It was a week unlike anything I ever could have dreamt or imagined. I knew it would be a unique experience and one that I would never forget but I didn't know that it would exceed my every expectation and leave me completely in awe of the natural beauty and wonder of this special place.
The Galápagos Islands are, in my opinion, one of the most untouched and truly natural places in the world. I think we often refer to places as "untouched paradises" but the only place I have ever visited where I can honestly say this is the Galápagos. The only signs of humankind on the majority of the islands are the rustic landing points for the inflatable dinghies and a few small wooden posts marking the otherwise elusive walking tracks. Life here is pure perfection.
Seeing animals interact with humans as if we are all equal inhabitants of the earth is fascinating. On day one, we were told that we were not to touch the animals or allow them to touch us. I nervously giggled when I heard this because I didn't actually believe we would get close enough to even consider touching the wildlife! It was only hours later that I realised the true extent of these animals fearlessness of humans.
While fighting the temptation to pet a newborn baby sea lion was a daily mental battle, these rules and the guidance of the incredibly knowledgeable Park Rangers allow this place to remain the wonderful place that it is. These animals do not fear us nor do they need us. In their minds we are simply two species living side by side.
To be chased down a beach by a baby sea lion whose curiosity is even greater than your own is such a special experience that any previous thoughts of breaking the rules are simply washed away. It is thanks to the strict rules and regulations of the Galápagos Islands National Park that this environment still exists today and hopefully will do for many years into the future.
It is impossible for me to put into words our entire experience on the Galápagos Islands. To experience nature in this way is something that you must see and feel for yourself in order to fully understand. However having said that, there's not much point to this blog unless I at least try to describe our glorious week cruising these incredible Islands!
We decided very early on that regardless of the strict budget we had been trying to maintain, when it came to the Galápagos Islands we would be booking an island hopping cruise in order to see as much wildlife and as many of the different island environments as possible.
We chose to do one of the longest cruises available, which was 8 days and 7 nights onboard the superior class Fragata yacht with a total of 16 passengers. During the 8 days, we would visit a total of 11 islands out of the 19 main islands that make up the Galapagos Archipelago. On top of this Wade and I also chose to spend three extra days on the most populated island, Santa Cruz, so that Wade could do a scuba dive and I could continue to explore this natural theme park for every possible minute.
After visiting the Amazon, we went to the Galápagos with the same attitude that is encouraged there: "go expecting to see nothing and everything you do see will be a surprise". In hindsight this opinion was so far from the truth it's not funny! Almost everything that we hoped to see was crossed off our list within the first 3 hours of arriving!
As if planted by a Park Ranger in anticipation of our arrival, we were greeted at our first island, Genovesa, by a barking Sea Lion. Minutes after being reminded not to get too close to the wildlife, there we were tip toeing around a mother and her pup who had chosen our only path as their resting place for the morning.
After our group had collectively taken our first thousand photos of this posing duo we began our walk and only moments later were face to face with hundreds of the famous Red Footed Boobies. There were Boobies nesting, Boobies flying, big Boobies, small Boobies, young Boobies and old Boobies, not to mention everything in between! We were absolutely surrounded by birds, many of whom were feeding their young or nesting on a pile of eggs and regardless of that were still absolutely unperturbed by our presence.
There were more bird species on the island than I can possibly recall. As our guide scoured the rocky cliff for a unique species of owl that does its’ hunting during the day, we simply took a minute to catch our breath and realise where we were. It was a dreamlike moment, watching hundreds of birds flying overhead and walking around our feet as if humans couldn't possibly pose a threat to their magnificent way of life.
If only that were true.
The many bird species of the Galapagos Islands
Top Row: Nesting Nazca Boobie with young, Galapagos Mockingbird, Red Footed Boobie
Middle Row: Young unknown species, Frigate birds in flight, pair of Albatross
Bottom Row: American Oystercatcher, Blue Footed Boobie, Magnificent Frigate bird
That afternoon, we snorkelled the rocky headland of the island and chased the delighted squeals of grown adults unable to contain their excitement as a group of sea lions decided to join us, intrigued by these strange creatures around them…. Us! Their enthusiasm and energy in the water was infectious and before we knew it we were out of breath and choking on water while attempting to imitate our much more graceful friends. I never could have anticipated the adrenalin rush and pure childlike happiness that came from coming face to face and belly to belly with these magnificent animals as they became overcurious and brushed against us underwater.
Of course there was also an incredible array of sea life on the ocean floor and covering every rocky surface underwater. There were bright blue star fish, orange spotted star fish, sea urchins, sea snakes, lobster and huge schools of fish everywhere! Within minutes of entering the water, I was having the most incredible snorkelling experience of my life.
At this stage, I didn't even know that for the next seven days, snorkelling in this fascinating archipelago of Islands would be just a small part of every mind blowing day!
