I was impressed as soon as we arrived in the Galapagos. We got to Puerto Ayora port on the island of Santa Cruz and there were several sea lions sleeping on the benches, and some lazing around on the jetties leading out to sea, plus rays and sharks and sea turtles swimming around below us. We were transferred across the bay in a little dinghy to our home for the next few days – a sailing boat gently rocking on the crystal-clear water. Our cruise itinerary took us to the western side of the archipelago, around the seahorse-shaped island of Isabela, which meant visiting some of the most remote parts of the islands which you could never get to on a day trip.
I’ve been snorkelling several times before but this was something else. Each morning our group would hop off the yacht and into the dinghy (known as a ‘panga’) and be taken to a different place for our morning excursion. Our guide would tell us what to look out for in that particular spot, then we’d plop into the water with our flippers and masks, and immediately be surrounded by thousands of fish, plus sea turtles, marine iguanas, penguins, sharks and sea lions. The sea turtles were a particular highlight. There was one place where we were completely outnumbered by them – so many that we had to keep turning around to make sure we wouldn’t bump into one.
2. The wildlife
This is an obvious one because it’s the main reason people visit the Galapagos, but there’s nothing that can prepare you for the sheer amount you see. No matter how breath-taking the scenery, it was always the wildlife that stole the show. It’s not like in the Amazon, where it can sometimes be a challenge to identify a branch-looking sloth high up in the trees, even with binoculars. Here, the animals have no natural predators, so they have no fear of humans getting up close and personal. Nowhere else in the world can you see animals in such abundance and so close up without any hassle at all. After a couple of days I’d spot a turtle or sea lion swimming by the boat and wouldn’t even point it out to anyone, because it’s just the norm. The variety of birdlife is unbelievable – flightless cormorants, pelicans, frigate birds, blue-footed boobies, penguins, whimbrels to name a few. Each one would come with various anecdotes from our guide. I don’t think there was anything about the Galapagos that he didn’t know.
3. The island visits
The national park is incredibly well organised and meticulously regimented to make sure visitor sites aren’t visited by too many groups. This meant we spent each excursion with just our small group, and we learnt so much about all the volcanic formations and the evolution of the plants and animals. Each day we’d do a different visit with our guide, who was so incredibly full of knowledge and really brought each place to life. My favourite excursion was when we visited an island to see tortoises and iguanas, and it started pouring with rain halfway round so by the end we were walking through a muddy river instead of a path. We couldn’t have been any more soaked but it didn’t matter, so we all went in the sea in our clothes, losing any sense of maturity, then went back to the yacht to warm up with hot chocolate and yuca bread dipped in honey.
4. Life on-board
It didn’t take us long to slip into the leisurely routine of life on-board. The best way to start each morning was by watching the sun rise, sitting on the top deck with a cup of tea, then heading down to the dining area for breakfast. There were two activities each day, and plenty of time to relax on the boat in-between. Choosing to share a boat with total strangers for five days could be a risky decision, but by the end of the trip they certainly didn’t feel like strangers. Everyone seemed to click and get on well with each other, which made each day more fun, as we got to share all these amazing new experiences together. Over mealtimes we’d chat about what we’d seen that morning, or what we do back home, and by the end we’d formed a real bond. Each evening we’d watch the sunset with a glass of wine or beer, looking out for dolphins, rays and birdlife. There are also plenty of opportunities to spend time on your own if you prefer. On the final morning, we were joined at breakfast time by a baby sea lion who fancied a little rest on-board.
5. The food
It’s not often you get to spend your birthday snorkelling with sharks and sea lions, then hopping back on-board to find a cocktail and the most delicious birthday cake made by Jorge the chef. The food served on our yacht was outstanding – both in quality and quantity. It’s amazing what they can rustle up in such a small kitchen on a boat in the middle of the ocean. We’d get up for breakfast at 7 each morning to find an impressive spread of granola, yoghurt, fresh fruit, eggs, bread, cheese, juice and other goodies, then after our morning excursion we’d come back to find snacks already laid out for us (biscuits, crisps, pastries, fresh lemonade etc.) then lunch would be three courses, with several different sides and salads to go with the fresh fish, prawns, chicken, beef – always prepared in such creative ways. The post-lunch activity would finish mid-afternoon when we’d come back for another snack and hot or cold drink, depending on the weather, and then a substantial dinner a few hours later. It’s safe to say you won’t go hungry on a Galapagos cruise!
I could use all the clichés in the book to describe how incredible my time in the Galapagos was. Anybody who has a love for animals or adventure should definitely have the islands on their bucket list, whether its next year or in twenty years. It’s truly the trip of a lifetime.
Llama Travel offers Galapagos cruises on five boats and also a hotel based option for those who prefer not to take a cruise.
You can browse all our Galapagos holidays here.