Marooned off the Ecuadorian coast beyond human touch, corruption and devastation, the Galapagos Islands are quite simply one of the world's greatest natural wonders.
And while Darwin made these rocky outcrops famous to us mere land lovers, seamen had stumbled across this land of weird geological formations and even weirder wildlife, long before his time.
Adrift in the Pacific Ocean, this scattering of volcanic idylls lie testament to Darwin's groundbreaking research on natural selection. It was here the English naturalist developed his revolutionary ideas with compelling evidence in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species — as a result of the vast number of endemic species on the archipelago.
Nowhere else on earth can you witness the role evolution plays so clearly, and it's here that today, many of these species remain - from the giant tortoise to the marine iguana.
Take your pick of these three islands - and keep an eye out for the blue-footed boobie.
Santa Cruz Island
The hub of human civilisation in the archipelago, Santa Cruz is your best bet for an intriguing insight into local life adrift from the mainland. Immigrants flocked here last century and it’s worth spending a morning visiting the excellent Charles Darwin Research Station — a first-hand lesson in natural history and the work of the international, non-profit Charles Darwin Foundation.
Don’t miss a journey across the island, from the main town of Puerto Ayora to a clutch of lava tubes, sinkholes and eerie craters for a spot of Darwinian exploration; and the chance to meet the formidable Galapagos tortoises.
The southernmost island of the archipelago, this Garden of Eden should be on the hit list of every visitor. Fringed with a curve of paradisiacal white sand on its northeastern shore, Espanola is the place to throw on the bikini and snorkel in its surrounding crystalline waters, home to tropical fish, from yellow-tailed surgeonfish and king angelfish to bump-head parrot fish. Hammerhead sharks are also known to prowl this underwater utopia, as are sleepy white-tipped reef sharks.
Back on terra firma, meanwhile, sea lions hark in a harmony, circled by great-winged albatross, while the sinister-looking marine iguanas skulk along its shores; their peculiar faces seemingly glaring at you in humour.
The oldest and easternmost island in the archipelago, San Cristobal or Chatham is the place to spot one of the area's most prized creatures — the blue-footed boobie.
Head here from June to August during its mating season when these amusing beauties perform an elaborate dance to attract a mate, starting with the male bestowing a small stick or stone to the female. For almost guaranteed sightings, travel across the island to Isla Lobos, whose basalt rock is home to these seabirds and a clutch of frolicking sea lions.
Our 11-day Galapagos Islands Cruise itinerary takes in Quito and the Galapagos Islands. The price includes flights, accommodation, transportation and guide.