Wednesday 4 July 2018

Trip of a Lifetime - exploring the Galapagos Islands

There’s something tragically romantic about being the last of your kind, the only one of your species left on earth, with no way of continuing the line. That was the plight of Lonesome George, a giant tortoise in the Galapagos Islands, specifically a Pinta Island tortoise.

There are plenty of other giant tortoises in the Galapagos but George was the last from Pinta; he was a symbol for the conservation efforts of the Charles Darwin Research Centre and famous the world over.
 George died in 2012 so I didn’t have the opportunity to see him when I went to the Galapagos Islands on my honeymoon in 2016, but we saw several of his compatriots and learned about the different types of giant tortoises – some have domed shells and short necks, and others have saddleback shells and long necks. These differences contributed to Darwin’s development of his theory of evolution.
There’s something both humbling and mind blowing about standing in a spot dedicated to the man, looking at creatures that are direct descendants of the animals that gave rise to such an important discovery.

But a trip to the Galapagos Islands isn’t all about science – sometimes it’s just about marvelling at the natural beauty of spots like Pinnacle Rock, above (which will be familiar to those who saw the film Master and Commander, the first movie to ever film in the Galapagos) or the fish market on Santa Cruz, where sea lions vie with pelicans to steal fish.

Riding in a panga (small rubber dingy) to sail under rocky outcrops to watch Galapagos penguins – who seemed just as interested in watching us back – and snorkelling with sea lions which wanted to play, darting in and out among our group – will be among the most memorable experiences of my entire life. What makes this experience extra special is knowing how protected all these species are – only 5 of the 18 islands are inhabited, and there are restrictions on how many people can visit the other islands and at what times, so you’ll never get there and find hundreds of people descending from cruise ships all at the same time. Some of the islands, formed of volcanic rock, make you feel that you are walking on the moon, or stepping back in time, or discovering your own uncharted territories like the explorers who have gone before.

We stayed at the Finch Bay Hotel, an award-winning 'sustainable eco hotel' voted the world's leading 'green' hotel for the last three years in a row, and took day trips on their yacht so most days, so the size of our group was in single figures. Led by a knowledgeable local guide, we would carefully pick our way across the rocks under the blazing sun, stopping to let a huge iguana cross our path, or to watch the mating dance of a blue-footed booby. The animals seemed totally unfazed at our presence, as they have quite literally never been at risk from predators, so they have nothing to worry about – and we definitely had a sense that we were guests in their lands. In fact, sometimes I felt like we were slightly irritating paparazzi – with the laid back iguanas wondering why we were so keen on taking their photos when they were more interested in basking in the sun.

The bio-diversity is amazing, both on land and in water. I’d never snorkelled before – or since – so was pretty nervous, but nothing was going to stop me from going underwater and marvelling at so many different species of fish. I was lucky enough to see a giant sea turtle swim right past, and lucky to have escaped what was apparently a close encounter with a bull shark. We saw plenty of small (as in, a foot or two long) shark which were relatively harmless and ignored us, but at one point our guide signalled to everyone to get out of the water and back into the panga as quickly as possible. We found out later he had spotted a bull shark, a fairly dangerous species - shark attacks in the Galapagos are rare, but when they happen, they are usually bull sharks. I’m very relieved I didn’t actually see it myself, and didn’t know why we were exiting the water until afterwards, so I didn’t panic!

Visiting the Galapagos Islands takes some effort and dedication (and money, though there are ways to do it on a smaller budget than the top end cruise ships). At the time of our trip, there were no direct flights from the UK to Ecuador - anyone would think they want to discourage package holiday tourists!  We had a couple of options for indirect routes and fancied a few days in a luxury hotel (it was our honeymoon after all) and really like visiting the US so opted for Miami where we stayed in the luxurious Fontainebleau hotel. Then it was the ‘simple’ matter of a flight to Quito, a flight to Baltra in the Galapagos, then a bus, boat, car and another boat to get to our hotel. 
This time two years ago we were on our way back home from our honeymoon - it was worth every moment of the long journey, and I would have said it was truly a once in a lifetime experience – but now that I’ve had a daughter I’d like nothing more than to take her to the Galapagos Islands one day so she can experience the adventure, the beauty of nature and animals in their natural habitat, for herself.
This is my entry in the Trips100/ Audley Travel blogger challenge.
Win an African safari with Audley Travel by sharing your best wildlife photograph or video on your social media channels. To enter write #AudleySafari and @AudleyTravel on your Instagram or Twitter post or share directly on the Audley Travel Facebook page here: To find out more or enter via the website, visit  Entries must be posted between 20th August – 23rd September.


  1. How amazing to have actually been to the Galapagos Islands. Definitely one for my bucket list. It's great to hear that they have an eco hotel nearby too.

  2. How exciting. I've always wanted to go there

  3. The Galapagos are on my bucket list! Such an incredible place packed with diverse and unique flora and fauna. I don't know whether the seals, tortoise or giant iguanas are my favorite!


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