My wife has held a particular fondness and interest in Darwin, his works and his legacy and this, among other obvious reasons, spurred us to choose the Galapagos as our honeymoon voyage. I decided to inform myself better on the story behind Darwin's influential voyage there and was told by two different scientists that The Voyage of the Beagle was worth the read. It was very popular in England at the time, though it is more of a travel and science exploration journal than a theoretical work and only holds hints of the radical (for the time) theory of evolution that Darwin was later to espouse in his Origin of the Species (which came out 15 years after the Voyage of the Beagle).
It really was an enjoyable read, though there were some slow parts where he goes into length various observations about land formation and geology. His clear prose, the interesting places he goes and his love of discovery really give you the sense of a young, curious man seeing amazing new places. Here is a nice quote about his experiences in the Pampas of Argentina:
There is high enjoyment in the independence of the Gaucho life -- to be able at any moment to pull up your horse, and say, "Here we will pass the night." The death-like stillness of the plain, the dogs keeping watch, the gipsy-group of Gauchos making their beds round the fire, have left in my mind a strongly-marked picture of this first night, which will never be forgotten.
There is nothing personal in here and you miss his terrible seasickness (except for a couple of paragraphs at the end where he weighs the pros and cons of such a voyage), his ideological conflicts with Captain Fitz Roy (whom he still considered a friend, nevertheless). So it is a bit dry. But the writing and his joy overcome it and I ended up really happy to have read it. There is a book of his correspondance on the journey and that looks to fill in a lot of the personal blanks. They have it at the library and I'll probably read it in the future.
It is also informative and interesting to see the new world in the early days of colonialism, when native populations were still very present as forces to be dealt with rather than extinct (as in southern South America) or relegated to isolated reservation as in the rest of the world. Comparing the state of communities of European origin in South America, Tahiti, Australia and elsewhere in the 1830's gives a lot of insight into the current political situations of those places today. Darwin makes some fairly accurate predictions and judgements. (Although not always, there is a hilarious part where says "General Rosas intimated a wish to see me; a circumstance which I was afterwards very glad of. He is a man of an extraordinary character, and has a most predominant influence in the country, which it seems he will use to its prosperity and advancement." and then follows that up with this footnote: "This prophecy has turned out entirely and miserably wrong. 1845. " I'm going to have to do a bit of research on this General Rosas character.)
Here's a sweet map of his journey: