Tiffani on a trip to the Galapagos

Tiffani travelled to the Galapagos at the end of October, early November – and came back full of enthusiasm for the whole experience!

“1,000 km off the coast of Ecuador, and less than two hours flying time from Quito, (the second highest capital city in the world) lie a group of tiny volcanic islands that have fascinated people from across the globe for centuries. The Galapagos Islands sit just off the equator, which means there’s never a bad time of year to go! December to May is considered the “warm season” with a more tropical climate. June to December is the “dry season” and the water is cooler.

Tourists are drawn to the Galapagos Islands by the abundant wildlife – above and below the water – and it’s easy to see why. Having recently returned from a trip to the Galapagos Islands I’m still spellbound by my photographs – not because I’m a great photographer, but because the images evoke amazing memories of a magical experience.

The unique ecosystems and extraordinary animals, birds and landscapes can’t be seen anywhere else. Each island is totally different from the next – from huge rugged peaks and forest to flat coastlines and rocky beaches of white, black or even red sand.

Formed by the eruption of underwater volcanoes, the cactus-covered lava across many of the Galapagos Islands creates a very lunar-like feel. The barren lava and lack of fresh water have kept humans away, while their isolated setting and combination of hot and cold currents have produced a sanctuary for some awesome creatures: the only penguin in the tropics, sea lions from the North and fur seals from the South. On land the dominant creatures are large reptiles – the famous giant tortoise and magnificent iguanas.

The sea can be quite choppy so it’s a good idea to take sea sickness tablets with you so you don’t miss out on a single minute! The great thing about Imaginative Traveller’s tours here is that small boats are used, with only 12 of us on board, so it’s a very personal service, with an excellent English speaking guide. Our group was a mixture of singles and couples, and the perfect size to share such an amazing experience. Some boats are huge with up to 100 passengers or so – a very different experience having the islands full of noisy people and the waters around their boats busy with snorkelers!

Twice a day our boat would anchor and we would all enthusiastically scramble into a small dinghy, known locally as a ‘panga’, which would then drop us in the cool, turquoise waters of the unpolluted Pacific. Wading through the shallow shores, with penguins at our ankles, as soon as we reached the stunning white coral sand beach, we were greeted warmly by a group of playful sea lion pups bleating like spring lambs. Never far way was the Alpha male – a massive bull sea lion – initially barking loudly as he spotted ‘intruders’ on his territory, but when he saw his family were safe he slipped back into the sea with a splash.

The rocks are covered with brightly coloured ‘Sally Light-foot’ crabs, while dark scaly iguanas perched like statues. Birds flew overhead and swooped into the sea with such speed it made me jump every time. Slightly inland were the incredible blue footed boobies and their quirky mating dance, and amazing blue feet! Close by, the magnificent Frigate bird inflated his red pouch to a football-sized balloon as his mating call. Very impressive. Also engaging in a complex courtship ritual was the waved albatross. The partners bend, face each other, and slap their bills back and forth very quickly with a loud clap! I was also lucky enough to see one of the rarest birds in the world – the flightless cormorant – the only cormorant found in the Galapagos.

I can’t even begin to describe the experience of walking among animals and birds which have no concept of fear for humans. Nowhere else can you get up so close and personal with such beautiful creatures. I snorkeled with sea-lions, sea turtles, stingray and penguins…. plus the rest of the cast of ‘Finding Nemo’! One of the best moments was sitting on a beach while the cutest sea lion pup came right up to me and virtually climbed into my lap to investigate its new playmate! And while snorkeling a penguin swam right up to me and peered into my mask, knocking the snorkel out of my mouth!

The Galapagos are truly beautiful and a must visit destination if you are interested in a wildlife adventure. These islands are the perfect place to see nature at its very best. Here, the animals roam around free and unafraid, due to the lack of any natural predators, giving you plenty opportunity to capture them on camera. It’s the ‘tameness’ that is the true enchantment of the Galapagos. Nowhere else on earth can you get so close to wildlife. Take advantage of every hiking, viewing, snorkeling or diving opportunity offered to you. You may groan when you board the panga at dawn, but you won’t regret it.

It was a wonderful experience. I’ve never felt so close to nature before. I highly recommend you go there – just don’t forget your binoculars and an underwater camera!”

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