Travel + Leisure
February 24, 2010


Darwin knew what he was doing. The Galápagos draw visitors for their rare wildlife, spread across an archipelago of 4,900 square miles. Españolais best for sea lions, Santa Fe for land iguanas, and Genovesa for the Galápagos penguin.ACTIVITIES/SIGHTS

Seeing the islands requires a licensed guide; most people go on cruises or with tour operators. Don't leave without a sighting of the famed giant tortoises, once nearly extinct; they're easiest to spot on Santa Cruz and Isabela islands.RESTAURANTS/FOOD

No one comes to the Galápagos to eat. Most travelers dine on the boats ferrying them around, and hearty but not creative fare is the rule. Look for ample midday spreads—Ecuadorians have their biggest meal at lunch.PEOPLE

The population has skyrocketed to 16,000 over the past few decades (including 10,000 in the main town of Puerto Ayora), but the 65,000 annual visitors still far outnumber locals.VALUE

The most reputable packaged tours can be expensive, but the quality of vessels, itineraries, and (most important) guides is usually high. Visiting during the low-season months of September and October can save you about 15 percent.

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