Ep. 28 – Galapagos Islands


Here’s our favourite travel video from this year: the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. We had an incredible time sailing around the archipelago on a 16 passenger yacht for 8 days. We saw amazing wildlife both on the islands and underwater where we snorkelled with sea lions, penguins, turtles and marine iguanas!

This video is a little longer than usual but well worth a watch – if you do, don’t forget to set to 1080p!

Sophie & Dave

North Seymour – Galapagos Islands

Day 8: North Seymour Island – Baltra Airport

We had an early start on the final day of our Galapagos adventure, disembarking from the boats at 6:30am for a short hike around North Seymour. It is a tiny island located near Baltra island, where the main airport is. The island was formed almost a million years ago by an uplift of submarine lava and you can see still some of the remnants of marine fossils dotted around the island.

The island is home to one of the largest populations of bird life in the archipelago, despite being less than a square mile in size. As we got off the zodiacs, you could see a tremendous amount of bird life circling the shoreline. We were lucky enough to see a few male frigate birds doing their mating ritual as it was quite late in the year and most had already mated. It was so fascinating to watch them completely inflate their bright red balloon-like sac in their throat to attract the females. We actually paused to see one performing the ritual and then circled back at the end of our walk to find him sat with his wing around a female! The gesture seemed so humanlike, it was very interesting to see. There are two types of Frigate bird in the Galapagos; The Magnificent Frigatebird and the Common Frigatebird – the Common one has slightly greenish feathers on its back. As we continued our loop around the island we also caught a glimpse of a mother feeding a juvenile frigate, and watched its whole head disappear as the mother regurgitated the food.

Aside from frigate birds, the island is home to several a Blue-footed boobies and we caught one performing his own mating dance on top of a rock. The coastline was also dotted with the last sea lions we would see.

We headed back to the boat for breakfast while the captain sailed the short distance to Baltra Island. We left the boat at 8:30 and were shuttled to the airport via bus. When we had booked the tour we were informed we’d be dropped off at around midday so had subsequently booked a flight at 3pm to play it safe. Neither of us were particularly impressed by the prospect of 6 hours in the airport. However, it did make us even more thankful that we didn’t opt for a 5 day cruise as effectively two days are lost in transit!

Join us next time as we head to Colombia!

Sophie & Dave


Santiago & Rabida – Galapagos Islands

Day 7: Santiago Island (James Bay) & Rabida Island

We were warned that the night’s sailing to Santiago Island would be the roughest yet but we were pleasantly surprised to barely have felt it. We left early in the morning to Santiago Island armed with our snorkelling gear and wetsuit for later as we wouldn’t be returning to the boat until lunch time. We first went off for our morning hike. The tide was low creating lots of tide pools along the rocks where we saw quite a few young sea lions sleeping and playing within them. We saw lots of Sally lightfoot crabs and even a couple who were foaming – apparently this means they are ready to shed their shells! We spotted a couple of our first Fur Seals in the Galapagos. Though called seals, they technically are still sea lions as they have the little ears, however their eyes and whiskers are much larger than the Galapagos Sea Lions. They are also the only animals in the Galapagos to fear humans as they were once hunted for their fur by whalers and pirates.

We came back to the beach and put on our wetsuits which proved to be quite the challenge when trying not to get any sand in them. The water temperature was warmer than when we swam on the west coast of Isabela and the types of fish were reflected in this: they were more tropical and colourful. There were lots of huge parrot fish like we saw in Thailand. The highlight was without a doubt a little baby sea lion who played and swam around Dave and I for about 10 minutes! He was by far the most playful sea lion we had encountered yet and even came to bump his nose on the GoPro twice and even tried to playfully bite it once – we have an awesome still from the video! What was even more amazing was that he picked up two different sea shells from the sandy bottom, his behaviour was so dog-like, it was crazy!

