There are some destinations in the world that scream ‘once in a lifetime’. Whether we’ve read about them in books or watched them in David Attenborough documentaries, some destinations are just special.
When I visited South America couple of years ago, there was one place (and experience) that stood out the most. It wasn’t the Amazon Rainforest or the iconic Machu Picchu in Peru but a bunch of islands off the coast of little old Ecuador: The Galapagos Islands.
These are the lands where the theory of evolution was born by non other than Charles Darwin, influenced by the untold wildlife, some unique to anywhere in the world. The Black Marine Iguana and the Galapagos Giant Tortoise are the perfect representations of this that you’ll see on land.
The islands themselves were once home to several active volcanos that are all of different ages, something that is still evident today. Some islands are desolate with black ash rocks whilst others continue their lifecycle with lush trees and plant life still growing.
Every visitor is here for one thing and that is to experience the Galapagos in its full true glory. This isn’t a pass through destination, everyone who visits makes the effort; after all it is 2.5 hours from the mainland Ecuador via flight!
For me exploring the oceans was as important as roaming the lands of the Galapagos. With the promise of schools of different marine life, the real treasures these islands offer are deep beneath the waves.
Whether you’re a novice or an expert in the blue waters, there are plenty of activities that allow you to experience the water realms of the Galapagos. Snorkelling, scuba diving and boat trips are all common. If you’re a first timer or normally not so keen to splash the cash on such excursions, I promise you, the Galapagos is worth it. This is arguably the best place for marine life in the world.
Here’s my account of my time in the blue waters of the Galapagos.
When you’re in the waters in the Galapagos you know you’re not the only living thing in there. Especially in a land that is built on teeming wildlife and marine life you should expect to have a couple of ‘encounters’. Like most of the scuba diving in the Galapagos, we were warned about was the inevitable sighting of sharks. Probably just like you, I had grew up with sharks always having a bad reputation and constantly being demonised in the media. Thankfully now that is changing but still if you’re in the water with these intelligent creatures, no matter what type of shark, for many of us our hearts will beat a little faster.
I remember hovering close to the surface when I found myself shadowing a White Tip Shark from above. Even though they are the size of a big fish and tend to swim away if you approach, the velvet-like grey skin and the movement of their tales still had my eyes glued to them. I was so in awe to be metres away from the first shark I’d ever swam near.
As we got to around 18metres deep, we encountered something a little bigger. Normally at an average size of 3metres (9.8ft), the Galapagos Shark, local to the Galapagos only, was striving ahead of us. I remember feeling in that moment how much I respected them, dominating the waters with ease and just going about their everyday life. I thought at anytime she could turn and strike as I swam at her mercy. I knew in the back of my mind that sharks don’t attack humans, especially under the water but still my heartbeat was faster than usual. Still, I kept following her relentlessly for a closer look, I felt like I was in Blue Planet documentary! At the time it largest shark I’d scuba dived with so it was quite an experience that took place off Santa Cruz Island.
As we approached some outer rocks off Santa Fe Island, a handful of seals were sunbathing. As we plunged into the water, the seals joined us and were like hyperactive dogs that come greet a newcomer at the front door. They got closer for further inspection then hurried away in excitement. As they swam under and around me it was a thrilling (yet helpless) feeling to have, not knowing where they are going to be next. They seem to generally like to tease us or even put on a bit of a show! Seals are generally playful and can get really close up – which I managed to get a few quick shots for my troubles!
If you spend enough time on land in the Galapagos you’ll no doubt see one or two sleepy seals lying on park benches and beside pavements. They really are an interactive species.
Up until the Galapagos I had never swam, snorkelled or scuba dived with a turtle. But I knew that was likely to change here. Every time I’d see a photo of turtle in pristine blue waters I’d almost automatically get a serene type of feeling. Slow, sleepy and dreamy with brightly coloured shells, turtles are like the creature of paradise. In reality, from my experiences off the Coast of Floreana Island, the Galapagos Green Turtles were a lot quicker than I’d have imagined but still equally as beautiful. Yet, I was lucky that one turtle had decided to take a rest for the day and was hanging on the ocean floor. I approached softly and slowly, as the last thing I wanted was to disturb her. I’d managed to embrace our time together as I hovered and she lay, until her realisation that a big dangling bubble-blowing human with a huge metal tank was beside her. Fair to say, she took off quickly! Still, I got to be at one with her for a few momentary seconds and that was totally worth it!
Eagle Spotted Manta Rays
To recreate moments from the hours and hours of recording that goes into nature documentaries as you see on the National Geographic is almost impossible. Especially when you’re just a tourist on a 2-hour scuba diving trip. Well, diving just off Isabela Island gave me my perfect moment in the Galapagos and one that was all natural. A group of us were harmlessly working on our buoyancy low by the ocean bed as we perused the area. Then to the corner of my eye I saw a movement of something in the distance. Not of a singular sight but of a collective of moving creatures. As I turned my head I pointed out a formation of Eagle Spotted Rays, flocking through the waters in their perfect zig-zag formations. I’ve never witnessed something that seemed natural and organic with other living creatures, it was simply beautiful that my words don’t do it justice! The whole experience came from nowhere. It actually didn’t feel real but at that point I realised that it was the Galapagos, the greatest natural destination on earth and something that is just to be expected here.