Weekend Window: The Galapagos Islands

Volcanic Islands off the coast of Ecuador.

Nov. 9, 2008 — -- Situated in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Ecuador, lies Charles Darwin's inspiration: the Galapagos Islands. With 19 islands that make up the archipelago, the region boasts some of the world's rarest species.

"The Galapagos is one of the ultimate paradises on earth," said Lindblad Expeditions leader Carlos Romero. "The Galapagos Islands is a wonderful place to visit because of the way we see the animals here."

With its abundant, diverse exotic wildlife, tourists like Jamie Roux see the islands as an opportunity to walk back in time.

One of the landscape's many animals is the sea lion.

"They are cheerful. They are happy. They like contact. They like to be together and in a way they represent a lot of the happiness of these islands," Romero said.

The Galapagos Islands also have a lagoon called Black Turtle Cove.

"It's actually a breeding lagoon for what we call the Pacific Green Sea Turtle. It's isolated. There's food here, not many predators. There's not many places in the world like that," said Galapagos Travel tour leader Barry Boyce.

Visitors have the opportunity to see some of the vibrant wildlife up close.

"You can snorkel. You can see hundreds of colorful fish, tropical fish, sea lions and even encounters with interesting creatures like sharks or rays," Romero said.

And while tourists may expect to see plenty of fish and turtles, they may be surprised to know the islands also house penguins.

"It's just pretty amazing to see that there are penguins here in the equator. These are very small. They are only 30 cm high," naturalist Carmen Guzman said.

"Seventeen species of penguins in the world and this is the only penguin to actually be on the Northern Hemisphere," Boyce added.

With all its natural beauty, Romero said it's important to protect the area.

"Once you're inside the water with a sea lion, once you are watching a beautiful view, once you're in contact with a giant tortoise, you forget about everything and you understand that this is a very important place and we need to protect it," Romero said.