The sea lion nudged her newborn and he replied with a muffled squawk. They didn’t mind that a dozen awed, camera-clicking fans stood about ten feet away. That’s just one of the wonders I witnessed on the Galapagos Islands during my Sea Star cruise with Latin Trails.
The pair rested less than two feet from the after-birth – a smudge of red in the sand – as a several hawks swooped close. “The Kings of Santa Fe Island” our Galapagos Park Naturalist, Hanzel Martinetti, called the ruddy birds as we watched the drama unfold. They were after the remains and would snatch the baby if the mother dropped her guard. Luckily, the Raptors kept their distance while we were there.
I knew the Galapagos Islands are sanctuaries of stunning wildlife and the source of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary discoveries. I packed a small, species book but that was about the extent of my knowledge before the cruise. Hansel filled in so much.
Here’s a short video from our first day on Espanola Island:
We flew to the islands from Quito. As soon as we landed on San Cristobal Island, Hansel ushered us onto a bus to see the Giant Land Tortoises. Over six days he offered commentaries and answered questions at every pause while we trudged across the islands In the evenings, he led optional talks about sea lions and birds. He also made sure that we never ventured too close to the wildlife and kept us on the marked paths. The guides have a gentle protocol that preserves the experience and lessens the impact of tourism. If we approached another group, we’d stop until they passed, or turn away to follow an adjacent trail. We hardly saw other humans.
All this natural bliss was wrapped in the luxuries of our cruise on the Sea Star. I shared a cabin and it was large. I had room to do yoga on the deep area carpet and could watch the stars from our deck. The bathroom was spacious with more than enough counter space for a pair of traveling gals.
Breakfast featured a full buffet and omelet station. We had an espresso machine to use on demand! Each meal featured fresh ingredients and beautiful presentations. Those who had dietary restraints were accommodated quickly too.
Two of my favorite parts of the cruise were returning from our morning outings to a wet towel, juice or ice tea, and trays of snacks on the deck at a large dining table. After snorkeling or kayaking the cool waters, there were two (!) enormous hot tubs on the top deck. I warmed up in the bubbling waters and shared stories over Pisco Sours while waiting for the sunset. What luxury.
Who goes on a Galapagos Islands Cruise?
My fellow travelers were a more varied bunch than expected and so interesting. I traveled with another writer who called New York City her home. We shared a dining table with a young couple from the Czech Republic and a gentleman from Quito. A pair of jet-setting newlyweds joined a couple from Florida, who were celebrating their fiftieth anniversary. One solo woman, a millennial from France shared a table with three from Germany – a father and daughter plus another solo woman. A videographer from South Africa rounded out the group. Was this representative? I can’t say but it was a fascinating, diverse, and engaging travel family to explore the islands with.
Ship routines flowed flawlessly. The staff, all Ecuadorians, seemed to enjoy their work and one day joined us on an island for a crew soccer game while we snorkeled with sea turtles. If we needed anything, they were there to help. I was thoroughly spoiled!
And about the wildlife! Iguanas – marine and land; nurseries, piles and strutting kingpins – made regular appearances. More than once a sea lion chose to sleep in the middle of our path. We carefully stepped around. Bright Tanagers and crimson-chested Frigate Birds stood out. Lava Lizards watched us from poles and rocks. Blue-footed and Nasca Boobies stood by as they preened or nested.
“Too many sea turtles!” we joked after snorkeling one afternoon. I had been in the water less than 5 minutes when a giant turtle swam next to me. When I came in closer to shore to tell my group, they just pointed. There, floating expertly among the bright green algae covering the rocks were nearly a dozen feeding turtles! They hardly looked at us bobbing nearby and more than once I had to arch to avoid their shells as they swam below me in the shallows. Wow. Just wow.
The Galapagos Islands are a wonder and carefully managed. Only 87 ships are allowed to tour the archipelago at a time. We never saw more than four at any of our island stops and these were smaller yachts – no more than 25 passengers. A few 100-passenger ships anchored near the Baltra airport or passed us while we traveled at night. I never saw garbage on the beaches or in the water outside of the San Cristobal or Puerto Ayoura villages. From the Leed certified airport in Baltra to the labeled bins throughout the urban areas, the Galapagos Islands are working to take management, conservation, and recycling seriously.
If you go to the Galapagos Islands:
- Pay attention to the fees required to visit. These include $100 per tourist and a $20 island fee.
