Española is the oldest of the Galapagos Islands. It sits on the southeastern end of the archipelago. The Galapagos are volcanic islands that formed over a geological “hot spot.” As the tectonic Nazca Plate slides to the southeast over the volcano-producing area, new islands emerge. This means that the islands towards the northwest are the youngest and the ones on the opposite end are the oldest.
This morning we had an early wakeup call in order to visit one of the most famous spots in the Galapagos: Post Office Bay on Floreana Island. We were offered fresh fruits, snacks and coffee before we took Zodiacs to Floreana, where we followed the steps of the first visitors to the archipelago and heard stories of pirates, buccaneers, whalers, and early inhabitants.
Some of us went kayaking and others took Zodiac rides around this beautiful area, where baby sea lions played alongside us, blue herons chased crabs, and several sea turtles surfaced every now and then. We also snorkeled with several Galapagos sea lions and many kinds of fish, and later enjoyed a delicious local lunch made with fresh products that our highlands provide.
Our exciting afternoon began with the appearance of bottle-nose dolphins swimming close to our ship. We jumped into Zodiacs and saw them very close as they jumped and flipped and cruised near the bow. It was a truly amazing experience.
Our next outing was a nature walk around Punta Cormorant. We visited a beautiful small organic beach near a sea turtle nesting area. A great blue heron stood on the site as though posing for our cameras. We also spotted some sting rays in the shallows, ruddy turnstones on the lava, yellow warblers, many Sally Lightfoot crabs, and adorable blue-footed boobies.
At night, the barbecue was delicious and some of us even salsa danced to celebrate a fantastic day!
On the first full day of our expedition, we visited Bartolome Island in the morning. It was a typical September morning, right in the middle of the dry, cool season, and the air was mild and breezy. Considered a jewel in the crown of the Galapagos Islands, Bartolome is small but due to its youth, it is like a field guide of geological features and is also dotted with small craters and cones. Bartolome is also home to a small colony of endemic Galapagos penguins, which find little lava tubes and caves along its shores where they can safely nest. In the afternoon we reached the northern coast of Santa Cruz, and visited a place called Cerro Dragón or Dragon Hill. This area is protected by the National Park Directorate for the remaining population of endemic land iguanas, as they have disappeared from the rest of Santa Cruz. We hiked through the arid zone of the lower slopes of the island, where the dominant trees were prickly pear, candelabra cacti, and palo santos, the fragrant incense trees.
A long, mostly smooth overnight navigation took us back to the central islands of the Galapagos archipelago. We awoke to find gray skies and a chilly breeze; these were pleasant conditions for the kayaking and hiking we had scheduled for this morning. All those who went to the shore enjoyed walking the long calm beach, and watching blue-footed boobies diving offshore, or exploring the mangrove and palo santo forests where finches and warblers were feeding among the branches. The kayakers paddled along the dramatic cliffs and inlets to Buccaneers Cove and appreciated the brisk following wind that helped push them along. Everyone worked up an appetite for our late breakfast!
Captain Cifuentes moved and anchored the ship in scenic Buccaneer’s Cove and here we had a choice between snorkeling or a Zodiac cruise along the weathered and sculpted cliffs. No sooner had we anchored than the captain announced there were two active manta rays right beside the ship, so we took our Zodiac ride immediately after breakfast! While we watched from the Zodiacs, our Video Chronicler Ivan filmed these beautiful creatures underwater. Two groups went out to snorkel in the cool water among myriad fish species. We were entertained by a young sea lion gracefully swirling through schools of endemic black striped salema and grabbing small fish as often as he could.
In the afternoon, we disembarked on a black sand beach at Puerto Egas. Our naturalists took us inland and then along the coast where we hiked on the black lava shore which has been eroded into tunnels and grottos by the relentless pounding of the sea. The coastal scenery was stunning, the wildlife was varied and abundant, and we once again enjoyed taking many photos of the unique and utterly fearless inhabitants of these enchanted islands.
We awoke with the ship anchored at the base of Alcedo Volcano and headed off for a nice walk at Urbina Bay. This incredible geological formation did not exist before 1954—it was the sea floor! We walked along the coastal area and saw plenty of Galapagos land iguanas as we headed inland. The surprise of the day was an Alcedo giant tortoise right on the path! We were also delighted with the opportunity to swim from the black sand beach on this sunny morning.
The afternoon was spent at Tagus Cove. Once a place for whalers and buccaneers, it was the perfect area for deep-water snorkeling, a long hike to the top of the tuff cone, and a Zodiac ride to observe the unique wildlife of the western part of the archipelago. It was a great day of adventure in Galapagos!