Wonders of the Galapagos

Well folks! What’s first to decide is whether you’d like to island hop or live onboard a boat for some days, or a mixture! 

The Galapagos are a magical, wondrous, archipelago. Unique to anywhere else in the world with a few endemic species that have been a curious fascination for researchers and explorers for hundreds of years. 

I have wanted to visit <the Galapagos islands (link to follow> since my geography lessons as a teenager. I was mesmerized with the natural offerings. Finally, 20 years later, I made my travel dream come to life! Read below for details on what to see and where to go. 

Let me lay it out. Because of my love for visiting this place, we increased our budget to allow for a one-week (8 days) yacht-style catamaran. Staying on a boat gives you more island flexibility as there are islands that you can ONLY visit this way. What’s more, the excursion itineraries are already planned out so you can really enjoy the incredible beauty that awaits you.  

Some folks on our catamaran had a few nights on an island before boarding, we decided to have four nights on Santa Cruz after disembarking. Other folks came from or were going to Peru, other mountain excursions. Really, there’s an abundance of options for how you’d like to frame your trip. What YOUR homework is: decide what’s most important to you. 

San Cristobal, Breeding Centre

Asking friends/family if they had friends/family who’d visited the Galapagos before and any recommendations they had. I knew I wanted a boat trip so those who went land-based, I kept their information on the back-burner for what islands offered what natural life.  Through word-of-mouth, I decided to trust Ellen at Galapagos Last Minute Tours. They’re local – which I always prefer to go local when possible, and Ellen was very responsive. 

Motion sickness

Prone to nausea and motion sickness, I already know the calm water season was the choice. That’s the northern hemisphere winter months.  I asked which of the boat categories would be the most stable to help with motion sickness. There’s sailboats, yachts, catamarans, one tri-maran, and some cruise ships (up to 100 passengers).  We were recommended the catamaran category would offer stability. I also thought a smaller boat would be nice as some of the cruise ships, you might have to wait for an excursion because every boat is dependent on pangas

Next I set off on my meticulous research. I looked at every catamaran (and the Camila trimaran) the Galapagos had to offer.  I also compared Galapagos Last Minute with prices of other agencies, and it was pretty much always less. Ok sometimes a boat itinerary would also include a hotel stay on the entry to Ecuador, but I had my big-girl pants on and decided to plan the rest myself. I’ll talk about <Santa Cruz and day-trip> opportunities later, and include some items you might want to bring along. 

Just what’s out there

From this, I looked at itineraries offered and prices.  I knew I wanted 7 nights because I wanted to see as much as possible.  You can easily take 3, 4, or 5 night cruises – there’s options for most.  I looked at what would be available for a week between February and March. These were the months that I had availability, it’s winter where I live so I wanted warm weather, and there’d be calm ocean water for the experience.  

If you’re looking at diving, look at other blogs. I am afraid of sharks and was anxious when we saw white-tipped reef sharks during snorkel trips. Yes, I’m fully aware there are heaps of different types of sharks in EVERY ocean. I like to choose to pretend they’re further away than what’s likely reality.  With that said, one fellow passenger did spot a Hammerhead, I think around Genovesa island.   

Itinerary hunting:

Look at what different islands have to offer. Do you think you’re more interested in land- or water-based activities? Are you into birds or fish? How about mixing it up?  

My husband usually prefers land to water, so we went with what we figured would be a balanced option. Land excursions in the early morning and late afternoon, water excursions later morning and/or early afternoon. In the early afternoon it’s WAY too hot in February/March to want to be wandering around on land anyway. 

Our home for a week

The Seaman Journey Galapagos Catamaran was our decision. There are other, more ‘luxurious’ boats for sure. We figured we didn’t need a hot tub in the middle of summer, and it looked luxurious enough for our needs. The cooks did a great job with the buffet meals everyday. They took into account all the dietary limits different guests had. There was plenty of variety with each meal too, always lots of fruit, and lunch and dinner had fun desserts. Can you remember the last time you ate jello? I can! Strawberry flavour on the Seaman one night for dessert. We had welcome cocktails on the first night and a bon voyage cocktail the last night. The chefs even made a guest a birthday cake! 

