EASTERN ISLANDS – January 10-11, 2020 – Since the appearance of Charles Darwin’s “The Voyage of the Beagle” brought attention to the incredible diversity of wildlife and the scenic views on the volcanic Galápagos islands, they have ranked among the most exotically beautiful places in the world. Birds and animals that make these islands their home generate a fascination like no other spot on earth.
This fascination was recognized by UNESCO’s declaring the Galápagos Islands as a World Heritage Site in 1978. In 1985, a biosphere reserve designation was added. 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) of ocean surrounding the islands was subsequently declared a marine reserve in 1986. This was extended to its current area of 133,000 square kilometers in 1998 — second in size only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The marine reserve includes 50,100 square kilometers of inland waters and all those contained within 40 nautical miles, measured from the outermost coastal islands. In 1990, the entire archipelago was declared a whale sanctuary.
The archipelago has a high diversity of species for young oceanic islands. Giant tortoises, the most northerly species of penguin in the world, flightless cormorants as well as the historically important Darwin’s finches and Galápagos mockingbirds, and marine and land iguanas descended from green iguanas from the mainland.
Twelve native terrestrial mammal species and 36 reptile species in the islands are threatened or extinct, including the only marine iguana in the world. The 2,909 marine species have an unusually high level of diversity. High profile marine species include hammerhead and reef sharks, whale sharks, rays, starfish, and cetaceans. The interaction between the marine and land species — sea lions, marine and terrestrial iguanas, and seabirds — is exceptional.
On the final days of the cruise, both wet and dry landings were made on five islands that have a common geological background as they were all formed by uplifts in the earth’s crust, rather than by volcanic activity. One of the smaller islands formed by uplift, Santa Fe, is possibly one of the oldest islands in the Galápagos archipelago. It is home to one of two land iguana species and has many sea lion colonies, as well as the Galápagos Hawk, Galápagos snake, and Galápagos mockingbird.
While it’s possible to get close to the fearless animals, touching them is not permitted. Getting within six-feet of any wildlife is discouraged by the naturalist guides, although curious sea lion pups seem to enjoy bending the rules.
Touching the prickly pear cactus or any other flora is also not allowed. Frequently growing as large as trees, cactus can be found throughout mostly flat Santa Fe.
Becoming familiar with fellow passengers on a cruise with only 16 guests is relatively easy. A nice camaraderie develops on board while sharing meals (did I mention that the food on board is excellent?), while making innumerable Zodiac voyages to-and-from islands, and during opportunities to share experiences from the hiking and underwater excursions. A few are staying on in the Galápagos for more cruising and I’m a bit envious of one couple taking the ferry from Bastra Island to Isabela, the island of active volcanoes and giant tortoises. Both of those would be worth making a long trip back to see.
Speaking of giant tortoises, the name Galápagos derived from the observation of the crew of a Spanish galleon that arrived accidentally in 1535. Upon viewing the upward reaching neck of the slow-moving creatures, they concluded that it was shaped like a kind of Spanish saddle, a galop. Thus the islands have been saddled with the name for the past nearly five centuries.
Top Photo: Sun deck solarium atop Sea Star Journey / Dominica for use by passengers between activities
Top Photo by Dennis Cox / WorldViews, All Rights Reserved
Dennis Cox is All Things Cruise Writer and Official Photographer
Editor’s Note: Latin Trails offers cruises of the Galapagos Islands with two 16-passenger yachts for six-day cruises, plus a small catamaran for day trips. Certified naturalist guides onboard each cruise will share their local knowledge of the area.
To learn more about Latin Trails and to book a Latin Trails yacht cruise, go to https://allthingscruise.com/browse-cruise-lines/latin-trails/