Where to begin?…
Take some volcanos, place them in the middle of the ocean. Let them erupt a few million years ago until they form about a dozen islands of black lava rock. Then, place a “cactus forest” and a petting zoo of tropical animals on those islands and name it after a turtle shell that looks like a Spanish saddle.
That is how I would describe the strange islands that Anna and I have spent the last 8 days on. According to WikiAnswers, “Galápago” is an old Spanish word meaning saddle. The large land tortoise on some of the islands has a shell that resembles an old Spanish saddle, thus inspiring the name. Surprisingly, the Galápagos Islands have 3 different airports, on two different islands. We flew in one and flew out the other; both times getting to walk on the tarmac. The islands are actually farther apart than I thought. Several of our inter-islands boat rides were bumpy (and sometimes wet) two hour boat rides through open ocean with no land in sight.
The most exciting part of our time on the islands, however, was getting to be so close to the animals. It was amazing how close you could actually get to them. Often times, I actually had to purposely avoid stepping on marine iguanas while on several of our island tours.
Speaking of tours, there are two main ways to see the Galápagos Islands. One way is a cruise ranging from 3-15 days and the other is by taking day trips. We chose to take several day trips because it was cheaper for us. That being said, there were several very affordable cruise options. We found one cruise for four days that only cost $400 (that’s cheap for the Galapagos Islands). We just did a few simple calculations to determine which was the best way to go about seeing the islands. Taking day trips also allowed us to customize our trip more and be more flexible.
Regardless of which option you chose, always be sure to check around at the different travel agencies for different routes and prices. We checked at least a 8 different ones before picking, but there were plenty more within walking distance of the dock on Santa Cruz. Also, be sure you know exactly what is included (i.e. meals, snorkeling equipment, wet suit, taxi rides, island entrance fees, etc). Perhaps the most important lesson we learned is to always get a receipt and itinerary and only pay for the activity you are doing one day in advance.
And now for the animals!
We visited 5 islands: San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Seymore Norte, Isabela, and Floreana. Of those islands I think Seymore Norte was my favorite because we got to be so close to some of the strangest birds I have ever seen including the Blue Footed Boobie and the Frigate bird. Here are some of the animal inspired highlights:
- Snorkeled with sharks, sea turtles, and sea lions on Isabela Island
- Witnessed the Blue Footed Boobie mating dance on Seymore Norte
- Climbed Sierra Negro Volcano (second largest volcanic crater on earth at 10 km around)
- Walked with the giant land tortoises that weigh over 500kg on Santa Cruz, Isabela, and Floreana
- Saw literally tons of animals up close: 3 types of iguanas, 2 types turtles, 2 types of sharks, Blue Footed Boobies, sea lions, frigate birds, flamingos, pelicans, tropical fish, Galapagos Crab, penguins, Darwin’s Finches, dolphins, and other birds
All in all, I highly recommend going to the Galápagos Islands. It was well worth our money especially since it was evident that the locals like to live in harmony with the animals and tried not to disturb them as they give us tours of this unique place.