From Quito we headed towards the main attraction of my parents’ and our time in Ecuador…a 5 day cruise in the Galapagos Islands. A visit to the islands has been on my Dad’s bucket list for some time, and the date we had all been looking forward to since booking the cruise last summer had finally arrived. We flew from Quito straight to the biggest island, Santa Cruz, and from there we met up with our small group of fellow cruisers (only 40 of us total) to begin what would be an action packed 5 day adventure on the Yacht Isabela II.
Apparently my dad isn’t the only person over 60 to have the Galapagos Islands on their bucket list. Danny and I were the youngest people on the cruise, by at least 30 years! And I have to give my parents props, they were the youngest at heart, most fit, and the youngest looking of all the rest of the over 60s. Together we shredded our way through the itinerary, taking advantage of every opportunity to hike, snorkel, take boat rides, and in my Dad’s case, try his dry sense of humor out on the straight-faced naturalist guides. Then we topped off each day with surprisingly yummy cruise food and wine until we could no longer hold our heads up.
The highlights at the end of the post describe how special our experience was, but before getting into the details, I first want to give a general overview of the Galapagos and our cruise.
The Galapagos Islands are such an interesting mix of flora and fauna, steeped in geological and biological history. We went on daily excursions with our favorite guide, Vivi, and throughout boat rides and walks, she would explain the complex history of how the islands were formed, and how Charles Darwin, and other biologists came to use the islands as their laboratory for understanding evolution. Wild animals roam most of the islands and are very easy to encounter at close distances. One of the islands we visited was a nesting area for Frigate birds. The trees were actually short enough that no binoculars were required, and we could go right up to the birds to observe them. We also saw lots of iguanas, both land and marine, seals, sea lions, penguins, sharks, tortoises, turtles, and many different types of birds, including the local favorite, Blue Footed Boobies.
One of the islands we visited actually has almost no life, only 1 single cactus and 1 species of tiny lava lizards. It’s one of the newer volcanic formed islands and still proudly displays its twisty rope-like patterns of dried lava. Walking on the dried, black/gray lava on this almost lifeless island was like walking on another planet.
To my surprise, the ocean waters around the islands have a very tropical feel. We snorkeled in pretty warm water once a day during the cruise and saw a myriad of bright colored, sometimes neon, fish and many types of coral and other sea life. Seals and penguins joined us on our swims, and frolicked in the waters alongside our crew of snorkelers. In a land where animals rule, I’d say we lucked out as guests. The weather was picture perfect, the cruise was smooth sailing, the scenery was simply gorgeous, and our family of 4 was full of laughs and smiles.
- We visited the Darwin Center museum on the inhabited island of Santa Cruz to see how Galapagos giant tortoises are being breed and raised in captivity. Our cruise did not visit an island with tortoises, so this was our only chance to see this mascot of the Galapagos. The tortoises do live to be hundreds of years old, however, their numbers are decreasing due to poaching, modern agriculture and the introduction of non-native plants and animals. The center is attempting to protect a myriad of Galapagos tortoise species and to release the animals into the wild when they come of age.
- When we boarded the yacht we met Gerd, the flamboyant hotel manager. He cracked us up on a daily basis, whether on purpose or not. And Danny was able to develop a spot on imitation of him, so now I can have Gerd anytime I want!
- We saw a very loud and riveting reunion of a mother and baby seal happen about 20 feet in front of us. The babies hang out on land, awaiting their moms who come back to breastfeed after long days of hunting and feeding in the open water. When a mom comes back to land, they make a very loud noise to call their baby, and the bay calls back in response. The two continue to sound off until they find each other and then retire to a shady spot where the baby seal finally gets fed. Please feel free to ask any of us for our rendition of the baby call, although you might find our different interpretations similar to those of the Bluth Family imitating chickens.
- We encountered many colorful yellow/orange land iguanas who hang out below prickly pear cacti, just waiting patiently for pieces of the plant to drop so they can chow down.
- On our first snorkel session we swam in an open water cove while seals swam and played right alongside us.
- Our first night on the boat provided us with an incredible sunset and then a night full of stars. Danny and I were out on the deck looking at stars when we noticed at least a dozen Galapagos sharks (big sharks!) swimming around the yacht, feeding. The lights from the ship apparently bring fish up to the surface for the sharks to feed on. We watched their shadows under the water for at least an hour. A pelican and a seal or 2 even joined in the feeding frenzy. We were worried the sharks would harm them but aside from one shark who scared a pelican away, there was no violence!
- We visited the island of Frigate birds and were able to see these huge birds very up close. The mature males have large red balloon-like sacks on their necks that look so uncomfortable, but are apparently their means of attracting potential mates. We lucked out and spotted a nesting female with a small chick.
- Saw 2 flamingos! Danny has been searching for flamingos our whole trip and we never seem to get a lot at once or if we see them, they are very far away.
- We went snorkeling straight off a beach and swam with baby sharks. My dad and I swam pretty far out and came face to face with a trio of penguins. They kind of just stopped to stare at us from about 3 feet away, and then torpedoed off to continue their hunt for food. I actually got a little spooked and grabbed my dad’s arm! But they didn’t hurt us, they were probably just as puzzled about us as were of them.
- Did a steep hike up hundreds of stairs to overlook 2 beautiful coves. The 4 of us beat all the old-heimers (typical Gary Greenberg word for the old people on our cruise) up the trail.
- Special recognition needs to go out to my dad who rocked mint condition, early 90s Chicago Bulls shirts every day on the cruise.
Click here to see all of our Galapagos photos on Flickr. Highlight photos, as edited down as we could get, are below.