While being mostly homebound, one of my projects has been to go through and organize past vacation photos. I’ve finally just finished editing hundreds of pictures taken during an amazing Galapagos Islands cruise.

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The five-day cruise was the grand finale of a three-week, bucket list trip to South America. We started in Peru, first Touring Lima and the Sacred Valley, and it’s Ingenious Inca Legacy. My dream-come-true was Exploring Magnificent Machu Picchu.

Although I had been looking forward to the Galapagos Islands cruise, it far exceeded my expectations. It felt like being a part of a National Geographic or Jacques Cousteau documentary!

Lying six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador, the volcanic islands of the Galapagos are famous for a wealth of unique plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. It is also one of the few places without an indigenous population.Today, the source of Darwin’s theory of evolution remains a priceless living laboratory.

Travel with me to a part of the planet that is as God created it. A pristine world where a Galapagos Islands cruise is like traveling back in time. A reminder of the beauty in this world. Nature perseveres and so will we.

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Day 1: Adventurous Start

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This sea lion castaway is one of many creatures that visited the ship during the Galapagos Island cruise.

Remote Destination

It took a little “doing” to get from Lima, Peru to our ship. First, we had to travel to Ecuador’s capital, Quito. A predawn pick-up necessitated staying overnight at an airport hotel. Our helpful escort then facilitated navigating through a series of special security checks.

Hubby and I were confused when the flight first landed in Guayaquil. Our itinerary didn’t list the stop. But, we noticed the majority of passengers remained in their seats. Turns out, most were also enroute to a Galapagos Islands cruise  After a short stop, the plane continued to our final destination; Baltra Island.

Once there, we and our luggage had to be processed a second time through strict and lengthy security checks, designed to protect the ecosystem of the Galapagos National Park.

All Aboard!

Outside, the Haugan Cruises naturalist and members of the crew were awaiting for our small group of just 13 passengers. Once everyone had cleared security, we boarded a bus for the ride to the port. Several vessels were floating in the small harbor, while birds and sea lions were begging for snacks on the dock.

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Pangas (hard-bottom, motorized rafts) ferried us and our luggage to the mega-catamaran, Ocean Spray. About 34 meters long, the ship houses nine spacious cabins across two decks. Each cabin has its own private balcony.

Kayaks, snorkeling gear, and wetsuits are provided. In addition to very nice digs and amenities, the service was exceptional, with a nearly 1:1 guest to crew ratio.

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View of Daphne Major, a volcanic island with a tuff crater. A frigatebird in the foreground, is one of hundreds we saw during the Galapagos Islands cruise.

After a safety briefing, vessel orientation, and outline of the daily itinerary, we quickly settled into our cabins. As the Galapagos Islands cruise got underway, our group got acquainted over a delicious buffet lunch. Shortly thereafter, our adventure began.

Bartholomew Island

The Galapagos Archipelago is a group of 19 islands; 13 large and six small, and dozens of islets and rocks that cover an area of over 17,000 square miles. Our first destination was Bartholomew, a volcanic islet and one of the “younger” islands in the archipelago.

Pinnacle Rock

Anchoring just offshore in Sullivan Bay, we got outfitted in wet suits and snorkeling gear before boarding pangas located at the rear of the ship. Those pangas were our primary mode of transportation throughout the Galapagos Islands cruise.

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We first sped to Pinnacle Rock, an immense spearheaded cone formed by magma expelled from an underwater volcano. It is one of the most famous landmarks in the Galapagos.

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Galapagos penguins tend to gather around it’s base. Endemic to the Galapagos, it the only penguin species found north of the equator.

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Cool waters of the Humboldt and Cromwell Currents allow the penguins to survive despite the tropical latitude. Those chilly temperatures also necessitate wearing wetsuits while snorkeling in the Galapagos.

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I have “a thing” for penguins and could have floated there observing them for hours! Here in Pittsburgh, our hockey team is the Penguins. We have multiple species residing at the zoo, aquarium, and aviary.

Penguin Point is home to about 20 South African Penguins (Bird Bonding at the National Aviary).

