Darwin’s Galapagos: a week-long adventure | Part 1
I took advantage of empty hours during the pandemic to create some new content about trips I took in the past but never posted. Now that people are starting to travel again, it’s time to share.
Spring break a lifetime ago, my great college friend Meta went to the Galapagos Islands. Until then, and for years after, I never knew anyone else who had the privilege of visiting this incredible area of the world. Meta went on the become a veterinarian and I became a professional communicator with a passion for travel. It took me many years to have the time and the resources to visit Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands.
Meta had vividly described snorkeling in the Devil’s Crater and her vivid description stuck with me for years. Sadly, when we visited, Devil’s Crater was off-limits to everyone, due to over-visitation. Thankfully, the Ecuadorian government monitors the area closely and is trying to protect and preserve this most valuable national commodity. The government will only allow Ecuadorian registered vessels to ply the waters, and insists on a native crew from the Islands if at all possible and, when not, from mainland Ecuador. On our Celebrity Xpedition ship, only the captain and the ship’s physician were not from the islands.
How and When to Go
Obviously, you need to see the islands and move among them by boat. The government tightly regulates ship’s routes and can change them at any time. They did a good job of keeping the various ships away from one another. There are a large variety of vessels to choose from with just about every major cruise and tour company now offering trips. I had two criteria that influenced my decision. One, I wanted a ship with an onboard physician. You are pretty far from medical care otherwise. Two, I wanted several naturalists on board. Our ship had five for less than 100 passengers. Having multiple naturalists guaranteed different interpretations and personalities, and I liked hedging our bets by having variety. Visitors land on the islands in rubber inflatable boats called pangas, each could take about 12 guests, a pilot, and a naturalist.
The daily routine involves morning and afternoon adventures either snorkeling, walking, or seeing sites; refreshments upon return, meals onboard, and a cocktail-hour session with the naturalists followed by dinner.
Choosing to go in May, at the end of the rainy season, we knew the sea lion pups would be at their most playful and we would still see a bit of greenery.
We flew into the Islands from Quito through Guayaquil, landing on Baltra. Our 4-month old jet was three hours late due to difficulty re-locking the luggage hatch, but since we had stopped in Guayaquil to pick up crew, we knew the ship would be waiting. On arrival, we were immediately off on our first of many panga rides to board our home-away-from-home for the next week.
North Seymour Island: Boobies & Frigates
We wasted no time and made a late afternoon stop on North Seymour Island for a fabulous mile-long hike among the nesting and mating Blue Footed Boobies and puffed-up Frigates. It all felt very prehistoric as we scaled volcanic rocks after landing onshore. We walked across coral sands and red-tinted soil immediately spotting fat sea lions, bright red Sally Lightfoot crabs, and salt-encrusted marine iguanas. The rainy season had been much wetter than usual and vegetation was still pretty green. It was incredible.
Kicker Rock & Espanola Island: Dramatic Formations
On day two we had an extra excursion, heading out to Kicker Rock at sunrise. Birds, sea turtles, dolphins, and sharks were in abundance. The experience was spectacular. Back on board, we headed to San Cristobal for a visit to the capital of the Galapagos, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, and the Interpretation Center with information about the area’s history, environment, and diminishing resources. As we explored the small downtown, we enjoyed the antics of the sea lions scattered along the rocky beach. It was true theater.
Onboard again we learned about geology and were issued our wetsuits and gear before heading to Espanola Island where I chose to go on a longer more rigorous walk observing Darwin’s Finches, Lava Lizards, Nasca Boobies, and (a big highlight) the Galapagos Albatross. The sights just kept getting better, and we were lucky to see the mating ritual of the Nasca Boobies which was quite a dance with lots of beak-tapping.
Walking along the cliff of the rocky coast, the dark rocks capped with massive amounts of guano looked like icing had been poured on them. The rocky terrain was set off against incredibly blue water, pounding waves, white caps, sea spray, and scrubby vegetation making for a strikingly beautiful landscape. And then, add the Albatross sitting around, Boobies socializing, Frigates cruising above, and a lone hawk watching . . .
Finally, to re-board our pangas we had to carefully pick our way around marine iguanas, crabs, and sea lions everywhere we looked.
Back on the Celebrity ship, they dropped cameras underwater for some interesting views of sea life below the surface. Even on the surface, there was drama, and at one point we were watching a baby turtle, followed by a pelican, being followed by a shark.
Floreana Island & Mystery Bay: Snorkeling & Swimming with Sea Lions
We’d seen so much already and it was only day 3, as we made the short cruise to Floreana Island. It was here I learned we would not be able to snorkel at Devil’s Crater which was very enticingly in view from our cabin. But no worries since we opted for a wet landing at Cormorant Point where we walked to see wild flamingos and snorkeled from the pretty little beach. It was hard not to just watch the mom and baby sea lion in the water, but when I could finally pull my eyes away, the underwater lava rocks and fish were a treat to see. Several in our group saw sharks, and I’m glad to say I did not.
Our first sighting of the famous Galapagos Penguins was in the panga on our way back to the ship. The colder Humboldt Current from Antarctica crosses this region bringing all sorts of nutrients and wildlife such as the penguins. This colder water is why you need a wet suit to swim, snorkel, and dive here even though you are by the equator.
After lunch, we went for a deep-water snorkel trip at Mystery Bay to swim with sea lions, large greenback sea turtles, and rays. It was exhilarating and exhausting. Later in the day, we hiked to the Baroness Lookout on the Bay and although there were great views, it was the panga ride that was most special. We saw lots of sea lion pups, so many types of birds, including pelicans, as well as rays, turtles, and blacktip sharks. We were back on board the mother-ship at 6 PM, tired but happy.
Part 2 covers adventures in Santiago, Santa Cruz, Isabella, and Bartolome Islands.
A note about the photos: I did not have a great camera on this trip and our friend’s camera battery went dead almost as soon as we got to the islands. I don’t know if it was the salty conditions, but several of my camera’s SD cards were corrupted; fortunately, after a lot of anxiety, some of the pictures were able to be professionally recovered. Even more fortunately, the naturalists surprised us all with a CD of shots they had taken throughout our trip. As a result, many of the pics here are courtesy of the Celebrity naturalist team. BTW, the inexpensive, disposable underwater camera I bought wasn’t worth anything, it was far better to just enjoy the experience.