When I left you in Galapagos Islands Cruise: Nature Wonderland, we had just finished a second full day of snorkeling, and both wet and dry foot landings. Today, we continue the Galapagos vacation, exploring more islands, bays, and beaches.
But, as incredible as it was to see the various volcanic landscapes and lava formations, it was the close encounters with wildlife that made the Galapagos vacation such a marvelous adventure.
There were countless species of birds and marine life, including; pelicans, crabs, sharks, rays, iguanas, lizards, fur seals, and sea lions.
Today, I’m sharing some of the amazing creatures we saw from the panga motorized raft, kayak, and while either on foot or snorkeling. I was hard-pressed to narrow down my photographs to just this sampling!
Continue the virtual Galapagos vacation with me, and you’ll get to see close-ups of famous indigenous species like the giant tortoise and blue-footed booby.
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Day 3: Exploring Santiago & James Bay
As soon as we finished another gourmet dinner on day two, the boat got under way. Our activities director had warned us it was going to be a rocky night as we crossed a major ocean current. He wasn’t kidding! I hadn’t finished getting ready for bed, when things began to tip back and forth like a funhouse amusement ride.
I giggled as I tried to maneuver from the bathroom across the stateroom; landing in a heap on the big king-sized bed! Hubby and I continued to laugh as we held each other tight. Happily, most items were secured and only a suitcase rolled across the room. Either out of exhaustion from all the physical activity, or by the help of seasick pills, we slept soundly.
All was calm when we awoke, floating offshore Santiago, the second island Charles Darwin discovered. When I say we awoke, it was to ship-wide music and the friendly voice of our activities director — at 5:30 AM!
That’s because our first excursion of the day was a wet foot landing on Espumilla Beach in an effort to see green sea turtles. Mr. Buzz and I didn’t have much trouble getting up, as we’d gone to bed at 9:30 PM. We also were still benefiting from a time change that continued to work in our favor. Within thirty minutes, we were dressed, had coffee and were boarding the panga for shore.
Galapagos Green Turtle
The Galapagos green turtle is the only species of sea turtle to nest in the archipelago. Females may return several times to lay between 50 and 200 eggs, which incubate in the tropical heat for 45-55 days.
Unfortunately, we missed seeing any actual sea turtles making their way back down to the ocean before sunrise. But we did see the large tracks their flippers left behind in the sand.
Daniel, our ship’s naturalist guide, had us follow several of the tracks back to the edge of lush vegetation. There, we could see large sand indentations, or clutches, where females had laid and buried eggs shortly before. I stared in wonder.
Typically, the eggs in a clutch will all hatch at the same time. That’s to ensure more turtles survive the death race down the beach.
Birds, crabs, and countless other predators wait for the hatchlings and consume most of the newborn turtles before they reach the sea. Even in the water they aren’t safe, with sharks and frigatebirds preying on them.
Green sea turtles that survive, grow to about five feet long, and can live 80 to 100 years. Over the past half century, however, the endangered species have seen an estimated 90 percent population decline!
As our small group of just fourteen walked along the isolated beach, hundreds of tiny crabs were busy popping in an out of the sand both ahead and behind us. They looked like waves of bubbles in motion.
Further ahead, were a small group of industrious oystercatchers. The birds didn’t even seem to notice us, as they busily dined on a variety of crabs, including this larger Sally Lightfoot. In the Galapagos, oystercatchers are found in the intertidal zone of most islands. However, only around 400 live in the entire archipelago.
As the sun continued to rise, hubby and I enjoyed a walking hand and hand on the secluded beach.
Snorkeling in Schools (of Fish)
After a hearty breakfast, we donned wetsuits and grabbed our gear for another awesome snorkeling experience, this time in Buccaneer Cove.
Pirates once scourged the area for food (mainly tortoises) and water. Charles Darwin camped here for nine days in 1835. Although no longer a landing site, the boat ride offered views of brown noddies, pelicans, herons, swallow-tailed gulls, and boobies, as well as sea lions and fur seals.
