Periodically, I feel a need to retreat from civilization. The remote becomes irresistible, and I long for the tranquility of unspoiled nature. Two ecolodges recently gave me the perfect excuse to decamp to Ecuador, a small country with an extraordinarily rich diversity of natural wonders that includes the tropical Amazonian jungle, the temperate cloud forests of the Andean highlands and, of course, the Galápagos archipelago.
Despite their fame, most of the islands of the Galápagos remain unspoiled and uninhabited. It is true that there is ongoing controversy about the environmental impact of increasing visitor numbers, as well as the growth of Ecuadorian populations on the islands of San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz, but in many places in the Galápagos you still have the uncanny feeling that you are standing at the edge of the world.
This most recent visit did nothing to dissuade me from the belief that the superlatives heaped upon the archipelago are well-deserved. The situation of these volcanic islands on the equator and at the confluence of three major ocean currents allows an astonishing ecosystem to thrive, one that includes creatures as varied as sea lions, giant tortoises, marine iguanas and the only penguin species found in the tropics. Landscapes veer dramatically from moss-draped forest to cactus-speckled desert, often on the same small island. And because humans discovered the archipelago only about 500 years ago, and most of it is still uninhabited, much of the wildlife has little or no fear of people. In the Galápagos, successful nature photography does not require a telephoto lens.