The Galápagos Islands are located 600 miles from the Ecuadorian coast in the Pacific Ocean. There are 14 large islands and 120 smaller islets and rocks. Their isolation from any other place has resulted in the evolution of many unique species of flora and fauna, endemic to the archipelago or even to just one island within it.
The islands have been formed through volcanic activity, due to a “hot spot” just the west of the group (under Fernandina). Eruptions here cause an island to form from the lava and rock emitted from beneath the sea bed. But rather than create one ever-growing island, made larger by each new eruption, the slow south-eastward movement of the tectonic plate on which they sit means that by the time of a subsequent eruption the island created by the previous one is some miles to the east, and instead a new one forms. Thus each island is on a slow journey south and east (moving at a rate of seven cm/year); those furthest on that journey, such as San Cristobal and Espanola, are the oldest, and those in the west, such as Fernandina and Isabela, much younger (in geological terms).
A keen geologist will be fascinated by the details, but for the rest of us the attraction lies in the vivid scenery that results from all this activity, and for me, above all the colours. A jumble of black lava boulders, the backdrop to a white coral beach. Or a black lava beach washed by a turquoise sea. Or again, on Rabida, dark red cliffs with dusty green Opuntia clinging to them.
Fondest memory: And this dramatic scenery is the set for a multitude of living dramas, as the various animal species play out their lives under the gaze of mesmerised visitors. For the islands’ isolation has not only led to the large number of endemic species being present, but also to their tame and inquisitive nature. The Galápagos were never attached to any continent and the island chain's remote location made it impossible for large land mammals that usually dominate the food chain to make the journey to the here. The giant tortoise became the dominate animal on the land, and he is a herbivore, so no threat to the others. With this lack of natural predators, the wildlife of the Galápagos thrived in an Eden-like environment and never learned to be fearful of other species – even our own. Meeting these animals and interacting with them in their own environment is the true joy of a Galápagos holiday, so the remainder of my Favourites tips will be devoted to a description of the main ones we saw, and where we saw them. More about the most memorable of these encounters can be found on my pages about the individual islands we visited.
Next tip: ”Sea lions” – the most adorable of the islands’ animals!
Giant tortoises are endemic to the Galápagos, with 15 subspecies having been recorded around the archipelago. Not only do we find a different subspecies on each island where the tortoises live, but on Isabella there is a different subspecies for each of the four volcanoes. To a tortoise these volcanoes might just as well be islands, as they are unable to travel the distances between them, being too slow to cross large areas devoid of suitable vegetation for their diet. Although all the subspecies are distinct to scientists, to the lay person appear two main types, according to the shape of the shell: dome-shaped or saddleback. In the latter the front part of the shell seems cut away (see photo two), allowing the tortoise to lift his head higher and to reach taller plants. These live in the more arid places, where vegetation is relatively scarce and they can’t rely on finding it at ground level.
These are the animal that perhaps most symbolises these islands, and indeed gave them their name – Galápagos is derived from the Spanish for saddle, referring to the shape of the tortoise’s shell. And their huge size (they can weigh over 250 kilos, and their shells measure up to 150 cm) makes them the dominant species on the islands – dominant that is until man arrived.
These lumbering but strangely mesmerising beasts have captured people’s imagination through the centuries. They played a part in developing Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, when he heard the vice-governor of the Islands’ assertion that he could identify what island a tortoise was from simply by looking at him:
“The inhabitants...state that they can distinguish the tortoise from different islands; and that they differ not only in size, but in other characters. Captain Porter has described those from Charles and from the nearest island to it, namely Hood Island, as having their shells in front thick and turned up like a Spanish saddle, whilst the tortoises from James Island are rounder, blacker, and have a better taste when cooked.”
And more recently Steven Spielberg was inspired after a visit here to create ET – look, you can surely see the resemblance!
But man very nearly wiped these animals from existence. When he arrived in the Galápagos there were hundreds of thousands of giant tortoises. But as the quote from Darwin above indicates, the tortoises were found to be a valuable source of meat for sailors who had been long at sea, and were hunted accordingly. They were also threatened by the arrival of alien animals introduced by man: pigs, goats, horses and cows whose existence in the islands threatened young tortoises. These ate the little vegetation that was available in the islands, and their hooves crushed tortoise eggs and the soft shells of the young ones.
