For families with older, curious children, a trip to the Galapagos Islands is a must-do. Traveling together there provides a fun and educationally immersive experience that is truly unique (dare we say, "evolved"). Due to the lack of predators on the islands, the birds and animals who live there are generally unafraid of people, affording everyone a chance to safely view and experience the wildlife up-close.
Located 1,000 kilometers from the Ecuadorian mainland, the Galapagos archipelago is made up of 13 major islands, populated by animals such as the Giant Tortoise, Marine Iguanas, Blue-Footed Boobies, Waved Albatross (and their hilarious mating dance), Frigate Birds, Penguins, Sea Turtles, and playful Sea Lions.
The islands are also a living geological museum, as many are uninhabited by humans and a range of newer and older islands allows for surreal landscapes and up-close viewing of nature taking shape. The islands were also the inspiration for Charles Darwin, and you can see the unique evolutionary path many of the creatures have taken in isolation through natural selection.
Plan to visit the Galapagos Islands via cruise tour on an expedition ship, since exploring the islands from the mainland is very limiting. The only boats allowed to tour from island to island are licensed Galapagos Boats, and children under seven are not allowed.
When deciding on the right ship, though, first consider its size. Small boats are more intimate and can more deftly explore within a small range, and larger vessels generally have more range and power to reach more remote islands. The larger cruise ships (80-100 passengers) have more comfortable facilities and cabin options for families, and exploration is generally more structured. Smaller boats (up to 20 passengers) are more flexible with scheduling of activities and tours, with tighter accommodations, and more impact felt during the ocean ride. All exploration of the islands is with a certified naturalist, experts in the local flora, fauna, and wildlife. It's important to research the quality of your guide first and their language skills.
The Galapagos Islands are a year-round destination, but the best season to visit the islands and the equator is usually between April and October, when the water temperature is warmest and there is very little rain. In the rainy season, you can more easily find deals and your choice of boats. Many people combine a trip to the Galapagos with a trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu in Peru.