The magic of the Galapagos Islands

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A spectacular Galapagos sunset.

The Galapagos Islands are famous the world over for their huge number of endemic species and were studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle. To be honest, despite my dream to visit this ecological paradise in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador, I harboured some doubts. These doubts rested on the fact that many of these endemic species are so unique and face all sorts of threats. I spoke to a few friends about this, some of whom have been there, and they were (almost) unanimous: go if the opportunity presented itself and see it for myself. And so I did, when Metropolitan Touring and LAN Airlines extended an invitation to me to go on a tour of Ecuador. After my first day on the islands, I was really happy that I decided to go. The Galapagos Islands are truly magical – from the pristine beaches and spectacular sunsets to the vast diversity of unique flora and fauna, the islands were simply breathtaking. In addition, it opened my eyes even further to the fragility of our ecosystem and the importance of care and conservation.

A wondrous Galapagos Islands cruise

We flew with LAN Airlines from Quito (via Guayaquil) into San Cristóbal island, the easternmost island of the archipelago, and the first island that Charles Darwin visited in 1835. A gust of fresh ocean air greeted me as I stepped out of the plane. I couldn’t believe it… I was on the Galapagos Islands!

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Arriving in the Galapagos Islands with LAN Airlines

We hopped onto a bus and were driven to the pier to board a zodiac which would take us to Yacht La Pinta, our base for the next four days. At the pier, we had our first taste of what was to come; we had to walk gingerly down the steps to the zodiac to avoid disturbing the sea lions which crowded the steps!

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On the zodiac to Yacht La Pinta. I was sooo excited! Notice the sea lions on the steps.

The Yacht la Pinta is a comfortable vessel, with a dining area, a cosy bar/lounge and a roof-top deck with a hot-tub and bar. The yacht accommodates a maximum of 48 guests and is perfect for families as some of the cabins can be connected. The spacious cabins featured en-suite bathrooms and large windows. I walked to the window when I entered my room and the first thing I saw was a giant turtle poking its head out of the water!

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Yacht La Pinta.

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My comfortable and spacious cabin on board Yacht La Pinta.

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I looked out my window and spotted this guy!

That evening, we were welcomed and briefed by the expert crew of conservationists. The presentation about the unique ecology of the islands was very insightful and I appreciated the strict instructions on how to behave on the islands.

San Cristóbal island

The next morning, we woke up to find ourselves at Punta Pitt, the easternmost point of San Cristóbal. A zodiac took us to the island where we hopped off onto the beach. From here, we hiked into the rocky hills where we were treated to beautiful views of the coastline and the ocean. The Galapagos Islands are situated on the Equator, where two ocean currents meet. This time of the year (September/October), both currents jostled for influence, making the weather quite unpredictable. One moment, it was cold and foggy, and another moment it was sunny and warm. Dressing in layers was the way to go.

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The view from the hills at Punta Pitt.

We soon spotted one of the birds that the Galapagos are most famous for…

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The red-footed booby!

We spotted more wildlife as we walked on – there were colonies of Nazca boobies, frigates and the occasional Darwin finch whilst in the ocean, we saw schools of dolphins swim past.

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Galapagos islands are a nature photographer’s dream!

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This little guy came out to greet us and didn’t even budge when a dozen cameras were pointed at it!

The most extraordinary meeting in my life

We headed down to the beach and grabbed our snorkelling gear. What happened next was something I won’t easily forget. As soon as we cleared the beach, a sea lion came to join us, swimming circles around us. It was an unnerving experience to watch a sea lion swim towards me at top speed – I could see his eyes trained on me – before making a swift turn just a foot away from me! I started talking to it and it returned several times. Haha! It certainly was the most extraordinary meeting in my life!

That afternoon, after a sumptuous lunch aboard Yacht La Pinta, we continued to Cerro Brujo (San Cristóbal island) to walk on the same shores that Charles Darwin walked on in September 1835. Cerro Brujo is simply magical, with its pristine white sand beaches, rocky lava outcrops and colonies of Galapagos sea lions. We could observe the sea lions and marine iguanas at a close distance as they didn’t feel threatened by our presence – being this close to the animals was a mind-blowing experience!