- Do not bring plants or living seeds with you – they will be confiscated.
- Airlines spray for insects before you land in the Galapagos.
- Make sure that you travel with cash or use ATM machines in villages or airports. Most places do not take credit cards.
- Follow regulations to preserve this rare experience. Do not touch or harass wildlife. Maintain your distance (about ten feet.) Don’t speak too loudly or try to get animals to move.
- Take the Equatorial sun seriously. Even with the December cloud cover, I would get sunburned anyplace I wasn’t covered or missed with sunblock.
- Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration and manage heat.
- The islands are safe and there’s little crime. I certainly wasn’t worried that my cabin door didn’t lock.
- When you sign up with a cruise line make sure they are accredited and host the mandatory Naturalist.
Mark this post for planning and share theses Pins. Happy travels!
My trip was hosted by Latin Trails and you can see the ship itinerary here. Although I was their guest, all opinions and photographs are my own.
Proud member of these blogger communities:
Those wild life photos can be my wallpaper or heck on my wall. Amazing photos.
Thank you so much, John.
OMG! This is a dream trip for travelers who love nature 😀 And a little bit of luxury is always welcomed. I am surprised all of it costs on 120 dollars! The way you described the birth of the seal and it being welcomed on the island, I felt like I was there with you witnessing it all as it unfolded. And, such amazing wildlife pictures!! Totally loved this post 🙂
So glad that you enjoyed the post. The part that costs $120 is getting a permit to visit the Galapagos Islands that every visitor pays. What you do once you get to the islands or how you get there is totally additional. Most of those pictures were taken as guest on a luxury cruise and others were taken as a hostel guest – two sides of the expense coin.
Oh Wow, this would be like a dream trip for me. At 120$ I find it reasonable, with so much to explore, so much of wildlife experience in their natural habitat. I have never seen the lava lizards but they do scare me a bit 🙁 Hope to make it there one day to witness it on my own.
If you love seeing wildlife in their natural habitat and fearless animals as well, the Galapagos is the place I’ve found to do so. The lizards are not aggressive unless they’re fighting each other for turf. They eat algae and not meat. Galapagos guides lead ALL tours and keep everyone safe.
Amazing photography!! I’d love to visit here, but it’s always felt one of those places that’s “too remote” – this has made me realise that it’s much more accessible than I thought, and it’s rather inspiring! I hope I get there someday!
I hope you do as well. It does take some doing but is much easier to explore than I expected.
This looks like an absolute dream trip. I don’t know what sounds better- the Islands with all the wildlife or that luxurious boat! Either way, I’m totally jealous of your trip!
Thanks, Brianna. It was a long time in the making and I brought home memories of a lifetime.
Oh wow! I got so carried away reading your post. I felt like I was there with you. After years of travel, two of the things I enjoy a lot is seeing wildlife and being on the water. A trip to the Galapagos will tackle those two passions. Did you visit during a season where animals were being born? You captured a lot of babies. I like that the crew was all from Ecuador.
We visited in early December and there were sea lion pups but I can’t say it was baby season. I hope you get to visit one day.
I’ve always wanted to go to the Galapagos Islands. Now, I think I’ll have to take a cruise, it sounds lovely! 🙂
I hope you do a cruise. Very special experience and the Galapagos Islands seem to be managing tourism pretty well.
What a once in a lifetime experience! Bucket list stuff for sure. The photos of the animals and their young are so precious! Thanks for the handy tips at the end.
So glad you enjoyed the post, Victoria.
Nice to see that the guides observed the conservation rules. I am jealous of the snorkelling and canoeing – seems like lots of fun 🙂
The water was chilly but so full of life you forgot the cold.
BOOBIES! Yes, I went there! Sorry, I just couldn’t resist. But WOW, really what amazing photos of nature and wildlife on the Galapagos. It’s always been on of my dream trips and your photos and stories just make sure it stays on the list.
Thanks, Heidi, guess I couldn’t resist the joke either!
Wow great photo’s of the wildlife. I’ve never given much thought to visiting here, but I’m definately intrigued now.
Thank you, Nerissa, I’m a shutterbug working her way through technicalities.
Wow, your trip sounds amazing! Would love to see all of those animals in real life
The wildlife experiences just piled on, each better than the next. The Galapagos Islands are amazing.
