The Galapagos Islands, almost 1,000km off the coast of Ecuador, are an oceanic paradise; a place that time seems to have forgotten. The islands are home to unique and fascinating forms of life that are not found anywhere else on the planet. In the warm waters of the Galapagos, cormorants forgot to fly, iguanas learned to swim, turtles became gigantic, and sharks became mild.
This is a place where sea lions show off their swimming skills and blue-footed boobies perform their elegant two-step mating dance as if oblivious to your presence. The islands’ absolute isolation and lack of human contact mean the inquisitive animals have never learned to fear people and will approach their visitors, happily posing for photographs.
Like most visitors enjoying Galapagos Islands vacations, I flew to the Islands from Quito, a 2.5 hour flight out over the Pacific Ocean. The islands’ natural richness presents itself immediately, with iguanas sunbathing beside the landing strip and sea lions gazing impassively from the nearby beach.
From the airstrip we embarked a dingy that took us to our cruise liner, the Galapagos Legend. This 100 passenger vessel offers a luxurious introduction to the Galapagos Islands. Every day the cruise liner visits two islands and offers passengers guided visits of the island’s exotic flora and fauna. Our group, given the name “Iguanas,” disembarked at North Seymour Island, a very dry ecosystem, and here we observed multitudes of birds such as the blue footed booby and frigate, sea lions and iguanas. Here visitors will also find the endemic species of the fragrant, incense-like palo santo – or holy stick.
Back on board we enjoyed a few bottles of champagne that had been thoughtfully added to our room fridges, and had a great party in the pool and outdoor bar, dancing to the sound of salsa and meringue under the clear, star-studded night sky.
The following morning, and after a full, healthy breakfast, we disembarked at Dragon Hill at Santa Cruz Island, and saw giant cacti rivaled in size by huge iguanas. Just as our guide told us, where there are giant plants on the islands, you will find giant animals too. Colossal tortoises live in the upper highlands of this island, but we didn’t get a chance to visit them.
After lunch, we had some down time to relax by the ship pool and enjoy the onboard facilities. It’s impossible to get bored on a cruise liner when there were so many things to do! There was even a library on board, well stocked with books on Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
That afternoon we listened to an interesting lecture about Floreana Island and its natural history. When you disembark here you are first struck by the beauty of the gorgeous white sandy beaches and elegant flamingos walking around in their natural habitat. We thoroughly enjoyed a wonderful afternoon of swimming and snorkeling with the playful sea lions in the clear blue-green waters.
After an excellent barbecue dinner back on the boat, we found ourselves congregating again at our favorite spot between bar and the pool. Dancing beneath a brilliant sky of stars in the Galapagos Islands – a recipe for lifelong memories!
The next day we visited the Galapagos’ oldest island: Espanola. Here you can observe the majestic albatross – although keep in mind that these birds migrate from December to April, and therefore can not be found in the Galapagos during that time. If you are lucky you might witness a mating ceremony, characterized by the birds’ odd beak movements.
Another stunning site is the soplador, a large blowhole caused by waves flowing beneath the coral, which creates a rainbow in front of you every time water shoots through it.
Alongside the albatross are the Nazca birds, crabs, sea lions, and vast numbers of marine iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks, all within the picturesque setting of deep blue coastline.
In the afternoon we landed on San Cristobal Island, one of the 5 inhabited islands in the Galapagos archipelago, where we hiked across the island in order to visit the Galapaguera, the tortoise breeding center. Here passengers can learn about the National Park’s giant tortoise breeding program, and if you are lucky you might even see a few.
Back at the ship we all got together for a farewell drink and watched a video summary of what we had seen and learned during our time; a helpful and entertaining way to recap all the different experiences we had had in such a relatively short time.
Most Galapagos Islands tours offer the chance to extend your stay with visits to the western islands, which I would wholeheartedly recommend for a comprehensive experience – the landscape and views in this area are said to be simply magnificent.
Unfortunately for us, we were leaving the Galapagos Islands early, but not before one final excursion in a dingy along the coast to say goodbye to a nearby raft of sea lions and sharks.
Back on the boat we were served snacks and fruit juice by the pool, danced our last dance and took our last photos to remember our new friends before our group was called to disembark, a lovely ending to the trip of a lifetime.
This eyewitness account to Galapagos Islands vacations was written by a travel-loving expert at Peru For Less, a member of the Latin America For Less family.