As much as excitement was building well before we touched down in the Galápagos, it’s the dockside at Baltra Harbour that had everyone thrilled to a giddy pitch. At the embarkation point, sea lions and marine iguanas soaked up the sun on rocks and nearby dinghies, while blue-footed boobies and pelicans plunge-dived for surface fish; frigatebirds drifted overhead. There’s only one place in the world that looks like this…
Once aboard the cruising catamaran Nemo III we set off on our 8-day, multi-island exploration, getting underway with an afternoon visit to white-coral-sand Las Bachas beach, on the north shore of Isla Santa Cruz. There we saw nesting sites for the green turtle, wandered past marine iguanas and Sally Lightfoot crabs and watched pelicans and a great blue heron on the hunt. After a refreshing snorkel we were back aboard Nemo for dinner and a welcome sleep.
Over the next few days we fell into the pattern known to all Galápagos live-aboard visitors: up early and ashore, snorkeling once or twice a day, usually ashore again in the afternoon and back aboard around sunset. It was tiring – and endlessly captivating. There was plenty of good food and Nemo’s crew treated us like family.
At Isla Genovesa we climbed Prince Philip's Steps and wandered among nesting red-footed and masked boobies and frigatebirds, and watched the endless antics of massed seabirds feeding; a walk from Darwin Beach led us past sea-lions, yellow-crowned night herons, cheeky mockingbirds and swallowed-tail gulls, the world’s only gull that feeds at night. On the east coast of Santiago Island we walked on century-old lava at Bahia Sullivan and saw the first plant colonisers of the black, crockery-like surface. At a brackish lagoon near Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill), on Santa Cruz’s north coast, a feeding flamingo came so close we could hear the soft sounds of its filtering bill.
During a day on the south side of Santa Cruz, we got up close with the famous Galápagos tortoises, first at a farm in the highlands, and later at the Charles Darwin Research Station, in Puerto Ayora, the archipelago’s largest town, where we had time for drinks at a seafront bar and watched locals playing volleyball.
On the south-west coast of Isla Isabela, we saw the biggest marine iguanas in the islands, had close encounters with the remarkable flightless cormorant and Galápagos penguin, and snorkeled with so many green turtles that is was like swimming with a herd of grazing underwater cattle. Next morning, at Punta Espinosa on nearby Fernandina Island, we finally had the longed-for experience of seeing a marine iguana feeding underwater – in between dodging several more herds of turtles, and frolicking with a couple of lively young sea-lions.
The last morning saw us all exhausted and exhilarated, and with just enough energy to get up early and enjoy Nemo doing a couple of laps of Isla Daphne Major – most famous as the site of a decades-long research effort into famed Darwin’s finches, which documented evolution by natural selection happening not in millennia, centuries or decades, but literally from season to season.
After flying back to mainland Ecuador, a final night in Quito featuring a lavish farewell dinner topped off the trip.