- MailOnline Travel’s Sadie Whitelocks went to the Galapagos on a new tour launched by G Adventures
- During the nine-day trip she visited three islands, including Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabela
- There is an abundance of nature on the islands, must-sees include the Galapagos penguin and sea iguanas
Ominous, moody, desolate.
These were the three words that sprang to mind when I touched down on the Galapagos islands after a packed two-hour flight from the Ecuadorian capital Quito.
But on stepping out on to the scorched terrain, far from being desolate, I quickly found a myriad of wildlife waiting to greet me.
Dozens of crabs scuttled out from the rocks, giant pelicans swooped in all different directions, giant tortoises traversed the undulating greenery, while sea iguanas sat basking under the equator-fired sun.
The Galapagos Islands were discovered in 1535 when father Tomas Berlanga, the bishop of Panama, was en route to Peru
Mapped out: The Galapagos islands are located some 600 miles from the mainland of Ecuador (map – Shutterstock)
I’d only been in the Galapagos – some 600 miles from the mainland – less than an hour but it was enough time to see why the British scientist Charles Darwin described the archipelago as being ‘a little world within itself’. Today the spot is commonly referred to as ‘nature’s laboratory’.
Never in my life have I witnessed such an abundance of wildlife.
I had joined nine other people on a new excursion endorsed by famed naturalist Jane Goodall and run by the tour operator G Adventures.
Many in the group were drawn to the region after watching David Attenborough’s series, while I had developed a fascination with the islands after receiving numerous recommendations from explorer-minded friends.
Throughout our nine-day trip – which would take us to three of the 18 major islands – we were accompanied by naturalist Alex Arregui who would be our guide for the duration.
MailOnline Travel’s Sadie Whitelocks joined nine other people on a new excursion endorsed by famed naturalist Jane Goodall and run by the tour operator G Adventures
Nature’s laboratory: Sadie said never in her life had she witnessed such an abundance of wildlife (left, a marine iguana and right, a chirpy mangrove warbler)
Coming your way! A Galapagos penguin flew past Sadie as she swam in the sea on Floreana Island
The naturalist grew up on the islands and was extremely knowledgeable about everything on offer.
He revealed how much the islands had changed over the years, with a tourism boom fueling improved infrastructure.
While this has made the area easier to navigate, with speedier boat services connecting the islands, it did fill me with a sense of unease as I watched the tourists flood in.
Catering to this influx there is Wi-Fi across many of the islands, allowing visitors to Instagram to their heart’s content, and there is even a sushi restaurant on the busy island of Santa Cruz, inhabited by 12,000 people.
While it was more built up than expected, the Galapagos still retains something extremely special, if not magical.
On the island of Santa Cruz, we spent the first day visiting the Charles Darwin Centre, which has a turtle breeding program.
Wise wonders: The Galapagos giant tortoise is the largest living species of tortoise and they can live more than 100 years
Walking back we came across the port-side fish market with giant sea lions pestering fish mongers for off-cuts. Giant pelicans also waited in the wings.
The tour with G adventures includes the majority of meals but don’t expect five-star cuisine.
The food was delicious and homely but fresh produce is in short supply and I found myself craving fruit and vegetables.
Some of the tastier treats I tried were the fresh coconuts and a succulent roast chicken dish.
The accommodation, however, was more appetising. On Santa Cruz we stayed in a super comfortable hotel, with fantastic views over the harbor and aquamarine waters, which glistened in the wild pink sunsets.
Sadie (far left) with some of the rest of the group she was travelling with – they hailed from Britain, Australia and Denmark
Ship ahoy: Sadie looks out to sea on a beach on Santa Cruz – there is a salt mine nearby used by locals
After a night in the small town we embarked on a two-hour boat ride to the more remote – and mysterious – island of Floreana.
En route, the ocean didn’t disappoint. As we chased the dying sun a pod of bottlenose dolphins danced before us. At one point I spotted seven in the water, with one leaping into the air and performing a balletic twirl.
Finally we pulled up at the island, where purple-hued clouds loomed over the volcanic mounds.
Unlike Santa Cruz, this island is barely populated with just 150 inhabitants residing there. Thirty two of these are children, who attend a tiny school just metres from the island’s black sand beach.
It was on Floreana where I had one of my most memorable wildlife encounters in the Galapagos – swimming with sea turtles and a speedy penguin!
