The Galápagos Islands
Imagine being invisible. You’re standing next to wild birds, giant tortoises, sea lions, and marine iguanas in their natural habitats, watching them fish, play, eat, preen themselves, and attempt to seduce each other with bizarre courtship antics, without a care that you are close enough to reach out and grab them. Because most of the animals on the Galápagos Islands have no natural predators and humans appeared on the islands relatively recently in history, they have not developed the instinct to flee as animals in most other parts of the world have. Tragically, this made them easy prey for early settlers looking for meat, but these days, it creates a unique opportunity for photographers and wildlife enthusiasts.
I was very fortunate to be able to go in April/May of 2008 when some friends of mine were living there (so we had free lodging in Puerto Ayora while on the main island and access to a kitchen to cook most of our meals). I spent 2 weeks on the islands, and the entire trip–flights and all–cost me about $600. Thanks to frequent flyer miles, I was able to get tickets for my sister and friend who went with me, and in exchange they covered some of my expenses, including the flight out to the islands, park entrance fee, and part of the cruise. We went on the cheapest 8-day cruise we could find, about $1,000 each at the time (check HERE for current rates on the Galapagos cruises). Our old, run-down, 16-passenger motor yacht, “The Friendship,” sometimes smelled of diesel fumes and had (harmless) little bugs running around, and they even had trouble with the showers one day, but the boat was kept clean, the food was excellent (they did a great job accommodating the vegetarians like me and the gluten-free folks like my friend and another fellow passenger), and the very friendly staff and other adventurous travelers from around the world created the experience of a lifetime. For the price, we had no complaints.
Each island is distinct, with unique birds and wildlife to enjoy. On one island we found a colony of flamingos feeding in a lagoon; in another, we laughed at the funny courtship antics of the waved albatrosses and enjoyed their graceful flying and clumsy landings. On several islands we saw the blue-footed booby, a funny bird with brilliant blue feet which the males proudly hold up and wave around to show off to the females.
Many beaches have groups of sea lions resting on them. The Galápagos sea lions live a life of fishing, playing, and sleeping. Must be hard. Marine iguanas are among the more unique animals in the islands; they are the only iguanas in the world with the ability to find their food in the ocean waters.
Besides the incredible wildlife on land, we experienced awesome snorkeling each day in beautifully clear waters teeming with colorful fish, sea tortoises, playful sea lions, Galápagos penguins, white-tipped reef sharks (non-aggressive), colorful sea anemones, and many other things.
Typically we would spend part of each day exploring an island, and part of the day snorkeling, and then travel between islands at night while we slept. One evening as the sun was setting, we spotted a large pod of dolphins jumping around our yacht as we made our way to the next island.
Ever since our trip in 2008, I have longed to return to the islands, and also to spend some time on the mainland getting to know the rest of the country of Ecuador. This week that dream will come true! I so look forward to spending the next 2.5 months exploring Ecuador, getting fluid and comfortable with my Spanish again, and becoming acquainted with a new culture. We won’t be visiting the Galápagos on this trip because of our goal to save money, but I definitely plan to go back there someday.
If you are interested in visiting the Galápagos, I really would recommend doing an 8-day tour rather than 3- or 4-day because every island is so different and the longer tour really gives a better overview and deeper experience. It has been one of my favorite trips to date. The main town on the islands, Puerto Ayora, is very nice also, and I felt extremely safe there. People could park their bicycles and go into stores, etc and leave them outside with no lock or anything and no concern that it would be stolen. You could never do that in most other places in Latin America. Maybe since it’s an island where everyone knows everyone else, they have just learned to respect each other’s property because it would be easy to figure out who the criminal was in a place like that…who knows. The trip is not cheap. I would say for an 8-day trip plan to budget at least $2,500 to cover all the fees, tips, and the cheapest tours you can find, flights from mainland Ecuador, etc., and probably more than that to be on the safe side. I think the average tourist easily spends $4K-$5K and more to visit the islands, but if you’re smart and adventurous about it you can do it for a lot less. Of course you can also visit the islands and not do a cruise, but you’ll really get the most out of it if you take the boat. I’ve been wanting to go back and do a diving tour (once I’m certified). Start saving up and go see these amazing islands at least once in your lifetime.