The Galapagos Islands are one of the world’s ecological wonders. Located 600 miles off of Ecuador’s coast in the Pacific Ocean, the 18 islands and 107 rocks and islets that make up this protected wildlife sanctuary are a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a huge variety of animals, including fur seals, hammerhead sharks, iguanas, manta rays, penguins, turtles, tortoises and an abundance of birds.

The islands are formed from volcanoes, some of which are still active; and all of them are home to wildlife. Among them are Baltra (South Seymour) Island, where most visitors arrive by air and where many small cruise ships depart; Bartolome (Bartholomew) Island, home to the only wild penguin species on the equator; Espanola (Hood) Island, with a beach for swimming and snorkeling; Isabela (Albemarle) Island, the only island in the archipelago crossed by the equator and site of the town of Puerto Villamil; North Seymour Island, a breeding ground for nesting blue-footed boobies and frigate birds; San Cristobel (Chatham) Island, where Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the province of Galapagos, is located; and Santa Cruz (Indefatigable) Island, a tortoise breeding center and home to the archipelago’s largest human population in Puerto Ayora.

A popular way to visit the Galapagos is via a cruise aboard any of several small-ship and expedition-style lines and ships that carry no more than 100 passengers, including Ecoventura, the Celebrity Xpedition and the Galapagos Explorer II. In addition, charters are available, as are live-aboard boats for certified divers. Most vessels are book up early for the high seasons: July, August, December and early January.

The Galapagos Islands is part of Ecuador, which counts fish, seafood, potatoes, meat and soups in its diet. In particular, seafood is abundant in the Galapagos, and ceviche is a popular dish. Visitors will likely be on cruises or tours, which provide meals in the itineraries, although there are some restaurants in the towns, which serve local fare, as well as international foods like sushi and pizza.

Baltra Airport on Baltra Island and San Cristobal Airport on San Cristobal Island are served by two local airlines offering flights from Quito and Guayaquil, Ecuador, with connecting flights to the U.S. Most visitors are booked on a cruise or land tour and are met by an escort and transferred to a departure point.

The climate in the Galapagos features two seasons, which vary by wind and precipitation. There are only slight differences in temperature, making either season a good time to visit. December to May is the warmer season, with daytime highs averaging in the high 70s to 80s. Afternoon showers are frequent, but the seas and wind are calmer. June to December is drier and cooler, with average daytime temperatures in the low 70s. During this season, the “garua” (fog) comes in, and seas are rougher. But hiking is more comfortable, and wildlife — particularly whales, whale sharks, dolphins and nesting albatross — are more active.