06/19/2012 06:59 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Inside The Galapagos Islands Menagerie (PHOTOS)

Charles Darwin wasn't the first visitor to the Galapagos Islands, but he became the most famous. Darwin's five year journey on the HMS Beagle, charting and surveying the South America coast, helped him form his research for "The Origin of Species" and the twin theories of evolution and natural selection.

My journey to these remote islands, which sit 600 miles west of Ecuador's mainland, was a little shorter, but still many years in the making. Truly, it started with a grade school obsession. Cut to the present and I had to book my trip 10 months in advance. I finally set foot on the islands' volcanic soil in May, becoming one of the more than 100,000 visitors that will arrive this year.

But even with the tourists and locals on the islands, the animals still have relatively little fear of humans. The number of visitors to the park is regulated and it's not atypical for huge land iguanas or sea lions to be laying on your path or grasshoppers and mockingbirds flying all around and between you. In the water, Galapagos sea lions are curious and playful as they swim and almost dance underwater for you.

At one point, in a 45 minute snorkel off Isabella Island, I swam with sea lions, penguins, sea turtles, marine iguanas and countless other fish and birds.

Galapagos Islands Photos

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