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Postcard: The Galápagos Islands

the orange and yellow graspus graspus on the Galapagos Islands, image
Photo caption
The Graspus graspus, a common crab along the western coast of the Americas, is also called a red rock crab.

Unesco's World Heritage Committee has noted 890 sites around the globe "considered to be of outstanding value to humanity." AAA Travel is a member of the World Heritage Alliance for Sustainable Tourism, and Postcard will highlight a different site in each issue.

Hermits, castaways, Howard Hughes—spending a lot of time alone can lead to strange behavior. Case in point: the Galápagos Islands, an isolated archipelago over 600 miles west of Ecuador where the resident animals—salt-sneezing iguanas, bloodsucking vampire finches—are like no others on the planet. "A little world within itself," Charles Darwin called it after arriving in 1835 as the naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle. He left with enough notes and specimens to inspire his theory of evolution and the landmark treatise On the Origin of Species.

Today, visitors to what is now Galápagos National Park may feel as if they've stumbled into a casting call for Animal Planet. Blue-footed boobies perform goofy, elaborate mating rituals; 500-pound giant tortoises mosey across the sands; flightless cormorants stay put. The lack of natural predators also means many creatures are amazingly fearless. Curious sea lions may amble up to investigate: "Hmmm, tennis shoes, shorts, baseball cap—another Turisticus americanus." Let's just hope they can consider our species highly evolved.

AAA can help you plan a trip to the Galápagos Islands or anywhere else. For more information, visit any AAA branch.

Photography courtesy of NOAA Photo Library

This article was first published in September 2009. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.