Finishing up my Galapagos trip series, with our final day’s heartwarming wildlife encounter. Since I’m pretty much stuck at home during the virus case surge, I thought it would be therapeutic to virtual travel together.
For our final excursion we headed to Mosquera, one of the smallest islands in the archipelago. Located between North Seymour and Baltra Islands, we had basically circled back from where we started our Galapagos trip five days earlier.
Mosquera is a reef of rocks and coral (the result of a volcanic uprising), with a beautiful, white sand beach. Most importantly, the inlet is home to a large colony of sea lions.
Before we even got out of the pangas (motorized, hard-bottom raft), we could see them clustered in small groups across the sand, vegetation and rocks. And as we waded onto shore for a wet-footed landing, several playful sea lions frolicked around us. Talk about a welcoming committee!
We spent a wondrous couple of hours on the small inlet, while trying to maintain an appropriate distance from the more curious sea lions.
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Going on a Galapagos trip is like visiting an animal lover’s paradise. For many species to survive in the stark volcanic landscape, with few plants, they had to adapt to survive. Over time, they evolved into new endemic species found only in the Galapagos. After studying the endemic wildlife that inhabit the islands, Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution.
Giant tortoise became the islands’ largest land animal. Wildlife are known for being extremely tame, and lack instinctual fear of humans.
Galapagos Trip Big 15
Although the wildlife list is exhaustive, here are the 15 most iconic bird, reptile, amphibian, and mammal species visitors hope to see on a Galapagos trip:
- Blue-footed Boobies
- Red-footed Boobies
- Nazca Boobies
- Galapagos Sea Lions
- Galapagos Fur Seals
- American Flamingo
- Galapagos Giant Tortoise
- The Galapagos Hawk
- Galapagos Marine Iguana
- Galapagos Land Iguana
- Sante Fe Land Iguana
- American Flamingo
- Flightless Cormorant
- Galapagos Albatross
We were fortunate to see all but the last three on the list above. But, the most friendly and photogenic were definitely the sea lions.
Sea Lions vs Seals
Before our Galapagos trip, I thought that seals and sea lions were pretty much the same, with sea lions being larger. Do you know the differences? While on the cruise, I got a first-hand, interactive education.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), seals and sea lions (and walruses) are pinnipeds, which means “fin footed” in Latin. But there are distinct differences between them.
More Social & Vocal
Not true of sea lions, who congregate in gregarious groups that can reach upwards of 1,500 individuals! Scores of them will frequently come out of the water together. They tend to loll about in the sand, and pile on top of each other while napping.
Sea lions also make a lot more noise, barking, while seals vocalize with soft grunts.
This was evident from the moment we stepped on the dock to board in, Galapagos Islands Cruise. Sea lions were all around, barking and looking for a free snack (we never, ever fed any of the wildlife).
On several occasions, we found a stowaway on the panga launch deck at the back of the mega-catamaran This sea lion appeared to be watching the sunset when I looked down and saw him.
During our Galapagos Vacation Adventure, we also watched as sea lions and pelicans congregated around fishermen cleaning their daily catch.
Flippers, Toes & Ears
Although we saw sea lions everyday on our Galapagos trip, we only spotted the more elusive fur seals twice.
Galapagos fur seals (like the one below) have significantly thicker coats, with longer guard hairs than sea lions. They also have furry, stubby front feet with thinly webbed flippers, and a claw on each small toe.
In comparison, seas lion’s have mostly skin-covered, elongated flippers. They also have a much pointier nose, while the fur seal has a broader and shorter head. Additionally, seals are generally smaller than the sea lion — so, I had at least that right!
Lastly, sea lions have small flaps for outer ears, while a “true” seal lacks external ears.
In & Out of the Water
Although both species spend time in and out of the water, seals are better adapted to live in the water for long periods of time.
Though their bodies can appear chubby, seals are more aqua-dynamic than sea lions. Hind flippers angle backward and don’t rotate, which makes them fast in the water, but basic belly crawlers on land.
By rotating their hind flippers forward and underneath their big bodies, sea lions, are able to “walk” on land That’s why they are more likely to be used as performers in marine shows and circuses.
If, you’re thinking I took the picture above with a zoom lense, I did not! During our Galapagos trip, it was often hard to maintain at least six feet distance from sea lions. And, that was before “socially distancing” was even a term, lol! Curious and friendly sea lions, likely juvenile males, would sometimes waddle right up to us.
We had been enjoying watching this trio of sea lions “performing” in the water and surf, when they suddenly appeared at our feet — in the blink of an eye!
I can’t begin tell you how much I wanted to sit in the water and touch them. Instead, I settled for taking these pictures.
Our naturalist guide, Daniel, had a difficult time pulling our small group’s attention from observing the many clusters of sea lions all around us. They were just so enchanting to watch! Most were laying around napping, ignoring us.
Even mothers with their pups like this pair resting in the vegetation after nursing.
This guy had just returned from a swim; rolling in the warm sand and basking in the early morning sunshine.
But, it was a very interesting nature walk. There was something to see everywhere we looked. I believe Daniel said these were the bones of an orca whale.
Although there are 24 species of whales and dolphins that have been spotted in the archipelago’s waters, we did not see any during our five-day Galapagos trip. They are mostly seen between the more western Isabela and Fernandina Islands, only reachable on a longer cruise.
