ECUADOR - I started my journey on mainland Ecuador visiting the Equator and spending time in the Andes Mountains. Train journeys in the mountains offer spectacular views. I also stayed with an indigenous family one night. The Karanki are just one of many indigenous people in Ecuador who have been there long before the Spanish colonization. They even have their own distinct language, separate from Spanish.

Next stop was the Galapagos islands, the number one reason people visit Ecuador. It’s situated 600 miles west of the mainland. The islands were formed by lava in the open ocean, making them one of the most isolated island chains on the planet. Evolution explodes in places like this where the combination of isolation, and time come together. Many species in the islands are endemic, which means they are ONLY found here. There are several species of the infamous giant tortoise, Darwin’s famous finches, land iguanas, and even the world’s only marine iguana: the only lizard able to swim and dive in the ocean!

What makes the Galapagos unique is the only recent arrival of the most destructive invasive species: us.

Karl Campbell of Island Conservation reminds us “Humans didn’t get to the Galapagos until a couple hundred years ago.” That means that much of the wildlife of the islands hasn’t evolved a fear of humans unlike most animals that have a long history interactions with us. This creates incredible opportunities of seals wanting to play & swim with you in the open ocean and marine iguanas that could care less about you being inches away. The official rule in the islands is to keep a distance of 2 meters (6 feet) but sometimes the animals have their own ideas!

The Galapagos is a World Heritage site, carefully protected by the Galapagos National Park & Ecuadorian government. It came to fame by Charles Darwin’s research on the ‘Origin of Species’ work which revolutionized biology and the way we view how animals adapt & change over time.