We hopped back on the boat for lunch and headed to Rabida Island, a short 3 hour navigation away. Rabida island, at just 5km², is famous for its distinctive red sand beaches due to the high amounts of iron found in the lava rocks. We saw lots of flowering cacti and a couple of endemic Galapagos Carpenter bees buzzing around them. The females are all black whereas the males are yellow/brown. We have seen the Prickly Pear cactus on most islands in the Galapagos, however, on Rabida island, the cactus has evolved to have soft spines due to a lack of predators. We did a short 30 minute hike up to one of the viewpoints before returning back to the beach to snorkel for our last time in the Galapagos. We snorkelled along the cliff line alongside a myriad of fish and even one ray sleeping on the bottom. As we were returning to the shoreline, the most adorable and friendly sea lion pup came to bid us farewell. By this point there were only 4 of us left in the water and he seemed to be enjoying our company while pirouetting and blowing bubbles at us underwater.

Join us next time as we head to our final destination in the Galapagos, North Seymour island.

Sophie & Dave


Isabela Island, Galapagos, Ecuador

Tagus Cove, Isabela & Fernandina – Galapagos Islands

Day 6: Tagus Cove, Isabela Island and  Fernandina Island

We had breakfast a little earlier than usual so that we could be out on the zodiacs at 7am to see the sea birds when they are at their most active. We saw cormorants, pelicans & blue footed boobies along the rocks of Tagus Cove. We then pulled up to the staircase for our morning hike. Tagus Cove is really famous in the Galapagos because of the graffiti you can find there. People have etched the name of their boats and the year in the rock for hundreds of years. We saw the earliest engraving which was from the boat called Phoenix in 1836! Name carving has been banned since the 90s.

We started to walk up the hill and came to our first viewpoint of the spectacular Darwin lake. It is a beautiful turquoise salt lake sat next to the ocean but without any link to it. Though there wasn’t much in the way of wildlife, we both agreed it was our favourite landscape walk. The island was covered in white trees that made the most stark contrasts against the blue of Darwin lake. We stopped at 3 different viewpoints on our walk offering different perspectives of the lake whilst the final viewpoint at the top even let us see Wolf Volcano on another island! Back at the bottom, as we waited for the zodiacs, a huge pod of penguins swam past us! It was by far the most we had seen and I was so happy to be quick enough to snap a photograph which has over 16 penguins in one photo!

We came back to the boat for a quick wet suit change ready for our first snorkel of the day. Dave was ahead at the front of the group and said he chased the group of penguins only for them to change direction and swim right past him! I didn’t see the big group but I did have one rogue penguin swim straight into my goggles as I came round the corner of a rock! Unfortunately we didn’t capture either penguin encounter on the GoPro but it was a highlight for both of us! On this snorkel, we saw SO many starfish! There’s a few different types of starfish included a small yellow one with brown spots called the Chocolate Chip Starfish – seriously! Our guide also spotted a small Jackson shark resting on the ocean floor though he was quite far down and Dave and I are rubbish at free diving so we didn’t get to see it too clearly.

We got back on the boat for a short 40 minute navigation across to Fernandina island where we would have our second snorkel of the morning. This was our favourite snorkel so far because it was so diverse! For the first time, we saw marine iguanas diving under the water and munching on algae on the rocks. These incredible reptiles can hold their breath for up to 40 minutes! We saw 1 dive down, 3 eating underwater and 1 swimming along the surface towards us – it was so bizarre and absolutely amazing!

We swam further on and came in to a group of sea turtles where it was genuinely a struggle to swim around and not hit any of them! I’ve never seen anything like it, there were about 7 massive ones in a cluster! We both saw a flightless cormorant diving down underwater which was so fast but awesome. We then saw a penguin in the water, tried to follow him and then just round the corner, we found him sat on the rock right next to us whilst a sea lion played with us underwater! We managed to snap a photo with us and the penguin on the GoPro.

