Deciding on a cruise for the Galapagos proved rather difficult and after hearing numerous awful reviews of the lower class boats we decided to go all out and spank our initial budget – after all it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity…We ended up booking through EOS Ecuador – they don’t offer the tourist class boats, instead higher spec cruises to ensure the best possible trip. We decided on a boat called the Beluga which was listed as First Class and was a full 8 day cruise of the less travelled western islands – perfect itinerary…Due to the last minute nature of the trip we managed to grab the tour at a massively reduced price, saving us nearly 50%.
Our route through the Galapagos started in Santa Cruz, we travelled overnight to Floreana in the South before spending the next few days exploring Isabella (largest Island in the Galapagos). Fernandina (one of the youngest and most desolate Islands) was our next stop. We then crossed the Equator, travelling overnight to an Island called Santiago. From here the next stop was Bartolome Island then North Seymour on the morning of our departure.
Our group was great – it was a very mixed bag which made for a excellent group dynamic, with the age ranging from mid 70’s to 23 – we were the youngest (and poorest by a long way). The Beluga didn’t disappoint – by far the nicest accommodation we are going to have all trip and the food was on another level. Huge breakfasts followed by 3 course lunch and dinner, all fresh and prepared daily by our chef Jose. Our Naturalist guide Juan Tapia was incredible, his enthusiasm was infectious and remarkable considering he had been a guide on the Galapagos for 25 years. His knowledge of the Flora, Fauna and the Geology of the Islands was second to none – we learnt so much during our 8 days and have Juan to thank for this. In fact all the crew were fantastic and played a big part in making this trip so memorable.
On the first day the wildlife viewing began as early as our ferry ride across to the start point, where we saw Sea Lions chilling out on the buoys and a number of different birds. We saw dozens of giant tortoises, some over 200 years old and over 150kg (3x Grace). There were so many, it was like seeing cows grazing the fields back home. Their glacial pace is in keeping with their weathered appearance, not dissimilar to an old granny who forgot her dentures. We then visited the Darwin Breeding Centre and amongst the numerous and successful breeding programmes we saw the retirement home of Lonely George along with his RIP plaque. Lonely George was the last of his kind due to whalers and pirates eating all of his buddies driving the species to near extinction. George was placed in captivity in the hope that he would take a liking to females of a different breed. After 20 years in the same pen as the 2 said females George finally mounted one only to fall asleep at the critical time…Sadly this was his only attempt and he died prematurely leading to the extinction of the giant tortoises from Pinta (his homeland).
As there are no natural predators for many of the animals in the Galapagos they are fearless of humans and view us as no more than an annoyance similar to celebrities and the paparazzi. This was especially applicable to sea lions- the golden retrievers of the Galapagos. They were everywhere; they even visited us while we were snorkelling- it was like the sea was their stage and what a show they put on. We were also lucky enough to see some pups (some as young as 2 weeks) – they were so cute with their huge eyes and soft fur it took all our will power not to sneak one home in our backpack.
We were also lucky enough to see marine iguanas both in and out of the water, these however were not quite as cute- they are like a miniature version of Godzilla. These are the only iguanas that have evolved in a way that has allowed them to dive for their food. However this comes at a price- their bodies can’t processes all the salt they ingest whilst feeding so after they have been for their swim they lay on the rocks and ‘sneeze’ salt water out of their noses, grim! Just like dolphins swim in pods, birds fly in a flock, wolves hunt in a pack, marine iguanas are found in orgies. This name is no coincidence- they literally pile onto one another in bunches of up to a 100+ to sleep, sneeze and shit. As one can expect, rather smelly and one orgy we refused to take part in.
Snorkelling was a definite highlight of our trip. Every snorkel seemed to bring up something new. As well as sealions and marine iguanas we also swam with turtles, white tipped reef sharks, sting rays, eagle rays, diving flightless cormorants and penguins. Although it was unexpected to see penguins so close to the equator, the cold Humboldt and Cromwell currents allow the tiny Galapagos penguins to reside here. Their size allows them to be super speedy in the water (hence the blurry pictures). Flightless cormorants, like penguins, have evolved to become more at home in the water than on land- and to be completely useless in the air. Their spindly, feather sparse wings are more of an inconvenience than a help and will likely be eradicated in years to come due to evolution.
