Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ecuador trip - Part 2 (Galapagos islands)

Next up was the Galapagos cruise. The next day, we took the early, 2-hop flight to Baltra airport on one of the Galapagos islands and took a raft up to our cruise: The Galapagos Legend. The Galapagos has a bunch of islands, relatively far apart from each other, so taking a cruise is the best way to visit them. A cruise also ensures that you minimize your impact on the islands & help in preservation.

The Legend is one of the few big cruises (capacity of 100 visitors), running across the Galapagos. Most ships are much smaller (17-40 passengers). We decided to go with a big ship, because more people equals more fun. We thoroughly enjoyed our time at the Galapagos. The service was great and the schedule was optimal. Never did we feel that we were too rushed, or too bored. We had 2 excursions a day, 1 in the morning and 1 in the evening, where we visited one of the islands.

The islands themselves were quite different than what I had imagined. I had imagined a lush, green paradise, but most of the islands were dry, barren, rocky affairs. What makes Galapagos special is not the richness of life, but rather the uniqueness of it. A lot of the species at Galapagos evolved at Galapagos and hence you wont find them anywhere else on the earth. Some of the highlights in no particular order were:

The salt-sneezing marine iguana and the magnificently colored land iguana...

The blue-footed boobies, especially their straight vertical dive into the sea...

The frigate birds and their majestic flight...

And the overall lava-created landscape...

Yes and the tortoises were great too :). But you've probably heard a lot about them already.

A surprising fact that I did not know was that Galapagos has a permanent human settlement of almost 18000 with proper villages and farms primarily on the island of Santa Cruz. The settlement was originally created by the Ecuadorian government because they wanted to assert their control on the islands and didn't want any of the mighty European countries to claim it.

As we found out, Galapagos also suffers from the influx of invasive species introduced by humans. So the national park is hard at work eliminating rats, pigs, sheep, dogs, cats, non-native plants and everything else that is non-native. It seems like a huge and a very hard undertaking.

Overall, I felt that the Galapagos islands are a unique tourist destination for casual tourists. A bit on the expensive side, but worth it.

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