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Galápagos Islands

Picture Pages:  Map of islands  |  Baltra  |  Our yacht crew  |  Santiago Is.  |  Bartolommeo Is.   |  Lighthouse & sunset  |  South Plaza Is.  |  Genovesa Is.  |  Equator & sunset  |  Santa Fe Is.  |  Santa Cruz Is. |  Crew Farewell

We visited the most unique living museum of evolutionary changes, and got to know a variety of exotic species exclusive to this Archipelago! The Galápagos Islands are the perfect setting to experience the evolutionary changes that have led to a new understanding of life on Earth. Animals unafraid of man and so different from any others found elsewhere, make visitors wonder about their very existence on our planet. Among the animals found are the different species of giant 'Galápagos' tortoises that gave the islands their name due to the similarity of their carapaces to a kind of horse saddle called 'galapago' in Spanish. A variety of birds are found: from blue-footed, red-footed and masked boobies, flamingos, frigate birds, and albatrosses, to unique small penguins and non-flying cormorants, and the 14 different species of finches which served Darwin as proof for his theory of evolution by natural selection; among others. Marine mammals such as sea lions, dolphins and whales are also found; as well as a number of fishes. Among the flora, the most distinctive are mangroves and endemic cacti.  The Galápagos house an incredibly high rate of endemic species.

In 1835, Charles Darwin sailed on the British ship H.M.S. Beagle and visited the islands. His writings on the theory of the origin of species, which shook up the scientific world, where inspired by the living proof that he found in this unique volcanic Archipelago. His observations and studies can be confirmed by all those who choose to make this unforgettable trip to the fascinating and mysterious Galápagos.

The islands are located 600 miles from the Ecuadorian coast. In 1936 they were declared a National Park to preserve the flora and fauna of the 13 large islands, 6 minor ones and more than 40 islets. The origin of the Galapagos Islands is volcanic. The islands appeared from lava eruptions that came from the bottom of the ocean and that rise as much as 2600 feet above sea level. Lava formed more than 2000 craters has continuously altered the terrain of the region. The last significant eruption was in 1825 and since then Isabella Island has shown some volcanic activity. Variables such as climate, altitude and texture of the land on the islands, have made their distinct vegetation and animal life appear.

In 1959 the Government, along with the Internationally recognized Charles Darwin Foundation, UNESCO and other scientific organizations, established a biological research station on the islands. This facility is also headquarters for visiting scientists engaged in special research programs. All tours take you to visit the Station. Scientists greet visitors while they instruct on the marvels of the islands.

Note: the biggest problem affecting the biodiversity of the Archipelago are the introduced species of animals and plants, that have meant a big threat to the native and endemic species of the islands. Thus, a 'quarantine' is required at the entrance to the Park.

For more information about the Galapagos, you can visit the following web site:  
Charles Darwin Foundation:

We stayed for 4 nights onboard the Galapagos Adventure I yacht.  Cabins were air-conditioned, but we spent little time there.  We swam around the boat when anchored or were off to the beach snorkeling or hiking on the islands.  John went snorkeling every day.

Information on the individual islands we visisted:
We left Quito and flew to Baltra Island in the Galápagos.  We met our naturalist, John, then were bused from the airport to our yacht.  John gave us an orientation, including conservation techniques suggested by the Galápagos National Park.

Santiago (James) Island
We started with a cruise to the lovely Santiago (James) Island.  We were greeted with black sandy beach and fur seals. Tidal pools reveal a profusion of octopi, starfishes, and other undersea life. The rare fur seals that were once on the verge of extinction cavort nearby, and we often spot oyster catchers, blue herons, and yellow-crowned night herons.  We snorkeled and swam in the warm water.

Bartolome Island
In the afternoon we came to Bartolome, one of the youngest islands.  Bartolome displays a fantastic landscape of lava formations including its famous signature, Pinnacle Rock. The mangroves often hide mating sea turtles; we spotted three penguins on some rocks by the beach.

We then landed on the other side of the island to climb to the lighthouse on top - the elevation went up 500 feet and there were 385 wooden steps to the top.  We had a beautiful sunset.

 Genovesa  (Tower Island)
The next day we are at one of the most spectacular islands.  This caldera of a partially eroded volcano frames gorgeous Darwin Bay.  It has extensive coral formations where we swam and snorkeled. Bird life includes lava and swallow-tailed gulls, and ground finches. In the salt bush forests we find nesting colonies of great frigate birds and masked and red-footed boobies.

