End of January I was lucky enough to be able to visit the magical Galapagos Islands.
When visiting the Galapagos, people can choose to enjoy the national park by taking a cruise or staying in a hotel. With both options, travelers will undertake different day tours to explore the nature and wildlife on land and in the water. I went on a 5-day, 4-night cruise with Santa Cruz II, visiting the islands of San Cristobal, Santa Fe, Santa Cruz and Española.
The adventure started in San Cristobal, where a warm tropical breeze welcomed me. After a introduction talk and safety drill on the ship, we were presented a great buffet lunch with a wide variety of food. The ocean was calm and all the travelers enjoyed the food while getting to know each other. After lunch, it was time for our first expedition! The group was divided in smaller groups, and we took off in dinghies. When getting close to the first islet we already heard the typical sea lion roars. When on shore at Punta Pitt a big group of them came to welcome us. The older sea lions were relaxing on the sand, while the babies were playing around in the water. None of them were bothered by the homo sapiens that arrived, and it was truly amazing how close you can get to the animals to watch them.
After returning to the ship we had some time to relax, drink a cocktail and watch the stunning sunset. We received a briefing by our expedition leader for the next day, learning that the ship would take us to Santa Fe island during the night. One of the big advantages when taking a cruise instead of a hotel, is that the nights are used to sail, making it possible for travelers to see more in a relatively short trip.
Santa Fe island is home to giant cactuses giving it a tropical, beautiful scenery. After only a few minute walk, I spotted my first land iguana and it couldn`t be more beautiful. The fat iguana was chilling on the rocks, together with a sea lion who was napping just above him, both enjoying the shadow of a prickly cactus. Photo camera paradise.
After the hike it was time to put our goggles on. One of my Galapagos bucket list adventures came true when swimming with sea lions. The young sea lions are very playful and it was magical having them tumbling around you. When I turned back and saw a big male swim towards me, I was happy my flippers made it able to get out of his way fast though. The water in Galapagos is amazingly clean, it is unpolluted and visibility is great. Stingrays, turtles and a huge diversity of colorful fish are easy to spot. Diving down a meter deep gave me the opportunity to look closely into the blinking eyes of a massive turtle, an moment I will never forget.
After lunch we embarked at Santa Cruz island, where our hike provided spectacular views of the cliffs. Looking down we spotted a group of bright green fish, followed by a Galapagos shark and a couple of giant stingrays. Surrounded by albatrosses, Blue-Footed Boobies, iguanas, sea lions and frigate birds while seeing all this in only minutes, makes you realize how pure nature is in these enchanted Ecuadorian islands.
Back at the Santa Cruz II ship we enjoyed another first class dinner, seafood this time, while drinking a good glass of wine whilst sharing our adventures of the day with our fellow travelers.
On day 3 is was time to learn more about Darwin`s work at the Research Station in Puerto Ayora and the giant tortoises. The famous Diego, over a 125 years old and father to many new borns, was happy to pose for the camera`s. At the Darwin center, they work hard on conserving Galapagos` unique flora and fauna and prevent extinction of some endangered species. In the highlands, we encountered the tortoises in the wild. The size of these calm peaceful animals is like going back to the dinosaur age. Stunning. In the evening the nice crew at Santa Cruz II hosted a party in the hotel bar. While the night fell over the islands, we explorers enjoyed music and a performance by traditional Puerto Ayora dancers.
The next morning we arrived at Española island. The hike we took offered amazing views of the high cliffs, home to thousands of birds. Albatrosses, boobies, gulls and pelicans all live there side by side. It being the nesting season offered us the chance to see the chicks warmed by their mothers up close and we got the rare opportunity to watch Galapagos hawks mating, while the little snakes used the moment to cross the track quickly.
The afternoon we spend at the gorgeous white sandy Gardner Bay beach, straight from a post card. Everybody enjoyed exploring the beach, watching the sea lions and turtles, exploring the underwater world, or some relaxing beach and swim time. Followed by an evening enjoying the warm evening on deck, while watching the sharks hunting for fish around our boat, made it the perfect way to end this amazing experience.
The schedule of the Santa Cruz II itinerary is busy, and the last day arrived fast. All travelers said their goodbyes over breakfast, and made their way to the dinghies for our last sail back to Santa Cruz. While watching the islands getting smaller from my airplane window, I realized this was one of the most magical experiences I ever had. The Galapagos Islands are truly paradise.
by Inge Kremer, International Sales Coordinator at Latin Frontiers.