Whether you’re a Charles Darwin enthusiast or not, there is truly something for everyone in the Galapagos Islands. Back in 2015, I took a two month sabbatical from work to discover a bigger and more balanced way of life. Whilst Moo and I knew that Machu Picchu would be a certain highlight of the trip, we were convinced that the Galapagos would be just as rewarding. And yes, it was. Keep reading for the best things to see in the Galapagos.
Crossing the border from Peru into Ecuador was a tumultuous experience. An unfortunate arrival time, meant a long waiting time and an even longer queue wrapping around the building. Moo, being English is not the most civil of companions when accompanied by queue jumping, so let’s just say emotions were high during our five hour wait.
Arriving into Guayaquil we were warned to be wary at night and stay mostly indoors due to high crime rates in the city. Arriving in late meant that was impossible to avoid as ‘hanger’ started to set in for us both. After checking into our hostel we walked to the end of the street where a small line was building for what we could only assume was fast food.
I can’t say I ever felt unsafe, truly, until the ordering process commenced which certainly made me dubious of my surroundings. To order we had to speak to a voice coming from a brick wall. If I was any shorter (hardly possible) I wouldn’t have known where the sound was coming from. Standing on my tippy toes I notice a brick missing from the wall. I poked my head close enough to the brick wall, so close that my nose was just about scraping it.
The noise had come from inside, and the missing brick in the wall was our access to ordering a ‘hamburguesia.’ We did so without issue and before we knew it we were back in the hostel, it was delicious by the way. On closer inspection, throughout the streets all stores, including the corner store, fruit and vegetable stores and the ‘farmacia’ were barred. Not because they were closed, but for safety precaution.
Alas, I digress! The next morning we took an early morning flight traveling 1,067km west of the mainland to arrive into San Cristobal island. Thankfully our tour booking with Columbus Travel meant the transit card cost was included (less queuing, yah!). I have to say, deciding who to book through was very time consuming. I’m happy to say we were really happy with Odyssey, the crew and our wonderful guide Myra.
We opted for the 6 days/5 nights package which allowed us to see as much as possible for what we were paying. I won’t lie to you reader, it is beyond expensive to visit the Galapagos, but hey! If you’re going to make the effort to go there, why not do it right. There are plenty of options for those on a budget. Even the south coast of Ecuador and Peru boasts to offer the ‘poor man’s Galapagos’ tours. But for us, we knew we would probably only ever visit here once and that we should go all out.
And so we did.
Before I get on with the topic at hand, let me just say as a word of warning for those (like me) who have never experienced sleeping on a boat before. Do not under any circumstances watch the film ‘The Life of Pi’ beforehand. Never have I been more scared in my life. So, let’s get moving with this, check out my top 5 things to see in the Galapagos islands.
Giant Tortoise and Galapagos Sea Turtle
The Giant Tortoise is the largest living species of tortoise in the world and here in the Galapagos you can see them up close and personal. Weighing in at 180kg, 1.5meters in length and with a walking speed of 0.3km/hour these majestic beasts are both cold blooded and deaf! Day one provided an educational insight into the friendly giants at La Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve. Whilst they are kept in captivity there is plenty of room to roam with most individuals living to well over 100 years old.
Sea turtles on the other hand grow to 1.5m and weigh up to 150kg. While active they can hold their breath for 4-5 minutes, they live a submerged life they will sleep underwater for several hours at at time when less active. One word to describe the GST: Majestic.
Galapagos Land and Marine Iguanas
GLI can grow to up to 1.5m long and weigh up to 11kg. These curious reptiles are cold blooded so you’ll see them basking in the sun wherever possible, careful not to step on one. Charles Darwin described the GLI as “ugly animals, of a yellowish orange beneath, and of a brownish-red colour above. From their low facial angle they have a singularly stupid appearance.” I have a small-ish phobia of reptiles after a Goanna once ate my kitten, alive (I grew up in the Aussie outback). I have to admit I had a few childhood flashback’s seeing these scaling creatures up close. But they were fascinating and I will admit much more beautifully coloured than Darwin’s rather rude description.
The marine iguana, is much more agile however. They can dive over 9m deep and glide through the water with ease. It’s rather enjoyable watching the sea lion pups play with the marine iguanas. They would drag them back into the water after their arduous swim to shore time and time again. While the GMI is noticeably smaller in size, they are also noticeable by colour. The GMI are mostly dark brown/black coloured with red colouration near their tail and on their back. You’ll most likely hear them before you see them as they routinely desalinate their nostrils by blowing their noses loudly. So, given the chance you may get a little more than you bargained for. Keep your distance!
Blue Footed Booby
The BFB gets it’s fashionable feet from their diet of natural and fresh fish. It’s a good sign of a healthy immunity too, so you’ll never find the really blue footed individuals without a mate. You’ll notice the males lifting and displaying their pretty pedicure to attract a mate constantly. I have to admit I found BFB’s to be rather flamboyant. Like, if there was ever going to be a Mardi Gras parade on the Galapagos Islands, the BFB would be leading the way without question. I enjoyed their company despite them wanting to keep their distance, they certainly brightened our day to say the least.
Awww, if there’s a species I would take home with me, it would be the Galapagos sea lion. The sea lion pups were so curious, so playful and so full of life they absolutely made our experience what it was. I remember vividly snorkelling one day and before I knew it a flash of black zipped past my snorkel mask. Before I could turn around to study the culprit another one was tugging on my flipper. Playing tirelessly with each flip and flop.
In the end I was laughing so hard my snorkel filled with water and I had to come up for air. They were present on most of the islands we visited and we were always happy to see them on arrival. I’d like to think they felt the same about us. Mostly because as we arrived none of them seemed too bothered or amused. They’d sprawl over the footpath and jetty and couldn’t really care less as we step over and around them.
The albatross was a complete wonder for me. The average albatross is around 80cm in length, with a wind span of 250cm! What! And they only weigh around 3kgs. To put it plainly, their courtship ritual put today’s online dating app’s to shame. It is as elaborate as it is elegant. Courtship rituals can include: rapid bill circling and bowing, beak clacking, and an upraised bill to make a whoo hoo sound. No wonder they mate for life, I mean this sounds pretty good to me. I’ve asked Moo to give it a go on me, but alas he was not willing. Sigh. Their swagger and chatter among other individuals is something I could have observed all day.
Admittedly, I think I was being a little ambitious to narrow down the Galapagos to just five animals. Because actually, it’s really just the beginning. Think! Flamingos, Frigate Birds, Red Footed Boobies, Fur Seals, Penguins, Sharks and more.
What was a mild highlight for Moo was a major one for me was the old post office at Floreana Island which is still in use today! Understandably the postal service is a little slow. It relies on visitors from the same country as you to travel to the Galapagos after you and hand deliver the letter to your addressee on return. I’m sad to admit, mine still hasn’t arrived. But, I’ll never give up the hope that someone will knock on my mum’s door and hand deliver my letter from 2, 5 or maybe 10 years later! I guess we’ll wait to wait!
If you’d like more information about our tour, theses were the islands we visited:
San Cristobal Island, Española Island, Floreana Island, Santa Fe Island, South Plaza Island. As well as North Seymour Island, Santa Cruz Island, Mosquera Island before flying out of Santa Cruz back to the mainland.
For a full list of our itinerary, click here.