The wild islands of the Galápagos continue to lure travelers 600 miles west of Ecuador, far into the Pacific Ocean. Where else can you watch a marine iguana dive for seaweed beneath a circling blue-footed booby, or size up short-feathered penguins darting along the equator? Though the archipelago was recently removed from Unesco’s list of sites in danger, the destination’s popularity has officials calling for visionary changes. Cruises, now capped at 15 days with no repeated ports, remain the best option, as most pair travelers with naturalists. New this year: Galapagos Sea Star Journey’s 16-passenger Sea Star Journey's luxury yacht, which pampers guests with Jacuzzis and a spa while en route to a stop at sea-lion central, Mosquera. Lindblad Expeditions is renowned for its sustainable practices, thanks to a partnership with the National Geographic Society. Lindblad has raised more than $5.5 million for local projects, including the restoration of Santiago island, where travelers can paddle on lagoons populated by schools of yellow-tailed sturgeon. For novice divers, a land-based itinerary with Red Mangrove Galápagos & Ecuador Lodges can include PADI certification so you can swim with green sea turtles in Academy Bay. End any trip with a stay at one of the new ocean-view suites at Finch Bay Eco Hotel, on Santa Cruz, a 15-minute walk from the Charles Darwin Research Station, the islands’ epicenter of evolution and conservation research.
Galápagos Family Tip: Metropolitan Touring offers a Young Pirates program on three of its Galápagos yachts. Kids are kept occupied with endangered-animal trivia, journal writing, storytelling, and stargazing at mealtime so parents are free to dine on Ecuadorian ceviche and piping-hot humitas (corn tamales). Four-day cruises from $1,590 per person.
Galápagos, Ecuador: World’s Best Scorecard
No. 10 island overall
No. 1 island in Mexico + Central + South America
Charles Darwin Research Station Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz; 593/5252-6147; darwinfoundation.org.
Finch Bay Eco Hotel Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz; 888/572-0166; finchbayhotel.com; doubles from $253.
GalaOdyssey 593/2286-0355; galapagosodyssey.com; 15-day cruises from $10,500 per person.
Red Mangrove Galápagos & Ecuador Lodges 888/254-3190; redmangrove.com; five-day tours from $2,104 per person.