Sea Lion Nursery
Most of the sea lions appeared to be mothers with pups of all ages and sizes.
Our guide thought this youngster may have only recently learned to swim and fish with its mother. Baby sea lions do not develop the strength and coordination required to swim, until they are three to four weeks old.
So pups, often remain together on the rookeries while their mothers are foraging. We watched as this newborn’s (see below) mother went into the water, leaving it all alone on the beach. It had to be one of the most adorable creatures I have even seen.
Galapagos sea lions are seen throughout the archipelago all year long. However, it’s probably their pups that take the prize for being the cutest animal seen on a Galapagos trip. Tiny, furry bodies, big innocent eyes, and playful dispositions will steal your heart.
He seemed confused and distressed when his mother went for a swim. I resisted my own motherly instincts to take him into my arms and comfort him.
Our sea lion encounter was the perfect grand finale of our fabulous Galapagos trip. Here are Mr. Buzz and I getting ready to board the panga back to the ship in the far left of the picture.
A sea lion pup was recently born at the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium, and I’ve so enjoyed watching daily photo and video updates! You can view videos of the wildlife from our Galapagos trip on my Instagram page.
Galapagos Trip Best on a Small Ship
If you plan to take a Galapagos trip, I highly recommend going on a small ship for a much more intimate experience.
I introduced you to the mega-catamaran, the Ocean Spray, in part one, Galapagos Islands Cruise.
With capacity for just 14 passengers, a nearly 1:1 crew to passenger ratio, private stateroom with balcony, and communal gourmet dining, contributed to the intimate, luxury experience.
Cruise itineraries on the Ocean Spray range from a four-day introduction to the Galapagos to a 15 day mega cruise, where you’ll thoroughly explore the Galapagos from end-to-end.
We elected for the shorter, five-day Galapagos trip because it came at the tailend of a three-week vacation in South America. Our adventure had begun in Provocative Peru, heading into the Sacred Valley, and Exploring Magnificent Machu Picchu. Then, we spent time in the Inca and colonial capitals of Cusco and Quito. And prior to the cruise, we spent time on a 450-year old hacienda in Ecuador’s Andes Mountains.
It was a lot of traveling!
Travel Tip: If you were only going to the Galapagos Islands, I’d recommend a seven to ten day cruise. It’s awfully far to travel, with the associated airfare costs and time zone difference for a shorter period. Plus, you’ll be able to reach the more western, active volcanic islands in the west. Hubby and I didn’t mind missing the lava flows, as we’d been on an Incredible Iceland Ten Day Adventure the year before. Later that fall, we also sat above the world’s most famous volcanic caldera while on a cruise to Santorini, Greece: Gem of the Aegean.
After our cruise, the Ocean Spray was scheduled to depart for a private charter, with three generations of the same family. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?!
Unfortunately, after the Galapagos trip ended, it took us two stressful and unpleasant days to get home to Pittsburgh.
Even if all had gone right with our flights, we already knew there would be extremely long layovers to contend with. First, was several hours waiting just to get off of Basra and fly to Guayaquil, a modern international airport on mainland Ecuador.
Worse, was the expected eight hour layover in Guayaquil before our flight to Miami. Ugh! The airline counter wasn’t even due to open for six hours. So, we had to keep all our luggage with us. We really should have made a reservation to spend the day at a nearby airport hotel.
Seven hours later, we realized something was amiss. They still hadn’t opened the ticket counter to check our luggage.Yet, the information board continued to list our flight as ontime. However, my airline app alerted us that there was a significant delay with the incoming flight. No one spoke English.
Fortunately, we had booked our flights through my nephew’s travel agency. Our flight had been cancelled because the Miami-based plane was grounded with a mechanical problem. The agency rebooked us on a flight the next day to New York. However, Zachary told us we should get in line ASAP, and wait for the ticket counter to open, so we could get transportation and hotel vouchers.
That took forever (even though we were near the front of the line). People were very upset and angry and lall needed rerouted for the next day. I found an English-speaking customer service rep and explained we were already had new flights. Still, it took another hour to get to the hotel. By then it was midnight.
Home Sweet Home
We were up predawn to catch the shuttle back to the airport, and get inline for boarding passes and to check baggage. Of course, the flight arrived late to JFK, and we missed our connection to Pittsburgh. So, we had to spend another night at an airport hotel. Twice in over 36 hours, I had to contact the person boarding my Sweet Scottie Dog, Fibber, that we weren’t able to pick him up.
It also meant another predawn wakeup, because the airline put us up near JFK, when our morning flight left from La Guardia! Our connection was way overbooked, but we held firm to our seats. But, just as we were pushing back, all the power in the plane went out. A major electrical problem! We had to deplane and anxiously wait several more hours, until they located and installed a part. It didn’t evoke a warm and fuzzy feeling lol!
Tired and sore from spending long days sitting upright in a molded plastic chair, I had lost all my vacation zen. I did keep reminding myself, however, how lucky we were that this hadn’t happened on our way to South America. When we went to our car in the lot, the battery was dead! Finally, we drove straight to get Fibber and then pretty much crashed at home.
Sorry, had to get that off my chest! So, although I miss the ability to travel, I certainly don’t miss flying.