In this new installment of Expedition Spotlight, Cultural Specialist Alexander Hillary shares his knowledge and passion for the spectacular natural paradise with guests aboard National Geographic Orion.
Across the Northern Hemisphere, spring is in full bloom, and our field staff captured many classic signs of the season: lush, green vegetation; birds of all shapes and sizes; and, of course, baby animals.
Santiago Island played an important role in the history of the Galápagos Islands, as it was one of the first islands visited by Charles Darwin during his famous voyage on the HMS Beagle in 1835. The island is protected as part of the Galápagos National Park, which was established in 1959 to preserve the unique biodiversity of the islands. We woke up anchored at Buccaneer Cove. Also known as Caleta Bucanero, Buccaneer Cove is located on the northeastern coast of Santiago Island. It was named after the pirates who used to anchor their ships in the cove during the 18th and 19th centuries. The cove is known for its impressive rock formations, which were formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago. Our guests had the opportunity to do a pre-breakfast kayak outing to witness not only the amazing scenery but also a variety of wildlife, including sea lions, marine iguanas, and various species of birds. After a delicious breakfast, we got ready for water activities. Guests enjoyed snorkeling, kayaking, and tours in the glass-bottom boat for those who didn’t feel comfortable in the ocean. These tours are referred to as dry snorkeling. After activities and talks on board, we navigated to a different destination on the island. Puerto Egas, also known as James Bay, is located on the western coast of Santiago Island. It is known for its black sand beach and its unique geological formations, which were created by lava flows. Some of our guests decided to stay on the beach and enjoy their last snorkel of the expedition. Others went for a great walk along the coastline. They explored the island’s natural beauty and observed the wildlife, including sea lions, iguanas, finches, and a variety of bird species. What a fantastic last day we had, and what a great way of ending this wonderful expedition.
The first full day on our Baltic Sea voyage began with a calm, sunny Zodiac entrance into the Danish island of Bornholm. We disembarked in the colorful little town of Gudhjem, home to 700 people, a lovely ice cream shop, and the landing for the ferry to Christiansø, our afternoon destination (although we get to travel on a nicer ship). We didn’t stay in Gudhjem long, but instead took a coach ride across the island to the glorious hilltop ruins of Hammershus Castle, the largest castle ruins in Northern Europe. After wandering through the remaining pieces of Hammershus’s mixed brick and stone walls and the impressive Mantle Tower, we carried on exploring two more monuments of medieval architecture: Bornholm’s round churches. These buildings, unique to the island, were built as both churches and fortresses. There are many theories as to why these whitewashed granite and limestone churches were built in a round shape, including inspiration from Jerusalem, ease of defense, and simple stylistic preference. Whatever the case, they are truly impressive structures, made with two concentric exterior walls filled with gravel and soil, an interior circular core, and two fortified upper floors accessible only via a narrow stone staircase. After our morning adventures, we reunited for lunch with the other guests, who had traveled to a nearby sea buckthorn plantation to sample the citrusy orange berries local to this area. Our afternoon began with a fascinating and timely presentation by special guest Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Prime Minister of Denmark and Secretary General of NATO. He spoke on the history of the Scandinavian and Baltic region and its current political situation. Guests asked incredible questions about the war in Ukraine and kept the conversation going until we had to depart for our second destination of the day, the tiny Danish islands of Christiansø and Fredericksø. Staff led photography, nature, history, and fast-paced walks exploring the islands, which are home to about 120 permanent residents but many daily tourists, who we just missed as the final ferry departed. We dressed up for the Captain’s welcome cocktails to meet Captain Peik Aalto, who gave a hilarious presentation to introduce himself, and then enjoyed our evening sailing to Poland for another busy day planned in Gdansk tomorrow.
We have arrived at Santa Cruz Island. It is the first time this week that we have seen people on land, and this offered us a whole new perspective. We experienced the interactions between humans and the animals that live in the same territory, which started the minute we stepped off the main pier of Puerto Ayora. Sea lions were sleeping as we passed, blacktip sharks were swimming and feeding in the water, and brown pelicans were carrying out their daily duties. The animals were unbothered by the presence of people. It seemed like a story from a fairytale. Everything was so unexpected and so beautiful. We were excited to begin our day. We visited the National Park and Charles Darwin Research Headquarters, where we learned about the ongoing conservation efforts of these two institutions. We also learned about the natural history of giant tortoises, the main attraction on the island. We divided guests into two groups. Some of us explored the beautiful Ochoa Hydroponic Farm. The owner, Romer, explained the new techniques of agriculture in the Galapagos. The other group of guests visited El Trapiche Farm. They learned about the steps of a very old-fashioned but respectable way of farming. Guests were guided by the family in charge of this beautiful and simple sugarcane farm. Lunch was offered at Manzanillo Tortoise Farm. Right afterwards, we walked around to see the tortoises in the wild. We had the chance to take pictures and enjoyed spending time with these amazing animals in their habitat. Back on board, we enjoyed a visit by local artisans who worked on their crafts right in front of our eyes. We had opportunities to purchase the work. A group of local musicians and dancers delighted us with their music. Today was the very first time since the pandemic that we had the pleasure of having them perform inside the ship. It was certainly a wonderful way to finish this fantastic day on the “Indefatigable Island.”
In the western part of the Galapagos, two special and unique islands are found. Isabela and Fernandina are the youngest islands in the archipelago, and both are still considered active. In the morning, we explored the coastline of Isabela at Punta Vicente Roca. In addition to the stunning landscape and its interesting geological features, lots of wildlife can be found here. Guests can observe seabirds like blue-footed boobies, brown noddies, Nazca boobies, pelicans, and more. Abundant sea turtles inhabit the area, and we got to see many of them. Flightless cormorants gave us a little show while they displayed courtship behaviors in the water. Snorkeling is amazing here, and a curious Galapagos penguin approached our guests. Our afternoon visit took us to one of the most pristine areas in the Galapagos. Sea lions, marine iguanas, cormorants, snakes, pelicans, and Galapagos hawks were the main attractions. It was an unforgettable day that ended with a wine tasting. We observed an amazing Galapagos sunset while enjoying a glass of wine on the observation deck.
Today, National Geographic Endeavour II explored Santiago Island from sunrise to sunset. We started activities with a pre-breakfast hike along Espumilla Beach. We had the chance to see a group of sea lions by the beach, and blue-footed boobies arrived to start a feeding frenzy. After a well-deserved breakfast, we continued exploring Santiago with kayaking and snorkeling activities at Buccaneer Cove. To end this amazing day, we enjoyed a second snorkeling and a sunset hike on Puerto Egas.