By Alyssa Corasanti, WWF Integrated Marketing Manager
The Galapagos Islands, situated in the Pacific Ocean, is renowned for its diverse ecosystem. The islands, many of them perfectly preserved and nearly untouched by human development, are a haven for wildlife and a slice of heaven for adventurers looking to disconnect from the “real world” and immerse themselves in the natural world.
As I think back on my once-in-a-lifetime adventure through the Archipelago, I recounted some of my favorite encounters throughout the Galapagos that underscore what makes this magical place live up to its nickname: The Enchanted Islands.
Playing with Lobos Marinos
We first met the sea lions on the beaches of North Seymour, where we embarked on what looked to be a pile of rocks. These rocks, however, upon closer inspection, were sea lions curled up in the sun and unbothered as we all excitedly gathered around and exclaimed how adorable they were.
At first sight, it appears that Galapagos sea lions are abundant on the islands. The social species can be seen in large groups, cuddled up along the shore on almost every beach. Despite seeing groups of sea lions at every turn, we continued to learn that populations declined dramatically through the 80’s and 90’s due to climate change.
We had many sea lion interactions during our adventure, but one of the most magical moments was during our first snorkel off Isla Lobos. The inquisitive animals have been known to play with snorkelers, but the opportunity to experience their playful personalities first-hand was an unforgettable moment.
Just as you would start swimming forward, a sea lion would sneak up and swim head-on toward you, just to turn at the last moment and swirl around you. It was hilarious, a bit scary, and an experience we talked about for the rest of our trip.
Hiking with Blue-Footed Boobies
Half of the world’s breeding population of the blue-footed booby calls the Galapagos their home and it’s hard to miss them once you get to the islands. They’re incredibly easy to spot with their trademark bright-blue, webbed feet, and clumsy waddle as they tramp up and down the beach.
As we hiked along the coast of North Seymour, we had our first sighting: a mama with her newly hatched babies. The chicks were still growing feathers and let out little squawks as we walked by.
Further down the path, loud caws and a scuffle caught our attention. It was two male blue-footed boobies, dancing around a female, stomping their feet and stretching their wings, occasionally bucking at each other, and colliding their beaks. Despite the attempts to impress the female with their stunning blue feet and coordinated dance, the female flew away.
We were fortunate to get these little glimpses into their life, but we also learned these seabirds were just as curious of us as we were of them. On several occasions, we had to slink by them as they fearlessly strolled up to our group to observe us.
The mutual interest forged a connection between us and the blue-footed boobies, highlighting the importance of responsible ecotourism and the need to prioritize the conservation of their natural habitats, ensuring a sustainable coexistence.
Cruising with Dolphins
Sailing toward our next destination, we heard a loud bell clanging and a crew member shouting, “delfin!”. We rushed to the bow and peered over to see 4 bottlenose dolphins gliding alongside our boat.
We marveled at the playfulness and careful coordination of the dolphins as they kept a perfect cadence to sail along with us. The collective celebration and joy shared among the passengers during these spontaneous encounters further enriched our adventure. These majestic moments highlighted the diversity of the ecosystem, unveiling delightful surprises at every turn.
Spotting a Galapagos Giant Centipede
Through the brush, an other-worldly-looking creature emerged. A long, slick, black centipede with reddish-purple legs slinked up to the surface and stopped me in my tracks. It was the Galapagos centipede. A stunning anthropod and a member of the Scolopendra genus – the largest centipedes in the world found in tropical climates.
Our expedition leader, Giancarlo, recalled that these centipedes can grow up to a foot long and have been known to prey on small rodents and lizards. I quickly snapped a photo, in awe of this unusual creature, as the centipede vanished back into the brush.
Stumbling into Flamingos
We geared up for a mid-day kayak off of Floreana where we set off to paddle around mangroves. These mangroves grow from the volcanic floor and are an integral part of the ecosystem in many parts of the Galapagos.
As we were experiencing the magnificence of the mangroves, the fish swimming by, and the seabirds flying overhead, we leisurely paddled down the shoreline. Just as we turned a corner, we were all astounded when we saw a pack of bright pink birds. Contrary to the guides’ forewarning that flamingos in the Galapagos were few and far between, we just so happened to be in the right place at the right time.
The excitement of not knowing what was next and discovering the unexpected continued to fuel our sense of adventure and created an exhilarating and enriching experience.
Honorable Mention: Taking the Trip with our Expedition Leaders, Giancarlo and Luis
The adoration, respect, and deep understanding of the Galapagos could be felt in every interaction we had with our guides. As long-time Galapagos residents and nature lovers, Giancarlo and Luis have a deep connection to the islands that was apparent during every wildlife encounter. The magical moments during the trip were made all the better through the depth of knowledge provided by our guides.
By the end of our trip, it was clear that the Galapagos is a truly enchanting place that has only been able to remain this way because of the amazing people who fiercely love and protect it.