The Galapagos Islands: A Trip of a Lifetime5/2/2011
Do you remember in history class the first time the teacher explained Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species? I do. Remember the pictures of the different species of Finch’s beaks, the groundbreaking idea of evolution itself, and the mesmerizing abundance of plant and animal species in the Galapagos Islands? I’m sure YOU do!
Visiting the Galapagos Islands was truly a trip of a lifetime. I’m picking up where I left off on a previous post. How to Book Last Minute Vacations explains how I reached the Galapagos Islands. This one will talk about the experience.
I flew in from Quito, Ecuador to the tiny island of Baltra. Landing on the one lane runaway I knew I was in a special place. I could not see a single house or evidence of human population except the airport itself. I took a small boat from Baltra to the island of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is where the infamous Darwin Research Center is located, home of the giant turtle restoration project, and Lonesome George.
Turtles at the Darwin Research Center
Day 1 was incredible, I dreamed about seeing those turtles up close and in person ever since I first learned of their existence. Lonesome George couldn’t be coaxed out of his hiding spot, but the park features various species of Giant Tortoises and other reptiles indigenous to Galapagos.
The Darwin Research Center was a great educational experience before I started my cruise. I was pleased to find out that almost all invasive species on the island have been wiped out!
In addition to breeding Giant Tortoises, the Darwin Research Center hosts iguanas, cactus, finches, and various other local animals. I really enjoyed the National History Museum, describing the history of Galapagos as well as the great conservation effort of eradicating invasive species.
I could go on and on about what I did each day. Everyday of Galapagos deserves its own blog post. In no particular order, I’ve included a breakdown of my favorite highlights.
Swimming and Playing with the Sea Lions
If I had to choose one favorite experience from Galapagos it would be hands down my adventures with Sea Lions. I’ve never seen such friendly, playful, care-free marine animals. On land, the sea lions are sleepy, sun hoarding, clumsy walking mammals. In the ocean, they are graceful, playful, happy-go-lucky fish.
Galapagos Sea Lions have no fear of people! I was able to get within inches of resting Sea Lions on the beach. I imagine at times they must think of tourists as annoying. When someone did get too close for comfort, the Sea Lions would give out a confident warning growl.
Here’s a few of my favorite Sea Lion photos. Most were taken on the beaches of Santa Fe Island.
My only regret was not having an underwater camera. Underwater the Sea lions twirl, whirl, and play like there is no tomorrow. A favorite Sea Lion pastime is playing hide and seek with snorkeling tourists. Much of my snorkeling adventures were spent fruitlessly attempting to swim with the Sea Lions as they dashed and darted around me like a flashes of lightning.
I loved the Galapagos Sea Lions. They will forever be etched in my mind as my favorite highlight from visiting the Galapagos Islands.
The Food and People
As a solo traveler on a 16 person luxury yacht, I fully expected to be the only solo traveler. I was pleasantly surprised to travel with three other people like myself.
One of my favorite things to do on the cruise was relax with the other young travelers over cold beverages and play card games deep into the night. I was so happy to have others to share experiences with from our long eventful days.
Our games at night attracted attention! The crew on board the G6 yacht joined us in our card games on the last night for fun and laughter. I’ll never forget the captain of our ship dancing around the boat like a flamingo while his crew members video recorded something they’ve never seen before from their leader. That’s what happens when ya draw the wrong card!
The food on board the cruise was also a pleasant surprise. Every meal we ate was a great one, and we ate three meals a day. The staff and cook did a wonderful job of preparing mouth water sensations for each event. In addition, they take the time to remember people’s birthdays. On one special occasion we had our cake and ate it too! I felt like a spoiled king!
My favorite activity in Galapagos was our snorkeling excursions. The Galapagos Islands feature many land animals unique to the area. However, the uniqueness of Galapagos really shines below the surface. I had never seen such abundance and diversity in any of my snorkeling/scuba diving adventures. By far the best underwater sightseeing I’ve ever done.
Spotting Whitetip Reef Sharks swim underneath me – They are incredibly stealthy. If you blink you miss them.
A Galapagos Sea Turtle circling me for a solid two minutes while snorkeling alone – I shouldn’t have been in the water at the time. The guide mentioned Bull Sharks were spotted in the area. The turtle was just as curious about me as I was him. Truly a magical moment for me.
Swimming with Giant Eagle Rays – These things were huge! They looked like small airplanes gliding through the water.
Playing hide and seek with Sea Lions - My favorite snorkeling event! The Sea Lions always won but I still enjoyed trying to keep up.
Watching Galapagos Penguins dash and dart through the water – The penguins are all business and no play when they are in the water. The Galapagos Penguins look like small missiles in their pursuit for fresh fish.
Watching a group of Sea Turtles getting cleaned by shrimp – I watched for a good 15 minutes three Green Sea Turtles sit on the bottom of the ocean while little shrimp cleaned their bodies of parasites.
Swimming through huge groups of fish – Galapagos is loaded with huge schools of large and smaller fish. I loved diving in between these groups only to be encircled by a living wall of marine life.
Almost got bit by a Sea Lion – I did not see the actual event, but apparently when I dove through one of these large schools of fish, a Sea Lion went chasing after me with his mouth open. At the last second he veered off and decided not to take a chunk out of my flipper. Thanks?
If I could go back in time I would make sure to purchase an underwater camera before visiting Galapagos. The marine life trumps everything going on above the surface. The memories will however be etched in my mind.
The Land Animals
The main reason tourists flock to the Galapagos Islands is to witness the animal life found nowhere else in the world. I was mesmerized at the size and colors of Galapagos’s indigenous species of reptiles and birds. Below are some of the photos I snapped of some of Galapagos’s most famous residents.
The Giant Galapagos Turtle
The Great Frigate Bird
Blue Footed Boobie
The end of my 5 day cruise of the Galapagos Islands came all too fast. Each and everyday of the trip was a unique adventure of a lifetime. Exploring the people-less islands was truly a special experience that I will never forget.
Our guide was the best of the best and provided us with a unique learning opportunity from someone who has lived the area the past 25+ years. I could not be happier from the treatment we received from cabin and crew aboard the Queen Beatriz.
Charles Darwin himself stayed ashore the Galapagos Islands for a total of 19 days. He never came back. We credit his expedition as the beginning of modern day theories of evolution. My trip lasted a total of 5 days and the experience left a profound impact on me as well.
People say that Galapagos is a once in a lifetime trip, and they are right. The place is magical for representing what can be when humans DON’T destroy the natural environment. No where on Earth will you find a more protected, natural environment than Galapagos. (97% of the islands are a National Park). I can happily say that the Galapagos Islands are my new favorite place in the world!
But wait, there’s more!!!
The Galapagos Islands are a photographer’s paradise. To view my full collection of photographs from Galapagos click on the Play button below.