Just got back from a week in the Galapagos, and I can’t say that I can recommend it as a destination. It’s regarded as one of those places you must visit before you die, for it’s ecological variety and historical importance as the location where Darwin formulated his theory of evolution. One has happy visions of island-hopping and encountering endless marine iguanas, giant tortoises, and other exotic animals. But the reality is a bit more mundane.
No Wild Tortoises, and Immobile Iguanas
Humans did their human thing and introduced nasty animals to a pristine island ecosystem, so there are very few giant tortoises left in the wild. You’re guaranteed to see them at a breeding center, but that’s basically a zoo full of only tortoises. There’s hope, since we can breed them in captivity, but they live more than 150 years so it will take a few generations before you can find them ranging the wild hills.
What you will see is a lot of marine iguanas and sea lions. Sea lions are nothing special since you can find them around the world, but it is fun to see them doing their playful thing nearly everywhere. Marine iguanas (and their larger, orange land based cousins) are found all over the beaches, but as it turns out, they aren’t much fun. All they do is lie on rocks in immobile packs, and sometimes spit excess salt from their nostrils. The most exciting aspect was when they went swimming or came back to shore. They lazily swim using their tail as a propeller, and stoically get washed in or out by pulsing waves, only to grab purchase of the rocks with their claws when they can and nonchalantly swagger in to find a rock to sit on.
These animals, coupled with a few weird looking finches and a desolate volcanic landscape, are exciting for 2 or 3 days. But then it all becomes repeats. You see the same fishes snorkeling, the same iguanas hiking, and the same landscape on all of the islands. We were there for 6 days on a boat cruise, and I felt that it was twice as long as it needed to be (yachts are glorified houseboats, and you end up spending more time on them than on land).
Just Another Tropical Destination
Stripped of ecological novelty and wild tortoise, the Galapagos becomes just another tropical vacation destination, good for warm waters, weird fauna, and endless sun. Except it fares quite poorly as a tropical vacation, given that the water is rather chilly, the island is very remote, and there’s not much in the way of local culture. There’s only two towns of any significance, and they don’t have much to offer beyond a few touristy restaurants. You could do far better in a tropical destination where the islands are closer together, there’s more local culture, and legitimately warms waters (with reef diving! There’s no reef here).
Fort Lauderdale and Miami
This Breier vacation included layover nights in Houston, Quito, and Ft Lauderdale, oddly enough. We were stranded in Houston after missing a flight due to delays, and there’s really nothing to say about Houston. We didn’t even get to explore Quito given the flight layout, and the fact that a nearby volcano had erupted and there were some demonstrators rioting in the streets, apparently. Most of our time there was in the airport.
Ft Lauderdale was the most worthy stop, surprisingly. It’s part of metropolitan Miami, which I’ve never been to, and it had all the elements of a tropical destination I mentioned above, minus animals. The water there is crazy warm – almost too warm! No wonder it’s the default US spring break destination – miles on miles of high rise hotels sit next to the pristine beach, which a promenade dotted with restaurants, ice cream, and jet ski rentals in between. The people watching was almost better than the infamous Venice Beach in LA, which is saying something.
Plus you get Miami’s Latin flavor, which means there’s a lot of Spanish on the streets and in the features of the locals. I popped down to Miami proper for a few hours just to see the infamous South Beach in the flesh (typical overpriced tourist party spot, think Ibiza), drive around downtown (crazy huge skyscrapers amongst canal-like waterways), and poke around the Wynwood district (artsy, gorgeous beautiful murals and art galleries for blocks on blocks on blocks). Definitely want to come back and explore more.