As I dip my paddle into the clear turquoise water of the Galapagos Islands, something catches my eye beneath the surface: gliding gracefully below me is a green sea turtle, its flippers moving rhythmically as it rises to the surface for a breath. Its wizened face emerges just a foot off the bow of my kayak before disappearing again into the transparent depths.
Heading in closer to shore, I spy an array of brilliant orange specks against the black lava. They are Sally Lightfoot crabs, much more discernible than the dark gray marine iguanas that share their rocky perch. Moments later, a sea lion swishes through the water alongside my kayak, rising to look quizzically at me before cruising past.
Though the Galapagos Islands are remote – lying 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador – they are a popular destination among travelers drawn to their Eden-like environs, where myriad wild creatures offer frequent encounters with humans at intimate range. Anyone who has been to the Galapagos knows that such experiences are the norm – but seeing the islands by kayak takes “up close” to a whole new dimension.
Most visitors to the Galapagos travel aboard one of the licensed commercial boats that carry anywhere from 4 to 100 passengers. Given the strict regulations that govern this fragile archipelago (97 percent of which is protected as a national park), sailing vessels must adhere to tightly coordinated schedules and itineraries. Guests are allowed to disembark only at strictly controlled locations where wildlife viewing is limited to a defined time frame. These regulations are essential to limiting the human impact on the Galapagos Islands’ unique and threatened environment.
From the seat of a kayak, however, you’re close to wildlife all the time. Dolphins and whales may rise up nearby, and you’re low enough to look them in the eye. Paddling also allows you to enter rockbound coves and hidden grottoes where colonies of blue-footed boobies nest almost within arm’s reach. The only sounds to disturb the stillness are natural noises – bird squawks, a sea lion’s bellow, and the movement of the Pacific waters from each paddle stroke.
Natural Habitat Adventures is one of only a few outfitters have permits to operate sea-kayaking trips in the Galapagos. For the Galapagos Hiking and Kayaking Adventure, our base is the elegant catamaran S/V Nemo II, which whisks us between islands and serves as our comfortable overnight accommodation. During the days, we explore the waterways between the islands at close range by kayak, sometimes going ashore to hike, sometimes donning snorkel gear to swim with sea lions, white-tipped reef sharks and schools of tropical fish.
The key to experiencing the total wonder of the Galapagos is to blend in as seamlessly with nature as possible. And the way to do that is in a very small group, using the least-invasive, lowest-impact mode of transport. A kayak definitely fits the bill.
Yours in adventure,
This guest post was written by Wendy Redal, Editorial Director at Natural Habitat Adventures.