Seaman Journey Galapagos Catamaran at Baltra Island
Sundeck on the Seaman Journey

We thoroughly enjoyed the week we had on-board. The crew were all welcoming, some with more English than others. Though they all appreciated any Spanish you tried to speak with them.  Special requests, they did their best to achieve. The Captain and First Mate even brought one of their children on-board for a few days because it was their summer holidays. The cabins were refreshed by the end of breakfast with clean towels daily. 6 cabins on the main deck include two single beds each, cabins 7 + 8 are double beds on the upper deck. We had cabin 7 and not once did we hear the anchor chain. Often, navigation would be at night, so some folks heard the anchor, as well some cabins heard the kitchen in the extra-early morning. Solution: bring earplugs. You’re in the Galapagos, no need to worry!

It felt very welcoming the whole time. We also got along with all the guests, and I think that increased everybody’s joy of the trip.  It was absolutely the best decision for our Galapagos magical mystery tour.  We went with Itinerary C1, which I’ll explain why. 

Extra costs

First though, remember to budget $100USD for the Galapagos National Park Fee and $20USD for the Migration Control Card. Both are paid in CASH. Pretty much everything on the Galapagos is to be paid in cash. Don’t worry though, it’s likely the safest archipelago in the world. Those fees are paid at the airport before arriving.  Also on many of the boats alcoholic beverages are additional cost plus tips for the crew and Nature Guide. If you’re doing a week on-board, you’ll want to have $10-20/day per person for the crew members and guide. The tips depend on your agency suggestions and what you feel is fair.   

The trip itself

To get to the Galapagos, you will fly in from either Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador. You can fly to San Cristobal or Santa Cruz (which is really on Baltra Island – there’s only the airport).  Isabela and Floreana islands are also inhabited, but Isabela’s landing strip is just for Galapagos flights and Floreana is accessible by boat.  Your boat trip will include your transport to/from the airport on one of the two islands you arrive.  

We flew Quito – Guayaquil – Baltra. Our fabulous Nature Guide, Camilo, met us there.  We collected our bags, met another group of folks, got on a bus and went to the water.  Here we boarded the pangas and went to meet the Seaman Journey.  We were pleasantly greeted by the interior team (Joelle and Karen) with cold, fresh towels and a cold iced tea.  Right from the beginning on the boat we had an incredible trip.  We had introductions, food restrictions, cabin information, and then lunch. 

Excitingly, right after lunch we had our first excursion: snorkeling around North Seymour Island. Snorkeling gear is provided. If you want a shortie wetsuit, you can have one (I think $10/day). In the summer months, the water is pretty warm so the wetsuit isn’t needed. If you’re prone to cold in the water, then do consider it. The water was so nice and refreshing, especially since the gentle motion of the boat had already started for me. Anytime I’m in water, I feel great. We saw HEAPS of fish and already a few white-tipped sharks.  There were bumphead parrotfish, surgeonfish, and more. After 45-minutes of being one with the water, we were back on-board with fresh, cold juice and wet towels waiting for us. As well, a tasty snack of yuca balls with honey for dipping.  

Afterwards, we had our first land-excursion

North Seymour Island.  We split the 16 passengers on the two pangas (dinghies) and headed to shore. What though were we delighted to spot in the water along the way? 

Bottlenose dolphins! Since pangas are only 30-60cm above the water or so, it felt like we could’ve touched the dolphins. There were at least 20 of them that we drove just above, they played alongside. I couldn’t believe what we were already seeing. It was like that awe moment at the start of Jurassic Park, when you get shivers and almost feel tears well in your eyes.  Sure, you can see dolphins all over the world. But when are you so close to them that they’re undisturbed by human presence? You’re not allowed to touch any living creature of the Galapagos, nor are you allowed to take anything (like a seashell). Respect that.

The roughly 2.5km walk on North Seymour presented us with some blue-footed boobies as well as massive amounts of frigatebirds who were already doing their mating ritual. That giant red pouch below the male’s neck, puffed up. Such a glorious contrast to their dark coloured feathers. There were plenty of sea lions around shore too. They’re so cute and sound absolutely ridiculous! 

