Named after the giant tortoises that inhabit the islands, the Galapagos Islands are famous for their endemic species and for inspiring Darwin's theory of evolution. Ecuador was not on our original list of destinations, but Darcie's dad recommended the Galapagos as a bucket-list excursion, especially since we were already in South America. After comparing cruises vs. land-based tours, we opted for a week-long cruise on a smaller (16-guest) yacht.
Our 8-day, 7-night cruise was aboard the Majestic on waters so crystal blue they made Chris Pine's eyes look ordinary. There were only 12 other guests on the boat (alas, Chris Pine was not one of them), so we met amazing new friends while exploring the islands. We did 2 land excursions daily, snorkeled, kayaked, and stuffed our faces with delicious meals in between, leading us to recognize that the Thailand Paleo Wellness resort should have been scheduled for the end of our trip.
The Galapagos are relatively young islands (about 90 million years younger than Hawaii) and formed by volcanos and tectonic plate movement. We walked on landscapes as different as green forests, barren lava fields, desert landscapes, and sandy beaches. There were stunning rock formations and caves to explore as well.
We saw half of the Galapagos land mammals! Actually, there are only 4: we learned that reptiles, birds and sea creatures are the main island inhabitants. We saw sea lions and fur seals, but not the island bats and rats. Darcie was secretly relieved.
Lonely Planet calls sea lions the "golden retrievers" of the islands: they were adorable, playful, and everywhere. We've included a video of 3 pups saying hello to Darcie. She was not allowed to touch them lest their mother abandon them, but was prepared to adopt them if needed. Fur seals were smaller and rarer than the sea lions, and hung out in the rougher waters and rocky areas.
We visited two giant tortoise sanctuaries (and saw tortoises of every age and size, up close). Our guide said that tortoises can live to be 170 years old, possibly older. How wild is that to think that a tortoise we met was alive even before Lincoln became US President? We also saw hundreds of land iguanas and learned that sea iguanas exist - giant lizards that swim in the ocean. There are smaller lava lizards everywhere too.
Frigate birds (the males puff out their chests like giant red balloons), Darwin finches, Galapagos penguins, pelicans, Blue-footed boobies - we saw them all! (Dale and the other male passengers loved to say, "I saw boobies!") Other close encounters included a mocking bird that took a fancy to Darcie's shoes, and a hawk that let us approach within a meter.
We snorkeled almost every day. Even with the protection of a wet suit and the the ice bath "training" at the Phuket resort, we were not prepared for the cold waters. Nonetheless, we snorkeled with colorful fish, fearless sea turtles, playful sea lions, diving penguins and kamikaze boobies, stealth manta rays... This was a unique experience where screaming, "shark!" caused all other snorkelers to swim towards the person sounding the alarm. Yes, we swam within feet of live sharks. We did not have an underwater camera, but included a video of sea turtles.
We would highly recommend a trip to the Galapagos. It was moving and impactful, particularly interacting with the wildlife while learning about the efforts to protect the environment and preserve endangered species. Our tour guide Billy was outstanding. We're glad we chose a cruise over land tours, and chose a smaller boat so that we got individual attention and lots of time on the islands. If Dale can survive 8 days without wifi or Coke Zero and rave about the experience, you know it's a great excursion.