A poster animal for the Galapagos is the blue footed booby- no prizes for guessing how they got their name. Their popularity not only comes from their bright blue feet but also from their interesting fishing technique. They circle high above the water spotting fish before streamlining their bodies and diving at speed deep into the water- a dive that could rival Tom Daley. Equally as colourful are the greater flamingos- one of the more shy animals of the islands. We were luckily enough to see these from a distance and they really were as pink as we imagined.
Despite not being keen birders, the islands’ offerings were far from dull. We saw huge waved albatross, tiny yellow warblers eating baby crabs, Darwin’s Finches and the Galapagos hawk. Another of the larger, more impressive species was the frigate bird – however these guys got a bum deal…For some reason they were not gifted with the oily, water resistant plumage of other sea birds, meaning most of their life is spent in the air or scavenging from others as they lack the ability to fish solely for themselves. We saw them in flight and nesting as well as courting – the males puff up the red pouches under their beaks to impress potential mates. Their babies are also rather cute, so fluffy Grace could scream…
We saw birds interacting with a sea lion during a feeding frenzy. The sea lion would herd small sardines into a large rock pool for his breakfast, although his expectations of a chilled out meal went out the window when pelicans, blue footed boobies, brown noddies and more saw this as an all you can eat buffet. It was chaos, there were so many birds you couldn’t tell whose wings belonged to who. As you can imagine the sea lion was rather pissed off.
The channel between Isabella and Fernandina is a known migration route for a huge number of whale and dolphin species – we were extremely lucky to see orcas (killer whales), albeit from a distance. We also saw manta rays taking part in their cleaning ritual (backflips out of the water to help remove parasites).
The scenery on the Galapagos was also incredible- especially to rock lovers (Mike did manage to hold himself back from licking any of the rocks though!). You can track how the islands develop with age from being completely desolate with only volcanic lava (in west- youngest) to very green and full of life (in the east- oldest). Some of the islands are so baron due to the fresh lava flows (50-100 years old) they look like the surface of mars or the moon. We climbed to the summit of Volcano Sierra Negra- which has the second biggest caldera in the world- at 5 miles wide – you could only just make out the other side. We also visited Darwin’s Lake- a greeny blue lake that fills another collapsed volcano – Darwin once climbed all the way down for drinking water only to find that it’s more salty than the sea.
We learnt a tiny bit about the human history of the islands including some rather eerie stories about a toothless vegetarian nudist dentist and his wife, the Wittmers and a German baroness and her three sexual slaves. These told in a dark lava tunnel to add to the scary factor – for the complete story check out this article.
We visited a place called Post Office Bay which is named after a very quaint tradition established back in the day of whalers and pirates. You can put a postcard to any address in the box and (hopefully) it will be picked up by another traveller who passes by and lives near or at least in the same country as the desired destination. The idea is they take it home with them and send it on. We posted one as a test to see who gets back first to the UK- us or our postcard. We also saw a unique church that had stained glass boobies and flamingos instead of your usual biblical figures- pretty cool.
Down time involved chilling on the sun deck atop the Beluga with some cervezas. We saw some awesome sunsets, dolphins and the most impressive rainbow ever – you could easily see both ends although we were disappointed with the lack of gold. We also went kayaking, swimming in the sea, Mike got involved in a game of footie with the locals (and the bar tender George from our boat), and we had some sing along sessions. Juan was a dab hand on the guitar and so we celebrated both the equator crossing (00.00 latitude) and Mike’s birthday with some sailing related songs and cocktails. The chef also made a fab cake for Mike- with fresh cream icing – an unforgettable birthday.
Soooooo all in all it has to be one of the (if not the) best place we have ever visited. It was worth every penny and we would do it again in a heart-beat – we highly recommend it.
Check out our Flickr page to see all of our photos…
Mike & Grace
- A Budget Guide to the Galapagos Islands (everydaypostcard.wordpress.com)