Walking in a Wild Wonderland
By Amanda Merz
Walking in a Wild Wonderland
By Amanda Merz
Take this as your sign to escape to the Galápagos Islands with Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic.
Allow me to introduce you to the wonder of the Galápagos Islands. Your island safari begins the very moment you step onto the pier after touching down on Baltra Island. Blue-footed boobies, land and marine iguanas, and sea lions don’t hesitate to greet you as you board your Zodiac and enter the iconic archipelago that they call home. Throughout the week, you’ll sail, kayak, snorkel, walk and hike in the footsteps of Charles Darwin and witness the very species that inspired his theory of evolution. There is an air of enchantment to the experience, as you take in natural wonders that you were taught about when you were young. So, it’s perfectly fitting that the Galápagos was first referred to as the Enchanted Isles by early explorers. Enveloped by fog and mystery, travelers leave today experiencing the same complex ecosystems. You’ll leave enthralled by the unique landscapes you’ve encountered, fascinated by the peculiar, yet beautiful, wildlife and newly inspired to protect our oceans and restore critical natural habitats. This otherworldly escape it sure to impress. Enchantment awaits.
The Waves Less Traveled
One of the things that makes the Galápagos Islands so special is the unique climate paired with three colliding ocean currents. Where warm and cold currents meet, it creates a special ecosystem found nowhere else on the planet, both on land and below the surface. The Galápagos is also one of the most active oceanic volcanic regions on earth. About half the size of Hawaii (3,043 square miles), the Galápagos Islands are made up of 13 large islands and over 40 smaller islands. Distanced just far enough apart, flora and fauna could not easily migrate, in turn, creating many endemic species as they were forced to adapt to their individual environments over time. Only four of the islands are inhabited and 96% has been declared a National Park by the Ecuadorian Government. With the help of the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galápagos National Park Service, the mission to protect and preserve indigenous plant and animal life is a shared commitment. When visiting any area within the National Park, you must be accompanied by a certified Naturalist Guide. Lindblad Expeditions has been taking guests here since 1967 and their roots are deeply intertwined with those conservation efforts.
A Cruise on the Wild Side
We start our expedition with a Zodiac ride through the mangrove estuary of Black Turtle Cove. We see black and white tip sharks, sea turtles, blue-footed boobies, and Sally Lightfoot crabs, all in a short 30-minute ride. Our Naturalist Guide and Certified Photo Instructor, Anahí Concari, ensures us this is just a taste of what we will see throughout our weeklong expedition. And guests back for a second time echo her statement that this is just the beginning. Anahí grew up in the Galápagos on Santa Cruz Island. She spent her childhood exploring these mangroves with her uncle who was a local dive instructor, she sailed the islands with her neighbors throughout her teen years, and she shadowed her mother working with brilliant scientists at the Charles Darwin Foundation until she became a licensed guide herself. There is no better person to lead us through this paradise she calls her backyard. “The Galápagos Islands are a spectacular archipelago, but not all islands are the same; each one has its unique character. This was what inspired the great naturalist Charles Darwin when he was visiting the islands in 1835,” explains Anahí. As we watch our first sunset, the sun goes down fast at the equator, but we hope for time to slow down so we can be wowed by this magical wonderland, and for some, be wowed once again.
We head ashore to Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz, the most populated island with 20,000 residents. But that’s not counting the thousands of Galápagos giant tortoises that populate the island and that we will encounter today. Into the highlands, we visit a private property known as Rancho Manzanilla where turtles trespass and make up residence where they please. The Galápagos giant tortoise can only be described as resembling a dinosaur. Munching away on grass, we walk all around observing these unique, slow-moving creatures up-close as they forage their way across the lush landscape.
Education is Key
Next, we’re off to the Charles Darwin Research Station where they conduct highly successful captive breeding programs for endangered tortoise species. We learn in depth about the science and conservation work carried out at the center and have a behind the scenes view of their extensive catalog of species. The education will continue onboard, as there is a Charles Darwin Foundation Project Scientist accompanying our expedition. Our day on Santa Cruz is not complete without a visit to the Tomás de Berlanga school funded through the Scalesia Foundation. Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic supports this nonprofit focusing on quality education, knowing that is key to the long-term conservation of islands. Lindblad is dedicated to giving back to the communities they visit. And a few of our Naturalist Guides even attended school here, including Anahí, who we observed waving at her first-grade teacher and another at a student that they know.