In the afternoon, we set off for our hike around Fernandina island. Fernandina island is the youngest of all the Galapagos islands and also the most untouched. It doesn’t have any introduced plant or animal species, so the island remains exactly as it was thousands of years ago. It is also a famous island because it is where BBC’s Blue Planet filmed the iconic snakes-chasing-baby-iguanas scene. Unfortunately that precise location is in a part of the island that tourists cannot visit, plus it wasn’t the right season. Having said that, I was so happy to spot a Racer snake snoozing in the shade in a crevice in the rocks! It was quite thin but really long – it had about 10 ‘bends’ where it lay and if you pulled it taut, so to speak, it would have been about 2 metres long!

The shores of Fernandina island have the highest concentration of marine iguanas. Everywhere you looked, there would be an iguana. There were so many that we even saw one with a Darwin finch perched upon it and one with a crab on top of it. These marine iguanas often spit too which is such a strange sight! They do it to exhale the salt water in their lungs from their dives in the ocean! They are so quick but Dave caught one spitting on film.

Fernandina island was special because we we got to see such diverse wildlife all seemingly sat side by side! A Galapagos hawk sat next to some chunky marine iguanas. Flightless cormorant birds next to the iguanas. Even sea turtles sunbathing in the shallows of the beach only half submerged with their shells poking out! I took one of my favourite photos from this trip where you can see marine iguanas, sea lions and sea turtles all in one spot!

We also saw an Oyster catcher bird who was protecting two eggs that it had laid so close to the path! There was no nest, just the eggs on the bare rock – something we had never seen before! The most fascinating animal however was the lizard on Fernandina island. We saw a larger lizard eating a small lizard!! Apparently when food is extremely scarce, the animals can resort to canabalism where the bigger ones prey on the small ones. I took a photograph and our guide, Fabian, even asked me to send it to him because in his whole life living in the Galapagos and then 10 years as a guide, he’d never seen it himself! Definitely my rarest and luckiest picture ever!

When we came back on board the yacht for the evening, we were all very excited when the Captain sounded the alarm to let us know there was a whale nearby. We only saw a brief spurt and its’ back so we don’t even know what type of whale it was but it was still awesome!

Thanks for reading and join us for the next day of the Galapagos cruise!

Sophie & Dave

Santa Cruz – Galapagos Islands

Day 3: Santa Cruz Island – Charles Darwin research station and the Highlands

We had another short sail at night from Santa Fe to Santa Cruz island. Santa Cruz has the largest town of all the inhabited Galapagos islands and is where all of the crew from our boat lived. It is also famously known for the Galapagos Giant Tortoises! Four of the other passengers left the boat that morning which meant there was only one other lady, Helen, apart from Dave and I. She had already done the tour on Santa Cruz Island so she went off on her own leaving Dave and I to have our own private tour for the day with Fabian, our guide!

We headed to the Charles Darwin Research Station which focuses on conservation by breeding and re-introducing Giant Tortoises back in to the wild. Giant tortoises are the largest terrestrial reptiles on earth weighing up to 250kg and are only found in two places in the world; the Galapagos and on Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean (who knew that?! – we had to google it later – it’s a tiny island in the Seychelles). Only 10% of the Galapagos Giant Tortoise population remains due to pirates and whalers eating them in the 1700s and because of both introduced plants and animals that threatened the species. At the time we went in December 2017, the centre had 983 tortoises, ranging from babies all the way to 100 year old adults! The adults were ones that can’t be reintroduced in to the wild, perhaps because they had been kept as pets or in zoos previously. The majority of tortoises at the centre are young ones. Up to the age of 4, the tortoises are very vulnerable so they are kept until they are large enough to be safe out in the wild; they need to reach 23cm before they are released. One of the most interesting things we learnt was that tortoises don’t have X/Y chromosomes but rather you can determine the gender of the tortoise based on the temperature in which the egg is incubated! 28 degrees breeds males and 29.5 degrees breeds females! Since 1970, the Darwin station has released 5,456 tortoises on to the various Galapagos islands.

