native people.

Overall, the Galapagos will always remain very close to my heart because of this vacation, and I personally think it is one of the coolest travel locations in the world. Because of such a wide variety of nature that you can’t find anywhere else, the Galapagos Islands are truly very unique and interesting. Spring remains the prime season to visit the Galapagos, due to the introduction of the new baby animals and plants that begin to blossom. While they generally have the most perfect island climate in the world year-round, the Galapagos islands are the ideal travel destination for spring break. You can thank me upon your return!