Fortunately the danger was recognised, although not before several of the subspecies had been wiped out. In the 1970s the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz established a tortoise- rearing project, collecting eggs from islands where the species had become endangered, and bringing them to the station where they are incubated and hatched. The young tortoises are raised until their shells become strong and they can withstand the threat of the introduced predators, and are then released back into the wild. Most cruises, ours included, have a visit here as part of their itinerary. Some, again like ours, will also take you to the Santa Cruz highlands to see the giant tortoises in a more natural environment on one of several reserves where they are protected but otherwise live in the wild. It’s quite a sight to watch these hulking beasts on the move, wherever you see them – check out my short video to see what I mean.
Next tip: ”Sally Lightfoot crabs”
The smallest of the reptiles we saw regularly on the islands were the lava lizards. There are seven species:
Galápagos Lava Lizard: Microlophus albermarlensis
Española Lava Lizard: Microlophus delanonis
Floreana Lava Lizard: Microlophus gray
Marchena Lava Lizard: Microlophus habellii
Pinta Lava Lizard: Microlophus pacificus
Pinzon Lava Lizard: Microlophus duncanensis
San Cristobal Lava Lizard: Microlophus bivattatus
There is only ever one species on each island. All but the Galápagos Lava Lizard is found only on the island whose name they bear, whereas the former is found on many islands: Baltra, Bartolomé, Daphne Major, Fernandina, Isabela, North Seymour, South Plaza, Rabida, Santa Cruz, Santa Fe and Santiago.
We just saw the first two of these as we didn’t visit the islands where the others are to be found.
Lava lizards are smaller than the iguanas but nevertheless can grow to up to 30 cm in length (males – females are shorter). They are found on all the major islands apart from Genovesa. The one in my main photo is a female on Española, as is the second photo, while the others are Galápagos lava lizards on North Seymour and Santa Cruz. In all the species the females tend to be more colourful, with a red throat, but on Española, as you can see, the whole head is often bright red. The colouring and patterns of the males vary quite a bit between species, according to the landscape and environment of the islands, as they have evolved to blend in with their surroundings. They don’t blend in that well however! We saw lava lizards on most of the islands, including:
Next tip: ”Giant tortoises”
The other main species of iguana that you will see on many of the islands are the marine iguanas, of which there are in fact seven sub-species, varying in size and colour. Most are black or dark grey but some have red colouring too, most notably on Española where the males have not only red but often green colouring too, which becomes brighter during the mating season – giving them the nickname of Christmas iguana!
All marine and land iguana species in the Galápagos are thought to be descendants of a single species, the Green Iguana, which is native on the South American continent. Arriving probably on vegetation rafts to the isles, the green iguana in order to survive had to adapt to a new and different environment by evolving into two very distinct new species.
The marine iguana found himself on islands where vegetation was sparse, and turned, through necessity, to the plant-life beneath the sea. He thus became the world's only sea-going lizard. They have developed a flattened snout and sharp teeth in order to feed on the algae on the underwater rocks. Their tail is flattened vertically like a rudder to help them swim and they have long claws to grip the rocks while feeding so that they don’t drift away.
We saw these fascinating animals almost everywhere we went:
Santiago [including one feeding underwater while snorkelling as well as lots on the lava outcrops on shore]
Española [the colourful sub-species endemic to the island]
Fondest memory: Marine iguanas can stay submerged for up to ten minutes, before having to come up for air. When not feeding they are usually found sunning themselves on lava rocks, often in large groups and, as we saw in several places, even piled up on top of one another! Sometimes you will see them appear to sneeze, but in fact they are snorting to get rid of any excess sea salt with the help of special glands in their nostrils. I was fortunate to be able to catch such a snort on this video on the rocks of Santiago. I also made a short video the distinctive walk of the marine iguana on Española – you can see the shallow groove his tail creates in the sand. And look how his back feet almost touch his front ones – one day I watched and laughed as one nearly fell over his own feet when his claws became tangled as he walked!
Next tip: ”Lava lizards”
One of the largest animals you will see in the Galápagos are the Land iguanas, which on some islands can reach over a metre in length. There are actually two species to be found here – Conolophus subcristatus on six of the islands, and Conolophus pallidus only on Santa Fe. The latter can be a paler yellow than the main species (hence the name, “pallidus”), and has more spines on its back. Charles Darwin described the Land iguanas as “ugly animals, of a yellowish orange beneath, and of a brownish-red colour above: from their low facial angle they have a singularly stupid appearance.” however I have to say that I disagree with the famous naturalist, as I found them sort of cute, although probably only their mothers would find them beautiful!
