After spending a quick night in Guayaquil, Ecuador we hopped on a flight from mainland Ecuador to the amazing Galapagos Islands!
This was a stop I was looking forward to from the very beginning of planning our trip around the world. I was fascinated to see the things Charles Darwin saw when he visited the islands on the HMS Beagle in 1835, which helped him form his theory of evolution through natural selection. Being a Zoology Major in college, Jeromy was also excited to see the biodiversity that can only be found in the Galapagos Islands.
The islands themselves are made up of 18 primary islands and 3 smaller islands. Only about 25,000 people live there since 97.5% of the islands have been made a National Park, and it is incredibly isolated. While the Galapagos were originally settled by the Spanish, the country of Ecuador took them in 1832 and they are part of the republic of Ecuador to this day.
What makes the islands so special is the variety of species that are endemic to the islands themselves, which can be found nowhere else in the world. The islands are so isolated that is easy to see how the animals evolved over time to fit perfectly in their environments. A good example of this is the giant tortoise. Depending on the vegetation on the individual island, the tortoise shells would differ to better blend in to the environment around them.
While I had high expectations for our time in the Galapagos, they were completely blown out of the water by our experiences there!
A large part of this feeling was due to the amazing staff and accommodations on the Yacht Isabella II. We spent 5 days with about 45 other people fully immersing ourselves in the Galapagos experience. It is a small cruise ship with 20 rooms and was an incredible way to see the islands. While we didn’t get to all of them in the 5 days we spent there, the staff were able to make it an incredibly educational, and a fun experience for our whole family. Even better, we booked it last-minute (45 days ahead of time) and got a huge discount!
The highly trained Rangers took us on excursions on the islands, providing a historical reference and most importantly, lots of information about the animals, birds, and other wildlife we came across. At night we would all gather together and a member of the staff would go over the itinerary for the next day as well as giving us information about the places we would visit.
Each day was packed with activities exploring the islands, and some of the most amazing snorkeling we have ever experienced! One of my favorite experiences from our whole year away was the first time we went snorkeling with sea lions. I had a hard time breathing through my snorkel because I was smiling and laughing so much! There is truly nothing like it!
Just as Africa has their “Big 5” animals to see on safari, the Galapagos has their “Big 15”. While we didn’t see all of the “Galapagos 15”, we were able to see most of the iconic Galapagos species (in bold below) while exploring the islands.
Our first stop after arrival was to see the Galapagos Giant Tortoise…and they were GIANT, some of them weighing up to 550 lbs! We walked along through their habitat and explored some lava tunnels at the reserve.
We saw a huge variety of birds on the islands, the most famous of which is The Blue Footed Booby…
You can imagine the layer upon layer of jokes that the bird’s name provided throughout our time there (please picture me rolling my eyes right now).
The Red Footed Booby and the Nazca Booby kept the boys giggling as well, despite their efforts to be mature.
Some other birds we saw were The Galapagos Albatross, The Flightless Cormorant, and The American Flamingo.
We saw so many Marine Iguanas as we trekked around the islands, and a few Red Iguanas as well.
We even saw one Sea Turtle. We went to a beach where if you are lucky, you can see baby sea turtles hatching from their eggs and racing for the ocean in hopes of avoiding being eaten by birds. We only saw one little guy make a run for it before being eaten by a Great Blue Heron. We sat and watched while the heron attempted to, and eventually succeed in, swallowing it whole, but not without having to fight off two Frigate Birds while doing it.
As stated before, our interactions with the Galapagos Sea Lions were my favorite part of the trip. They aren’t as aggressive as those found in other places, although we did need to be careful, so we were able to get up close and personal with them!
While the wildlife stole the show, we also had some pretty great scenery as we explored the diverse islands of the Galapagos.
We spent one morning participating in a centuries old tradition at Postcard Bay on Floreana Island. Since the 19th century, sailors and travelers alike have left postcards in a barrel here, with no stamp, in the hopes that someone traveling to the intended destination will pick it up and deliver it for them. We dropped off our postcards and picked up a couple others addressed to people in Oregon to deliver!
When we weren’t off the boat exploring the Galapagos Islands themselves, we still managed to have a pretty great time…
Visiting the captain and learning how to navigate the boat…
Having the Head Chef teach the boys to plate and prepare their own gourmet ice cream sundaes…
Wrestling matches in our rooms…
Jumping off the side of the boat into the water!…
Hot tubbing to get warm after snorkeling…
And 3 gourmet meals a day as well as snacks in between…
By the time we came to the evening, we were so exhausted from the day’s activities that we usually went straight to bed right after dinner and our nightly run down of what is going on the next day from the staff. But one night the staff told us that after dinner we should go out to the deck, and if we were lucky we could see sharks. Sure enough, when we went out, they had spotlights shining into the water and we could see large sharks circling all around the boat! Fortunately, we traveled away from that area during the night to arrive at our snorkeling destination the next day!
One highlight we didn’t necessarily expect was meeting some amazing new friends! There happened to be another family traveling through Central and South America for 6 months with kids almost our kids same ages! It was great to hear about their adventures and commiserate with them on some of the hardships of long-term travel that only someone who has experienced it can understand. They have a fun website that focuses on family travel that you may want to check out! We also loved our friends Ellis and Becky, and were grateful for their patience and enthusiasm with our kids! Luke had an extra special fondness for Becky and if we ever wondered where he was, we just had to find Becky and he would be nearby.
We always seemed to end up in the same boat for our shore excursions and became the self-proclaimed “cool boat!” Otherwise known as the “long necks” in reference to the dominance that tortoises have depending on the length of their necks. As often is the case, the people we met along the way, were some of the best parts of the journey.
We ended our time on the inhabited island of San Cristobal, where sea lions roam the streets like stray dogs. After 4 nights and 5 days of snorkeling, hiking, sailing, and having fun, we were exhausted! It seemed to be the perfect length of time to spend exploring the islands. We were sad leaving our new friends, but as we were entering into the homestretch of our year away, we were also eager to move on to our next destination.