There are some places that stand the test of time and continue to amaze travelers after many years. The fascinating Galápagos Islands is one such place. One of our WT travelers made a return trip to the Galápagos with his wife and two friends and still found them as intriguing as his first visit in 1993.
In May, my wife, Susana, and I as well as two close friends—Garth and Wendy—toured the Galápagos Islands on board the three-masted sailing yacht the Mary Anne. Wilderness Travel and our Trip Leader, Cecibel Guerrero (“Ceci”), ran the trip in excellent fashion. My previous trip to the Islands was in 1993 on a smaller sailing yacht. Susana had a rather restricted visit to the islands a few years ago as part of a scientific conference she attended.
Our jolly captain was Mario, who welcomed visitors to the ship’s control room. There was no overlap in sites visited each of the two weeks. We saw a variety of environments on many of the islands.
Since the Galápagos Islands straddle the equator, sunrise and sunset were always around 6:00 am and 6:00 pm, with only a very short period of twilight as the sun sank nearly straight down below the horizon. It is only between these times that visitors are allowed to set foot on any of the islands, and the total number of visitors at any one time and on one trail or landing site is strictly limited. In addition, each walk is limited to two hours. Tour companies must reserve landing times and spots well in advance of a guided trip.
Much to Wilderness Travel’s credit and planning, they managed to reserve the two best times for our twice-daily walks on the islands—the two-hour periods just after sunrise and just before sunset. There are two key reasons why these are the best times. First, they are the coolest hours of the day, and second, these are the so-called “magic hours” with a good mixture of light and shadow and a warm glow to the landscape that make for ideal photographs.
On a typical day, we would leave the Mary Anne on two pangas (inflatable Zodiacs) in time to make a landing just at sunrise. With such an early start, we enjoyed some magnificent sunrises.
There were both ”wet” and “dry” landings, meaning we either waded through calf-deep water to get onto a sandy beach or were able to step directly onto rocks from the pangas.
After the morning walk on carefully marked trails, we headed back to the boat for breakfast. Those who wanted could then go out for about an hour of snorkeling. After lunch and a brief siesta, we had a second opportunity for snorkeling.
On some days, this activity was replaced by a coastal tour in the pangas, where we were able to see penguins and sea lions as well as examine the spectacular rock formations along the coast and appreciate the incredible layering in the rocks that resulted from multiple volcanic eruptions and lava flows. At the end of the afternoon walks on most days, we were treated to spectacular sunsets.
“Sundowners” usually greeted us on our return to the Mary Anne. Then a quick shower and change into “evening dress” (though no one had a tuxedo or a ball gown!). Dinners were sumptuous with wine and beer. The stars in the sky were brilliant. Since we were on the equator, we could see the brightest stars in the Southern Hemisphere and the brightest parts of the Milky Way as well as many of the familiar northern constellations such as the Big Dipper. Susana, Garth, and I are astronomers; Garth and Wendy grew up in Australia. So naturally, we held a constellation identification session. However, we were a bit disoriented viewing the sky on the equator. After some time of trying unsuccessfully to identify constellations (how embarrassing!) Ceci came to the rescue with—what else?—an app that could clearly show you what constellation you were looking at as you moved the phone around the sky!
Notes on equipment used for the photographs. All of the images were made with two Nikon Z7 bodies and three Nikon lenses: The Z-type 24-70mm f/4.0, the 14-30mm f/4.0, and the F-mount 80-400mm zoom.
—Text and photos by WT adventurer Jay Frogel, Ultimate Galápagos.