The Fascinating, Colorful, and Mysterious Galapagos Islands!
Being in the wild with fascinating giant tortoises, swimming with playful sea-lions and snorkeling with colorful fish are some of the most amazing experiences you will have while cruising Darwin’s Enchanted Islands: the Galapagos!
The nearly 125 volcanic islands that make up the Galapagos Islands are located on the equator about 600 miles (800 km) west of the coast of Ecuador, South America. Being home to some of the highest levels of endemism (species found nowhere else on earth), 97% of the Islands are dedicated Galapagos National Park and were declared a Natural World Heritage Site by UNESCO in recognition of its universal value.
After taking the plane from Guayaquil to Isla Baltra, a bus from the airport to the dock, and a “zodiac” from the dock, we finally made it to the Galapagos Legend cruise ship, and the start of our 4-day adventure in the Galapagos.
Our Adventure Begins!
Day One - To North Seymour
After boarding the ship, we made ourselves at home in our cabins, small but cozy! The friendliness and hospitality of the crew members made us feel very welcome. With the organization during the entire cruise and the precision scheduling, we always had the optionn of doing something or taking time to relax.
Before going to visit the first island we had a briefing with our guide about the ship facilities and the afternoon excursion. We were organized into groups, and each group was given an Island animal name. We became the albatrosses, boobies, frigates, and dolphins. Imagine the humor when calling for a group, “Let’s go boobies!”
Our first excursion was on North Seymour, the famous kingdom of birds. This was a dry landing, which means you disembark on rocks. We walked for about 2 hours along the visitor’s path and everywhere we went we saw blue-footed boobies, frigates, finches and more. It is said that on this island every square inch of land and every branch is inhabited by birds. We agree with that as we found blue-footed boobie parents with their chicks or frigate courting-couples everywhere on the island.
Before we arrived on the Galapagos, we knew we would see a wide variety of bird species and marine animals but we never imagined the amazing difference between seeing them in pictures and physically being so near them. It really touched us with a sense of the greatness of Mother Nature, and the marvelous ecological value the Galapagos Islands bring to the world.
Day Two - Isla Genovesa
The island we visited on day 2, Isla Genovesa, is currently closed to visitors, due to increased tourism that has had a negative affect on the ecosystem.
Isla Genovesa is very captivating because of its beautiful landscape and mangroves. It is home to red-footed boobies, frigates, masked boobies, lava gulls, and other wonderful birds. We made a wet landing (your feet get wet) at Darwin Bay, a white-sand beach that is home to sea-lions and white sharks. We saw adult sea-lions and their babies playing and doing acrobatics. Since we were in the transition of seasons from hot to cold, the water was a little chilly, but with the warm sun and the hilarious baby sea-lions, we quickly warmed up! We had free time to explore and swim at the beach before our zodiac picked us up and took us back to the ship where we were welcomed with delicious snacks.
After a plentiful lunch-buffet, we got ready for snorkeling! The zodiac took us to a reef on the other side of the Isla Genovesa where we snorkeled for about 45 minutes. It was an amazing experience! We were able to feel the colorful fish swimming by us, and it felt like we were in the movie “Finding Nemo”.
After snorkeling along the reef we took the zodiac to “Phillip’s Steps” to climb all the way up to the top of the island. We walked for about 2 hours along the plains watching mocking birds, boobies, frigates, and albatrosses. The goal of this excursion was to find a short-ear owl, but unfortunately we did not find one.
Day Three - Isla Española
“Let’s go boobies,” to Isla Española! We arrived early in the morning after cruising all night long. After a nutritious breakfast, we went to visit the stunning landscapes of Isla Española. This was the hardest terrain to explore on our adventure because of the island’s rocky outcroppings. Some people in our group decided to take the short 20 minute hike around the beach and dinghy ride around the cliff area, but we chose to see the famous “Blow Hole,” which requires a rocky 2 1/2 hour walk.
Good hiking shoes, as well as the gentle pace, made our hike less difficult. Our guide stopped every time he saw endemic species in order to tell us facts about the animals. Our guide, Johanna, was very knowledgeable about the Galapagos’ flora and fauna, and was devoted to her work.
As we were walking, we observed marine iguanas lying in the rocks, camouflaged by the black color of the lava rocks; a colony of waved albatross mating; and masked boobies fighting over a nest. We were able to get very close to the birds for photo opportunities.
That was just half of the hiking! And, as everything was already prepared by nature, we sat in the rocky scenario waiting for the show, “The Blow Hole,” to begin. We had wondered what “Blow Hole” meant, and suddenly, two blowholes spouting water and breathing loudly in their hollow voices answered our question!
In the afternoon, we were taken to the dock on San Cristóbal Island. After a dry landing with the zodiacs, we took a bus to the Interpretation Center where we spent an hour learning more about the Galapagos Islands’ geography and history. Later, we took the bus to downtown Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital city of the Galapagos, for some shopping. We strolled around the dock, met some local people, and then went back to the ship for a relaxing afternoon.
As usual, that night we had our briefing and slideshow about the next day’s excursion, but this night was very special. The crew members and our guides had prepared a farewell toast for us. We had not expected this, but it is something Ecuadorians are well known for -- being a very warm and charming people.
Day Four - Isla Santa Cruz and return
On day 4, our last day in the Galapagos Islands, we woke up very early in the morning in order to be ready with our luggage to check-out. After breakfast, we were ready to disembark the Galapagos Legend and take our last excursion to Isla Santa Cruz. Our crew and guides bid us farewell as we left the ship.
This day was the most anticipated day on our cruise, because we were going to see the famous Galapagos Giant Tortoises... in the wild! We took a bus to “El Chato” in the highlands, which is at an elevation of 400m. This was supposed to be a 45 minute drive, but we got delayed -- a baby tortoise was in the middle of the road trying to get to the other side!
After the poor tortoise was safe, we continued on our way to see more of them. At our destination, a very humid and muddy place, we separated into our groups and went to find some giant tortoises in their natural habitat. We thought it was going to be hard to see a tortoise, but after we found one, we were able to easily identify where they were. We spent about 1 1/2 hours walking through the tortoise habitat taking pictures of these amazing creatures.
This was not our only adventure of the day as our guides also took us to the hidden lava tubes. We were able to go to the deepest safe point inside the lava tube, beyond which only local people or guides are allowed to go because they know their way out.
Giant tortoises and lava tubes were a great closure for our trip to the Galapagos Islands. After this excursion, we took the bus back to the Baltra Airport for our flight back to Guayaquil. Our “Adventures Within Reach” cruise to the Galapagos Islands was not only fascinating, but without a doubt, “enchanted”!
Notes: This journal was written by Paola Velez, an Ecuadoran who now lives in Boulder, Colorado. She used Adventures Within Reach as the booking agent for the Galapagos. There are also 5 and 8 day cruises, which are more comprehensive and take you to other islands.