Travel Diary: Galapagos Islands

Española Island - Galapagps

Española Island, Galapagos

Traveling has always been a priority for me. Personally, I don’t think there is a better investment you can make for yourself than seeing and experiencing the world and it’s different cultures and climates. I’ve been lucky enough to visit places like Thailand, Alaska, all over Europe, the Greek Islands… even the Middle East. But, I still have an infinite amount of places I want to see and experience.

The destination for my most recent adventure? Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. And rather than call this a vacation, I’m going to refer to it as an expedition, because this trip was all about soaking in the wildlife in Charles Darwin’s infamous living science lab. As the birthplace of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, I had high expectations for the endemic wildlife we were going to see. And I’ll be honest, the Galapagos blew my mind. We did so much over the course of seven days. We started off in Ecuador, then made our way to Baltra Island, Galapagos. From there, we visited 6 islands: Espanola, Floreana, Isabella, Fernadina, South Plaza, and Santa Cruz. 

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On Board Celebrity Expedition in our Penthouse

The Galapagos Islands are located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, and are two hours by plane. One thing I didn’t really understand before going on my trip is that there are only certain areas you can go solo. Only 30,000 people live on the Galapagos Islands and they are restricted to specific areas to protect the fragile ecosystem. We landed in Baltra Island, and then took a Zodiac boat to our Celebrity Expedition boat, which really is the only way to see the Galapagos Islands. Get this–boats can’t even dock at most of the outer islands! And at almost every island we visited, we were the ONLY people on the island. Crazy right? We were lead by a team of environmentalists, who are native to the Galapagos Islands, along specific trails to minimize our footsteps. To give you an idea, 98% of the Galapagos Islands are a national forest and are fully protected.

Ok so you’re probably ready to hear about which islands you should go to, right?

Punta Suarez, Española Island

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This was hands down my favorite dry hike we went on. This island is absolutely incredible in terms of wildlife. It is the oldest island and is slowly sinking into the ocean, and has moved 100 miles since it was created at the main volcanic hotspot. We were greeted by thousands of marine iguanas, which aren’t the easiest on the eyes, or nose! And even though they look mean, they are harmless and are vegans, only eating green algae that grows in the cold Pacific Ocean water.

Sea lions are everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE in the Galapagos, and the site of them never gets old. They are literally puppies of the ocean and are so incredibly playful and vocal. We were there during baby season, so we saw tons of baby sea lion pups playing around.

We also spotted Albatross, Blue Footed Boobies, doves, sea gulls, and tons of bird species endemic to Espanola Island.

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Albatross

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Marine Iguanas

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Gardner Bay, Española Island

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You’ll notice that there isn’t much relaxation on this journey, mainly because going to the Galapagos is quite literally an expedition.  However, if you do want to soak up a little bit of relaxation, Gardner Bay hits the spot with it’s pristine, white sand beaches, calm waves, and loads of sea lions and pelicans. We snorkeled here, but it was a murky day and we didn’t see much. I also got stung by a TON of teeny tiny jelly fish, no bueno.

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Cormorant Point, Floreana Island

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If you are in the mood to snorkel or dive and see incredible marine life, this is the place for you! I’ll be frank, I’m a little scared of the ocean and snorkeling, but this was totally worth it. We swam with sea turtles, sea lions, and saw some of the most incredible fish I’ve ever seen! We even spotted a Galapagos penguin! Pretty incredible to see a little penguin swimming at the Equator.

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Flamingos in the wild in Galapagos

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Urvina Bay, Isabella Island

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Isabella Island is the youngest of the Galapagos Islands and mainly covered in lava rock because it hasn’t had the chance to break down. Sand was nowhere in site here and there was a LOT of hiking on sharp rocks. However, the lava fields are really impressive and we even saw a white-tipped reef shark in one of the sea water coves!

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White Tipped Reef Shark

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Espinoza Point, Fernandina Island

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This is another place to do a long dry hike. We spotted tons of Sally Lightfoot Crabs by the ocean, and then as we headed inland, we got to see brilliant yellow and orange land iguanas and a huge land tortoise!

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South Plaza Island, Santa Cruz

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One thing I noticed throughout my expedition in the Galapagos was the lack of greenery. I always imagined these islands would be lush and filled with tropical plants. That vision could not be farther from reality. In fact, the islands are covered in, what looks like, dead trees. Due to the lack of rain, these trees have adapted and have little to no leaves during the dry season, and only grow scarce leaves during the wet season.

However, South Plaza Island had the first form of pretty vegetation–impressive succulent trees and red succulent-type moss, creating a picturesque contrast with the bright blue ocean. I loved soaking up the views at South Plaza, definitely not a site to be missed!

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Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island

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My first reaction: ahh, people! Yes, Puerto Ayora is a real port and is has the largest population of people on the Galapagos Islands! This is also home to a huge percentage of the Galapagos’s land tortoises. This was really the only time we had to wander around a city and shop. We took a tour of the Charles Darwin Station, where we saw the tortoise breeding centers, separated by each island since each island has a different, endemic species!

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Fun fact: Galagaos got it’s name from the land tortoises. Bishop Tomás de Berlanga is credited for naming the islands as “Galápagos.” The legend explains that galápago is an old Spanish word, meaning saddle, and is the shape of the tortoises shells found only on the Galapagos Islands!

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We also had the chance to give back! We planted trees on Santa Cruz Island in hopes of rebuilding the endemic forest, which is essential for aforementioned Galapagos land tortoises and other species to survive!

Planting endemic trees to help restore the highlands on Santa Cruz Island in Galápagos 🌿🍃

A photo posted by Allison McNamara (@allisonmcnamara) on

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Heading to the Galapagos isn’t for the faint of heart. You have to be a nature lover who is eager to see unusual wildlife and ready to hike and snorkel. I guarantee you will leave the Galapagos Islands changed, impacted by the beauty that is evolution. Getting to see these creatures that exist nowhere else in the world up close is a memory I will never forget.