Most importantly, snorkelling is still allowed from a panga.
Clear water, a variety of marine life, and huge schools of colorful fish made for a spectacular snorkeling experience.
And, with the warmer water temperatures, I could have just floated and swam around for hours. Sometimes I was literally surrounded by hundreds of fish in a slow moving school. Other times, I’d follow behind. It was mesmerizing!
I’m sorry I can’t name all the amazing fish pictured here. Our mega-catamaran, the Ocean Breeze, had a great little library of reference sources, and I made a point of jotting down the names of all the fish, birds and other wildlife we saw daily while on our Galapagos vacation. But, I didn’t get a chance to label all the underwater photographs taken with a GoPro camera.
Tourist Tip: Purchase Galapagos wildlife and marine life pocket guides or charts — loaded with color pictures — before you go, and pack them in your suitcase. You’ll be glad you did! Then, you can mark down when and where you saw what. As we were leaving, I bought guides at the airport. But, I wish we had them during the cruise.
After changing into dry clothes and enjoying another hearty buffet lunch, we boarded the pangas and headed to the northwestern coast of Santiago Island. Egas Port is a sheltered landing site at one end of James Bay, with a scenic shoreline and volcanic landscape.
Rough volcanic rocks make for some interesting walking, and the need to look where you step. There are also numerous tidal pools and azure blue inlets dotting the landscape.
Travel Tip: Don’t leave home without a pair of waterproof hiking shoes or boots. Even if they take up a lot of space in your suitcase, they are an absolutely necessity for traversing the volcanic landscape. Mr. Buzz and I wore them on our flights. The hiking boots were a worthwhile investment, having previously worn them on other trips Exploring Iceland and Magnificent Machu Picchu.
Just beyond this natural bridge, is a tidal pool known as “Darwin’s Toilet.” It’s really neat to see the pool rapidly fill and empty, with sea water rushing in from underground tunnels.
Isolated tidal pools often trap marine life, providing fascinating little ecosystems to observe. Creatures like this Sally Lightfoot crab cling to the rocks around lava-formed grottos.
Traversing the rocky trail into the interior of the island, we were able to see many birds, including Darwin’s famous finches. There were also numerous lava lizards and marine iguanas.
Black Sand Beach
As we continued to make our way down to the black sand beach, we saw a number of stunning, large herons.
Seeing a colony of sea lions up close — including many with young pups — was especially entertaining. If you’re interested in seeing videos of the wildlife during our Galapagos vacation, be sure to check out my Instagram feed.
We were also fortunate to see elusive Galapagos fur seals. At first, we had difficulty telling them apart from sea lions, until our guide pointed out their lush coat and shorter snout. This guy was sunbathing on the rocks near the water of Egas Port. I also have video of him heading out across the rocks and into the bay for a swim.
By the time we had finished our two-hour hike and visit, the Ocean Spray had moved into James Bay to pick us up. As we removed shoes and socks to wade out to the pangas, the seals and sea lions swam and frolicked around us.
Kayaking & Cruising
Later that afternoon, we went kayaking. Passengers broke up into two different groups to paddle from the ship along the dramatic shoreline of the bay. What a rush!
Two sea lions “adopted” hubby and I. They followed on either side of us, at times diving underneath and suddenly popping up alongside the kayak. At times, we allowed ourselves to glide in the current so we could “visit” and “chat” with the seals. On two occasions, one jumped over the bow right in front of me!
Another one of those amazing experiences on our Galapagos vacation.
While cruising around the bay, we had the opportunity to view a spectacular volcanic landscape. It included many unusual lava rock formations created over time through erosion. Frigates soared overhead, following the Ocean Spray as we headed into the sunset.
Day 4: Two Diverse Islands
Our final full day of the cruise was packed with activity from dawn to dusk. It began on the small island of North Seymour.
Observing its spectacular and diverse amount of birds makes it the primary destination on a Galapagos vacation.