Up close, they were more fantastic than I could have ever imagined. They just looked so prehistoric and I still can’t get over their sheer size! We of course, went to see the world famous (now stuffed) tortoise called Lonesome George. He was the last remaining tortoise of his specie from the island in the north of the Galapagos archipelago called Pinta. His kind was previously declared extinct however he was discovered in the 1970s by locals. There was a great effort to find him a mate to breed with but alas, he was the last of his kind and he died in 2012. The other famous tortoise that we saw, alive this time, was Diego. He came from San Diego zoo in the US to save his species from extinction. He is over 100 years old and apparently has fathered an estimated 800 of the endangered tortoises from Española island. The research station was really educational and we even got our passports stamped there with the tortoise logo (obviously my favourite page in my passport now).

We had a bit of free time on Santa Cruz island before heading back to the boat for lunch. We wandered down the main street called Charles Darwin street and perused the many souvenir shops (I succumbed to a tea-towel with a map of the archipelago). We also stopped by the famous fish market where sea lions, pelicans, frigate birds and herons surround the fisherman in wait of a morsel! It was such a bizarre and comedic sight, I could have stayed and taken photographs there all day. It was my goal in Paracas, Peru to take a photograph of a pelican with it’s mouth open and I finally got one that I love!  Lastly, we went to see the Santa Cruz Hollywood-style sign by the pier. Whilst we were there we spotted our first marine iguana actually swimming in the water! We were shocked by how quickly and effortlessly it moved, we almost had to jog along the pier to keep up with the pace to watch. On the pier, we also met Miguicho, an incredible man on a mission – who was also in a viral video.  He turned his life around from being an alcoholic and a sailor who was shipwrecked for 77 days to someone who has collected over 822,500 cigarette butts! He turned some of them in to art sculptures to raise awareness about water contamination. He showed us videos of Galapagos albatrosses in particular who eat the ends. It made me even more thankful that I’ve finally managed to quit smoking (it’s been over 3 months now!) but also even more guilty for how much I owe the planet for any time that there wasn’t a bin and I stubbed out the cigarette on the floor.

We came back on board and had a private lunch for 2! Then we headed back out to Santa Cruz’s Highlands. We first went to Los Gemelos (the twins) which are two huge volcanic craters. On the walk around Los Gemelos is the Scalesia forest, apparently made famous by a David Attenborough documentary. There are 15 species of Scalesia endemic to the Galapagos islands; what is so interesting about this plant is that it is a type of dandelion that we have at home, however, here, it grows to be trees; some species even reach 15 metres! Unfortunately, it was quite misty and foggy, very common given the location at the very centre of the island and at higher altitude, so we couldn’t really see the full effect of the crater in too much detail.

Our last excursion of the day was to see the Santa Cruz Giant Tortoises in the wild! Technically, they are part of a farm, though they are free to roam wherever and to leave the area if they wanted to. It was even better seeing the tortoises here than it was in the Charles Darwin research station. It was just madness to see these enormous gentle giants just milling around. The best part was a small pond/water hole where there were FIFTEEN wild tortoises, we will treasure the photo of us together with that backdrop! Lastly in the farm/wild area, there are lava tunnels that you can walk through. Lava tunnels are formed by the outer skin of molten lava solidifying whilst the liquid magma continues to flow through. When the lava flow stopped, the molten lava inside kept going, eventually leaving behind a cavity of empty lava tubes. Very cool to say we’ve walked through a 60 metre lava tube.

As we waited by the pier for our zodiac, we saw a Galapagos shark swimming past! He was only about 60cm but still very cool! In the evening, a new batch of people arrived bringing our total up to 9. We were really surprised that it was such a young cohort; everyone was aged between 23-30. We had another small world moment when one of the new people was the twin of someone Dave played rugby with at university!

Thanks for reading and join us next time for day 4 of the Galapagos cruise!

