I didn’t think it was possible to fall in love with a place – and then I experienced the Galapagos Islands.
The Galapagos was always somewhere I dreamed of going, but it felt like one of those places just slightly out of reach. Part of this was down to my sea legs – or lack of – as I’d only ever really seen trips to explore the region by boat. I desperately wanted to explore this incredible ecosystem, but the idea of seasickness every night was far from appealing.
After doing some research, I came across Intrepid’s land-based trip: the 10-day Best of Galapagos tour. Reading the itinerary and inclusions, it seemed to tick all the right boxes…
Here’s why the trip was perfect in theory, and was somehow even better in reality:
Something that is hugely important to me when travelling is how I can support the local economy of each destination I visit. The main factor in why I chose this Intrepid trip is that every night is spent on the islands, staying in locally-owned properties rather than heading back to a boat. This not only helps to contribute to local businesses, but also gave me the opportunity to eat at local restaurants, mingle with residents in local bars, and experience how the islands come to life at night.
When the stresses of daily life catch up to me, I find myself daydreaming back to watching the sunset with a beer in hand in a beach bar on Isla Isabela.
Snorkeling, hiking and kayaking
Another huge factor for me when travelling is to keep active along the way – whether through cycle trips, day hikes, walking tours, or kayaking. The Galapagos Islands have so much more to offer than just snorkeling – although there are some AMAZING snorkeling opportunities on Active Galapagos.
Some of the trip highlights for me were sea kayaking on Isla Isabela and the Sierra Negra volcano hike.
Reading the itinerary, the volcano hike seemed like nothing too out of the ordinary, especially in comparison with day hikes I’ve previously taken. It was raining when we reached the start point, so the ground was a little muddy and slippery – something everyone with proper walking boots dealt with well (myself in runners – not so much!). Almost everyone else on my trip were going on to explore Peru (as part of the Galapagos & Peru Adventure combo trip), so had packed for a much longer and varied itinerary.
Reaching the top, our local guide Zambo explained how the volcano had formed – and the view was mind-blowing! We walked around the crater for around an hour, enjoyed a picnic lunch and then wandered back down to the beach, through mangroves and past fluorescent flamingos.
When on the kayaking excursion in a protected bay, I was paddling along when suddenly I got the feeling I was being watched. Looking around I could see nothing except my fellow group members, Zambo and the numerous penguins hanging out on the rocks along the way. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed some beady eyes staring at me from the water – a sea lion had decided to come along for the ride! He followed us all the way back to shore before he plonked himself down on the sand and snoozed in the sun.
Speaking of wildlife, you’ll often find yourself snorkeling alongside marine iguanas, reef sharks and huge sea turtles, but it’s the sea lions that I had a soft spot for. Many times I felt a tug at my feet, just to turn around and find a friendly sea lion nipping at my fins, or swimming right up to my snorkel mask to have a look at what was going on. On land, they can seem a little aggressive as they are much slower than in the water, so you must listen to your guide and keep at least a two meter distance from them, otherwise they can get spooked and lunge towards you.
The way in which we travelled between islands was by speedboat – these journeys were never usually longer than two hours at a time. Each day that we were moving on, our luggage was taken ahead of time, as customs needed to check it before we were able to leave each island. Due to the whole region being an ecosystem, we had to be careful not to take anything with us that could potentially contaminate and endanger the wildlife on the next island, be it sand, mud or rocks. We would then enjoy our breakfast and make our way to the dock to jump on board our transfer.
On our final transfer to Isla Santa Cruz, the whole group had fallen asleep except for me and my Aussie friend Aaron. We’d been told to keep an eye on the water to see if we could spot anything along the way, but by this point, we’d seen nothing on our transfers between the other islands. But, suddenly, Aaron spotted something in the distance and asked if I could also see it. I squinted and waited, and a swarm of HUNDREDS of dolphins made their way over to our boat and put on an amazing show for us. Everyone woke up excited beyond belief and we spent a good half hour floating round and round in circles to take in this beautiful moment. We were the only people around for miles, so were the only people witnessing such a thing at that time.
I don’t know whether this kind of thing would have happened on a trip other than this!
The majority of my group were of a similar age to myself, but at the same time we had a couple of older passengers who put some of us to shame with their fitness levels! It was great to be surrounded by people who had the same love of travel, wildlife and keeping active that I did.
The group – along with the trip itinerary – were amazing, but I firmly believe that without our local guide, the trip would not have meant what it did to me. Surf instructor Zambo was born and raised on Isla Santa Cruz, and his passion for his home was second to none. His knowledge of the wildlife and history of the islands was incredible; we could ask him ANYTHING about the region and he would always have an in-depth answer for us.
I have never felt such a bigger sense of jealousy when he greeted us on Isla San Cristobal with “Welcome to my office!”
To experience everything this traveller did, check out Intrepid Travel’s 10-day Best of Galapagos trip.
To explore Intrepid’s wide range of trips to the Galapagos, check out all our Galapagos tours.
(Volcano hike image c/o Amy Whitwood. All other images c/o Intrepid Travel.)