Galloping in the Galápagos

In the Galápagos Islands, untouched diversity is the name of the game, including the animals, plants and topography. Both biologists and savvy world travelers know about the volcanic archipelago, located more than 400 miles west of Ecuador, for its untouched nature and adventure that changes around the corner of every island.

Want this adventure of a lifetime, where swimming with sea lions and playing with penguins is the reality every single day? No problem. It’s smack-dab in the middle of Galápagos National Park, which, I might add, covers a majority of the volcanic archipelago. I had the privilege of traveling to the Galápagos Islands as the on-site journalist with a group of students under the leadership of a Palm Beach Atlantic University biology professor.

I photographed more than 2500 photos and video combined. Of course, the Galápagos lends itself to great photos – sometimes it felt like all I had to do was point and shoot at whatever blue-footed booby, sea lion, or sea turtle came my way. Our group of 16 stayed aboard a chartered yacht – under Daphne Cruises – for seven days. A naturalist led us around various island trails and scenic points, with each day consisting of a hike and snorkel or two. Tiring? Yes. Incredible? No doubt.

The animals are fearless, to say the least. Because the islands are protected under Galápagos National Park, they’re not skittish – they’re just naturally curious. One of the coolest aspects of this trip was that we were on Isabela Island when Wolf Volcano erupted.

You’ll find a few highlights of just some of the islands we visited, including North Seymour, Santiago, Bartolomé, Isabela and Fernandina.

North Seymour’s low vegetation makes it a great place for large populations of frigatebirds, blue-footed boobies, and plenty of sea lions and land iguanas. We spent a day there before moving to Bartolomé Island.

DSC_0962

Bartolomé is a younger island in the archipelago with a parasitic (dormant) volcanic cone. While snorkeling around the island’s natural landmark called Pinnacle Rock, we saw plenty of green sea turtles, Galápagos penguins, king angelfish, and starfish. That’s just naming a few that I filmed with my GoPro. To get a full bird’s eye view of Pinnacle Rock and the entire bay, you have to hike more than 300 stairs – but the view is worth it!

DSC_0160

Santiago Island was one of my favorite locations of the whole trip. Santiago’s black sand beaches make you feel like you can easily play on the beach before washing it off in the warm water before snorkeling with angelfish, marine iguanas, and sea turtles. The hiking path was the highlight of the island; it led to a rocky outcropping called Puerto Egas, which stretches for miles and is home to plenty of Sally Lightfoot crabs, marine iguanas and sea lions. Of course, the fur seal grottoes filled with crystal blue water was the most appealing to me.

DSC_0300_2

Tagus Cove, located on the western coast of Isabela Island, was another beautiful place we visited. Isabela Island is the largest in the archipelago. One of the most popular places to see on Isabela is Darwin’s Lake, which is three times saltier than the ocean. In fact, no fish live in the lake – just organisms that can handle the hypersaline conditions. The hiking path that winds high around it looks like something just out of Narnia, with plenty of greenery, finches, butterflies, giant tortoises and more. As the path winds to the top, lava fields stretch across the island. Because the water around the western side of Isabela  is chilly from the Humboldt Current, Galápagos penguins are easily found. There was no need for a wetsuit, despite the minor El Niño effects. Naturally, the lava fields and the hike we took up the southern volcano (Sierra Negra) are incredibly beautiful and make for a very challenging hike with infinitely beautiful views.

DSC_0133

Fernandina Island’s beautiful path leads visitors right through hundreds of marine iguanas and plenty of sea lions that like to show off.  The abundance of sea lions and succession of mangroves and cacti is a perfect example of the Galápagos’ biodiversity, and even lovers of water can enjoy the lava fields that stretch for miles. The area in which we snorkeled had dozens of sea turtles everywhere I turned, as well as plenty of puffers and angelfish.

GOPR0591

Toward the end of the trip, we visited Puerto Villamil on Isabela and Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island – port towns with local restaurants, souvenir shops, and other fun flavors. Though about 25,000 people live on the Galápagos Islands, the respect for the environment is evident through the implementation of the national park and residents’ passion for conservation. Between these truths and the natural beauty and ecological order of the islands, it’s a dynamic and inspiring example for those of us who come from a different perspective. The Galápagos is unlike any other place on earth, and no amount of research or reading could have prepared me for this unforgettable trip.

DSC_0164_2