All the marine and land iguana species in the Galápagos are thought to be descendants of a single species, the Green Iguana, which is native on the South American continent. Arriving probably on vegetation rafts to the isles, the green iguana in order to survive had to adapt to a new and different environment by evolving into two very distinct new species. The Land iguana adapted to feed on the vegetation of the islands. Surprisingly perhaps, they prefer the prickly pear cactus or Opuntia . This in turn has evolved, growing much taller than elsewhere in the world in order to be out of reach of the iguanas, but the latter simply stand on their hind legs to reach the pads and fruit. They have a leathery, tough tongue and don't need to remove the spines from the cactus before eating. The cactus forms about 80% of their diet and ensures that they get plenty of water even in the arid dry season such as when we visited.
We saw these ultra-photogenic guys on:
Santa Fe [although relatively few of this endemic species here were to be seen on the day we were there]
Next tip: ”Marine iguanas"
In addition to the Galápagos sea lions, which are everywhere in the islands, there are a smaller number of Galápagos fur seals. These too are an endemic species, and live mainly on the rockiest shores. They are smaller than the sea lions, and their fur made them a target for poachers in the past, although they are of course now protected and their numbers are growing again. They live in the greatest numbers in the western islands, Fernandina and Isabela, which we didn’t visit. They also tend to be shyer than their cousins! But although we weren’t lucky enough to see any while on any of the islands, we did see some on a couple of our panga rides, most notably off Genovesa when on our way to the dry landing at Prince Philip Steps. The sea was quite rough here and it was difficult to hold the camera steady, so the photos are not as clear as I would have liked, but they do show the thick fur and distinctive whiskers.
Fur seals are part of the same “eared seals” family as sea lions, and differ from true seals in having small external ear-flaps. Their hind flippers can be turned to face forwards, and, together with strong front flippers, this gives them extra mobility on land – an adult fur seal can move extremely quickly if it has to. They also use their front flippers for swimming, whereas true seals use their hind flippers. Their scientific name is Arctocephalus, which comes from Greek words meaning “bear headed”, and it’s easy to see how they got this name.
Next tip: ”Land iguanas”
The first animals to greet us on almost every island were the sea lions. And I do mean “greet”. It often seemed that they had been lolling around on the beach or even the landing jetty just waiting for our arrival! This isn’t a scientific distinction, but for me they fell into four groups – adorable pups, languid and photogenic females, lively bachelor males, and the occasional bolshie alpha male throwing his weight about. The latter are best avoided, but all the others will allow you to come pretty close, and will often come closer still to you.
The Galápagos sea lion is a distinct species, but closely related to the California sea lion. They are found on all the islands and number in the ten thousands. The females usually have just the one pup a year, though Fabian said twins are not unusual and he has once seen triplets! We saw several newborn pups, for example on Sombrero Chino and Española. The babies are nursed by their mother for about six months until old enough to fish for themselves, and most of those we saw were still at this stage, so stayed quite close to mum. Some were more adventurous though and were venturing along the beach or across the rocks (sometimes rather clumsily – see my short video of one little guy on Santiago). One such followed a few of us for some time on Española, apparently mistaking us for family – so cute!
In addition to these large nursery groups we saw several of bachelor males (e.g. on Rabida and South Plaza). Male Sea Lions sometimes retreat to these so-called bachelor colonies to take a rest from the aggro of the alpha male. Once refreshed they may try themselves to take on one of the latter and to try to establish their own beach territory with several females, which they will then have to defend continuously from other bulls. These fights take their toll – most alpha males we saw were battle-scarred, and Fabian told us that their reign is often short (sometimes only a few weeks) as they grow weaker with each fight and are then more easily vanquished.
Fondest memory: We saw sea lions on most of the islands where we landed:
Sombrero Chino [have a look at another of my videos – a cute pup who had got separated from his mum there]
Española [including meeting the cutest of many cute pups on the beach of Gardner Bay - again on video]
Santa Fe [including a memorable encounter while snorkelling – see my video of this special experience]
Next tip: ”Fur seals”
To see waved albatross in the Galápagos you will have to include Española in your itinerary and visit between late March and late December, as the birds are only on the island to breed and at sea for the rest of the year. If you can possibly plan your trip to include them, do – seeing these awe-inspiring birds was definitely one of the highlights of our trip! My first sight of this five month old chick, already huge, will stay with me for a long time, and he seemed equally taken by the sight of us – happy to sit and pose on his nest for as long as we wanted to sit and watch him, which as you can imagine was quite a while!
