I sailed on Yacht La Pinta on their 4 night Eastern Galapagos cruise which takes in South Plaza, Santa Fe, San Cristobal, Espanola and Santa Cruz Islands. The yacht takes 48 passengers, but we sailed out with a few cabins empty… Cabins were comfy and well appointed, food was good, staff were very friendly and helpful. Over lunch on the first day, there was a little discussion around the cosy restaurant about what we should expect from the trip, but nobody had much idea…
We arrived at South Plaza around 2.30pm and the onboard naturalist guides divided us up into 2 groups, got us all kitted up in lifejackets, made sure we all had hats, sunscreen, water bottles, cameras etc and helped us onto the zodiacs … and off we went to the island. Arrival involved getting us and all our stuff off the zodiac, onto the slippery rocks where we landed, ditching the lifejackets, and trying to maintain balance and work out what was going on.
I walked about 20 metres up the stone pier, still trying to sort out the optimum way of carrying all the stuff that was supposedly necessary, and all of a sudden, it was as if I had entered another world – I was surrounded by wildlife and they were not even slightly bothered by me being there. They did not even move to let me walk or stagger past but expected me to dodge and avoid them!
I literally could not believe what I was seeing, and once we started to move slowly across the rocky terrain of the island, this feeling of entering a National Geographic video only increased.
When I stood still, I could see birds everywhere – hawks circling lazily over the rocks, various kinds of gulls nesting in the low undergrowth, blue-footed booby birds sitting on rocks on the steep cliffs, red-footed booby birds hiding in the scraggly treetops, Nazca booby birds with their huge 2 metre wingspans diving into the water to catch fish, frigate birds with their distinctive silhouettes against the beautiful blue sky…
Looking down was no less extraordinary - iguanas of different colours and sizes were lounging across the rocks, not doing much but all looking at me with faint smiles on their faces. Sea lions cavorted in the shallows and cuddled up in groups on the sandy beaches, looking for all the world like a bunch of sleek puppies.
And this is what the Galapagos Islands are like… nature at its absolute finest and you are just an onlooker and observer.
Across the next 4 days, we perfected the logistics of zodiac loading and unloading and managed to sort out the bits and pieces we needed to carry. We also became instant experts on various birds and animals we saw along the way – “that looks a bit like a (insert species here) but why is it not on the other tree?” – and the naturalists were so knowledgeable and helpful that I definitely learned things I had not expected. The wildlife on each island is different because obviously each animal has its own habitat requirements, but nothing was short of amazing.
Unfortunately, the giant tortoises in the Galapagos Islands are only to be seen in conservation areas because they are most definitely still endangered. The good news is that the breeding programs appear to be working, however, and on 2 different islands, work is under way to release junior animals back into the wild. These creatures have the longest lifespan of any animal on our planet, averaging around 100 years and they are huge… but surprisingly difficult to see in the undergrowth of their preferred homes.
From the yacht, across the 5 islands and 5 days, there were options for hard hikes, soft walks, swimming, snorkelling, glass-bottom boat trips, beach trips, town shopping, and a couple of visits to giant tortoise breeding and conservation centres – this is not a cruise, it is an expedition and I was out every day, morning and afternoon, doing something. It was exhausting and nobody was hanging out at the bar late at night! It is not necessary to be incredibly fit to keep up the pace, however – you can see just as many things from the zodiac or just by sitting still on a rock or at the beach. The Galapagos Big 15 species list provides you with something to work off and over my short time there, I saw 11 – a more than acceptable tally!