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Galapagos Islands were first discovered by Europeans in 1535 when Father Tomas Berlanga, the bishop of Panama, sailed for Peru. But his ship was carried by strong currents out to the islands. Three centuries later, Charles Darwin became the first to make a scientific study of the islands.

People have been venturing out there ever since. I doubt Darwin could have imagined the Galapagos Islands of today with dozens of cruises ships plying the waters on a daily basis. These beautiful islands, unique in all the world, are in jeopardy of becoming a mere commodity. Large cruise ships, by their very nature, must focus on getting the most people in and out of the islands in the most efficient way possible.

That does not leave much room for individual exploration or spontaneity. The result is that you can miss a lot. From a ship, for example, you will never even see much less have an opportunity to explore the underwater lava tunnels of Isabela Island. These natural tunnels were created from lava flows that carved out hundreds of arches and tunnels, both above and below the water. The striking geological formations are home to an array of extraordinary creatures such as white-tipped sharks, rays, lava gulls and ruddy turnstones that inhabit this unique environment.

Yet, the still pervasive idea remains that cruising is the only way to see the Galapagos. To that, we say a resounding ‘no’. Not anymore.

There is an alternative – a land-based Galapagos experience that takes you beyond Santa Cruz. Explore and stay on three separate islands: San Cristobal, Isabela, and Santa Cruz, where each day is tailored to what you want to do rather than the more generic mornings on land and afternoons in the water. Dig up yucca roots for lunch, plant an indigenous tree, snorkel around animals only found closer to formations like the Isabela lava tunnels…

There is a handful of outstanding, small sustainable hotels focusing on providing the traveler with a more personal journey with opportunities for customization, better access to more out of the way sites such as the lava tunnels, and better quality guides. You have time to explore more thoroughly than can be provided by ships. For example, on our President’s Pick: Ecuador’s Galapagos & Amazon, guests stay on Isabela Island and explore the island’s marine sanctuary, which encompasses the tunnels, as well as Sierra Negra, a large shield volcano at the southeastern end of the island. One of the most active volcanoes in the Galapagos chain, it last erupted in 2005. You will also be able to take short excursions to other sites.

So the next time you consider a Galapagos Islands adventure, think about a land-based option such as the program noted above. And the best part… we have really limited space for the holidays. Explore the best kept secrets in the Galapagos today. Forget the balcony, bring your exploring shoes.

Big Five

From: Big Five Travel

About the Author: Big Five's overriding mission is to turn dreams into reality. We offer customized luxury travel for individuals and groups. Our luxury tours are tailor-made to satisfy the discriminating tastes of our guests to any of our exotic and exciting destinations in Africa, Asia, Orient, Latin America, Polar Regions and South Pacific.

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