Raise your hand if you want to go on an animal adventure that you won’t ever forget. If your hand is up, please allow me to tell you about the Galapagos Islands. It is simply the most amazing animal lover’s destination you can imagine. Every few hours we encountered a different kind of animal.
You may have learned about the Galápagos Islands in school when you learned about Charles Darwin. This archipelago of volcanic islands is located about 500 miles west of the coast of Ecuador. The islands and the water surrounding are a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The best way to see the Galápagos Islands is by sea. Because of the focus on conservation, large cruise ships don’t visit the islands. The options are smaller ships—either expedition ships, yachts, or other small sailing vessels that carry fewer than 100 passengers. These smaller vessels can make several different stops which enable visitors to see lots of different species. Also, you don’t cruise to the Galapagos Islands from the mainland. You fly to the Galapagos Islands and then sail around the islands.
Don’t let the term “expedition ship” scare you. There are luxury expedition ships that offer every creature comfort you could desire.
But the experience is more adventurous than a typical cruise. Unlike a typical cruise, shore excursions are included. We visited two places each day, one in the morning and a different place in the afternoon. On most of our stops, we got to hike and snorkel. That gave us the opportunity to see lots of flora, fauna, geologic formations, and sea life. (More on that later.)
We even went on our first shore excursion on the same day that we boarded our ship. We flew from Quito to the islands in the morning, were aboard our ship by 1:30 PM, and were hanging out with sea lions by 5 pm.
The islands don’t have boat docks. You’ll be transported to the island on an inflatable, motorized dinghy boat. Some stops require a “wet landing” in which you carry your shoes and socks in a backpack or duffel bag, slide off the boat into shallow water, and then put on your shoes on the beach.
The Galápagos Conservancy works hard to make the islands accessible while also keeping them unspoiled. For that reason, all visitors must be accompanied by their own trained naturalist guides. These guides inform and educate, and they also make sure that visitors follow the rules.
OK, so let’s move on to some of the animals you can see in the Galapagos Islands.
We saw sea lions on the beach on our first day (and every day thereafter).
It was fun to watch them waddle around.
One day we saw newborn sea lions with their mothers. They were oh-so-cute!
At one of the rocky coasts, we watched sea lions swimming in a pool that was connected underwater to other pools.
We also saw them underwater while snorkeling. You’ll see them in the video at the end of this article.
OK, so maybe crabs aren’t as exciting as other animals, but the bright red shells stood out against the black volcanic rock, and it seemed like they wanted to pose for a picture. It was fun to watch them scuttling around.
Iguanas and other lizards
We saw both land iguanas and marine iguanas that swim in the water.
On one island we saw an incredible number of marine iguanas!
On one of our snorkeling trips, I caught up with a marine iguana and followed him. It’s in the video at the end.
There are lots of different types of birds in the Galapagos Islands. I’m not extremely knowledgeable about birds, but some other travelers in our group seemed excited about the birds they were spotting. I was happy to see the one type of bird I wanted to see: a blue-footed booby. We also saw cormorants, flamingos, and PENGUINS (which you’ll see in the video)!!!
The giant tortoises we saw were unbelievably big. You truly have to see one to believe it.
Although the animals were my favorite part, I also want to show you some of the flora and geologic formations you can expect to see in the Galapagos Islands.
While we hiked around the islands, I enjoyed viewing the different kinds of cacti that grow on the islands.
Rock and lava formations
The rocky coastlines and lava formations that we saw in the Galapagos Islands were striking.
Sand of different colors
In addition to regular sand, we also saw black sand beaches and even a red sand beach.
I’ve saved the best for last. My favorite activity in the Galapagos Islands was snorkeling. Although I have been a PADI-certified scuba diver for over 25 years, we didn’t do any diving on this trip because of the logistics. However, we weren’t disappointed in the slightest because the snorkeling was INCREDIBLE. When I think back on all the sea life that we saw, I completely forget that we weren’t diving. The highlight for me was swimming with sea lions and penguins—at the same time!!!
Of course, there were lots of fish, but we also swam with sea turtles and marine iguanas and spotted sting rays and lots of starfish. I didn’t see it, but my daughter Corinne spotted an octopus and captured it on the GoPro camera. I didn’t get good photos, but we also saw a whale and leaping stingrays.
This video is a compilation of our snorkeling adventure in the Galapagos Islands.
So amazing, isn’t it? We saw all of that on a 4-night cruise! Of course, longer cruises are offered, but we opted for a shorter one because we combined our Galapagos Islands cruise with a trip to Quito, Lima, and Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
Are you ready to schedule a Galapagos Islands cruise?
This trip was one of my favorite trips ever; definitely a bucket-list trip. If you are ready to experience this amazing adventure yourself, I would love to help you plan it. Please read about how my services work and then email or call me to set up a complimentary consultation.