Waved albatross are considered endemic not only the Galápagos, but to Española, where they are nest in just two locations, Punta Cevallos (which can’t be visited), and Punta Suarez, where we saw them. There is a large colony here at the top of a sea cliff, to which the birds can walk and take flight simply by jumping off.
Waved albatrosses, like other albatrosses, spend part of the year at sea. They begin to return to Española in March, the males arriving first. They mate for life, so the male returns to the previous year's breeding territory to await his partner.
Waved albatrosses, like other albatrosses, engage in a very lengthy, noisy, and complex courtship ritual, even if they are an established pair (although new pairs perform for longer). The dance involves bill-fencing, in which the partners bend, face each other, and rapidly slap their bills back and forth. In another step each faces the other in an upright posture, sometimes poising with bill wide open. The bills are then shut with a loud clap. Sometimes the birds will clatter their bills rapidly. The dance also involves bowing, and parading around one another with the head swaying side to side in an exaggerated sway, accompanied by a nasal "anh-a-annhh" sound. Although we visited towards the end of the breeding season, when pairs were already established and chicks hatched, we were fortunate enough to see a few of these displays as couples reinforced their bonds – or in one instance, it seemed, flirted with others. Do have a look at my short video of this ritual.
Between mid-April and July the pair produces a single egg. They don’t build a nest, so the egg simply lies on the ground. The egg is incubated by both parents for about two months. Early in incubation, each parent takes long stints, as much as three weeks, but as hatching nears, the stints become shorter. For the first few weeks after hatching, one parent guards the chick while the other forages for food, but after that, the chicks are left unguarded, in nursery groups, while both parents spend longer times at sea looking for food – it was in one of these groups that we found our young friends.
By the end of December, the chicks have fledged, and they leave their nurseries with their parents and head for the western Pacific. Although their parents return to Española the following year, the fledglings remain away for five to six years, at which time they also return to the island to begin breeding for the first time.
As well as seeing the chicks, and the comical courtship ritual, we also sat for some time near the edge of the rocky clearing that is home to the colony. Here we could observe lots of waved albatross action, including birds in flight (graceful) and landing (rather less so. From the nearby cliffs we saw many more, wheeling in the sky above our heads. The trail at Punta Suarez was the longest and hardest of all that we did on the islands, testing my dodgy knee to the full, but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything!
Next tip: ”Galápagos penguins”
Frigatebirds are large mainly black birds, related to pelicans. There are two species found in the Galápagos Islands – the magnificent frigatebird (fregata magnificens) and the great frigatebird (fregata minor), and we were able to see both during our week’s cruising. Both are fantastic flyers, able to spend up to a week in the air without landing, but they are clumsy on land and unable to swim. They feed by snatching prey from the ocean surface or beach (or sometimes from other birds) using their long, hooked bills.
The males of both species are black, with iridescent feathers that have a purple sheen on the Magnificent Frigatebirds and greenish on the Great Frigatebirds. The females lack this sheen and have pale breasts. The eyes of the female magnificent frigatebird have a blue ring and those of a great frigatebird a red or pink one. Juvenile Magnificent Frigatebirds have pale heads, while the juvenile Great Frigatebirds have a ginger-coloured head that made me smile each time I saw one!
We saw Magnificent Frigatebirds, the larger of the two species, on our first landing, on North Seymour. There were lots of them sitting in the bushes, and many of the males were inflating their scarlet throat pouches, known as "gular pouches", to attract females to mate with them. We saw several groups each vying for the attention of a single female who happened to land in their tree.
On Genovesa we saw lots of Great Frigatebirds, mainly juveniles with those comical ginger hair-dos, and fluffy chicks. I imagine that the adults were at sea looking for food for the young – Great Frigatebirds care for and feed their young for up to two years.
We also saw frigatebirds on Española, flying off the cliffs, and they were regularly to be seen accompanying the Angelito as we sailed from island to island, including a memorable occasion when one left a sizeable “deposit” on my head, much to the amusement of others in our group!
Next tip: ”Waved albatross”, the most awesome of birds!
The third of the booby species to be seen in the Galápagos are the Nazca Boobies. Once thought to be a sub-species of masked booby, these are now recognised as a species in their own right, endemic to these islands. They are mostly white, with an orange bill and the mask-like black markings around it.