Blue Footed Boobies!
The unpopulated island includes a nesting area of frigate, who rest on trees in the Palo Santo Forest that spreads on the south shore.
Witnessing the mating dance of blue footed boobies is also one of the highlights of a visit to the island.
Blue footed boobies are aptly named, with those fabulous feet. During mating rituals, male birds show off their feet to prospective mates with a high-stepping strut. The blue comes from pigment in their diets, which concentrates in the bird’s feet.
You can also see red footed and nazca boobies in, Galapagos Islands Cruise: Nature Wonderland.
As we followed our naturalist guide along the trail, we were surrounded by hundreds of nests. Most held mothers nonchalantly sitting on eggs, or tending newborns and young chicks. Youngsters are fluffy white, and don’t develop characteristic blue feet until later. Not a single bird seemed the least disturbed by our presence — it was remarkable!
I can’t begin to describe how it felt to be among large seabird colonies, and witness up close and personal, the most intimate courtship, breeding and nesting behaviors. A year later, I get goosebumps remembering the experience.
My only souvenir purchase from the Galapagos vacation is an adorable pair of blue booby earrings — I’m wearing them now!
Back in the Water
North Seymour is also is an extremely important fishing sites for marine birds. The Upwelling Phenomenon (caused by the cold currents), enhances the marine diversity, making it an excellent snorkeling and dive area.
“Upwelling is an oceanographic phenomenon that involves wind-driven motion of dense, cooler, and usually nutrient-rich water towards the ocean surface, replacing the warmer, usually nutrient-depleted surface water.”
It was another feast for the eyes.
But, the current was noticeably stronger and I needed to keep checking where I was in relation to the group. Hubby and I tried to keep together as much as possible.
Travel Tip: To truly get the most out of a Galapagos vacation, you must be able to swim and feel comfortable snorkeling. One woman in our group used a “noodle” to float along. Each of the two panga operators made sure to stick close as we swam in the water. Vests were required at all times while riding pangas to and from shore or to snorkel sites.
Highlands of Santa Cruz
The second half of the day was spent on the island of Santa Cruz. It’s the only island in the Galapagos where you can experience every habitat type that exists in the archipelago. That makes the journey north from the coast up into the highlands a wonderful opportunity to experience the breadth of life that exists in the Galapagos.
Waiting on shore was a bus to take our group into the lush highlands of the island. A stop at the twin craters of Los Gemelos made for a wonderful hike. It felt a bit like walking through Jurassic Park!
We also got to explore a cavernous underground lava tunnel, one of many geological wonders of the volcanic islands.
Next, was a visit to marvel at the celebrated Giant Galapagos Tortoise roaming in its natural habitat.
It was especially fun to see them moving slowly around or “bathing” in mud.
Next, we boarded the bus for a long ride along the backroads of Santa Cruz to Puerto Ayora. It’s a very touristy town on the Galapagos’ most central island. Apparently, many tours start here, as there are fast connecting launches to San Cristobal and Isabela Islands. Smaller launches are constantly ferrying passengers to and from yacht cruises, and dive excursions.
It was a bit of a shock to the system, after days separated from most signs of civilization. To be honest, I could have done without a visit there. Especially the time spent traveling by bus to and from the Ocean Breeze.
But, hubby and I did enjoy sitting on the long covered pier watching all the boat traffic, while this sea lion ignored it all on the adjacent bench.
Most entertaining was a visit to the fish market. While fishermen brought in and cleaned their catch right from their boats, several dozen pelicans eagerly eyeballed the entire process. Meanwhile, sea lions bobbed in the water below, hoping for something to be thrown their way.
We boarded the pangas just in time for a lovely view of the Ocean Breeze silhouetted against a colorful sunset. That last evening onboard included a decadent seafood barbecue on deck, followed by an entertaining crew talent show.
Sorry friends, but I’ve run out of time and energy today! I still have another half day of our Galapagos vacation to share. You won’t want to miss Galapagos Sea Lion Encounter.
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