Making our way along a path constructed by lumps of lava rock, Alex took us to a sheltered cove where the snorkeling was insane.
The clear waters revealed dozens of stingrays lurking on the white sandbeds, while sea turtles magically glided by. My finger constantly clicked away on the GoPro as things popped up left, right and centre.
On a boat ride from Santa Cruz to Floreana, Sadie spotted a pod of bottlenose dolphins swimming through the sea
At other times of year and in certain areas, it is possible to spot whales in the Galapagos, too
Moody: Flying into the Galapagos, Sadie was struck by how ominous and desolate the landscape looked
On land there was also an abundance of wildlife present, including hundreds of blood-thirsty mosquitoes. Venturing into the cloud-covered hills we visited a giant tortoise sanctuary to watch the incredible creatures lumber through the undergrowth, craning their wrinkled heads in search of food.
The word Galapagos is said to come from the Spanish for saddle, because the first settlers thought the giant tortoises looked like crawling saddles.
Along with the wildlife, the history of the Galapagos is fascinating. Tales of pirates, love affairs and, of course, Darwin’s nature discoveries.
After an epic couple of days on Floreana, the group took another two hour boat journey to Isabela.
British scientist Charles Darwin described the archipelago as being ‘a little world within itself’
Alex revealed to us that this is where he lives while he’s not guiding, with his second wife who moved there from America. She admitted to us that island life takes a bit of getting used to and you ‘definitely have to be comfortable with your own company’.
Isabela is more built up than Floreana but less so than Santa Cruz, with a population of about 1,500.
This island is brimming with sea lions in lieu of Floreana’s feisty mozzies. The beach close to where the boats dock is littered with the dog-like animals, the air punctuated with the sound of them grunting and splashing around.
Several lay lolling on shaded benches, luring in droves of snap-happy tourists. In a bid to explore more of the landscape, we took a group trip up to the Sierra Nevada volcano where we hiked to the top to see the lava crater.
Luckily we got there just in the nick of time, as eerie mists descended and rain began.
Travelling back to the beach front, where the weather was considerably warmer, we instantly threw off the rain macs in favour of swimwear.
While some of the group when on a diving excursion – which wasn’t included in the G Adventures trip and cost an extra $120 – my friend and I decided to explore more of the island.
Alex recommended a hike along the 5km white beach to a jungle of mangroves. Along with the swimming with sea turtles, the mangrove trek was another highlight of the tour for me. It was truly magical wading through the bath-like waters, though snapping twigs caused us to jump.
There wasn’t another human in sight as we lapped up the untouched beauty. One thing that is definitely required during a trip to the Galapagos is some strong sunscreen.
Located close to the equator line, the penetrating sun catches you out and walking back from the mangroves, the back of our legs slowly roasted to a sore shade of bacon-pink.
Sea lions are rife in the Galapagos and often it’s difficult to walk down pathways as they lay scattered around
Sadie captured this image of a turtle in the shallow waters of Floreana. It happily grazed in the corals with a family of fish keeping it company
After 15 minutes or so, the turtle headed off into the aquamarine waters – but there were plenty more turtles to swim with
After two days on Isabela, we bid a fond farewell and set back off to Santa Cruz for our final night on the Galapagos islands.
The town has one bar called the Bongo Bar, which erupts into quite a party as we discovered on the Saturday night.
After all of the nature watching it was fun to let our hair down and attempt the salsa – shots of the local aquidente liquor helped us get into the swing of things.
It was hard to believe the tour was over and all of the group agreed it had been pretty life-changing.
I asked one lady from Wales, who booked on the trip with her husband and sister, if she would return to the Galapagos, and she echoed similar sentiments to others.
She said: ‘I’ve seen it but I will let the nature be still and hopefully the tourism won’t ruin what is so special.’
Luckily, with the collaboration with Jane Goodall, G Adventures is trying to foster locals to be more eco-conscious and preserve what they have.
In the words of Darwin ‘the natural history of these islands is eminently curious, and well deserves attention’ but let’s hope that this attention doesn’t get out of control.
G Adventures has recently launched a nine-day island hopping tour endorsed by world renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall.
The tour starts in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, with a connecting flight to Baltra in the Galapagos. During the tour, there are overnight stays on the islands of Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabela.
The trip starts from £1,699 with flights from London to Quito, via Miami, available with British Airways. All accommodation is included, plus the majority of meals.
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online