GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS / ecuador

An archipelago that lies one thousand kilometres west of Ecuador, where four major ocean currents unite with a vast fault plane of undersea volcanoes, which break the Pacific Ocean. This is a surreal world, the world of Galápagos.

The Galápagos are natural history. Visitors go for the spectacle and the grandeur of the exotic and prolific wildlife, many of which are extraordinarily tame. The Galápagos Islands are home to remarkable creatures: giant tortoises, marine and land iguanas, colonies of seabirds and sea lions, flightless cormorants, the most northern species of penguin and a notable group of finches. How could we be in South America for an excess of six months and not visit?! A budget breaker as far as backpacking goes but an experience we will never forget and will never regret.

CATAMARAN / DAYS ONE to FIVE AHOY! Welcome aboard the Archipeli Catamaran! We flew into Baltra just after midday and scoped out our options to find a last minute deal for a boat trip around the islands. We ended up finding a route that we were happy with and a price that saved us some cash. Having the flexibility and time to plan our trip once we arrived on the islands helped our cause immensely. So by 6pm on our first day we were waiting on the jetty of Puerto Ayora for our dinghy. Soon after we were welcomed onto the Archipeli with ice tea and nibbles (reminding me of Australian summers!). Not long after arriving we were shown to our cabin and met our fellow Galápagos adventurers. Dinner was served and we were briefed on the navigation for the night and the plan for the following day. The boat cruises travel through the night on Galápagos so that you can make the most of the island you wake up to during the day. It makes for some rocky sleeps but overall it was a fairly smooth trip.

We spent our first day at the island of Floreana. At Cormorant Point, Caribbean Flamingos are found in a lagoon just behind the shore line. We also saw some baby stingrays and then snorkelled with some sea lions, a Galápagos Penguin and hundreds of fish, a really cool morning. We navigated further around the island to Post Office Bay for our afternoon activity. Human history is interesting on the island of Floreana and we got the run down from our guide. Starting from the 1500s when the islands were first discovered, to the Darwin expedition and to present day. Not long after we hopped back in the water for another snorkelling session with some Green Pacific Sea Turtles. Overnight we navigated to the island of Española and boy were we in for a treat the next day!

Gardners Beach was our first stop, a sandy white beach home to colonies of Galápagos Sea Lions. Such interesting animals to observe and listen to. We found out who was the alpha of each colony and stayed a little clear of them and their excessive levels of testosterone. Following our beach walk we hopped in the dinghies for a deeper water snorkel at Isla Gardener. The sun was beaming through the crystal blue water, probably our best snorkelling session of the trip. We followed the wall of the island for about an hour and were amazed by the volcanic reef. Playful sea lions, chilled turtles, chocolate chip sea stars, angelfish, sea urchins, surgeon fish, eels… the list just goes on! Our afternoon consisted of a land walk at Suarez Point. This has to be one of the most incredible moments of our trip. Our guide informed us that we were hoping to catch The Waved Albatross mating ritual in action. There are only two colonies of these birds worldwide, one on Española, where about twelve thousand pairs are known to breed, and another on the tiny offshore Ecuadorian island of La Plata, where a meagre ten to fifteen pairs are found. So we were at the most sacred spot for this animal, how very lucky! Then as we strolled down the path our guide indicated us to check out these two incredible birds at the beginning of their mating performance. The courtship behaviour between male and female is elaborate, often termed a dance, as the birds face off, bow to one another, clatter their long breaks together (resembling fencers), and alternately gaze skyward, neck stretched and head at a tight angle to the body.

Ritualistic actions: bill-circling, sky-pointing and head-swaying walk, a wonderfully comical behaviour. The waved albatross swings it’s head back and forth as it walks, in a most exaggerated fashion, resembling a big feathered metronome. The sounds, concentration and respect was inspiring and if you are on Galápagos you have to get here to see it! Wild animals at there absolute best. I feel so grateful to have witnessed it.

