The Magical Galapagos Islands, the Nature & Animal Lovers Delight

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Years ago, I became obsessed with taking a trip to the Galapagos, where we would be following in the footsteps of Darwin, making amazing discoveries and partaking in fascinating experiments.  A few weeks ago, I finally accomplished that goal.

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If you’re an animal lover, you must add the Galapagos to your list, because there is no place on earth like it, my friends. So far in life I’ve had the great opportunity to snorkel in some pretty amazing places (the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Great Barrier Reef, to name a few), and nothing even came close to snorkeling here. (Sorry, Barrier Reef. You were awesome and all, but the Galapagos has my heart.)

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We took the Aida Maria, which is a small-ish sized yacht that fits up to 16 guests, and we had 15 on board for our trip.  The size of the ship also means that space is pretty limited, and while we had bunk beds in our room, Chris and I used the top bunk to store our luggage and we slept together on the bottom bed. I’m honestly not sure what people did who didn’t share a bed, because there would have been very little floor space for luggage.

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In terms of our itinerary and the islands we visited, here’s how we did it.

We started with Baltra Island and then went snorkeling at Bachas beach on Santa Cruz Island.  The second day, we woke up after cruising all night in the midst of Genovesa, a shield volcano in the eastern Pacific Ocean and headed to the Barranco (aka Prince Phillip’s Steps and the place where we found owls!) at the top of Genovesa.

Next on the agenda was Bartolome Island and thereafter, Sullivan Bay and it’s insane lava fields on Santiago Island, and the following day, we went to Daphne/Black Turtle Cove and later to Cerro Dragon (a trail that runs through three different environments even though it’s  just 1,600 m long) on Santa Cruz.

It’s named this because the northwestern side of Santa Cruz Island is home to an impressive population of Conolophus subcristatus, or Galapagos land iguana. We also had our final (and my favorite) snorkeling excursion on this particular outing. It was here that we saw sharks again, and I had one playful little sea lion who swam in circles around me while I snorkeled, waving her cute little fin at me the whole time. Oh Galapagos — you slay me with your magical moments.

Next was the Charles Darwin Station, where we saw giant tortoises! We were a bit bummed as we left that we hadn’t seen these awesome animals in “real” life, but as we were driving back to the airport we saw three or four them along the side of the road. Then it was back to Baltra to catch our flight back to the mainland Ecuador

Something else that was really cool about the trip is that everyone’s itinerary was planned by the National Park Service in order to keep as few people as possible on the islands at the same time. So for example, even if we were docked at an island with two or three other ships, we were never doing the same activity at the same time as the people from the other boat. If we were hiking, they would be snorkeling, and vice versa.

The last night of our trip we even got to go out to a bar (which was a good thing because the ship ran out of booze!) with a couple other young people from our boat and our tour guide (there were some restaurants, shops and bars at Puerto Ayora, which is where our tour guide was from. We even got to meet his adorable wife and 5-year-old son!)

Now let’s get to the fun part — the photos!

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This (not so) little guy is a land iguana. We came across another one later in our hike that walked a good 100 feet towards our group of 16, bobbing his head in warning the whole while, before getting a couple of feet in front of us and turning around. I think he made his point, though ;) Land iguanas are pretty territorial, but they’re also pretty harmless.

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Clawless lobsters at the fish markets in Puerto Ayora.

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A marine iguana just hangin’ out. Watching them swim in the water is pretty amazing.

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How adorable are the giant tortoises?! They can live to be between 120 and 150 years old.

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These bright red crabs against the black lava?

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Being in the water snorkeling was amazing, but watching sunsets from the back of the boat wasn’t too shabby, either.

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The sea lions would get so close to you! And our tour guide would say, “Just see what happens.” Animals on the islands are super curious, and because humans aren’t their predators here, they are just fearless. It’s pretty cool.

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A lava heron (which we concluded looked shockingly similar to a grumpy old man, no?!)

A few minutes after this photo was taken this sea lion would take a big ole’ dump in the water while I was snorkeling, totally bringing me back to earth (and out of the water!) from the surreal moment I was having. See the one in the background, too? With his nose in the air? I always wondered what they were thinking when they did that.

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The blue beaks on the red-footed boobies are simply beautiful.

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This was a view from Cero Dragon on Santa Cruz island.

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Penguins! Can you believe the Galapagos has penguins? What doesn’t this place have?

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Sullivan Bay on Santiago to demonstrate how far and wide the lava fields went.

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The site of one of our many, many snorkel adventures.

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There’s a blue-footed booby on the rocks!” This was an inside joke amongst everyone on our boat, since we came to realize that we could listen carefully for Reuben to call out loudly when we were on hikes or outings and he spotted some wildlife he really wanted us to see. His enthusiasm was seriously contagious. You could tell he loved his job and loved the Galapagos and just wanted to teach us everything he could, and that was just the best.

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Pelican in flight.

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We took the dinghy’s out one morning to Black Turtle Cove and saw all manner of animals, from the blue-footed boobies above to this green turtle, to mating sea turtles to sting rays and sharks.

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Mating turtles, oh my!

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Shark!

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Four stingrays in a row, right in front of our boat.

Honestly, we took about a gazillion photos here friends, as I’m sure you can imagine, and culling them down into just a couple is really hard. But I think what I’ve included here gives you a good indication of what the Galapagos is like — and it’s simply a heaven on earth.

So after our five days on the boat we caught a flight back to Quito and Jorge dropped us back off at La Rabida. It was bliss! 

 

Cheryl Lock
Cheryl Lock is a former magazine, newspaper and website editor turned full-time freelance writer. She has worked on staff at the Daytona Beach News-Journal, More and Parents magazines, as well as for Learnvest, the leading women's financial website. Her work has also appeared in Newsweek, Forbes, Ladies' Home Journal, the Huffington Post, AOL Travel and more.

Cheryl was born in Nuremberg, Germany and grew up moving around every few years as an Army brat. The urge to travel has been with her her whole life. While she calls New York City home, Cheryl makes it a priority to travel as much as possible throughout the year. Some of her favorite places include Iceland, the Great Barrier Beef, Cabo, Rome, Calabria and Munich, although she hopes to never stop exploring. Cheryl blogs about her travel adventures (and what's happening in and around New York City) at Weary Wanderer.
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