Sophie & Dave

Santa Fe & South Plaza – Galapagos Islands

Day 2: Santa Fe and South Plaza Islands

We adjusted to being on a boat quite quickly and had a good first night’s sleep, though we decided to take sea sickness tablets throughout the trip as a precautionary measure. We had a fairly early start and got ready for our first hike of the day. This was a ‘wet landing’ on to Sante Fe island meaning we jumped out the zodiac into the water and put our trainers on once we’d got to the beach. The beach and the rocky shores were covered with sea lions. The star of the show however, was a young Galapagos Hawk. He was perched only a few meters away from us on the tree. It was a young hawk because his colourings were a light brown, the adults are much darker. It was so incredible to be so close to a completely wild bird of prey who had no fear of us because he has no predators in the Galapagos and is the very top of the food chain on the island. After the photoshoot of him, we walked back to the beach and turned to see 5 hawks circle and land nearby! I dashed back to get a glimpse and got to see a mature, dark hawk too!

We then set off on our walk in pursuit of the unique specie; the Sante Fe land iguana. This iguana is unique to the island and is more yellow than other land iguanas in the Galapagos. We saw tracks in the sand and even the prints of the scales of the iguanas. The landscape and vegetation on the island was very different to what we’d seen the day prior in San Cristobal and Isla Lobos. Santa Fe is covered in what looks like dead bushes as they are really white, however, our guide said they are still alive and turn green for a couple months of the year around March! The island also has quite a few cacti, the Sante Fe iguanas are often spotted near them as they are lurking, waiting for fallen fruit that they eat. We managed to spot 6 on our walk all quite close to the trail though the highlight was seeing one iguana who was actually eating the cactus fruit and then a Galapagos Mocking bird landed on the iguana and was waiting for a bite. I was very happy I managed to get a photograph of such a rare sight; an iguana endemic to a 24 km2 island, eating the fruit of an endemic Prickly pear cactus that rarely falls and another endemic bird (to the Galapagos archipelago) sitting on his shoulder (see photo below!).

We headed back to the boat for a quick wetsuit change before going back out for our snorkelling session around Sante Fe. It was just as incredible as the day before. We saw a couple of sea turtles gliding effortlessly through the water. We saw interesting fish including quite a few of the beautiful King angelfish which are such a vivid blue colour. We saw an absolutely huge school of Yellowtail Surgeonfish. This was the biggest group of fish I’d ever seen in my life! These fish are about 20cm long and there must have been at least a thousand of them! We also saw a Marble Ray gliding along the ocean floor. The highlight of the snorkel however was when Dave and I were at the back of the group watching the few sea lions twirl in front of us, when a huge reef shark came on to the scene! It was bigger than the ones we’d snorkelled with in Fiji, at least 1.5 metres long! We then watched in awe as a sea lion swam up to pester the shark and tried to bite its tail. Not surprisingly the shark swam off in a hurry – definitely some of my favourite GoPro clips ever!

After lunch on the boat, we sailed on to the nearby South Plaza island for the afternoon.  I went up on the top deck to see about 10 massive Frigate birds sitting on the roof. They like to ride the wind pockets created by the boat so there are always loads perched at the top for a break. The South Plaza island, yet again, was a completely different landscape. It was covered in an extremely vibrant red plant called Sesuvium that changes colour through the seasons, Fabian (our guide) said soon it will turn completely green. We saw a sort of traffic-light effect with greens, yellows and reds! It is so interesting to think how different the Galapagos islands are at different times of the year, it sounds like if we are ever to return, we should come in March when lots of the vegetation changes. We saw quite a few land iguanas dotted around the island, many had what looked to be peeling skin. Apparently iguanas shed their skin twice a year; once before and once after mating. We actually saw lots of iguana carcasses too, which was quite grim but also really fascinating to look at. The island is really small, only about 2km long, though on one side, there are some big cliffs which make for interesting bird life. We saw our first Tropic bird, it is white with black markings on its back with a long, thin tail. Also nesting along the cliffs were Lava Gulls. Finally, we saw quite a lot of sea lions dotted around the islands though we saw one with a huge wound, all the skin on its hind was torn off leaving behind raw flesh. Fabian said it was likely the sea lion had been bitten by a shark and he made a call to report him. Hopefully he will be taken and looked after until he can be released back!

Join us next time as we embark on day three of our Galapagos cruise!

Sophie & Dave