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Sleeping sea lions on the white sands of Cerro Brujo.

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A sea lion watches the sunset in Galapagos on Cerro Brujo.

That evening, I sat on the deck of Yacht La Pinta with a glass of wine when I heard some skipping noises in the water below. I leaned over the railing and witnessed another mind-blowing scene: the dimmed lights of the yacht had attracted a school of flying fish and chasing after it was a group of sea lions. The fish flew low and fast over the surface desperately trying to escape from the sea lions. Both predator and prey were incredibly swift and I watched this spectacle in complete amazement. At one point, a flying fish barely escaped the jaws of a sea lion by flying high over the water, but a gull swooped in from nowhere to catch the fish in its powerful beak. These gulls are unique to Galapagos as they’re the only ones which hunt at night.

Española island

We arrived at Española island the following morning for what was to be the highlight of the cruise. After breakfast, the zodiacs brought us to the shore. As we approached the little pier, we saw many sea lions and a few marine iguanas (the only type of iguana that forages in the sea) swimming in the crystalline water. We hopped off the boat for an unforgettable walk around Punta Suárez.

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We were greeted by this little fella with his iguana friends!

We continued along the trail and passed sea lions, hundreds of marine iguanas and a variety of bird-life. The scenery along the way of the rugged coastline and shrubby plains was just beautiful. The coastline, with its rocky cliffs and thunderous blowholes, was especially breathtaking.

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We soon spotted the most famous bird on the Galapagos Islands: the blue-footed booby!

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The famous blue-booted booby with its offspring.

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I couldn’t resist the temptation of taking a selfie with these beautiful Nazca boobies! 🙂

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We also spotted these love-birds – waved-albatrosses – who later showed us how they do the courtship dance! A bewildering show!

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Back at the pier, I spotted these two: a marine iguana and a lava crab. The colours were amazing!

In the afternoon, we headed to Gardner Bay on the northern coast of Española island. We went snorkelling along the cliffs and saw lots of beautiful corals, tropical fish and some turtles and rays. We then proceeded to what is definitely one of the most gorgeous beaches I’ve ever seen: a broad arc of blinding white sand with crystal-clear turquoise water lapping at its shores.

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A napping sea lion on the pristine shores of Gardner Bay.

Santa Cruz island

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The giant tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Station.

We woke up the next day to find ourselves moored at Santa Cruz island. It was time to say our goodbyes to the fantastic crew of Yacht La Pinta. They truly were fantastic and their love of the islands shone through: they were a treasure trove of knowledge and ensured the guests had a great time whilst always keeping the importance of the islands’ preservation first and foremost.

We had one more stop: the Charles Darwin Research Station where we were briefed on the ‘rearing in captivity’ programme for giant tortoises. Thanks to these programmes, the giant tortoise population is slowly but surely making a healthy recovery.

It was soon time to leave the Galapagos Islands. It was a short visit (4 days/3 nights) but the experiences I had were absolutely incredible. I’m really glad I decided to go because I learned so much about nature conservation and the intricate balance of our ecosystem. This Galapagos Islands cruise was an eye-opening introduction to the islands and its famed ecology – I hope to return one day and see more of these magical islands.

Find out more about Yacht La Pinta and how to get to Galapagos Islands with LAN Airlines.

Note: my trip to Ecuador was a collaboration with Metropolitan Touring and LAN Airlines. All views expressed above are mine, and mine only.

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21 Responses to “The magic of the Galapagos Islands”

  1. Keith Jenkins 05/08/2016 11:13 am
    #

    Hi Grace,
    The price would depend on where you depart from. If you’re in North America, there are many packages you can choose from. Check out http://www.metropolitan-touring.com/ as they’re Ecuador experts and often have great deals.

    Cheers,
    Keith

  2. Grace 29/07/2016 2:53 am
    #

    Hello. Nice article. Do you remember the price do go to Galapagos Islands? I want to travel to Ecuador, and it’s on my wish-list, but I don’t know how expensive it is…everyone keeps saying “expensive for Ecuador,” so I know it must be cheap compared to what it would be here. But still, I’d like to know how much I should save up for.
    Thanks in advance!

