The Galapagos are made up of more than 230 volcanic islands and islets about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. Thanks to this isolation, the destination is home to species found nowhere else on Earth -- about 80 percent of the land birds and 97 percent of the reptiles and land mammals are endemic.
Dwelling here are giant Galapagos tortoises, marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins and Darwin finches, named for the naturalist who spent five weeks in the islands in 1835. Look for frigate birds on North Seymour Island, and blue-footed boobies and sea lions on Espanola. On Santa Cruz, Dragon Hill is named for its resident land iguanas, while the isle's beach is a nesting site for Pacific green turtles.
Lonesome George is perhaps the most celebrated inhabitant of the Galapagos. He's the last known giant tortoise of Pinta Island, where he was discovered in December 1971. Feral goats had destroyed the vegetation of Pinta, thus eliminating the tortoises' food supply. They died out, except for George. He is estimated to be between 60 and 90 years old and has resided at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz since 1972.
The animals of the Galapagos have evolved so far from humans that they are not afraid of people. Visitors must be accompanied by licensed national park guides and should refrain from touching or feeding the wildlife.