Swimming With Penguins

Much to my delight, the base of Pinnacle Rock was also the site of our first snorkeling experience during the cruise.

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Yes friends, that’s yours truly swimming with an energetic penguin — an amazing experience! And this picture, thanks to a GoPro camera, is my favorite souvenir from the cruise.

Snorkeling in glacial waters of Silfra fissure (Incredible Iceland Trip Ten Day Adventure).

I’ve been fortunate to snorkel many times, from Hawaii to the Caribbean to Iceland. But, swimming with penguins was by far the most magical!

As we reboarded the Ocean Spray, the crew rinsed everyone off, and helped us to quickly remove and stow our gear. Welcome warm towels, beverages and snacks were also part of the post snorkel routine.

Afterwards, we quickly changed into dry clothes and hiking boots for our first “dry foot” landing of the Galapagos Island cruise.

Pinnacle Rock Hike

On the opposite side of Pinnacle Rock, a couple of sea lions were napping and blocking the small panga dock. Animals rule in the Galapagos, and we gingerly stepped around them when it became obvious they weren’t moving anytime soon.

With our ever present naturalist guide, Daniel, we climbed 374 steps uphill to an overlook. Along the way, a variety of volcanic formations line the trail; including spatter cones, lava tubes and lava bombs.

I found the “moderate” hike challenging and didn’t think I was going to make it all the way to the top. But, Mr. Buzz patiently went at my slower pace and kept encouraging me upward. Just as he had when we were Exploring Iceland.

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I’m so grateful he did! Isn’t the view incredible? Pinnacle Rock is to the far right. Seeing the island from this perspective felt like being on another planet — something from a sci-fi movie. All it lacked were dinosaurs, lol!

Travel Tip: You need the proper clothing and gear when on a Galapagos Islands cruise; including waterproof hiking boots, hat and long-sleeved shirt with UV sun protection. You’ll also want to bring a lightweight backpack. A daypack is also good for carrying water, suntan lotion, hats, sunglasses, a towel, camera, and more. I tend to favor a front-facing crossbody daypack. 

Stately Digs

Back onboard, we had a welcome champagne reception and gourmet meal. As I recall, there were always two main course selections for dinner. Special dietary needs were preaddressed for several other passengers. Afterwards we gathered in the spacious lounge for a recap of what we had seen (with slideshow) and the itinerary for the following day.

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Our stateroom was large with luxurious features. My nephew, who had made our travel arrangements, had a bottle of wine waiting on the bed. We were tucked in every night by 9:30 —  tired after a full day snorkeling, hiking and being up around dawn. Plus, at night the seas could get quite rocky. So, the best place to be was snug in bed.

Travel Tip: If you don’t want seasickness to interfere with your Galapagos Islands cruise, you’ll want to premedicate, or wear a patch as I did while on a Small Ship Greek Island Cruise. Medications were offered on two particularly rocky nights and they did the trick for us — we slept like logs! And, don’t forget to avoid or limit alcohol and caffeine, while drinking lots of water.

Day 2: In Darwin’s Footsteps

We woke to find ourselves in Darwin Bay with one other vessel visible from our private balcony. Strict regulations in the Galapagos zone limit the number of boats and visitors to each site per day. And, tour operators and ships cannot return to a site within a two-week period.

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Darwin Bay was formed by a shield volcano, where one side of the caldera collapsed after years of erosion. The previous year, hubby and I awoke floating above the world’s most famous underwater caldera in Santorini, Greece.

We started most days very early, in order to best see wildlife and maximize time for exploration. Sometimes that meant breakfast after the first morning outing. Everyday included at least one snorkel excursion, and one or two hikes; ranging from easy to moderate difficulty.

Travel Tip: A Galapagos Islands cruise is not appropriate for anyone with mobility issues, who is afraid of snorkeling, or can’t swim.