  3. Gaby Risanto 16/02/2016 3:08 pm
    #

    Been a while haven’t visited your blog, Keith…surprised to see the same big smile of yours on every journey you do , that’s one of your trademarks haha…Next time you go to Bali, try this for a change of ordinary Bali sunset : a traditional hand crafted vessel that speaks of the history of the Spice Trade and embodies the spirit of the Indonesian Archipelago with the highest international standards of safety, comfort , service and cuisine called Silolona Sojourns. An experience beyond the words…Cheers!

  4. Keith Jenkins 07/11/2015 12:42 pm
    #

    Hi Jane,

    It’s not cheap but there are discounts in the non-peak season. One of the best tour operators to Galapagos (metropolitan-touring.com) often has good deals so I would check them out.

    Cheers,
    Keith

  5. Jane@travebusy 01/11/2015 7:46 pm
    #

    Its always been on my list, but always out of reach. How much is it now Keith to go as a tourist?

  6. Aaron Jade 15/10/2015 12:36 pm
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    What an awesome experience. Love the amount of wildlife that is so easily seen it its natural habitat. Seeing the sea lion while snorkeling would have been a buzz. Staying on a yacht seems like a good option as well.

  7. Linzi Clark 16/08/2015 12:27 pm
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    Wow, what an amazing array of wildlife, I have a friend who has travelled all over the world as a cruise ship captain and these islands are his favourite destination – I can now understand why!

  8. Keith Jenkins 28/07/2015 1:10 am
    #

    Hehe, snorkelling with the seals sure was an unforgettable experience and I’m glad I went on this trip to the Galapagos! 🙂
    Thanks for your comment Janice.

    Cheers,
    Keith

  9. Sand In My Suitcase 28/07/2015 12:07 am
    #

    No, you can’t turn down an invitation to visit the Galapagos! We had to almost step over sea lions in our way, sleeping on the beach path, and we loved watching blue-footed boobies do their comical mating dances. But we didn’t see seals underwater while snorkeling like you did :-). That would be a fun encounter!

  10. Keith Jenkins 20/03/2015 2:08 pm
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    You’ll love it! Enjoy Ecuador!

  11. Andrew 19/03/2015 9:20 pm
    #

    I’m due to be in Ecuador in a couple months … can’t wait to see the Galapagos soon!

  12. Keith Jenkins 28/01/2015 3:55 pm
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    Hehe, thanks Laurent! 🙂

  13. Laurent 28/01/2015 11:50 am
    #

    Lovely shots Keith! We shared them on our Pinterest! 😉 http://www.pinterest.com/Pura_Aventura/stunning-wildlife/

  14. Keith Jenkins 26/01/2015 8:02 pm
    #

    Hehe, thanks Maria! 🙂

  15. Mariarosaria 26/01/2015 7:21 pm
    #

    Thank you! And I have to say you reinvented yourself in an amazing way! 😉

  16. Keith Jenkins 26/01/2015 11:33 am
    #

    Hi Maria,
    Haha, excellent question! You’re the first person to ever ask me that! 🙂
    I chose the green leaves as they symbolised a fresh, new start (or a ‘rebirth’) at the time I started the blog in late-2008. Coming out of a ten-year banking career, I hoped to do something different, perhaps reinvent myself, and the green leaves were the perfect representation of my endeavours. You can watch my TEDx Talk about my career change: http://velvetescape.com/2012/12/keith-jenkins-tedx-talk/

    Cheers,
    Keith

  17. Mariarosaria 25/01/2015 1:41 pm
    #

    Hi!!! I am writing a thesis on travel blogs and I have a question for you about your travel blog : why have you chosen green leaves as your logo? Thanks 🙂

  18. Keith Jenkins 24/01/2015 11:36 am
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    The boobies were so cute! My favourites were the waved albatrosses though, especially the dance they performed!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  19. Selma 24/01/2015 2:38 am
    #

    Loved the red and blue footed boobies, but lava crabs … now that I haven’t seen before … amazing!

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