Galápagos Islands – 25 Trip Highlights

Galapagos Bartolomé Island Pinnacle Rock

We’re back! But we still feel like we’re there. The feeling of rocking on a boat has lingered for days, but the motion sickness was worth it. We had our eyes set on the Galápagos Islands from the beginning—building the rest of our trip through Ecuador around the possibility of visiting the remote islands 600 miles off the mainland. Our first days in Ecuador were spent walking around Quito and talking to the many tour companies that offer last-minute deals on the limited number of government approved live-aboard Galápagos cruises, the only option for visiting the more remote islands within the archipelago. We discuss availability, pricing, boats, and itineraries with the companies and then retreat to the coffee shops of Plaza Foch to do research on the locations the boats would visit and the types of wildlife we could expect to see during this time of year. Every island is unique so choosing was difficult but after much deliberation, we found an itinerary which checked almost all the boxes on our “must see” list. We were to spend 8 days and 7 nights aboard a 16 passenger cruise touring the western islands. Burdened by Zelle’s money transfer limit of $500 per 24 hour period, we spent the next 2 weeks of our trip around mainland Ecuador transferring chunks of the cruise payment to the ship’s owner (at least that’s who we think we were giving money to) anytime we had access to WiFi. I guess someone on the other end was receiving payments because a day before we flew to the Galápagos our cruise vouchers were emailed to us. Success! It worked. We were going! Fast forward a couple weeks – after our trek around the Andean villages near Quilotoa (read about it here and here), relaxing in Baños, and Dan’s bout with food poisoning – and we were on a nighttime dinghy ride to our home for the next week, the Millennium Yacht. 

We wrote down some of the most memorable moments of our Galapagos trip during our 24 hours of travel back to the states. Here are 25 of our favorite moments:

  1. The waves the first night navigating from Santa Cruz to Isabela Island were SO intense we were nearly flung out of our beds. It was pretty scary and we were afraid the waves would be this intense the entire trip, but the first night was the worst. Instead of a seat belts, we needed bed belts.  
  2. Our first dinghy ride around Punta Moreno on Isabela Island was eye opening. This is when we realized that the wildlife doesn’t go anywhere. Many creatures of the islands have no real predators, so the site of a human is not enough to make them bolt. They just sit there nice and pretty and let you take their picture.
  3. Watching a Galápagos penguin, the only penguin found north of the equator, hunting for fish underneath us while snorkeling at Tagus Cove. They’re lightening fast underwater but clumsy on land.
  4. We saw hundreds of sea lions on land and in the water. A couple of sea lions were particularly playful and were swimming circles around us at Espinoza Point off Fernandina Island.
  5. Borrowing a flashlight from a crew member and shining it into the water at night to try and spot sharks. We found two circling our boat. They were probably taking advantage of the lighting which attracted a ton of fish. 
  6. Wrapping around the north end of Isabela Island during sunset and passing Volcán Wolf and Volcán Ecuador.
  7. Passing over the equatorial line. It was somewhat anti-climatic, but our guide let us know as our boat cruised over the equator, the captain sounded the horn, and we all cheered.
  8. Blasting music from our balcony on the boat and knowing no one else could hear it (our room was away from the rest) and then having 6 AM dance parties to get pumped up for the day’s activities. 
  9. Snorkeling directly next to and under Pinnacle Rock on Bartolomé Island.
  10. Encountering the many skeletons and remains of dead birds, iguanas, sea lions, turtles, etc. Seeing so many put the volatility of the islands into perspective. 
  11. Watching a marine iguana eat algae off the ocean floor. This creature in particular reminds me most of Darwin’s theory of evolution (don’t forget, it was in the Galápagos where young Darwin collected species that led him to formulate the theory of evolution through natural selection.) The marine iguana doesn’t appear to be meant for water, but with little food on the lava filled land of the Galápagos, it had to adapt to it’s surroundings – granted the process probably takes hundreds of thousands of years. Watching it clumsily try to make it’s way back onto to jagged lava rock after a 10 minute algae bender under water makes me think it hasn’t finished evolving yet. But who has? I’m still waiting for my pinky toe to fall off. 
  12. The amazing sunsets of the trip, particularly the one on the Islands of Sombrero Chino, North Seymour, and Fernandina. We didn’t miss the sunset once and it was beautiful every time.  
  13. Standing on the bridge deck of our boat and counting at least 5 volcanoes in sight.
  14. When we were snorkeling at Espinoza Point, I had my eye on one sea turtle as I followed. I looked up as it swam away and saw at least five other sea turtles in my line of sight. Snorkeling here was when we realized how dense the population of sea turtles are in the Galápagos. We saw hundreds more after this. They’re EVERYWHERE.
  15. Watching the male frigatebirds of North Seymour Island inflate their red throat pouches (is that what they’re called?) like balloons in an attempt to attract a mate only to be rejected over and over and over again.
  16. Enjoying lunch on the boat and watching the frigatebirds out the window, following the boat closely. I kept wondering whether any of the birds were sleep flying (they can do that).
  17. Looking out at the water and knowing you only have to wait a few seconds until you see something. We loved watching the rays leap out of the water and create a massive splash in the distance. 
  18. Snapping pictures of one of the most iconic views of the Galápagos on Bartolomé Island as a Galápagos hawk soared over us. 
  19. Seeing this one sea lion attempt to cuddle with this other sea lion. Eventually, he (she?) was able to go in for the big spoon as the other protested.
  20. Snorkeling up to a family of penguins sitting on a lava rock and being able to observe them from just a few feet away. 
  21. Showers with the blinds open with the best views in the world knowing no-one can see you – except for the birds. Maybe?
  22. Riding through Baltra and seeing the remnants of the U.S. military presence during WWII.
  23. Watching two blue footed boobys perform an awkward mating dance. 
  24. Seeing flamingos in a lush lagoon surrounded by lava flows on all sides. I couldn’t help but think, “How in the world did you get here?” They looked very out-of-place. 
  25. We felt defeated on our last day of snorkeling. We had been out for almost an hour and hadn’t seen much. At least nothing new. We were told by our guide to head back to shore and we reluctantly started making the swim back, knowing this was the end – goodbye Galapagos. But our new friend Jaap yelled to us, “Guys! Shark!” We stuck our heads back under water and spotted a white tip shark just beneath us. We all followed it for the next few minutes until we were back at shore. I couldn’t have dreamed a better way to end our trip.  
There were a million other moments that made this trip special.  Never in our lives had we visited locations so remote – a place where animals study you as curiously as you study them. A place where humans are the minority. Before we even left, we were dreaming of returning. Maybe in 20, 30, or 40 years – if it’s still possible.


4 Replies to “Galápagos Islands – 25 Trip Highlights”

  1. Welcome back. Amazing pictures!!! What a trip. I want to go ther too one of these days.

    1. Thank you! Definitely a must for nature lovers! There’s wildlife EVERYWHERE you look.

  2. Great pictures guys! I love that first one where you caught a boobie, a seal and a pelican in 1 frame! Awesome!

    I’m defo gonna steal some of your top 15 when I finally take the time to write my own story 🙂

    1. I know right!? It was especially challenging capturing that photo on the moving panga but when I clicked the shutter I was like “I THINK I GOT IT!” I love that feeling. I’m sure we’ll have a lot of overlapping favorite moments. 🙂 – P.S. Thanks for hollering at us and letting us know about the shark coming! Perfect ending to our snorkeling adventures.

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