The word Galapagos evokes the imagination. Ever since I was a kid flipping through my Animal Kingdom books, I’ve wanted visit the enchanted Galapagos Islands. Finches made famous by Charles Darwin, those awkwardly beautiful blue-footed boobies, and the giant tortoises were the big attractions for me when I was a kid. A unique, volcanic archipelago comprised of moonscape islands where animals had an inherent lack of fear? It couldn’t possibly exist, could it?
My travel regrets have been few and far between, but not going to the Galapagos on my first foray to South America was a big one. Why didn’t I go!? I’d been dreaming of it for years, I was so close yet I let my frugality win as I was a young backpacker on a $20 per day budget. I regretted my decision immediately as I left Quito. Would I ever have the chance to go again? As luck would have it, I did, but not until a few more adventures to South America.
Years after my first visit to Ecuador, I was leading a group and was determined to go to the Galapagos. Using my power of persuasion in combination with a big smile, I somehow managed to schmooze my way onto the Galapagos portion of the tour. Wahoo! Would the islands live up to my expectations? Would the animals still live without fearing humans? Would I get to see the finches, boobies, and giant tortoises? Yes. Yes. Yes. In fact I saw my first blue-footed booby from our panga (small motorized boat) and I nearly jumped out exclaiming, “Look, it’s a booby! A BOOBY!” Most of my group members happily snapped their photos though few shared my level of excitement or enthusiasm. I was so stoked…I mean come on, when is it socially acceptable to shout that sort of thing but at that particular moment?
The Galapagos Islands certainly did not disappoint and their star performers surpassed my expectations. Sea lions played below as I snorkelled, Galapagos finches flitted, penguins waddled, marine iguanas did push-ups, boobies danced, Sally Lightfoot crabs scuttled, frigates soared, hammerhead sharks lurked, flightless cormorants dove, and the gentle giant tortoises lumbered. The proximity and abundance of wildlife, blew my mind. Though these islands are home to about 30 000 inhabitants and host 200 000+ visitors a year, animals went about their business in a utopian manner seemingly not bothered at all by human paparazzi. Human footprints are kept to a minimum through strict regulations and conservation efforts.
I’ve been fortunate to have heaps of amazing adventures over the years, but my trip to the Galapagos Islands ranks right near the top. Following in the footsteps of Charles Darwin and seeing the finches that were integral to his Theory of Evolution, were highlights for me. I also had the good fortune of meeting Lonesome George; the slow-moving fellow was the face of the Galapagos Island conservation efforts as he was the last of his sub-species and a confirmed bachelor until his dying day. The impact of his passing was felt worldwide as we witnessed another species permanently disappear from our planet.
Do yourself a favour and travel to the Galapagos. It is the land that time forgot where unparallelled harmony between animals and humans exists. An awe-inspiring land surrounded by approachable wildlife, stunning sunsets, and home to friendly locals. You do not need to be an ornithologist nor an evolutionary biologist to be captivated by the significance and beauty of the Galapagos. Don’t take my word for it. Visit the Galapagos Islands and find out for yourself.