Visitors to the uninhabited Western island of Fernandina are getting quite a show yesterday as the island’s volcano, the youngest in the archipelago, has sent off a column of steam and ash after a decade of calm coexistence with the island’s wildlife. Located on the westernmost side of the Galapagos archipelago, closest to the geological hotspot responsible for forming all of the Enchanted Isles, Fernandina is the islands’ most active volcano. Yesterday’s eruption appears to be occurring between Cape Douglas and Cape Hammond on the far west side of the island but more information should become available over the next few days. It is difficult to know how long the eruption will last but previous eruptions have had a duration of 1-15 days. Guests aboard some of our yachts are expected to have the possibility of seeing this majestic natural phenomenon from a safe distance today as their itineraries put them in line of sight from Buccaneer Cove and Eden Islet, respectively.
By Greg Watty
Last November my wife and two adult daughters and I enjoyed the trip of a lifetime to Galápagos.
We try to take at least one overseas family trip per year. This time we booked a luxury Celebrity Xpedition cruise. In addition to impeccable service from the tour staff, we observed an amazing variety of land and sea wildlife.
None of us are serious bird watchers, but we began to get hooked when our two person kayak was surrounded by “dive bombing” Blue Footed Boobies! Several dozen birds dropped twenty or thirty feet into a school of small fish all around our craft!
That same morning we watched four or five penguins speed through the water near our kayak and pop out onto the rocks to sun themselves.
The next day we observed a female vermillion flycatcher on one of our day walks. The bird enthusiasts among our group were very excited by this rare sight. Over the next couple of days we saw lots of finches (Darwin’s bird of choice, of course), a Galápagos hawk, Galápagos owl and innumerable sea birds as well as more of the incredibly cute penguins. We finished the eight day trip at Tower Island where we saw many nesting Frigate birds and Red footed Boobies.
That was just the birds!
I had an inexpensive underwater camera, that I recommend highly for anyone going to Galápagos. I can’t name even a small portion of the fish we saw and photographed. Moorish Idols, Rays, Turtles, a Mola Mola, Manta Rays, and many brilliantly colored schools of unnamed small to large fish were all present. I saw two small (3-4 feet long) sharks while in the water, but they were very skittish, and quickly swam away when they saw me. The snorkeling opportunities were fantastic. On one swim, I watched a playful sea lion chase a dozen turtles. It swam around them and between them. The turtles did not seem amused…
Speaking of the sea lions, we watched as a new born pup was being suckled by its mother, while juveniles were basking on the sand just a few feet away.
The land animals had their own chapters. We saw a dozen or more land tortoises in the wild and many more at reserves in the Highlands and at the Darwin Station. On three different island walks we found land iguanas. Some were moving slowly or feeding, most sunning themselves. They are well camouflaged, and it takes careful observation to find them… except for the one in the middle of the trail who didn’t want to move…
I can’t say enough about the careful planning and attention to every detail from Jeff at Inti Travel. The trip was perfect! And if you’re in Quito for a few days and looking for fine dining, check out Zazu. It was amazing! Perhaps one of our top five ever, and we like nice restaurants. I especially liked the ice cream hand made at our table.
I am telling my traveling friends to put at least one (and I really recommend two – one to the northern islands and one to the southern) Galápagos trip on their travel bucket list. It was a bit different than most of our travel, but while occasionally just out of our comfort zone, it gave us insight into worlds we could not see elsewhere.
We’d like to inform you that according to the Ecuadorian Mobility Law updated last February 2017, any person who enters the country as a tourist must have public or private health insurance for the duration of his/her stay in Ecuador. A migration agent may ask for proof of insurance coverage upon arrival. If the visitor cannot provide documentary proof of insurance, the migration agent has the right to deny the visitor entry to the country.
During our Galapagos cruise we are delightfully surprised by the turquoise water and the white coralline sand beach that reaches around the point a kilometer away. We see a herd of sea lions all lined up basking in the sun along the beach.
As we round the point to head into the bay a giant manta ray surfaces for just a moment, long enough for us to realize it must be at least four meters from “wing tip to wing tip”. Mantas and other rays do seem to fly through the water. We slow our engines and cruise along beside it amazed at how graceful this sea creature is. With a few flaps of its wings it shoots out in front of us and disappears into the depths.
We cruise in toward a couple of small islets (eroded spatter cones) in the middle of the bay and drop anchor. It’s lunch time! As we eat and enjoy our cold drinks we are able to take in the sights and sounds of this beautiful bay. We hear the bull sea lions barking to defend their territory from other males.
This must be the day of the rays! A group of Spotted Eagle Rays swims by along side the boat and we hover over the railing to get a good view.
After lunch we are into the panga and out to the beach. The sand is wonderfully soft and the water is perfect for swimming and snorkeling. Some of the waves are even good for body surfing. Some of us just want to sit and relax with the sea lions, while others start to amble down the beach towards the point exploring. We find remains of sea turtle eggshells and some recent tracks. As we follow the tracks back from the beach we find a discreet pile of sand that hides the nest. This is a very important nesting area for the Green Sea Turtle.
The Green Sea Turtles may nest as many as four times in a season, and each time may lay up to 80 eggs. You would think that would be enough to keep the population going. Unfortunately, they are faced with many predators that take a great many of the eggs and young. Feral pigs can smell a freshly laid nest and dig up the eggs. Once hatched, the young turtles are faced with having to make it to the sea from the beach.
Frigate birds and other scavengers consume large numbers before they make it to the water. Once in the ocean they face sharks and other oceanic predators.
I once sliced open a tuna that contained the undigested shells of five baby turtles! If the young make it to adulthood they face predation by man, both at sea and on land. Being a sea turtle is a tough life!
We spend the afternoon lazing around with the sea lions (keeping an eye out for the bull), wandering along the beach, exploring, swimming, and snorkeling.
It’s been another wonderful day as we watch the sun sinking down into the sea.
Early in the morning the engines start, we turn over and go back to sleep knowing we are on our way to the next island…
Read more from our Galapagos Guided Tour
For the ultimate adventure, plan a family Galapagos family vacation. Few other places bring you face to face with sea lions, lizards, and rare birds. The area is divided among three island groupings; south, north, and west. Wildlife is best on the northern and western islands. Espanola is the sole place to view the waved-albatross. The north and west are filled with volcanic landscapes. The lava fields of Santiago are interesting.
Shore or Ship?
The biggest decision while planning your Galapagos family vacation is whether to cruise the area or stay at a land hotel. Even though you may book a hotel, numerous sea tours are available. A common place to stay is Santa Cruz, the most populated island. San Cristobal is another destination with many hotel options and boat tours.
Things to Remember
While planning a Galapagos vacation it is important to consider the location and climate. Even when the sun is not strong, you should pack and use sun protection. If you plan on taking a boat excursion, bring something for motion sickness. Snorkeling is a popular activity, so bring your own gear. Although it is possible to rent the necessary items, having a properly fitting mask and wet suit is important. Even during the dry season, the Galapagos water is cool. The most important thing to bring is a waterproof camera. This will help capture precious land and aquatic memories.
Summer is a popular time to visit, but winter and spring bring more solitude. The water is at its warmest January through May, and mating season has started. In April, you can expect to view newborn sea lion pups crawling around.