Nazca Boobies lay two eggs, several days apart. If they both hatch, the older chick will push its sibling out of the nest area. The parent booby will not intervene and the younger chick will certainly die of thirst, hunger or cold. Scientists believe that the two eggs are laid so that one acts as a sort of insurance in case the other gets destroyed or eaten, or the first chick dies soon after hatching. They nest at different times on different islands, for instance you will see eggs laid on Genovesa
between August and November and on Española between November and February. This meant that visiting in November we were able to see all the different stages of their life-cycle, especially on Genovesa where we saw lots of them, in particular along the path near Prince Philip Steps (El Barranco) – some had eggs, some a little or not so little chick, and a few pairs were in the early stages of courtship and building their nests. I have a short video taken there. We also saw Nazca Boobies on the cliffs of South Plaza.
Next tip: ”Frigatebirds”
Before coming to the Galápagos I had seen numerous photos of Blue-footed Boobies and was looking forward to meeting them “in person”, but I had seen and read relatively little about their red-footed cousins and consequently was surprised and delighted to find them even more appealing! The combination of bright blue bill, pretty pink and turquoise colouring around the eye, soft brown (usually) plumage and red feet is a winning one. I say “usually” soft brown, because you will also see white Red-footed Boobies, although only 5% fall into this category, and both are the same species.
Unlike other boobies, the red-footed ones nest in trees, and on Genovesa we saw loads of them in the red mangrove trees that lined the trail at Darwin Bay, as well as on the other side of the island near Prince Philip Steps (El Barranco). Many of them had soft fluffy white chicks, and they seemed to be among the least fearful of all the birds we saw in the Galápagos, and as gently curious about us as we were about them. I took so many photos as it seemed that in every tree there was a red-footed booby more engaging and even closer to me than in the previous one!
These boobies are the smallest of the three species found in the Galápagos, at about 70 cm. They raise just one chick at a time, and about 15 months apart. Because mating isn’t seasonal, there is always a good chance you will see young chicks, whatever time of year you visit the islands.
Next tip: ”Nazca Boobies”
There are several species indelibly linked in the mind with the Galápagos Islands, and one of these is certainly the blue-footed booby. The distinctive feet that give it its name, almost turquoise in colour, really are as bright and bizarre-looking as they seem in the photos! These feet are used during courtship, the birds deliberately lifting their feet and showing them to their mates. The rest of the bird though is somewhat drab: a mix of brown and white with a large greyish-blue bill. This bill is used very effectively in feeding – the booby plunges downwards into the sea at speeds of nearly 100 kph, using the bill like an arrow to pierce the water.
Male and female Blue-footed Boobies look alike, though the females tend to be a little larger, and their eyes have a little more pigmentation around them. The males have slightly lighter feet, and I think that in my photo of a pair on Española, the male may be the one on the right, for this reason. They also sound different – males give a plaintive whistle whereas females and immature juveniles give a hoarse “quack”.
Blue-footed Boobies are not endemic to the Galápagos, despite being so intrinsically linked to them in numerous images, but over half of all breeding pairs nest here. They lay between one and three eggs, though two is usual. The eggs hatch a few days apart, and in seasons when food is scarce it is not uncommon for the older chick to kill its smaller and weaker sibling.
By the way, the odd (and in English rather suggestive) name is thought to have derived from the Spanish slang term bobo, meaning "stupid" – perhaps because of their clumsiness on land, or because these almost-tame birds had an unfortunate habit of landing on sailing ships and were easily captured and eaten.
The islands where we saw Blue-footed Boobies in significant numbers were North Seymour (where there were adults, juveniles, downy chicks and eggs) and Española where there were several nesting pairs near the Punta Suarez landing site.
Next tip: ”Red-footed Boobies”
These distinctive crabs can be seen all over the Galápagos, especially on the dark lava rocks, and they really catch the eye with their vivid orange and blue colouring. They are not endemic to the islands, being also found all along the Pacific coast of South and Central America. Nevertheless they seem to be one of the animals most associated with the Galápagos.
They are quite large (adults can grow to about 20 cm) and really stand out against those dark rocks, so you will spot them easily. They are harder to photograph than some of the other animals though, as they can move quite quickly at times. If you spot one that appears to be blowing bubbles from under the shell, as in my third photo, it’s an indication that it will soon be discarding its shell. The crabs have to do this periodically as they grow, because the shell doesn’t grow with them and becomes too small. So they shed the old shell and then have to stay in a sheltered, hidden spot such as a crevice in the rocks until the soft new one beneath it, now exposed, can harden. During this time they are very vulnerable and would make a tasty meal for a sea bird, hence the need to hide.
