Golden beaches, exotic wildlife and dramatic landscapes make up the other-worldly Galapagos Islands, a Luxury Gold favorite and must see on any keen traveler’s bucket listTo find out more about this breathtaking destination, we caught up with travel journalist Dorothy Weiner, to discuss her time spent there and why she considers it to be “like no place on earth.” 

Dorothy has traveled extensively across the globe, writing about everything from cruising the Russian Arctic to surviving boot camp at the Culinary Institute of America.

It’s not every day that humans get to witness the 24 steps of the albatross mating dance. Or walk an isolated island unnoticed by scores of sea lions basking on the sand. Once-in-alifetime experiences like these are reserved for the lucky few who visit the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago 600 miles off mainland Ecuador. A visit here is like going back in time to when the earth was completely wild and undeveloped. 97 percent of the Galapagos is designated a national park, and most of the 18 islands have no human population. Imagine setting foot on land that has no roads, no buildings, no noise. Time has stood still here, and that has protected the richness of flora and fauna on the Galapagos, allowing us to see what Charles Darwin did when he came here in 1835. The frigate birds with the the biggest crests still attract the most mates. As do the blue-footed boobies with the bluest feet. Survival of the fittest, natural selection—these concepts were born right here, on the flora- and fauna-rich Galapagos.

A stop on Santa Cruz, the most populated island, gives visitors a chance to glimpse Ecuadorean culture at the lively open-air fish market and buy souvenirs commemorating Galapagos creatures at its quaint little shops. Also there: the Charles Darwin Research Station, with its giant tortoises breeding center.

To preserve the Galapagos for posterity, tourism is strictly regulated by the Ecuadorean government and visitors must be accompanied by licensed guides. The lucky few will get to see animals, insects and birds doing the most remarkable things—and taking no notice of humans while doing them. After all, the wildlife here is unfamiliar with man and has no reason to fear his presence. You might find yourself snorkelling alongside curious sea lions, who think you’re a new playmate. Or overwhelmed by the sight of hundreds of frigate birds, their red chests bulging to attract females. You’ll see many a lava lizard doing ‘push-ups’ to mark his territory, and notice dozens of red Sally Lightfoot crabs crawling along the boulders as you approach from the sea. You may walk the isolated beach at Darwin Bay, stepping over scores of sea lions sunning lazily or dip your feet into tide pools filled with manta rays.

The Galapagos islands are like no place on earth. In Darwin’s time, sailors called them ‘Islas Encantatas’ (the Enchanted Ones). Once you see them, you’ll understand why.

Related journey: Quito & the Galapagos Islands Cruise option.