Places to stay: on a cruise ship or a private yacht.
Things to do: snorkeling, scuba diving, and Galapagos tortoise watching.
Time to visit: during a warm season December to June.
To the Galapagos Islands
The very name of the destination sounds so glamorous and exotic: the Galapagos Islands. I couldn’t imagine a more magical-sounding escape. But while I’d anticipated a fun, tropical trip, the experience turned out to be an amazing adventure I’ll never forget.
Located just off the west coast of South America, the Galapagos were formed from volcanic eruptions under the ocean. But despite their desolate-sounding origins, plenty of grass, vegetation, and wildlife pepper the landscape. The volcanoes, however, remain active, and visitors can often witness lava flowing from the erupting craters. Thankfully, the Galapagos’ pristine, natural geography has been preserved, and the islands are protected from overcrowding. But because the islands are so carefully shielded from environmental threats, the number of visitors is limited each year, so be sure to book your trip in advance!
The first item on my Galapagos agenda: snorkeling. It’s a must-do in the islands, and for good reason: when you’re underwater, it truly feels like you’re in an aquarium. But I don’t mean a typical goldfish aquarium — I’m talking about penguins, turtles, and even sharks!
True story: As I was capturing the scenery with my GoPro, I began filming an adorable penguin lying lazily in the water. Suddenly, a shark came out of nowhere and my heart seemed to stop. I got so scared and my rapid movements must have alerted the penguin to danger because he quickly escaped. Feeling like a hero on my first day, I felt instantly connected to this new terrain!
Snorkeling was incredible, but I’d have to say my favorite water activity was scuba diving. I discovered the white tip reef sharks and hammerhead sharks for the first time and the encounter was very intense—you could immediately feel the friction when the two crossed paths. I didn’t even notice that I was running out of oxygen as I watched the water predators, mesmerized.
Another water creature that stole my heart was the seal. I was surprised how many baby seals I spotted with their moms, and how comfortable they were with human observers. They seemed just as curious about me as I was about them, and they had a playful, friendly attitude. The sea lions, however, were a bit more daunting—they’re much larger and like to show their alpha dominance, so I kept a safe distance.
By Air and By Land
Once out of the water, I wanted to become acquainted with the native land species. The birds were a fun discovery: from the blue-footed booby to the red-frigate birds, the colors of their feathers captivated me. I got to know these different varieties better while hiking on the islands. I learned about the various species and their distinct behavior patterns, and I even got to see plenty of babies chirping in their nests. Because they’ve never interacted with humans until very recently, birds on the islands are fearless! They routinely came close, and some even pecked at my shoelaces, attempting to untie them out of curiosity!
There are also plenty of reptiles on the island including two kinds of iguanas: land iguanas and marine iguanas. But if you venture deeper into the islands’ lush landscape, you’ll find the most ancient animal alive: the Galapagos tortoise. At first glance, these massive creatures appear to be large rocks. But upon closer inspection, you realize that you’re actually looking at their massive shells. These giants are truly impressive—some even live to be over 100 years old—so fascinating! Since my encounter with these majestic animals, I’ve learned that tortoises almost became extinct because people used to use their fat for oil. Now they’re considered one of the most precious animals on the planet and are classified as “vulnerable” on the list of endangered species.
Overall, the Galapagos is a veritable haven of beautiful animals and I was humbled by the incredible opportunity to encounter them in their natural habitat. I really felt like I’d visited a place that prioritizes the wellbeing of all the creatures that live there, and the experience took my breath away and made a lasting impact. If you’re looking for a unique, peaceful, serene, and stunning vacation destination, and you’re a fan of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights, I highly recommend a visit!
*Do note, though sharks are generally friendly, you should never swim by the fisher boats after 6 pm, as it can be very dangerous. Thankfully, when you scuba dive, you go in a group, and the instructor does a great job of ensuring you are safe while also having a good time!