Love your wildlife photos. Thanks for including shots of your room (looks spacious) and what it looks like on the cruise. Sounds like a great experience.
My first real cruise and it was so luxurious. Wonderful crew and company. Glad you liked the pictures.
Wait, you mean there is more than one type of Booby in the Galapagos? I am shocked. Although the blue-footed booby is one of the coolest names.
I really want to see all the different fitches on the islands.
Get ready for a bigger shock – Red-footed Boobies! They’re on a remote Ecuadorian island, so we didn’t see any. I agree the name is pretty cool. You’d love visiting the Darwin Center in Puerto Ayoura on Santa Cruz Island. Lots about the finches (different ones on different islands!) and about the different turtles.
Nice shots of the wildlife! Glad to hear that guides are active preserving nature there and that you didn’t feel as if the place is overrun by tourists. The cruise looks amazing… would love to visit Galapagos one day!
I hope you get the chance to visit. They are definitely trying to manage the influx of visitors and support locals.
Your sea Star cruise with Latin Trails sounds fantastic! We visited the Galapagos and LOVED it, though we opted to spend out time on land, and set up on San Cristobal. It was an incredible week, though I do look forward to getting back in the future and doing it on a cruise the next time, so we can expore other islands too.
I love that the focus of cruising here is on sustainable tourism and responsible interactions with the wildlife. Low impact tourism is the only way to achieve the balance to preserving such an incredible ecosystem. So it’s fabulous to hear that they take things like recycling seriously, and limit cruise ships and passengers to only a certain amount at any one time.
Your wildlife shots are incredible! Would love to see a flamingo, we didn’t see any on our trip (were probably on the wrong island for it!)
Thanks, Megan. I flew into San Cristobal and went directly to see the land turtles before we got to the boat. I can imagine spending a week there and doing day trips. After the cruise my partner, Dave, joined me in Puerto Ayoura on Santa Cruz for five days. We filled in gaps of wildlife while there snorkeling and on diving day trips. There are some outer islands I’d love to visit for diving. The waters, while full of critters, were murky with plankton. Good for fish not so for pictures. Glad you like the pictures I was able to capture.
The Galpagos Island is really a veritable eden. Absolutely love the biodiversity there. Looking at the Sea Lion and its little one I was reminded of a Gorilla and its little baby that I had seen in Rwanda, Africa. The same love and protection for the little one. So poignant indeed.
Thanks, Sandy. I’d love to see the wildlife in Africa. It’s true that mothering is an instinct that mammals share. I could’ve watched the sea lions for hours.
Sounds like you had a wonderful trip! We were in the Galapagos earlier this year and loved it there too. A good guide is so valuable for learning about the wildlife and islands, and it sounds like yours was great! The ship looks really nice–it’s great that your room was spacious, and that hot tub is amazing! Love all your wildlife shots—they turned out really beautiful and make me want to go back for another visit!
Thanks, Jenna. It was definitely one of the greatest trips of my life. I’m glad you had a great experience as well. The ship was amazing. I could get used to that kind of luxury!! Taking pictures and capturing wildlife is one of my passions. Perhaps we’ll both get a chance to return one day and take more!
I cannot think of anything more romantic that cruising around the galapagos sitting in a hot tub at sunset. I also can’t believe how up-close with nature you got – not sure I need to witness the after birth, but I’d love to see the newborn. Haha. It sounds like a fabulous tour and I’m glad that only 87 ships are allowed at a time.
It was pretty wonderful and could’ve been romantic had my sweet heart been with me! I’d heard that the wildlife were unafraid and that was certainly the experience. After a few days we got used to it and had to watch where we stepped!! Yes, I think that the Galapagos Park System is working hard to build tourism and keep it sustainable, safe and preserve the rare experiences.
Wonderful post, Elaine. I had no idea there are so many sea turtles there! I love the photo of the iguanas that almost looks like they’re holding hands. Really nice shot! Have been to Quito and Ecuador, but not yet to Galapagos. I think I like the idea of the small boat cruise. All the best to you for 2018.
Thanks, Doreen. The turtles became commonplace sightings! Never boring though. Those iguanas were easy to anthropomorphize but our guide kept reminding us not to. The couple you see were just trying to keep warm after swimming in those cold waters. They were fascinating to watch at all ages and stages. You’d love the cruise too. I wish you so much happiness and wonderful travel in the coming year as well.
