On the flight to the Galapagos Islands, every cell in my body was buzzing. This was something I had dreamt about for years, ever since I saw a blue-footed booby on a nature show when I was about 7 years old. Everything about the Galapagos is exotic and other-worldly.
As I boarded my home for the week, the Silver Galapagos I knew I was in for a treat. Three smiling men in white uniforms greeted me onboard, and within minutes I was settled into my suite, a bottle of champagne chilling in a metallic cooler. This wasn’t any ordinary boat… This was the grandest ship in the whole archipelago.
Most ships in the Galapagos hold between 12 – 50 passengers, but the Silver Galapagos holds up to 100. Luckily for me, it was about 60% full so I was able to enjoy the facilities of a big ship but with fewer people on board.
As our official ‘day 1’ of the cruise was really just formalities and introductions, I’m going to dive straight into the meat of Day 2, and call it my Day 1. So if you’re considering this trip, or any similar trip around the Galapagos, I’m writing a series picking through the specifics of each island visit.
I travelled on the North and Eastern itinerary, which means I didn’t head round to the largest of the Galapagos islands; Isabela and Fernandina. I did however spend a lot of time exploring the other areas, and hope my series will be helpful to anyone looking to do something similar.
Day 1: Genovesa Island
Our first destination turned out to be one of my highlights of the whole trip, perhaps because I was so incredibly excited to finally be there in this mystical place, or perhaps because it genuinely was incredible. I think the latter.
Jet lag woke me early on the first morning so I decided to head to the onboard gym and watch the sun come up. As we approached Genovesa Island I could see hundreds of sea birds hunting their morning catch, and watched in awe as we dipped the ship into a small opening at the side of a circular caldera.
Genovesa is an island sinking under its own weight, and what was an enormous, ferocious volcano now is a giant high-cliffed bay filled with sea water, birds and mammals making their home on the rocky shoreline. Absolutely breathtaking.
Our first visit to the island was to Darwin Bay, named after Charles Darwin, who famously founded his theory of evolution based on what he saw within the Galapagos. More on that in the next few posts.
As you near the shore, you get the sense that this is a very special place indeed. As soon as you step foot on the sand, you’re greeted with all manner of creatures; red-footed boobies, frigate birds and the Galapagos sea lion to name just a few.
I couldn’t resist a little squeal at the sight of my first sea lion!
As it turns out, the Galapagos is simply FULL of sea lions, so I wasn’t going to have to look too hard to find more in the coming week, but it was still a thrill to see the very first one. It was like I’d really landed, you know?
Darwin Bay is also famous for its red-footed boobies, which are one of the cutest species of birds. If you’ve never heard of a ‘booby’ (come on, admit it… you laughed a bit there didn’t you?), then allow me to introduce you. They’re a type of bird only found in the Pacific Ocean, and are about the size of a large chicken with beautifully coloured plumes, beaks and feet.
In the Galapagos I saw three species of booby: red-footed, blue-footed and Nazca. Why are they so special? Well, as well as their striking appearance they are also extremely mild mannered. Polite, almost.
They have no fear of humans, which could be a bad thing if they lived anywhere else in the world, but luckily they are protected here in the Galapagos by its national park status. Their call is very distinct too, with the male sounding like an airbed being blown up, and the female squawking, kind of like an elderly duck.
I feel like I have a lot in common with these birds… Slow, clumsy and fearless, with a waddly walk…
In Darwin Bay, you can find lots of the red-footed kind, who also happen to have beautiful blue beaks. Some were nesting and I was lucky enough to see some scraggly babies peeking out from nests too.
The sandy bay is small, and wouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to walk if going at a normal pace, but what with all the distractions (and commentary from our very knowledgeable naturalist guide), it took a good 45 minutes to reach the other end where mangroves hid an entire colony of red-footed boobies.
En route, a family of sea lions basked in the shallow waters and came out of the sea to greet us. The baby took its opportunity to suckle on its long-suffering mother whilst the male showed off his low, loud bark.
The water was also littered with rays, and Sally Lightfoot crabs crept along the rocks. It was indeed a magical place!
Prince Phillip Steps
Named after the Prince who climbed these steps wayyy back, this is basically a steep scramble up some purpose-built steps on the cliffs to a flat plateau where thousands of birds make their home.
The land must only be around a mile or so big, but you can barely move for red-footed and nazca boobies, sweetly offering each other twigs and small rocks as presents.
If you look very carefully you might also find the short-eared owl looking for its favourite prey, the petrel. These guys tend to keep their distance and blend in really well with their surroundings so you may have to ask your guide to point them out!
After a pleasant walk spotting the endemic birds, we returned to the ship to a chilled bottle of bubbly, courtesy of our butler Robert. It’s your butler’s job to learn what each person likes, and he certainly cottoned on fast! From this day onwards, we were brought an almost daily bottle of Champagne to have whilst getting ready for the evening. The perfect ending to our perfect first day in the Galapagos 🙂
Disclosure: I travelled to the Galapagos with Latin Routes, a tailor made South America holiday specialist who I also work for.