South Plaza Island
We next  cruised to South Plaza Island where the sea lions greet us raucously as we step ashore. We also find land iguanas busy eating the opuntia cactus flowers and cactus pads. There are colonies of swallow-tailed gulls, shearwaters, and red-billed tropic birds.  

Santa Fe  (Barrington) Island
In the afternoon we arrive at Santa Fe (Barrington) where we hike through a forest of opuntia cactus, where land iguana doze, and then snorkel in clear water with coral reefs, manta rays, sea turtles, and colorful  schools of fish.  I had the opportunity to swim with a school (about 20) of seals.  They were very playful and followed us, biting on our fins and coming right up almost nose-to-nose.  What an experience!

Santa Cruz Island
On our way to Santa Cruz Island, one of the boat engines had a fuel line that clogged and was taken out of service.  We needed to arrive at the Charles Darwin Research Center before dark.  John, our naturalist, radioed to have a smaller boat come out and take us to the center.  We arrived at the town of Puerto Ayora then jumped into a pickup truck for the short drive to the Research Center.  We heard about and saw the scientific projects and conservation efforts including a successful breeding program for the endangered Giant Tortoise. Once in danger of extinction, a large number of the Giant Tortoises have been returned to their natural habitat. There is also an excellent museum. At the station we only saw the Saddle-backed Tortoises.

We returned to the Galapagos Adventure I yacht after dark.  We could not believe how many large boats and yachts were at anchor in the harbor.  Most of our landings on the smaller islands only had one or two other boats nearby.  We spent our last night on board then were bused across the island to a ferry boat for a short ride to Baltra Island and the airport.  We then left to fly to Quayaquil then back to Quito.

Other islands that we did not visit and interesting critters that live there:

Isabella Island
This island, formed by six huge shield volcanoes joined together by extensive lava flows, is by far the largest in the Galápagos.  For hundreds of years the old sailing ships stopped at Tagus Cove to supply themselves with water and giant tortoises for fresh meat.  Names and dates are carved in rock to record the visits. Penguins, shearwaters, and many other birds thrive here.

Fernandina Island
This is the youngest and most active volcano in the Galápagos with eruptions taking place every few years.  Its steep flanks are streaked by lava flows, only a few of which are old enough to support islands of vegetation.  Punta Espinoza reveals a stark landscape, barren except for an occasional clump of cactus and the green fringe of Mangrove.  Along the shoreline vast colonies of marine iguanas bask in the sun, often watched over by a Galápagos hawk.  There are also flightless cormorants building their nests and sea lions playing in the tidepools.

Rabida (Jervis) Island
A reddish beach and steep volcanic slopes give this island a distinctive look.

Leon Dormido (Kicker Rock) Island
Around this sheer 500-foot tuff cone formation is where blue-footed boobies and sea lions abound.

Floreana (Charles) Island
This island is best known for its colorful history of buccaneers, pirates, whalers, convicts, and colonists.  In 1793 the Post Office barrel was established by British whalers to  send letters to and from England.  This tradition continues to this day.  A lagoon near Punta Cormorant is frequented by pintails, stilts, and perhaps the pinkest flamingoes in the world. 

North Seymour Island
The Galápagos' largest colony of magnificent frigate birds is found here, as are blue-footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, sea lions, and the occasional Galápagos snake.

San Cristobal Island
The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (also called Chatham) is the sleepy capital of the Galápagos province. Ochoa Beach boasts pelicans and other sea birds, as well as a delightful swimming beach.  In the highland farm area is El Junco, the only freshwater lake in the Galápagos.  Just off the coast of this island is where the oil spill occurred a few months before our arrival.

Espańola  (Hood) Island
This is one of the oldest islands.  It is small and flat, with no visible volcanic crater or vent.  Gardner Bay on the eastern shore offers the islands' most magnificent beach.  It is used by a transient colony of sea lions, and is a major nesting site for marine turtles.  This island is the nesting site of almost all the world's waved albatross, huge birds with a 6-foot wing span.  Punta Suarez is one of the most outstanding wildlife areas of the archipelago, with a long list of species found along its cliffs and sand or pebble beaches.  Several types of reptiles, including the brilliantly colored marine iguana and the oversized lava lizard, are unique to this island.

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