The Galapagos Islands are the type of place you´ve always wanted to visit because you really don´t know what to expect and what there actually is on the islands. All you know is something about Darwin being there; there´s a bunch of cool animals and birds; and it´s expensive to get to. Well the truth is all three of those statements are absolutely correct but what most people don´t know are there are gorgeous beaches (possibly the best beach in South America), amazing food and 30,000+ of the nicest people around who love their beloved islands and treat all visitors with respect and with a welcoming smile. The Galapagos Islands are a true delight and a priviledge and a pleasure to have experienced.
In 1835 Charles Darwin was a young naturalist that boarded a research vessel to study biology. After touring the islands for a total of only 5 weeks he had made some very interesting discoveries. Darwin speculated that the distribution of the mockingbirds and the tortoises might undermine the stability of species. When specimens of birds were analysed on his return to England it was found that many apparently different kinds of birds were species of finches which were also unique to these islands. These facts were crucial in Darwin’s development of his theory of natural selection explaining evolution, which was presented in The Origin of Species-which ironically only mentioned the Galapagos Islands in 1% of the book.
Most of this was all news to me because I thought he basically lived and discovered the islands and based most of his theories off his life and times in the islands. This was untrue and like I said, he only spent 5 weeks total here. However, pretty much everything on the islands is named for him so he clearly made an impression!
I arrived on Baltra Island from Quito with no tour, no hotel and no idea what I was going to do. I was advised against going to the islands without a plan because I might get shut out or end up paying a fortune…however, as I always say, good things happen to good people and everything couldn´t have worked out better.
I walked up to the Red Mangrove hotel and tour booth at the airport and within 5 minutes I had booked a 5 day Galapagos Islands boat tour with staying in hotels (I hate sleeping on boats if I don´t have to) and everything was organized in advanced but with free time to do what I want and escape the tour group. It was perfect and the trip was amazing.
Starting out in Santa Cruz which is the principal island of the archipelago and where all services and tours are. I stayed at the Red Mangrove Hotel on Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabella and all accomodations were top notch and the food at the hotels was to die for. All meals were freshly made on site and some of them were at local restaurants but all were fantastic and the company was great too.
My group consisted of a United Nations worthy group of Internationals from all over the world and the best part was I got to practice Spanish and Italian a lot too-well Spanish clearly a lot more but there two older Italians on the tour and I was speaking a little with them too.
Even before I go into the animals, I want to mention Tortuga Bay which is one of the top beaches I have ever been to. It is a perfect semicircle and very long with perfect waves and crystal clear waters that can compete with anywhere on Earth including Fernando Do Noronha in Brazil. The beach was part of the first day of the tour where snorkeling ended up on the beach and I was hooked-actually went back today.
The animals were dominated by the giant tortoises here on the islands. There are apparently several different species of turtles and they are all seemingly bigger than the last with the largest, weighing over 900 pounds living in the highlands of Floreana and are seriously a sight to be seen. Some on the lowlands of all the islands are also very cool and much smaller and cuter. However, these turtles can live for a few hundred years so they are in absolutely no rush to go anywhere. But if you approach them too quickly they will curl up into their shells and try to hide. I have some amazing photos and am excited to share them when I get home.
Some other cool animals are the bird species, specifically all of Darwin´s finches and of course the notorious blue footed boobies (above) which are super col to see in person aside from having an awesome name! The islands are also famous for their immense iguanas and believe me they are huge and plentiful, you can´t go too far without running into a few or a family of iguanas living in the lava rock or their smaller relatives everywhere else on the islands. Finally, the sea lions are also amazing and you cannot and don´t want to escape their antics as they will swim up onto the dock and flop around for you or simply nap wherever they can put their head down, even if it´s right at your feet.
However, the highlight for me had to be snorkeling with sharks…yes real sharks without any cage or anything else. In fact, this will be tough to describe the setting but we were following the guide in a narrow crevace about 3 meters deep and 3 feet wide and we saw a ton of fish. However, I was right behind the guide when we first spotted the first shark and it was massive and looked just like the killer sharks you know from TV. I was terrified but at the same time intrigued. However, the shark scurried away but quickly returned and passed right under the 7 or so people that were in this narrow crevace and everyone held their breath as the shark passed underneath.
The second shark appeared shortly after and passed literally one foot below our bodies which were essentially half out of the water on the rocks or at least as far up as we could get. It was seriously an amazing rush as I had never been that close to dangerous shark before. I had only dived with nurse sharks in Central America but this was something I will never forget and trust me if you ever come face to face with a shark, just stay still and don´t make any sudden moves. What a rush it was!
I am back from all the tours and my day back at Tortuga Bay today getting ready to head out for some Italian food as I am very much looking forward to hitting shops and getting some cool tee shirts they have here and heading to Guayaquil tomorrow morning.
The Galapagos experience is one that I cannot fully grasp yet as there is so much to ponder and take in. I saw three of the main islands and would love to come back sometime and see the others. I imagine I probably will at some point after I finish the TCC list. However, I highly recommend the Red Mangrove tours and their hotels and staff are top notch and very reasonably priced. Don´t be afraid to negotiate and throw a little espanol out there to get a nice smile back. It goes a long way.