In the Galapagos National Park, you’re not allowed to come within six feet of an animal, but it’s nearly impossible to follow this rule.

One of the incredible things about the Galapagos Islands and the National Park program is how successful the local conservation efforts are in protecting the flora and fauna of the islands. So much so, that the wildlife are not interested in—or scared of—humans. In fact, they couldn’t care less. This took me entirely by surprise. Even as I write this, I find it hard to believe that the animals in the Galapagos did not alter their natural behavior because of our presence.

When we first arrived in San Cristobal, we were immediately greeted by noisy sea lions. I had been so excited to see these animals at some point along our journey that I was taken aback by this unexpected encounter at the very beginning of the trip. The sea lions had no problem taking over the boardwalk or sleeping on benches in town, and we practically had to crawl over them to reach the dock so we could board our vessel. This experience certainly set the stage for the rest of our adventure.

Galapagos Seal

On Genovesa, an island known for its birds, we strolled along a trail at the top of the cliffs, observing the wildlife around us. There were great frigate birds sitting in bushes and nazca boobies nesting along the perimeter of the pathway. They didn’t startle when you walked near or scoot out the way. Rather, they went about their usual business as we watched—it was that simple.

Galapagos Bird

I could give an endless list of examples of this natural phenomenon. On every Galapagos island and with all species it was the same. Instead, I’ll skip ahead to one of the most profound exemplary moments from my adventure.

Galapagos TortoiseOn Isabela Island, we were walking in an area that afforded us our first chance to see the wild giant tortoises that gave the Galapagos Islands their name. Almost immediately after beginning our hike, we came across a young, male giant tortoise. He wandered out the grass and onto the path, which prompted our guide, Gustavo, to instruct us to stay still and allow him to go on his way. We did and the tortoise walked straight over to me. Under Gustavo’s guidance, I remained still as a statue as he came nearer to my feet. At the last second, I was given permission to scoot my toes out the way so that the tortoise didn’t step on me! After passing over my feet, he continued to meander through our group along the path before he headed back into the bushes.

Of course, everyone will come home from one of our Galapagos Islands adventures having had unique experiences. It’s quite wonderful that we can all have such meaningful interactions with the incredible wildlife of the Galapagos because of the conservation efforts in the area. It is these precious moments that remind me of the profound impact of sustainable travel, which not only enriches the lives of the travelers that visit these wild places, but also the lives of the animals we want to see and protect.

Galapagos Wildlife Photography

This guest post was written by Kit Longnecker, Executive Adventure Assistant at Natural Habitat Adventures.