Another Day, Another Island
There are no complaints rising early and heading off for our first hike ashore on North Seymour Island where we are promised to see all kinds of birds because of its ideal location for nesting. Pelicans are still finishing their breakfast, plunging into the water around us as we head to shore. As we hop off the Zodiac, we immediately see Sally Lightfoot crabs, swallow-tailed gulls with striking neon-lined eyes, blue-footed boobies guarding their nests and frigatebirds soaring overhead. A short distance into the walk, a sea lion blends into the rocks on the path, reminding us there is so much to see with every step. The baby sea lion pups are adorable and pose for pictures, unfazed by the attention of our small group. The call of a male Frigate bird interrupts Anahí who is teaching us about each species along the way. It’s bright red neck billows out like a large balloon in hopes to attract a female flying above. Stepping around endemic land iguanas, also undaunted by visitors, we continue on to find more nests along the designated trail. Animals throughout the Galápagos are not bothered by humans. Scientists believe due to relative isolation and absence of predators there is no need for an instinct of fear. This allows you to have a front row seat to this living laboratory of evolution. If you had little interest in birds, I promise you will leave with a new-found appreciation— the vibrant colors, the chorus of mating calls, the unique features that are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, only reminiscent of something you’ve seen in Jurassic Park.
The Adventure Continues
Rabida Island may be my favorite. The striking bright red volcanic sand contrasting against the blue water is a photographer’s dream. A quick snorkel session introduces us to the marine world. We are inspired by the lounging sea lions and take a moment to relax on the beach. But not for long, as we need to witness around 30 flamingos gathered at the saltwater lagoon in the distance. They strut in unison as if they are performing a welcoming dance for us. As the sun begins to set, the light shines on the sea lions in a way that makes them look like stoic bronze statues; it perfectly highlights a pelican’s profile for the perfect shot, and it reflects on the waves blanketing the ocean with glitter. Next, Isabela Island awaits our arrival after we cross the equator. Here we take a Zodiac ride hugging the coast, checking off more wildlife encounters: a manta ray, flightless cormorants, Galápagos penguins and so much more. Scouting out the best place to snorkel, we are soon swimming among playful sea lions, green sea turtles and speeding penguins. Back on land on Fernandina Island, the hardened swirls of black lava make it one of the most unique landscapes overflowing with the largest colonies of marine iguanas. A walk across this beach truly transports you to another planet. The final stop is Santiago Island. Today we explore Buccaneer Cove by kayak and glass-bottom Zodiac. Paddling into small caves and through schools of fish complete our exploring of the Galápagos Islands from every angle. We opt for a massage in the afternoon, followed by a yoga class on the beach led by the Wellness Specialist, taking the time to reflect and rejuvenate.
Lessons in Conservation
When you travel with Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic, you travel in extraordinary company. National Geographic scientists are often on board conducting experiments and using the vessel as their research station. You learn from their daily research over lunch and become familiar with their cutting-edge experiments over cocktails. We learned about exploration tools that capture scientific data from remote marine environments from Denley Delaney who leads the National Geographic Society Exploration Technology portfolio. We attended lectures on seamount and deep-sea research projects from Salome Buglass, of the Charles Darwin Foundation. We were inspired by the dedication to conservation demonstrated by Yolanda Kakebadse, the former president of the World Wildlife Fund and President of the Board of Directors of the Charles Darwin Foundation. “60 percent of species have declined over the last 30 years,” mentioned Yolanda out on a hike one day. When asked about one thing we can do for conservation in our everyday life, Yolanda proposed, “Each one of us can do something according to the place we live and the society we are a part of. It can be very simple things like reducing waste of food or reducing the use of water in a reasonable way.” When you’re surrounded by such knowledgeable people their words seem to ring all the more true. With Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic you will always be surrounded by scientists and scholars who are experts in their fields. A literal call to action by those who command respect and ignite change simply by their name alone. Custodians of the natural world, custodians of travel. They spark a passion and shine a spotlight on the magic of the remote natural world.
Tour Lindblad’s Newest Expedition Ship
Be one of the first to experience the National Geographic Islander II. From the vessel’s Zodiac landing platform, all the way to its upper deck pool, get to know their luxurious new home in the Galápagos Islands that will truly up-level your trip.
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