Cruises in Galapagos and the Big-15
Getting to and cruising round the fabled Galapagos Islands are really well organised. The islands are a little isolated but they are part of Equador, so we flew from the capital Quito, via Guayquil to Baltra Island. Baltra is home to the airport and not much else so having embarked on our ship, The Santa Cruz, we headed for nearby North Seymour Island. We got to the ship using large zodiacs, or inflatable boats, which were fun and an indication of things to come!
We were welcomed on board, given our Health and Safety boat drill and then lunch. The food quality, choice and service were excellent throughout our cruise, which for a new cruiser like me was a welcome surprise. Cruises in Galapagos are available up to three weeks but we were taking a very fast look at Equador and Peru and we only had three nights on board. So we made the most of it!
Our three days in the Galapagos took in the islands of Isabella, Fernandia, and Santa Cruz and they were all stunningly atmospheric and unique. Each morning we clambered aboard the zodiacs to get to the shore through water that was too shallow for the ship, which travelled at night. Practically the whole area is a national park and largely untouched by human hand, so the facilities can be basic.
But the wildlife loves it! They are also untouched by human hand and it shows. Wherever we went the wonderful creatures of the Galapagos were totally oblivious of our presence, which was both gratifying and a little unnerving. Land iguanas five feet long (think underweight Komodo dragons) just stayed exactly where they were - we just had to walk round them. The same went for nesting birds, which were everywhere, often within feet of the path.
Our favourite animals were the marine iguanas, very much smaller than their land relatives that gathered in large groups on the rocks to sunbathe. They obtain their body heat that way and they stood, heads up and perfectly still like a terrace of football fans waiting for a penalty kick. We thought they were cute.
Marine iguana taking in the rays
Galapagos Snorkelling and Scuba Diving
The ship was fully equipped and very organised for snorkelling, which we really enjoyed, twice. Wetsuits, snorkels and fins were allocated in personal kits and the ubiquitous zodiacs took us inshore for some wonderful views of the underwater life. The water was warm and really clear, not only for seeing the fish and crustaceans, but also the incredible diving birds as they hit the water and swam about searching for food.
The zodiacs stayed in close attendance and whenever we had enough we just climbed back in. Being a scuba diver I did wonder if I should have tried one of the fabulous live-aboard diving cruises!
Galapagos Blue Footed Boobies and Frigate birds
Bird life here is out of this world but the islands are famous for their Blue Footed Boobies. These odd looking birds are wonderful flyers and fishers, but comical and clumsy on land. The best known boobies really do have bright blue feet!
Blue Footed Boobies
They nest on the cliff faces and spend much of the time protecting their food and chicks from marauding Frigate birds. These large, aggressive scavengers are spectacular but ruthless and will eat anything, including Boobie nestlings.
Our boat took us in close to the cliffs, where we saw the brutal, never ending battle between them at close quarters. Back on land the nesting frigates were as unconcerned as everything else and showed off their amazing balloon-like red throat pouches for all to see.
Galapagos Big 15
The Galapagos Big 15 is their version of Africa’s Big 5 and even on our short visit we saw most of them by simply walking around the different islands, with our ever-present highly trained guides. The most impressive have to be the giant tortoises, which we saw at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island. The reserve is near the pretty port of Puerto Ayora, one of the islands’ resort towns and one that we really enjoyed.
Giant tortoise on Santa Cruz Island
The reserve was fascinating and tortoises were endearingly clumsy, docile and huge! They made a fitting end to our trip to the amazing Galapagos, as we said goodbye to our shipmates and headed back to Baltra for the next leg of our tailor-made holiday in Equador and Peru. Ours was a multi-destination, complex holiday and everything was seamless from beginning to end.
For more about cruises in Galapagos and twin centre holidays with Ecuador or Peru visit our Galapagos holidays page. Our Travel Guide to Ecuador will give you handy tips on visas, health requirements and what to pack.
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