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  • Niki Harry

Ecuador - The Galapagos Islands

Updated: Apr 23, 2019

​The Galápagos Islands are a group of volcanic islands distributed on either side of the Equator in the Pacific Ocean. They are part of Ecuador and are 906 km (563 mi) west of the mainland. The archipelago consists of 18 main islands, 3 smaller islands, and 107 rocks and islets. The Galápagos became a national park in 1959 and tourism started in the 1960’s.

We visited 9 islands and one rock, Kicker Rock.

Islands: Baltra, Santa Cruz, Santa Fe, Plaza Sur, Espanola, San Cristobal, Lobos, Bartolome and Santiago.

There are only 116 visitor sites in the Galapagos: 54 land sites and 62 scuba-diving or snorkeling sites. Small groups are allowed to visit in 2–4 hour shifts only, to limit impact on the area. All groups are accompanied by licensed guides.

The boat we were on was the Queen Beatriz. It’s one of the newest and most luxurious vessels in the Galapagos Islands. Its a 101 foot, 16-passenger luxury motor catamaran which has 8 air-conditioned double-occupancy cabins with private bathrooms. It has a spacious outside aft deck with a bar and jacuzzi, a top level sun deck with 10 lounge chairs, a dining room and a forward lounge area with a massive sofa and a bar.

Our daily routine was very busy. Each day would start as early as 5:30am and consisted of 2 hikes/excursions to an island and 1-3 snorkel’s. It was non-stop GO GO GO but we loved it. We had both dry and wet landings and many of the dry landings would mean having to walk over or around the sea lions.

The land iguana’s were amazing. So many different colours and sizes. Some were so camouflaged to look like their surroundings that many times we did not see them. We had to be so careful not to step on them.

These colourful ones were very visible against the black rock.

I felt as if we were truly in paradise. I love boats and I love the water and this is probably one of my favourite scenes. I could be here forever and never get tired of it.

The food on the boat was fabulous. Every day we had a buffet breakfast plus eggs to order. Lunches were buffet style and every day was something different. Dinners were plated and again never repeated. We would have a snack and drink waiting for us after our afternoon excursions. This particular evening featured all the specialties of Ecuador.

Evenings were spent out on the deck with drinks, making new friends, or some nights the captain had special drink night.

My favourite island. Bartolome. So unique and beautiful. The famous Pinnacle rock can be seen below (reminded me of the leaning tower of Piza)

There were two very large sharks swimming around our boat one day.. for the entire day. I was very nervous about snorkelling that day! Yes I did swim with sharks; 4 of them on one occasion. Luckily they were no bigger then about 5 feet but still I was not thrilled.

I think my favourite part was all the snorkelling we got to do. I absolutely loved it and the water was so clean and clear. We saw so many fish, beautiful colours and shapes and sizes. The sea lions would swim & play around us – totally non threatening. The animals here think we are just another animal species. Since they don’t harm each other they don’t feel threatened in any way. You can walk right up to them. But touching them (or feeding them) is prohibited as that would change the way they react to humans and other animal species.

The famous Kicker Rock, where 100’s of hammer head sharks tend to convene. Luckily for me (and a few others in our group who have a fear of sharks, especially hammer heads), we did not see any as the water was very murky and rough but I’m sure they were there below us lurking in the depths!

Kicker Rock.. with a boat beside it to give you the perspective of its size. Located on the west side of San Cristobal, this is one of the most popular dive locations. The depth ranges from 30 – 130+ feet (10 – 40+ meters) and visibility is often up to 50 feet (15 meters) if its calm.

The sea lions were so incredibly cute especially the babies. Some would attempt to come right up to us while they were looking for their mom.

​The White-tailed Tropicbird is one of the prettiest birds on the Galapagos. It has a long tail which the nasty Frigate birds love to grab and then shake the bird until it drops its fish. The plumage of the frigatebird lacks a waterproof coating, so it becomes waterlogged and then can’t fly. This is why they steal food/fish from other birds and the easy target is the white tailed tropicbird.

I could not get enough of the Sally Lightfoot crabs. They are so beautiful with their vibrant red and blue colour, usually in large groups all scattered over black volcanic rock.

Iguana crossing!

And these are the Boobies. Nazca boobies, Red Footed boobies and the most famous: Blue Footed Boobies. These ones with the grey feet are Nazca. They are currently nesting with babies. We could literally walk up to them and they would not be afraid or fly off even with the babies near us.