Photo: Just some of the incredible sea life that can be seen while snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands
Clockwise from top left: The unique Marine Iguana endemic to the Galapagos, Eagle Ray, Sea Lion, School of fish,
Sarah snorkelling with fish and starfish, White Tipped Galapagos sharks
On our way back to our boat on that first afternoon, we passed a group of sea turtles hovering on the surface of the crystal water and later that evening watched sea lions and a pelican fighting over fish on the back deck of our boat, all while sharks lurked below. If our cruise had ended then and there, I would have been content, believing that I had seen everything the Islands had to offer! Everything from here on in was a bonus and we had no idea what was still to come.
Our boat the Fragata and it's crew were superb. The food was some of the best we had in South America. With a hearty breakfast, three course lunches and delicious dinner every night we were certainly well fuelled for our adventures ashore the Islands. We woke each day to the sun beaming in our window - which stretched the length of our private cabin - and opening the curtains to a breathtaking scene of untouched beaches, topaz water and an abundance of new wildlife and landscape to explore on a different island each day.
Photo: Our cabin onboard the Fragata yacht (L) and the Fragata in all her glory (R)
Each island was so unique in its landscape, flora and fauna that a lot of the time it was difficult to accept that they could possibly be so close to one another. One minute we were standing on a white sandy beach surrounded by sea lions and the next we wandered along a rocky path past the tallest variety of cactus in the world while carefully choosing our footsteps in between a pile of completely chilled sun baking land iguanas. One very small islet is even known as the youngest in the Galápagos Archipelago and is made up entirely of a shiny black, silver and gold surface, which was once molten lava. The ripples, curves and bubbles created by the hot flowing mass, are a natural artwork beneath your feet.
Every day we spent aboard the Fragata was exceptional in it’s own right. Our days were filled with wildlife, plant life, snorkelling in crisp, clear ocean waters and then relaxing in good company at the end of a long day. Unwinding with travel stories from around the world or awe-ispired conversations about the paradise we had all travelled so far to discover. Our guide Rissel made the experience a highly educational one. His passion for the islands was contagious and I was definitely guilty of being “that person” that asks the million-and-one questions… daily!
Our prior planning paid off ten fold as many people left the islands with a deep sadness as the cruise ended on our last morning. We were lucky enough to have three more days on the islands along with another two travellers from our cruise. This extra time helped us to slowly wean ourselves off the adrenalin rush that was the previous eight days. It also allowed Wade to do two scuba dives, one to the infamous Gordon Rocks. Gordon Rocks is famous for not only its sea life but also for a notorious current that sweeps between the huge underwater rocks. Wade was lucky enough to see two of the elusive Mola Mola (or Sunfish) on his first dive. These incredible deep water fish can grow to an impressive 1.8m long, 2.5m from fin to fin and up to 1000kg! Those that Wade saw, did not disappoint!
Wade scuba diving with three enormous Mola Mola or Sun Fish
Staying on the main island of Santa Cruz also allowed us the opportunity to witness life on the most populous of the Galapagos Islands first hand. While the islands main industry is tourism, fishing is also a major contributor to the food source available on the islands. A huge variety of fresh fish and lobster are brought ashore daily and sold at a rustic fish market on the side of the main road in town. We didn’t hesitate to take advantage of this and ate like kings with daily meals of fresh Lobster, Barracuda and Tuna all for unbelievable prices. We even found one restaurant who would allow you to purchase your own lobster and fish at market price then they would cook it for you with your choice of sides for the measly cost of $5 per person! Needless to say, we ate lobster for three days straight!
Photo: There is no such thing as too much lobster!
As it turned out, staying those extra nights on Santa Cruz, didn’t actually make leaving the Islands any easier. We spent our last night, nostalgically wandering through town after a huge lobster feed, before watching sea lions lazing around on anchored boats with only the moonlight exposing their rebellious act.
After visiting this magical place, I completely understand how Charles Darwin spent a lifetime researching, visiting and writing about the Galapagos Islands. Sadly though, we have neither the time, money or intellect to do such a thing and while I would love to write about this fantastic place forever, I would like to think that if I leave some things up to the imagination, I might inspire someone to visit the islands themselves one day.
I will however, leave you with some interesting facts about the Galapagos Islands, their history and their many wonderful inhabitants both flora and fauna.
In the eight months we have now been travelling, I have been asked many times "Where has been your favourite place?". Sometimes I'll say two or three incredible destinations or other times I'm too overwhelmed to choose just one magnificent location out of all of the countries and environments we have visited. But deep down, I know that there really is one just one place that stole my heart from the first minute.
The glorious Galapagos Islands.
* For more photos from our incredible week cruising the Galapagos Islands go to our "Galapagos Islands Photo Album"
Enthusiastic but Useless Traveler.