I won’t go into every island and excursion because you can read about that online.  What I will say next are my favourite excursions and why. I could write about this glorious land all day, which is why I’ve worked hard below to limit myself. Every island is stunning, all offering absolutely breath-taking life.

Genovesa Island:

In Spanish the name is something similar to a tower because the island is high and the water around it is so deep. We visited two locations – this is one of the islands only accessible by live-aboard boat cruise. Starting at Prince Philip’s Steps on a land-excursion where we saw different finches (Darwin!), frigatebirds, Nazca boobies, red-footed boobies – so precious! Little mockingbirds endemic to the island were also in view, storm petrels where we fortunately saw several short-eared owls patiently waiting for their prey.

It was also cool to see lava cactus, which looks like clusters of fuzzy cucumbers.  Around this island you can also see furry sea lions. They’re different from the ones you see literally everywhere at all the other islands. This island also has the smallest marine iguanas in the archipelago and it’s a middle-age of all the islands.

Left: regular sea lion, Right: furry

We ended the morning with a snorkel, seeing some white-tipped sharks (maybe like 2m in length), lots more surgeonfish, parrotfish, clownfish, and others – no turtles though we did spot a few rays!

Darwin Bay was our afternoon spot. We had a wet landing on the brain coral beach. It was magnificent! The water was pretty much heaven and the sand felt like powder from the eons-long pulverized coral. Along the beach walk we did see some coral, and wow it was so cool looking! Neither of us brought our cameras on this excursion. It was purely in the moment. We witnessed some youthful sea lions playing under some mangroves as the tide was coming in. They were so curious about us, it was hard to keep away as they followed us for a bit. 

Sante Fe island:

Not only did we have some time to jump off the boat and swim in the glorious azul water, we had an awesome snorkeling experience! 

There were SO many fish. We saw so many tropical fish. A couple folks from our boat accidentally swam in an alpha sea lion’s territory and he let them know it by charging them. No injuries, everyone swam away fast enough.  We saw a school of eagle rays. This was also the first time we saw turtles while snorkeling. Camilo was swimming pretty much beside one and I was shortly behind him. It was the first Finding Nemo moment I had on the trip. Just feeling like I could’ve swam alongside a turtle forever. Incredibly graceful looking creatures while swimming. We also saw a turtle on the seafloor at the end of the snorkel. Everyone was in love with the marine life we saw. The land excursion was definitely overshadowed by the earlier snorkel.

Española island:

It might be the oldest of any in the archipelago.  What was great, besides having a nice morning kayak, we had a wet landing on an absolutely stunning beach. I mean it just went on and on, and the sand was so soft under your feet. We could choose to walk the beach and check out land creatures or have a swim. I and a couple from Seattle decided we couldn’t pass up getting in the water and cooling off. The water was just so inviting.  

Later while snorkeling, we saw some funky fish, like spotted pufferfish or some strange long, thin eel.  We also saw a couple of diamond rays here. Also super exciting was seeing starfish, two kinds! The one is sweetly nicknamed chocolate chip. Its chunkier limbs with black kind of spikes coming out make it look a bit like a chocolate chip cookie. The other type had longer, narrower limbs and was either blue or yellow.  At first they’re a bit difficult to spot, but once you start seeing them, wow! Again, simply incredible. 

How to decide…

Itinerary C1 went with North and eastern islands. A lot of itineraries on live-aboards go west for Isabela and Fernandina. My thinking was if I wanted to visit Isabela, I could go there and stay – not to deal with a boat rocking back and forth. I wanted to also have the opportunity to visit islands that you aren’t allowed to visit by a single day-trip (cough: Genovesa), have a good time snorkeling and see all the boobies we could. 

No matter how you visit the Galapagos islands, I can imagine it’ll be the greatest travel visit of your life. You can’t go wrong with any itinerary, just be sure to factor in land and water excursions. As well, the time of year is a factor. Not only do water conditions come into play, what land creatures you will see, especially if they’re mating, nesting, or hatching! Regardless. It was unbelievable seeing the natural beauty – literally everywhere we went.

Memories to last at least one lifetime…


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