​And my favourite: The famous blue footed boobie. They were just arriving here so there weren’t 100’s of them as we were expecting but I was glad I got to see some!

And penguins! We got to see the Galapagos Penguin! We were so happy as they told us that we may not see them.. and we came upon this little group right at the end of our excursion. They are so cute and small.. no more then 20″ in height.

The terrain was almost always volcanic as if you were on a moon. It makes you wonder how anything survives here.

At one location, we stood and watched in awe as the blue footed boobies dove for fish. Over and over. I think we watched for about 20 minutes. They are super fast and dive in with such speed and precision you would think they were a missile!

Welcome to Iguana city. What a wild, surreal place. Lava rock that looked and resembled like hardened intestines or brain.. black on black. And marine iguana’s in every nook and cranny.. 100’s and 100’s everywhere. You had to really watch where you stepped as they were so camouflaged it was sometimes impossible to see them.

The magnificent frigatebirds loved to fly alongside the boat. They have extraordinarily large wings and can fly for extended periods of time. It appeared as if they weren’t moving, they would just glide along taking advantage of the winds. The massive wingspan enables them to soar effortlessly. Charles Darwin dubbed this species “the condor of the ocean”.

The males have a bare patch of skin on the lower neck, known as the gular sac. This sac can be inflated into a bright red balloon-like organ, which is used to attract females during courtship. Outside the breeding season, the patch fades to orange and becomes barely visible. They nest in bushes or trees and again we were able to walk right up to them without them being fearful of us.

Giovanni or “mosquito” as the crew nicknamed him, here at the wheel. He is nicknamed that as he is constantly “buzzing” around ship, doing various things. He is also second in command to the captain. One day, the captain let me pilot the boat but no one knew. I had no clue what I was doing and went 30 degrees of course heading straight to land. It was rather funny and I dont think anyone noticed the zigzagging of the boat across the water!

One day we saw dolphins, 50 or 60 dolphins. And about 10 whales. The captain sped up and went after them when he spotted them in the distance and we got the best show on earth. Go figure, it was the only rainy day but that didn’t stop us from making sure we got photos!

The captain was great as he went well beyond where we were supposed to stop and anchor. He caught up to them until they were all around and below us, chasing and swimming with the boat. Shame that the sun wasn’t out as you’d be able to see just how many were all around us. It was totally amazing and one of the highlights of our trip.

This was a switch up day. 10 of our travel companions were leaving and 12 new ones were arriving. The only ones with us the entire 7 days were Jane and David. The 4 of us were not too impressed with the switchover, not because of the people, but because we basically lost a day. This was never indicated on the itinerary and was the one thing we were trying to avoid. It was mostly a lost day waiting around for drop-offs and pickups and having to participate in orientation and safety briefing all over again. It was the only time we stopped on an island with a town and civilization. So we took the opportunity to chill out and have some cold drinks while we waited. You have to be careful even in town.. wildlife was everywhere! Large sea lions who didn’t like anyone taking up their space LOL

In the afternoon, we chose not to do a bus ride to see tortoises (since we had already done that), so the 4 of us stayed behind on boat. The captain made an exception and allowed the dingy to take us to a beach where we swam with the locals and played in the surf. That turned out to be a fun afternoon and we were very glad we stayed behind.

The Galapagos Flycatcher bird. The cutest things ever! They are so tame that they would sit on your head or even better: in your lens! They were constantly fluttering around us and they especially loved John’s long lens!

It was strange to see trees and greenery. This was Isla Santiago, one of the green islands that we got to visit.

I loved how close you could get to all the animals for photographing them.

There was a National Geographic boat that we saw in several of the same locations. My absolute dream to be on it and do the photography with them!

​One of the sandy beaches which was literally filled with thousands of crabs and they would all scurry away in a group as you walked closer.

Sometimes the animals were really camouflaged and you had to really look to see them.

We even got to see two Galapagos snakes.

​And giant tortoises, some being up to 400 years old.

Live the dream. We did.

Wish it was for longer though. 7 days was just not enough on this little spot of heaven. And as the sun was rising on another new day in paradise and one final glimpse, it was really hard having to leave it all behind. AND OFF WE WENT TO MEET UP WITH PHIL & KERRI IN SALINAS FOR A WEEK.

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