Land of fire and life surrounded by turquoise waters in the middle of the equator of the planet Earth. Nature in its purest form, being one of the few places in the world where it is possible to get close to all kind of wildlife without altering their behaviour. We all know that the Galapagos Islands are a unique place and must be visited at least once in a lifetime. My dream had come true thanks to LATAM.
I landed on the island of Baltra and directly crossed the channel that separates it from Santa Cruz island, to go to the incredible Royal Palm Hotel, located in the highest part of the island, where I was received in a very special way and where I could visit the largest lava tunnel in Santa Cruz.
In Galapagos it is said that there are two seasons: the warm season and the dry season, the latter running from June to December. My visit was in August, when the winds blow southeast, cooling the coasts where rainfall is very low. However, in the higher areas of the islands, we constantly encounter a rainy, humid and cloudy climate. The next day I started what would be one of my best experiences. I was starting a 5-day trip around the northern islands on board a beautiful catamaran and with a group of 15 more passengers. We started the trip from Baltra island, where I boarded Alia catamaran with the rest of the passengers arriving from a flight. From that moment, it was time to put aside my Spanish and practice my English. Irish, Americans, English, Australians and South Africans will be my companions during the next days of adventure, together with Carlos, our professional local naturalist guide who will accompany us to show us the most emblematic places of the northern islands.
Once we are all on board, we headed to North Seymour, a small island next to Baltra full of wildlife. After a first snorkeling dive in search of sharks and other fish, we arrived at the island with the boats to walk a short trail where it was impossible not to stop every five meters. Royal frigatebirds, blue-footed boobies, land iguanas, sea lions, swallow-tailed gulls... literally everywhere. I've never seen anything like it. Seeing so many wild animals from just two meters away blew my mind. I was certainly beginning to understand how special these islands are.
The crew had been at sea for several days in a row without setting foot on land, so it was time to make a night stop at Baltra. With goalposts on the beach and a ball, our crew was facing a friendly game of indoor soccer against the crew of a different ship. And the passengers could also join in. I was happy: the conditions were right for me to photograph the Milky Way again, as from the ship it is totally impossible. And it was spectacular.
Surrounded by sea lions sleeping among old boats and owls searching for turtle eggs, I took this photo with a turtle's footprints as a close-up.
After a night of football, stars and laughter, it was time to return to the catamaran to get up in the northern hemisphere, specifically in Darwin Bay of Genovesa Island. We were on a volcanic caldera whose wall collapsed thousands of years ago, forming a bay surrounded by cliffs that are now full of life. The peculiar thing about Galapagos is that each island is completely different, each one is inhabited by different species. In this case, during a tour on the beach of Darwin Bay, you can certainly see red-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, royal frigates, swallow-tailed gulls, sea lions and other species. After enjoying the land wildlife, it was time to do some snorkeling to try to find the hammerhead shark. Throughout our tour, Genovesa was the only island where we could find it, as it only lives in deeper waters. However, there was no luck during the dive.
In the afternoon, after a fun kayak paddling under the anchored catamarans, it was time to visit the top of the cliffs known as "Bird Paradise", climbing the Prince Philip Stairs, located in the southern part of Darwin Bay. The peculiarity of this area, besides having thousands of birds next to you, is being able to locate the well-camouflaged Galapagos peacock owl, the only aerial predator. The next morning we dawned again in the opposite hemisphere: south. It's a privilege to wake up, look out of Alia's window and see that the landscape has changed completely, as we were anchored in Sullivan Bay, located between Santiago and Bartolomé islands.
After walking over the pahoehoe lava flows (a type of Hawaiian basaltic lava) on Santiago Island, two more snorkeling dives in Sullivan Bay were scheduled. The first one, off the coast of Santiago, where we could see starfish, a turtle and thousands of colorful fish. The second dive on Bartolome Island was more special, as we were able to swim with the amazing Galapagos penguins (the only ones living in the tropics) and a very playful sea lion. It was like meeting a dog that comes to you to be petted.
In the afternoon, we could not miss the walk to one of the most representative viewpoints of the Galapagos Islands. Through wooden stairs, we climbed up to the Bartolomé volcanic cone, the highest point on the island, to enjoy these spectacular views with the famous Pináculo rock at sunset covered by clouds.
Our fourth day of cruising took place in northern Santa Cruz. Together with Carlos, we took an entertaining morning walk around Cerro Dragón. On the beach and in the saltwater lagoon at the beginning of the trail, we could also come across sea iguanas, brown pelicans from the Galapagos, blue-footed boobies, flamingos, ducks... and other species.
After lunch we went to the Caleta Tortuga Negra, very close to the Canal where we started the trip. This is a magical estuary surrounded by mangroves where many marine species, such as white-tip and black-tip sharks and rays, breed. It is also very easy to see sea turtles and several kinds of birds. But because it is such a fragile site, diving is forbidden and can only be accessed by pangas (boats) with the engine off.
I could say I had already seen the most extraordinary things in the archipelago. But I couldn't end this trip with Alia without photographing the most emblematic animal of the islands: the giant Galapagos tortoise. They form a group of different species spread across the islands. In Santa Cruz we can see them in the highlands, where there is more rainfall and therefore more vegetation and food.
Now, here ends one of the most amazing adventures yet. Thanks to the wonderful crew of Alia for their warm treatment and to the Galapagos Islands for facilitating this unique experience. Luckily, I still had three days left in the archipelago. So from Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz) I took a ferry that in an emetic journey of 2 hours left me in Puerto Villamil, the fishing village of Isabela island, the largest of all.
In Isabela one of the most incredible activities you can do is visiting the Tunnels, also known as Cabo Rosa. These are geological formations of submerged or emerged lava tunnels where various species of animals take refuge. It consists of an excursion of about 5 hours, divided into two parts. The first one, with a boat we arrive to the area where diving is allowed. We put on our goggles and fins and immediately start to see green turtles. I lost the count, but I think I swam up to 25 different turtles. Following Gabriel, our guide, we dive into several lava caves where white-tipped sharks are sure to be found resting. And as if this were not enough, we can also locate camouflaged seahorses in the submerged roots of the mangroves. The second part of the activity is calmer. With the boat we enter the protected area where diving is forbidden. Here lava arches protrude from the surface and blue-footed boobies, pelicans, marine iguanas, turtles, rays and sharks can easily be seen. We stopped to approach to the boobies and walk through this unique environment.
My days on this magical archipelago were coming to an end. And as you can see, they have been some of the most special days yet. It's amazing the beauty that the best artist creates: nature.