Bucket List Worthy
Watch a seal waddle down volcanic rock, barking for humans to move out of the sandy path leading to the teal cast ocean he’s heading towards. Step to the side and re-adjust your focus, and you’ll see a Nazca booby hovering over her furry baby chick. On the rock next to them, two brightly colored marine iguanas playfully joust until one throws in the towel, scurrying under a rock. Walk up a set of rocky stairs to a greeting from a proud standing blue-footed boobie. These are just a few of the natural scenes to be witnessed on the island of Espanola in the Galapagos. The oldest of the 13 main islands that make up this archipelago 600 miles off the Western coast of Ecuador, it is a fascinating eco-tourism destination that can only be visited on a guided tour.
Currently, there are about 25,000 residents in the Galapagos, but they only inhabit five of the islands. To keep the eco-system pristine, the number of people who can visit each year is also limited. To enter, you must go with a licensed guide and company, like Ecoventura, which offers 7-night cruise options on a 20-passenger boat. The small group atmosphere helps maintain what makes the Galapagos feel so special- you will never feel overcrowded. To get on and off the island, passengers hop on a panga (a motorized raft) and make a wet landing on the beach so the land is left alone as much as possible.
Groups follow a closely prescribed itinerary and explore 1-2 new islands each day. (Here is a day-by-day guide from our trip). If you go, these will likely be some of the key highlights. For video, we have you covered here too.
It’s a rare opportunity to be able to get as close to wildlife as you do here. Because the land and animals are so protected, they have virtually no fear of humans. We walk right by sea lions that couldn’t be more content lounging on the beach, sometimes stacked up against each other in a solid row. You will also see some animals that can only be found in the Galapagos- like the Darwin Finches, which are named for Charles Darwin who made several observations here for the theory of evolution and natural selection. Other species that are only found here include Sally Lightfoot crabs, which are marked with bright red shells with stripes of yellow and blue on the back, blue footed boobies,and red frigate birds- who attract a mate by pumping out their chest into what resembles a scarlet balloon.
In the vast open waters more than 400 fish species have been documented. And they can best be seen snorkeling, which on our trip is a near daily occurrence. We see fish all kinds including tropical fish like rainbow wrasse (tiny fish with electric stripes of blue, yellow and purple), puffer fish and King Angelfish. And sharks too- like whale sharks and whitetip and blacktip reef sharks as well as stingrays and starfish. My favorite though was swimming with a pod of dolphins, an unexpected surprise after someone in our group spotted their fins, prompting our guide to steer the panga boat for a swim experience we won’t soon forget.
The islands we explore each day couldn’t look more different. And the dramatic rock formations, volcanic mountains and the turquoise blue water best seen from sandy beach views never gets old. We start the trip hiking through lava rock on Punta Pitt and finish the day walking on shore on an untouched beach where we are the only group to watch sunset melt behind Leon Dormido or “Sleeping Lion,” a rock formation that rises 500 feet out of the ocean. The days continue on islands like Floreana where we walk through a lava tube tunnel, which is a naturally formed black cavern. After a steep walk down a wooden ladder, our feet are submerged into chilly ocean water. As we continue, the water becomes deeper and deeper until the top of our ribs are covered, which is a welcome cool off from the scorching sun. On Bartolome, we climb wooden steps to the top of a once active volcano. The cardio burn is welcome as we see Chinese Hat and other islands in the distance.
Outside of wildlife and landscapes, a trip to the Galapagos also incorporates learning about traditions that started in the 1700’s and are still carried on today on islands like Floreana. Here, whalers started leaving mail in wooden barrels in hopes that someone traveling nearby would see it and drop it off. Today, tourists can sort through postcards left by other travelers, find one with a mailing address nearby, and hand deliver it when they return to their own country.
Since this is where you spend most of your time on the trip, it’s important that if feels comfortable. My mom and I share a room with bunk beds. The staff on board was incredibly warm and friendly, and our naturalists and guides, Ivan and Orlando very knowledgeable. Each night, they told us what our activities would be (kayaking, hiking, snorkeling) the history of the island and what animals we may encounter.
For meals, breakfast and lunch were served in a buffet style and dinner was sit down with table clothes and included wine (other drinks were paid for at the end of the trip). Each day there was salad, fruit and usually a type of fish. Pasta, chicken and other cuts of meat could be ordered at dinner as well.
On board, we sun bathed on the top deck, played games and shared travel stories. One of my favorite parts was jumping from the top of the boat with other passengers into the water to cool off with our Captain who offered my fearful self encouragement. With such a small group of 20 passengers, we all became fast friends and ones that shared what will also be a top travel experience.
Accommodations, travel and guidance in the Galapagos were courtesy of EcoVentura, which runs 7-night cruising expeditions around the islands.
Getting There: We first fly into the port city of Guayaquil on Ecuador’s mainline before flying into the island, San Cristobal, in the port town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.