We explored the west islands of Galapagos aboard the Angelito. This 16 guest capacity yacht provided us with an unforgettable experience as we toured to different landing sites and snorkelling areas to explore the incredible biodiversity of Galapagos.
Our 8 day itinerary took us from Santa Cruz, our island of arrival, to Isabela, Fernandina and Floreana before returning to Santa Cruz.
Of course, the major reason to explore the Galapagos Islands are the wildlife, at least for us. Each island seems to generate it's own species of the various land based favourites such as the giant tortoise, the finches and the iguanas. The animals are all pretty chilled out. They are happy to let you wander around, take photos of their babies and ooh and aah confident that you won't be a threat. And, thanks to conservation efforts and breeding programs, the animals are incredibly plentiful. We had to climb over marine iguanas that had colonised a landing dock and there was the constant peril of being distracted by distant animals and almost stepping on some well camouflaged creature underfoot. Each landing provided the opportunity to search for new species. Some of our fellow guests were particularly into this and excelled at identifying new birds in distant trees or fish hiding under rocks.
Here is a selection of the animal photos from our various landings. We had no underwater camera so there are no fish, ray or shark pictures unfortunately.
We quickly grew accustomed to cruising these tropical waters on our yacht. After each landing we were welcomed back on board by snacks and, something the Ecuadorians do particularly well, fruit juice. Galapagos has been feeding my jugo de maracuyá addiction (passionfruit juice). Along with other favourites such as mango, strawberry and blackberry. We enjoyed venturing up to the sun deck between expeditions to spot manta rays and sea turtles, to read a book or to just watch the sun set over the waters.
It was sad to say goodbye to the Angeltio and all the new friends we made during our stay however we consoled ourselves with the knowledge that this was not the end of our Galapagos journey...
Andrew's somewhat abridged account missed out some pretty amazing parts of the cruise, so I feel compelled to write my own account on parts he missed as he is steadfastly refusing to let me add bits in.
Our boat, the Angelito has recently undergone a major refit, which meant that not only did we get a double bed cabin, but the facilities were akin to a first class yacht. After settling into our cabins and being introduced to the crew we quickly learnt that the sun deck was the place to be for animal spotting. It was from here that we saw our first green sea turtles and galapagos sharks (4 large individuals chose to circle our boat shortly before our first snorkelling expedition). During one of the longer daytime navigations, we encountered a large group (50 or more) of giant manta rays feeding. These amazing creatures were the size of cars, or bigger, and could be observed in the distance flapping through the water and in some cases, jumping like whales. When they passed close to the boat we could see their giant mouths open, scooping in the krill. Andrew found it highly hilarious that I was running from one side of the deck to the other exclaiming how magnificent they were.
Having visited sea lion colonies on South Plaza and Mosquera Islands we were delighted to be joined by a family of three, while snorkelling in Targus Cove off Isabela. The younger ones took great delight in flipping and darting around us, blowing bubbles and speeding past at close range. They were soon joined by little penguins hunting tiny fish (with great success) and a couple of chilled out sea turtles. Our guide almost had to forcibly remove us from the water when time was up. The mating sea turtles spotted in the water on our way back to the boat was some compensation at least! Indeed, we were treated to many spectacles of mating animals, my favourites being the giant tortoises (the only time they make a noise!) and the spotted eagle rays (they do it on the surface so it looks extremely awkward..why not the sea floor?)
Andy mentioned the marine iguana greeting party at our stop at Punta Espinoza on Fernandina, but forgot to mention that these are the biggest examples of these guys in the archipelago, so at more than 1m long, their ability to snort salt at high velocity was quite the sight. As was the stacks-on pile of about 200 of them sunning themselves. Upon our return to the landing site we were bemused to see they had further invaded the dock and gentle prodding was required to return to the boat.
One afternoon we were treated to a boat ride through mangroves. Unlike other places, the Galapagos mangroves exist in very clear water, so we could peer down at the masses of sea turtles, penguins and spotted eagle rays that lived there. On our way into the grove we passed a rock, about 2m by 3m with no less than 6 species sitting on it; a marine iguana, a penguin, a few blue footed boobies, sea lions, cormorants and sally lightfoot crabs. Don't be fooled by this apparent harmonious cohabitation however. Throughout our stay we witnessed the giant frigate birds terrorising boobies and gulls (grabbing them by their tails and shaking them until they dropped their fish), hissing pelicans, giant tortoises walking up to other individuals and biting them for sport and lets not forget the giant shark patrolling the beach where the baby sea lions were playing.
Our final island visited was Floreana. After a couple of days of poor water visibility I had high hopes for our last snorkelling expedition, having read it was some of the best the Galpagos has to offer. The Devils Crown is a sinking crater located a few hundred meters off the main island. As the boat approached I was a little hesitant about jumping into such deep and open water, but relaxed after spotting the welcoming blue inside the crater. That is until Andy jumped into the water first and exclaimed at the two very large sharks directly below us! Nevertheless, once in the water I felt safe as they were a good 10m below us! The water was clear as a swimming pool and although very deep we could see all the way to the bottom. Thousands of fish swam around us in all colours. As we circled the outside of the crater we spotted turtles, giant rays (I only hid behind Andrew for a little while, and maybe once pushed him in front of it...), little reef sharks and sea lions.
A number of little underwater caves provided havens for fish and I was treated to large numbers of my favourites; the pink and turquoise parrot fish (I love their buck teeth). Swimming in the crater proved difficult however, as we had to fight a strong current trying to throw us out to sea, so after a while the guide suggested we hop back in the dingy and be transported to the other side. Here was where the bigger sharks were hanging out. They were amazing to watch and when I dived down after one it hid in a cave, apparently scared of me! The water was so warm we stayed in for nearly two hours and were once again forcibly removed by our guide when he realised we were behind schedule by over an hour (the national park tracks all boats by satellite!).
For our final night on the boat the crew threw us a party. The cook carved a number of impressive Galapagos animals out of fruits and vegetables, we feasted on fresh fish and enjoyed the company of our new friends for the last time. As we watched the sunset from the back of the boat I spotted a little lava heron fishing. Here I sat next to him (I named him Gerald) for over an hour enthralled at his rubber like movements and ability to track and catch fish without ever getting wet. It was then I knew for sure that the Galapagos is one of the most amazing places on earth, already I long to return.