Galapagos Highlights: Why are the Galapagos on everyone’s bucket list? Comprised of 19 islands, 42 islets, and 256 rocks spanning a 20,000 square mile area on the equator, the Galapagos Islands have been an Ecuadorian National Park since 1959. Also a Marine Reserve (second only to the Great Barrier Reef) since 1986.
Here’s the perfect combination for anyone planning to fill out their bucket list by visiting the Galapagos Islands: Travel and sightsee on Ecuador’s diverse and enchanting mainland. Then fly to the Galapagos and board a luxury yacht for a tour of the magnificent islands.
The Galapagos Islands are unique in so many ways: Location, geography, flora and fauna, environment, ecology, seasonality and history.
Following our excellent Ecuador & Amazon land experiences (See “5 Highlights of Ecuador & The Amazon To Check Out Before — or After You Tour the Galapagos Islands), we flew to Guayaquil (Ecuador’s biggest city). Then, from Guayaquil we took a pleasant ninety-minute flight to the mystical Galapagos Islands.
First stop was at Galapagos National Park’s point of entry on Baltra Island. Then going through “customs”….
After officially entering the Galapagos, we met the staff of our luxury yacht, Isabela II. From there, we took a short shuttle bus ride (that is to say, the bus ride, not the shuttle bus itself) to the dock where our yacht was anchored across the water…
On the short ride, we were given a quick safety lesson for getting from the yacht to dry land and vice versa. This was something we would do a lot in the coming days as we visited different islands.
From the shuttle bus, we boarded a waiting Zodiac inflatable vessel (called a panga) for a quick trip to the anchored yacht (photo below).
The Galapagos Islands in general:
Because of their location 600 miles west of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands experience unusual Pacific Ocean currents. Those currents bring unique climate and nutrients to the birds and animals that have adapted to fit these conditions.
With no natural land enemies, the animals and birds of these volcanic islands are unfazed by people. Thus, it’s a major responsibility of visitors not to disturb their natural behavior.
And, although the islands were quite dry when we visited in November, we were told they’d soon be green and tropical with upcoming wet-season rains.
The good news is that the Galapagos are favorable year-round because different species mate and birth throughout the year..
Every cruise has a different itinerary and takes its guests to different islands. And each Island has a different terrain, content, and flavor.
In addition to the port at Baltra, there is much to see and do on all of the islands in this archipelago. North Seymour Island, Fernandina, Port Ayora and Santa Cruz offered up their own unique terrain, history and wildlife to us.
When we stepped ashore on North Seymour Island the first afternoon, numerous sea lions waddled their way through our group. Once we stepped away from the beach, we found other abundant wildlife unique to the Galapagos.
Iguanas, large and small, hunkered down in the warm sand to absorb the sun’s waning heat.
On some islands, the going was rough on trails that were almost entirely composed of medium-sized rocks and boulders. (Walking sticks were helpful for those who had them).
Water spouted up from the sea through holes between the rocks.
Blue-footed boobies socialized…
A Nazca Booby looked stately and elegant…
A young albatross tried out its long, narrow wings. (Some species of Albatross have wing spans of more than six feet)!
On Isabela Island, an inland brackish lake provided food and sustenance for flamingos.
On many of the islands, marine iguanas piled up together for warmth (as well as doing some “snot rocketing”, i.e. sneezing the seawater out of their systems).
Everywhere we went, innumerable sea lions, including newborns with placentas still attached, waddled on the sand and absorbed sun-warmth.
We waded with sting rays… viewed fish and sea life from the yacht’s glass bottom boat… kayaked and snorkeled to get close to some sea animals… and, on the yacht at night, we star-gazed from the yacht’s upper deck.
As we sea kayaked, we saw the only penguin species that lives in tropical waters. I only recently learned more about these penguins (from National Geographic): The Galapagos Penguins survive because of the cool waters that come from the Antarctic; they, and especially their babies, further survive by living in old lava tubes where predators can’t reach them.
Our tour culminated on busy Santa Cruz Island, with a walk among the giant land tortoises for which the Galapagos are known.
Before leaving Santa Cruz Island, be sure to visit and tour the Darwin Research Station. You’ll learn, among other things, about the island’s recycling activities…
Our “floating hotel” on this Avalon Waterways tour featured every amenity you would expect on a fine cruise. That included excellent, air-conditioned accommodations, gourmet cuisine, and top-drawer service…
The entire staff — captain, crew, and onboard naturalists — possessed an impressive range of knowledge and experience. We received marvelous presentations and highly informative lectures about the fauna and flora of the Galapagos…
Quality sit-down meals, buffets, and snacks…
Every staff member was unfailingly polite, congenial, unobtrusive, and totally committed to the guests’ comfort.
At the end of our Galapagos stay, we flew back to Quito for an overnight and a day at leisure before connecting to flights home…
Avalon Waterways crafted a perfect combination of sightseeing and ample time to experience and contemplate this magical area: Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
I know I wasn’t the only guest sorry to leave this extraordinary adventure.
I’d go back on a moment’s notice, bucket list or not!
This trip was made at the invitation of Ecuador Tourism, Metropolitan Tourism, Avalon Waterways and other entities within the country, which had no influence whatsoever on any viewpoint or reporting.
(Photos for this story courtesy of Avalon Waterways, Metropolitan Tourism, Skip Kaltenheuser, and the author).
P.S. If you can’t get enough of the Galapagos, I urge you to view this excellent video and narrative prepared and produced by Fred and Peggy Heiman: