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The very best holidays for getting up close and personal with the wildlife.

 

1 Galapagos, Ecuador

How could anything but the Galapagos islands take the top spot? It annihilates the competition for two reasons: (1) much of the wildlife here is endemic to the Galapagos, which means you can’t see these species anywhere else, and (2) the animals are so used to groups of staring humans passing through that they are incredibly tame.

As a result, you are guaranteed to see them and get your picture taken with them (though obviously don’t interfere with them – the Galapagos is host to a delicate ecosystem and tourism poses a significant threat).

The selection of creatures on show here is nothing short of astounding. Blue-footed boobies – comical-looking seabirds with incongruously bright-blue feet – are irresistibly endearing. On the not-so-cute end of the scale, coal-black marine iguanas stalk the islands wearing an expression that denotes pleasure in evil-doings, their villainous demeanour enhanced by a habit of regularly sneezing out violent jets of snot. This is the delightful manner in which the iguanas expel excess salt from the marine algae that forms their diet. Charles Darwin called them the “imps of darkness”. Go snorkelling from the islands’ beaches and these malevolent lizards will be swimming alongside you.

Also sharing the water with you are Galapagos sea lions, a species so unabashed by human company that the young will feed from their mothers as you walk past them on land.

Often a Galapagos trip will save the most mind-boggling animal until last – the Galapagos giant tortoise, 400kg beasts easily justifies the grand title. Try not to gawp too much, out of respect for your elders – these guys usually live more than 100 years in the wild.

Of course, this sort of one-off experience comes at a price, and getting yourself to the Galapagos can seldom be done for under a grand. Approach it backpacker-style and trawl the city of Guayaquil for a late deal – we found ourselves on a five-star cruise at the bargain price of £750 by doing just that.

galapagospark.org

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