Day three consisted of more snorkelling and it was termed our ‘Booby day’. Referring to the Boobies (birds that is) on the north east tip of San Cristobal. Pitt Point is the location of many Booby nests, mostly red and blue-footed boobies. Along the trail we spotted numerous Blue-Footed Booby nests on the ground either with Mumma or Pappa and a chick or adolescent. The Red-footed Boobies were a little harder to spot, with nests in the trees rather than the ground but we still got pretty close. Their feet are just such beautiful colours and they really are very pretty birds. Another snorkelling session before lunch with the usual sea lions and hundreds of fish, brilliant! Wizard Hill was our afternoon observation location. A walk along the white sandy beach with turtles and stingrays following the shore line. Then a quick snorkel with a diamond ray to round out the days activities.

We headed to Isla Lobos at 6am for our fourth day on board. Home to many frigates and sea lion colonies we stumbled upon a newborn sea lion! Umbilical chord attached and the fresh placenta in a bush close by, the blood from the birth smeared on the mums belly and the fresh sounds of a weak little bubba, what a scene! We observed as the mum tried to position the pup on the correct nursing spot and we could tell she was weary after the labour. Back on board for our final breakfast, as usual scrumptious and very fresh.

There is no doubt that this was one of the highlights of our trip so far. After six months in South America it’s hard to deny this cruise a top three spot for ‘must dos’.

SAN CRISTOBAL / DAYS SIX & SEVEN The island of San Cristobal is the closest to the mainland. Home to beautiful beaches and snorkelling spots we made the most of some sunshine to explore the Puerto Baquerizo Moreno area by foot. Bahía Tijeretas was stunning, a must visit snorkelling spot. Here we saw a sea lion playing games with a marine iguana in the water, hilarious! Playa Punta Carola and La Loberia were also worth a visit. A very chilled town and well worth a visit.

SANTA CRUZ / DAYS EIGHT & NINE The town of Puerto Ayora is the hub of tourism and base for many visitors to Galápagos. Home to the Charles Darwin Centre, we spent a few hours admiring the giant tortoises and iguanas on our first day. We also ventured up into the highlands to check out some more huge tortoises in a more natural environment and surrounded by lava tunnels. Las Grietas translates to ‘The Cracks’ and made for a very chilled activity on our second day. It was formed by the displacement of lava due to volcanic eruptions. The water was blackish, as a result of mixing salt and fresh water, the fresh water coming from the highlands through underground filterations. Some big fish enjoy the mix of fresh and salt waters and it made for a very unique snorkelling opportunity and diving platform for some!

ISABELA / DAYS TEN & ELEVEN Isla Isabela, the island that is recommended by most guides and naturalists as the place you have to get to! Once completing the activities here, it all made sense why! A two hour speed boat ride from Puerto Ayora and you arrive at the town home to just 3000 inhabitants. We spent the first afternoon cruising around the islets of Tintoreras. We were lucky enough to snorkel with about 6 different turtles and the visibility was good! Los Tuneles is the main attraction of Isabela and is about a 45 minute boat ride south of the town of Puerto Villamil. It was landscape like we had never seen before! Insanely beautiful and so tranquil. Our boat weaved in and out of the tunnels so peacefully. We sat on the roof of the boat, spotting different wildlife and absorbing the serenity of the location. A little walk on the volcanic rocks to observe the Blue-footed Boobies and their mating ritual. Another incredible moment, as we sat back and watched the birds do their thing. The tunnels, are a very unique site thanks to its wonderful geological formations.  The lava flows have formed a large number of arches or tunnels, in and out of the water, where several species of the marine fauna can be found. To finish the day, a snorkel with some white-tip sharks, Galápagos sharks and reef sharks, oh and a sea snake!

However you do it, whatever your budget, whatever you’re into, I honestly believe the Galápagos Islands are a top bucket list item.

Much wild love, Laura xx

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