Boobies, lava and teeming seas – Cruising the Galapagos Islands

Watching seal play in the Galapagos Islands
Land Iguana's are one spectacular species you'll see when you visit the Galapagos Islands

Land Iguana

If you're lucky in the Galapagos Islands you'll see new born sea lions

Newborn sea lion and mother

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.

Hansel Martinetti, Galapagos Naturalist, helps preserve the wild beauty of the Galapagos Islands

Hansel Martinetti, Galapagos Naturalist

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.

Trail ettiquete when visiting the Galapagos Islands.

Baby Albatross and trail etiquette

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.

Double cabin on the Sea Star

Double cabin on the Sea Star

Granite counters on the Sea Star

Granite counters on the Sea Star

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.

Lunch featuring Ecuadorian Ceviche on the Sea Star

Lunch featuring Ecuadorian Ceviche on the Sea Star

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.

Hot tub happy hour on the Sea Star

Hot tub happy hour on the Sea Star

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 to shore wet landing on the Galapagos Islands.

Ship to shore wet landing on the Galapagos Islands.

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!

Frigate bird in courtship mode.

Frigatebird in courtship mode.

Flamingos dining in an interior lagoon.

Flamingos dining in an interior lagoon.

Nasca Booby with baby in the Galapagos Islands

Nasca Booby with baby

Preening Blue Footed Booby

Preening Blue Footed Booby

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.

Land iguanas aren't shy or aggressive in the Galapago Islands

Land iguanas aren’t shy or aggressive in the Galapagos Islands

“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.Frendly crew on the Sea Star in the Galapagos Islands

Conservation care

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.

Crew salute on the Sea Star while crusiing the Galapagos Islands

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!Discovering Espanola Island in the Galapagos Islands wildlife, luxury cruise and pristine beachesGalapagos Island Glories on a Latin Trails Cruise

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. 

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46 comments

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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! 🙂

  • 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!

  • 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

  • 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 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. 😉

  • 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!

  • This place is just incredible! On my list in 2018 🙂

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • Sounds like an incredible experience! We’re in Cuenca now but looking to go to the Galapagos after the new year. Really helpful tips.

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

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