Magical, remote, unique, all words commonly used to describe the Galapagos Islands archipelago. All well and good but actually what is it really like to experience a Galapagos cruise? I love mountains and the freedom to wander wherever I want. I’m not so keen on the sea and was apprehensive about being in such a controlled environment where every day is so tightly planned. So armed with sea-sickness tablets, not enough vest tops and too many warm clothes I set off.
Around 615 miles off the coast of Ecuador on the equator, the Galapagos Islands are made up of 13 islands and over 100 islets. The inspiration for Darwin’s theory of evolution, the Galapagos Islands are one of the best places in the world to
experience wildlife close up. Some 170,000 tourists visited the Galapagos Islands last year. For this reason tourism is now extremely tightly controlled. All visits to the islands must be accompanied by a guide, you must stick to the paths at all times and remain a two-metre distance from the birds and animals. As it turned out this was sometimes difficult to achieve as we found ourselves tip toeing around snoozing sea lions that had draped themselves over the path, and I wasn’t convinced that the white tip reef shark I ran into was familiar with the two-metre rule.
I was met at Quito’s new swanky airport and whisked off to check in where my boarding passes were already waiting for me. It was overcast but warm when I stepped off the plane on San Cristobal island. Groups were briskly sorted and I met
my fellow companions of the 20-passenger motor yacht Letty. Now it really felt as though the adventure was starting. Letty, along with Eric and the soon-to-be-launched Origin, are owned by Ecoventura, an Ecuadorian company pioneering environmental work in the Galapagos. There is a rule of a 16:1 ration on all Galapagos boats and so many of the small ones only carry a maximum of 16. Letty is unusual in having 20 passengers and therefore two guides which makes for smaller groups for the excursions; a definite advantage.
Lunch was a delicious array of ceviche; fish marinated in lime and chilli. One taste and I knew I was back in Latin America. Other favourites that featured during the week
were Yuca bread, ‘Econcado de camarones’ (prawns in coconut sauce), and the best banana cake I have ever tasted. Ecoventura boats are known for having superb food and I was astounded at the quality and variety that the crew produced out of such a small kitchen.
After lunch there was time for a brief rest while we disembarked on ‘pangas’ to visit La Loberia. At this beach just outside the main town locals co-exist with sea lions and marine iguanas. Sea lions have the run of the place though, with everyone else having to fit around them. We watched a baby sea lion pup playing in the shallow water under the watchful gaze of its mother just a few metres away. Back on board we enjoyed dinner while Letty cruised to the northern end of San Cristobal.
Every day was planned down to the last detail, from the morning wake-up call to meal times and excursions. We obediently appeared on time to don life vests, snorkel gear in hand if appropriate, eager to see what lay in store at the next stop. We snorkelled with turtles at Post Office Bay on Floreana, watched a Blue Footed Booby feed its hungry teenage chick at Punta Pitt and on North Seymour at dusk watched the enormous flocks of red breasted Frigate Birds gathering their chicks and settling down for the night.
I wasn’t surprised to see all the different species of birds, fish and animals. This is a world renowned wildlife spot after all. But what I hadn’t anticipated was the magical feeling of being so close to these creatures going about their daily lives. Right in front of us, a mother sea lion was feeding herpup, a Booby chick was practising how to fly and turtles were mating, all as if we were not even there.
We had a harsh dose of reality when our guide James told us that many of the sea lion pups we were fondly watching would probably die this year due to the ‘El Nino effect’. It was a stark reminder of the fragile nature of this place and how everything is interconnected. James is Galapagenan and grew up on San Cristobal. He is concerned that the government is soon to change the laws which will increase
the amount of land that can be built on. He points to a hill behind the beach and says “maybe one day soon there will be a resort here”.
Aside from the flora and fauna, the volcanic landscapes are incredible and fascinating from a geological perspective. At Chinese Hat it looks as though the lava flow could have happened only months ago, so black and crusty are the rocks. In February 1825, an explorer called Benjamin Morrell reported that his ship became trapped when Fernandina erupted shooting lava 2,000 feet into the air. The sea reached a temperature of 37 degrees, the air was a stifling 45 degrees. On older Santa Cruz there is cloud forest and fruits and coffee are cultivated. Wolf volcano has been active this year on Islabela island. Scientists report that it could alter the size and shape of Isabela, the largest of the Galapagos Islands, as it could eventually join with close by Fernandina.
This is a place where nothing stands still. The week was perfectly rounded off when snorkelling around Pinnacle rock. I put my head above water to see three Galapagos penguins perched together on a rock looking inquisitive and completely unfazed by the clumsy swimming efforts of us humans. The tables were turned and we were
being observed. A reminder that we are guests in this most special environment that rightly belongs to the animals and birds.
Into Latin America offer a 8-day tailor made holiday to Quito and the Galapagos. Click here for more details.