Visiting the Galapagos has always been one of those big bucket list items for me. In fact, our whole trip was built around three must-dos: Rio Carnaval, Machu Picchu and the Galapagos. Suffice to say, expectations were high. Sky high.
I could have set my expectations at the moon, and I still would have been blown away.
Our home for the eight days was the Yate Guantanamera, a tourist-class (read: pretty budget) ship that we booked via Oasis Overland. Most of the other people on board booked last minute in Puerto Ayora (one couple even booked on the day of departure!), so that is a very viable option for anyone looking to do ‘budget’ Galapagos. But we had limited time and wanted a guaranteed sailing date, so we planned ahead!
Even for a budget ship, Guantanamera provided everything we needed: snorkelling equipment and wet suits (it was the “cold” season in Galapagos, so swimming was more comfortable in a short wetsuit), clean (if very cramped) cabins and surprisingly excellent food. Plus, the itinerary was amazing. Over the course of eight days/seven nights, we sailed: Baltra-Bartolome-Genovesa-Isabela-Fernandino-Santiago-Rabida – the North/West islands.
What surprised me the most about the Galapagos was the variety of landscape. I don’t know what I pictured in my head before, but I wasn’t expecting the mixture of beach paradises, lush forests, ancient calderas and barren lava fields that we came across. Each island is so different, and it makes me wonder what I missed out on from the places we didn’t see! Oh well, an excuse to go back…
Then, of course, the wildlife. We felt so lucky to see so much, but maybe it wasn’t luck – maybe it’s just the Galapagos? Still, on land, in the air and under the sea, we saw such variety of wildlife that it was pretty overwhelming, and sometimes even easy to get jaded. Oh, swimming with another turtle? Yawn. Was that a reef shark? Who cares. Is that a rare red-foot booby? Yes, but where are the blue foot? Haha, okay, we weren’t quite that bad, but it did feel like we kept upping the ante with every island we visited. For example, on Genovesa, we were told we had the chance to see a short-eared owl – quite rare, and normally only visible through binoculars on the rocky coast. We showed up, and there was one sitting on the bridge, just waiting for us. No big deal.
The coolest animals for me were the iguanas – both marine and land. We actually got a chance to swim with the marine iguanas, so that was pretty epic!
But we saw SO much. Galapagos hawks within touching distance. Frigate birds with giant red inflatable pouches under their beaks. Galapagos sharks circling the boat. Hammerhead sharks (these were amazing – we swam with three). Eagle rays. Sting rays. Mobula rays in a school of hundreds. Sea lions lounging on park benches. Common dolphins leaping out of the water. Humpback whales. Giant tortoise. Thousands of varieties of fish – from puffer fish to king angelfish to neon-bright parrot fish. Three different types of boobies. Darwin finches (including the terrifying-sounding vampire finch). Flightless cormorants with useless, stubby wings. Lava lizards. Galapagos racers (snakes). Even penguins!
This was nothing like our Amazon or Pantanal experience, where we were only able to see a few animals. This was a safari on steroids. A feast for our eyes. And what was also amazing was the proximity you could get. Official rules state that you are only allowed to approach the animals at a distance of 2 metres, but the problem wasn’t us approaching the animals – but the animals approaching us!
All in all, a week was not enough. Top tip if you did have more time – our boat was offering discount prices if you stayed on board another week, so if you had the budget and the extra week, you could really see a lot.
I think if we went back, we’d try to get some diving in as well. We unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity and I have a feeling the diving would be incredible.
Last photo… A lava lizard perched on top of a smiling marine iguana, lying on a beach in the sunshine. It doesn’t get more Galapagos than that.