Your photography is beyond stunning, and the experience sounds absolutely magical! I love that your tours were eco-friendly and sustainable, and that you still got to experience so much luxury and comfort on your cruise. We’ve been trying to plan 2018 travel and haven’t been feeling super inspired. I’m officially inspired. Saving for later!
I’m honored that you’re inspired by my post. The Galapagos aren’t the easiest place to get to but there are so many ways to see the various islands. Each has it’s own magic and wildlife too. You’d love exploring there.
Amazing photographs and tips for visiting here! I would just love to go – I love wildlife so much. I had heard that it was an expensive destination, but with experiences like this I am sure it is worth every penny! Your wildlife shots are awesome! 🙂
Thanks, Alli. Visiting the Galapagos can be expensive. I’ll be writing more about how to make adjustments to suit your budget.
Would definitely love to take a trip here, if only just to photograph all the animals, especially the land iguanas! I just think they look so cool! Also, I had no clue this was where Darwin had his evolutionary discoveries, but it makes sense!
The islands are a wildlife photographer’s dream. I hope you get to visit.
Wow, it’s my dream to go to the Galapagos Islands. Your pictures are truly amazing! I’m glad to know that they take conservation seriously thus restricting number of ships at any given time. #TheWeeklyPostcard
It takes some doing but you’ll love seeing the Galapagos. Managing the wild space and stewardship of the wildlife is a priority for the Ecuadorian people.
Amazing — and my favorite is the baby sea lion. What a place of wonders! I’m sure you have so many memories to treasure!
The sea lion nurseries were so wonderful to witness. You’d love just watching them play in the waves and with each other. It was an honor to see.
The Galapagos Islands seems like paradise on earth, Elaine. Cruising there an enjoying the flora and fauna there seems like an ultimate experience. Thanks for the idea. 😉
The islands are definitely worth exploring.
I have been wanting to travel to the Galapagos for a while now…Spending some time outdoors and seeing such a variety of exotic wildlife would be great for the entire family. Thanks for all the useful tips!
I hope you get the chance to visit. There are many ways to make the family trip too.
This place is just incredible! On my list in 2018 🙂
I hope you can visit the islands. Well worth the effort.
Wow, your trip looks amazing! The Galapagos is high on my must-visit list, and this seems like a great way to experience it. I would love to see all of those beautiful animals.
I had the great luck to enjoy the islands by cruise and independently. There are many ways to see them.
Beautiful wildlife photos! A cruise does sound like a good way to explore the area. Would love to visit at some point, but I didn’t realise there is a tourist and island fee! Thanks for mentioning the tips, stuff like that is really helpful to know.
Latin Trails was a wonderful company to work with. They took great care of everyone from the moment we arrived to take off. I hope you get there!
The Galapagos were never on my radar until a friend went a few years ago and my interest was piqued. I think I’d go for the cruise ship along – sounds wonderful!
The wildlife on land and in the sea is truly astounding. I’ll be posting more soon!
Sounds like an incredible experience! We’re in Cuenca now but looking to go to the Galapagos after the new year. Really helpful tips.
I wish we’d had a chance to visit Cuenca and the Amazon. Get out to the islands for sure!
Oh, what a wonderful trip this must have been, Elaine. I truly envy you. My husband and I were just discussing the other day the idea of going to the Galapagos. Your post gave me some good insight into this place. I’ll share it with my husband too. Wish you a Merry Christmas!
I so hope you plan a trip. Perhaps we can discuss all the things I discovered about traveling there over a happy hour cocktail sometime soon. Happy holidays to you too, dear Anda
Wow a cruise to discover wildlife. That is a really great idea to spend our weekends with. And the beach has so many different kinds of animals!
The small ships in the Galapagos make the impact of tourism so manageable and unobtrusive. I hope you get out there one day.
I LOVE all the photos of the animals. Especially the iguana at the beginning – how he’s just chilling haha. What a cool place to go.
There were so many chillin’ iguanas we had to watch our steps!
What an amazing experience! I love the photo of the sea lion and newborn, that reflects so much of your experience. Thanks for inspiring me, as this is a bucket list destination for me.
Thank you, Sara. I’m still in a state of wonder that the trip, in the works for over a year, actually happened. I hope you get to visit and I’ll be posting more about different options for visiting the Galapagos soon. Happy holidays.