A huge Galapagos tortoise looking sideways

Located some 600 miles off the South American coast, this Ecuadorian archipelago has been drawing nature-lovers to its remote shores ever since naturalist and geologist Charles Darwin explored the islands in 1835. A one-time outpost of pirates and prisoners, the Galápagos Islands are also home to an incredibly diverse collection of flora and fauna, including many species — such as the Galápagos giant tortoise and marine iguana — that can be found nowhere else on Earth. Today, 97 percent of the archipelago’s land area is protected by a national park. Visitors can get up-close-and-personal with wildlife on guided boat tours, scuba expeditions and hikes, where curious creatures often approach sightseers without hesitation.