Also known more prosaically as red rock crabs, these are among the most beautiful of crabs. The colour can vary but is always bright, although the young are dark brown (for camouflage on the rocks). John Steinbeck, one of my favourite authors, wrote about them:
“everyone who has seen them has been delighted with them. The very name they are called by reflects the delight of the name. These little crabs, with brilliant cloisonné carapaces, walk on their tiptoes. ... They seem to be able to run in any of four directions; but more than this, perhaps because of their rapid reaction time, they appear to read the mind of their hunter. They escape the long-handled net, anticipating from what direction it is coming. If you walk slowly, they move slowly ahead of you in droves. If you hurry, they hurry. When you plunge at them, they seem to disappear in a puff of blue smoke—at any rate, they disappear. It is impossible to creep up on them. They are very beautiful, with clear brilliant colours, red and blues and warm browns.”
We saw Sally Lightfoot crabs in lots of places, most notably:
We also saw hermit crabs on a few of the islands, including Sombrero Chino.
Next tip: ”Blue-footed Boobies”
You will naturally spend much of your time on the Galápagos Islands marvelling at the animal life, but the plant life too is worthy of mention as it helps to shape and to colour these amazing landscapes. Of these, the most striking are probably the three species of cactus that grow here – Opuntia (or prickly pear), lava cactus and the candelabra cactus.
The former in particular not only forms a prickly backdrop to the many natural dramas played out before you on each island, but has also played a leading part in the evolution of some of their inhabitants - the Cactus Finch, for example, who has developed a long bill to delve between the spines to reach the juicy pads. The Opuntia has also allowed the Land Iguana to thrive on these islands, providing it not only with its main source of food but also of water. On islands where the Opuntia is less easily found, the early iguanas which arrived here, floating on rafts of vegetation, were in some cases forced to look to the sea for their food, and evolved into the Marine Iguanas we see today.
But evolution works both ways! On some islands such as South Plaza and Santa Fe, the Opuntia has grown tall and tree-like to keep the pads out of reach of the Land iguanas and other herbivores such as Giant Tortoises, but where these animals are less prevalent or non-existent it has remained a low shrub.
And on Genovesa (at Prince Philip Steps) Fabian showed us how the spines of the Opuntia cactus here have softened through evolution, thus allowing the Galápagos Dove to reach the pads more easily and to pollinate the flowers. This is a result of the lack of bees on this remote island that would normally perform this function. Altogether there are six different species of Opuntia in Galápagos (O. echios, O. galapageia, O. Helleri, O. insularis, O. saxicola, O. megasperma), and these can be divided into 14 different varieties. When you learn all about them, you will find yourself looking at these prickly specimens in a new light.
Next tip: ”Other cacti”
I had seen rays before (in an aquarium!) and loved the graceful way in which they move. But I have never before seen a manta ray, the largest of the species. A couple of our group had already spotted one briefly from the boat by the time we reached Rabida, but I had missed it on both occasions, so I was thrilled when one was sighted in sea beneath where we stood on the cliffs here. It swam languidly up and down for some time, so we were able to get a good look at how it moved and to appreciate its huge size. Manta rays can grow up to seven metres across, and when their triangular “wings” appear out of the water you might at first think a shark is swimming past, until you spot the large mass of its body just beneath the surface. Sometimes they even jump clear of the water, and it was this behaviour that I unfortunately missed seeing from the boat. But watching this huge fish drift past below us here was a special experience that I was pleased not to have missed.
We also saw Spotted Eagle Rays, on the same final panga ride in Black Turtle Cove, Santa Cruz, when we saw the sharks mentioned in my previous tip. And when we snorkelled in Gardner Bay, Española, there were some Stingrays in the water, although again I didn’t get a clear look – certainly not clear enough for a photo. Spotted Eagle Rays have a wingspan ranging from one to two metres, pointed heads, and long tails with a spiny termination, but their most distinguishing feature is, as the name suggests, the white spots dotted over their black tops. Stingrays are a similar size but are grey rather than black, with no spots, and of course have a nasty sting in their tail – so don’t get too close if you see one!
Next tip: ”Opuntia” – the first of several about the flora of the islands.
Puerto Villamil, Isabela Galapagos Islands, , Ecuador
Good for: Solo
Puerto Ayora, Galapagos Islands, Puerto Ayora, Ecuador
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Isla Isabela, , Puerto Villamil, Galapagos
Good for: Business