I just took a trip of a lifetime (and I travel extensively so that’s saying a lot) — seven days in the Galapagos Islands onboard a National Geographic Lindblad Expedition ship.
Probably everyone has heard of the place—600 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. And you might know that three ocean currents converge there bringing together an unusual assortment of wildlife.
And probably everyone has seen pictures of its animal inhabitants and knows they are not fearful of people. It was so strange to walk up to a bird and not have it fly away, and in fact, watch it try to get closer at times. There was one particularly determined bird trying to pluck one hiker’s gray hair for her nest.
And probably everyone also knows about Charles Darwin noting the finches were different depending on the island they lived on, which led him to the theory of natural selection. One thing you might not have known...Darwin wanted to be on shore while his ship, the HMS Beagle, went in search of water. It just so happens that in addition to being a curious person, he suffered horrible seasickness.
We were very impressed with the management of the Galapagos Islands. Lots of “rules” that made sense – stay 6 feet from the wildlife (although they didn’t always stay 6 feet away from you...case in point, there was a tortoise so fascinated by a woman’s pink tennis shoes that he began “stalking” her!). Our presence is not supposed to interfere with their lives. Also, no engaging with the animals. You had to hold yourself back from “baby talk” with those super cute baby sea lions.
A few more impactful rules: Travel only with a Galapagos national park guide in groups of 16 or less. Land on an island only during designated times (we often had an 8-10 am slot) and only in designated areas staying on the marked paths with your guide. That was tough for some of the passengers who were clearly used to wandering off on their own, but it made sense to keep certain areas off limits so as to minimize the environmental damage any visitor would cause (even if unintentional).
And the pay-off for following the rules—seeing things you will never see anywhere else. One 40-minute snorkeling session included swimming with birds (penguins), reptiles (turtles and iguanas), mammals (sea lions) and multiple kinds of fish.
We were able to see blue-footed boobies doing a courtship dance and, at another time, dive bombing for food in the ocean. (Boobies are beloved birds in case you were wondering.) We saw different kinds of both land and sea tortoises (after which the island area is named) and various types of iguanas (they have the only sea going iguanas in the world).
The islands include active and inactive volcanoes. One night in 1954 an area simply rose about 15 feet (uplifted is the technical term) due to volcanic activity. As you can imagine, geologists love the Galapagos, too.
And yes, climate change is impacting the area. Currents are getting warmer, which will drive away some of the wildlife.
People have impacted the area by introducing feral cats, feral goats and blackberries, for example. There are now active programs to eradicate them to bring the area back closer to its natural, original state. Even a few turtle populations have disappeared on some islands, so advocates are working hard to also bring them back.
I traveled with a group of extroverts. We all had a lot to say about our experiences, and we did. We were in a magical place. We had a wonderful time enjoying each other’s company and respecting each other’s needs for some quiet down time. We are all in the second half of our lives, embracing our introverted sides!
All of us were concerned with the efficiency of the operation. How were they going to get 95 of us off the ship, onto zodiacs and onto land. It was wonderful to watch! We lined up with our life jackets on, the cruise manager counted us off (including any groups), the crew gave us a hand on and off the zodiac (wet landings can be tricky), and the guides miraculously spaced us out on land.
We were awakened each morning with the most wonderful voice saying, “Good morning, good morning.” Our cruise director would frame everything in a positive way, even the early morning wake-up times.
The “food” crew were similarly efficient. One of our travelers has food allergies and the waiters always found her with dishes made to accommodate, no matter where she was sitting. The attention to detail was incredible! And the kindness of the crew was so appreciated.
I had heard wonderful things about the Galapagos Islands over the years...and they are true. Visit if you possibly can.
Interested in learning more about visiting the Galapagos Islands? Email Liz at LizM@PiqueTravel.com.
Adapted from blog, Type for Life, www.capt.org.