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After a giant, filling breakfast, we boarded the pangas for our first “wet foot” (barefoot) landing. Numerous active sea lions were froliking on the soft sandy beach of Genovesa Island as we waded into shore. A fundamental rule in the Galapagos is to stay at least six feet from the wildlife. But, on many occasions it was hard to maintain that distance, as quite often curious sea lions and birds would come right up to us.

Travel Tip: I kept a pair of sturdy clip clops that could easily be tossed into the daypack. All passenger footwear are rinsed off thoroughly after each excursion, and stored on deck to eliminate cross contamination between sites. Passengers tended to go barefoot on board.

Bird Watching

Genovesa is known it’s wide variety of birds who nestle among its trees and bushes; including over 20,000 red-footed boobies!

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Like the sea lions, they never flinched when we approached. Even those birds sitting on eggs or with newly hatched chicks — it was remarkable! They seemed to view humans with curiosity rather than fear.

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Also in abundance, either nested on the ground or soaring overhead, were large frigatebirds.

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A family of seabirds, all frigates have predominantly black plumage, long forked tails, and hooked bills.

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Male frigatebirds have red kidney-shaped pouches on their chests that they inflate like balloons to attract females. During mating season, the male sits on a nest and puffs-up his chest to attract females flying overhead. When a female sees a male she likes, she lands beside him.

Can you believe I got all these sensational close up photos using an iPhone?

Starfish, Sharks & Rays Oh My!

Afterwards we went back to the ship and changed into our swimsuits for our second snorkel of the cruise.

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Are these the most colorful starfish or what? There must have been fifty of them within close proximity, and they were huge!

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At first, I was so mesmerized by this school of orange-color fish, I totally missed the white-tailed shark laying under the ledge!  Honestly, I wasn’t nearly this close, as hubby took all the underwater photos. He’d point out shark and dive down, while I preferred to float above at safer distance.

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All of a sudden, a large school of Golden Rays were all around us! Afterwards, our guide estimated it was a school of several hundred. I had no time to be intimidated — just awestruck.

The Galapagos is filled with rays. Golden Rays have yellowish-colored tops and a long, whipping tail. They vary in size, but average about 1.5-3.3 ft across. Because we forgot to add the underwater color filter to the GoPro camera, the rays look brown in the picture.

Princely Footsteps

Later in the afternoon, we arrived at El Barranco Island. By pulling up close to the cliffs, we were able to sight Galapagos fur seals among the rocks, while red-billed tropicbirds flew overhead.

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A gully formed of lava rocks leads up 80 feet from the water to an extensive flat lava field. It’s also known as Prince Philip´s Steps, since the Duke of Edinburgh visited the island in 1964. After our trip, I enjoyed watching Phillip visit the Galapagos during an episode of the TV series, The Crown. Have you seen it?

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Rocks at the base are slippery and make for tricky footing, but the climb is easy thanks to a handrail. That’s Mr. Buzz, looking a bit like Indiana Jones, climbing the famous steps.

Daniel then led us along the flat trail, as we were careful not to disturb the wildlife that was all around us.

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Part of the island is populated by red-footed boobies and frigatebirds, who prefer the trees. Nazca boobies, like this one, simply nest on the ground. There were hundreds of them and we had to watch where we walked. If I wasn’t a bird watcher before, I sure am now!

El Barranco is also the best place in the Galapagos to observe the endemic short-eared owl. Isn’t he majestic looking?

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As the trail continued over large fields of lava through a Palo Santo (holy stick) and croton forest, the trees gave way to lava cactus. Thousands of Galapagos storm petrels were whirling in the skies, which is better captured on video.

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But sunset was fast approaching and we needed to get back to the Ocean Spray.

Sailing On

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of the first few days of our Galapagos Islands cruise? You can’t believe how hard it was for me to narrow down the pictures to share! If you’d like to see videos of animal encounters, visit my Instagram account. But, as incredible as the images are, they pale in comparison to the actual experience.

Continue the journey to see Blue-Footed Boobies, Giant Tortoises and more in Galapagos Vacation Adventure, Part 2, and Sea Lion Colony Encounter, Part 3.

Have you ever been on a Galapagos Island cruise?

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