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Galapagos Islands

Olivia Zimmerman

Luxury Expedition Ship
Silver Galapagos

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Galapagos Islands

Olivia Zimmerman

The Galapagos archipelago is a land of striking and marvelous contradictions. Cactus forests line turquoise coves, flamingos graze in volcanic lakes, sea lions from the northern seas and fur seals from the southern seas sunbathe on the same rocks, and penguins dart through the water.

As a wildlife fanatic, the Galapagos Islands have long been on my distant, dreamy list of destinations to visit someday. The spectacular evolutionary history, juxtaposition of life forms and bizarre formation of islands makes this place a true wilderness haven, and unlike anywhere else on this planet. The joyful anticipation leading up to this trip was accompanied by high expectations, but the Galapagos Islands somehow exceeded them.

We began our journey in Quito, Ecuador, which is a beautiful city nestled into the Andes. Surrounded by views of mountains in all directions and with architectural history dating back to the 1500s, this charming capital city was spectacular to explore. Music filled the public squares and songbirds darted through the trees, creating an ideal backdrop to explore the colonial buildings of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After several days exploring Quito, we took an early morning flight to San Cristóbal Island where the Silver Galapagos lay awaiting us in port. Upon embarking the ship, we were handed a glass of champagne and introduced to our wonderful butler, who brought us to our suite. We settled into the stunning surroundings and our beautiful cabin, and were greeted by a spectacular sunset with Kicker Rock silhouetted.

Our first excursion was a hike to the iconic viewpoint on Bartolomé Island. We followed a winding trail through volcanic landscape, arriving at a lookout over Pinnacle Rock. Our early morning at the lookout led to an amazing succession of fast-moving fog; from our vantage point we learned where the archipelago got its nickname the ‘Enchanted Islands,’ which was given by early sailors who witnessed the islands disappear and reappear as they were wrapped in fog. In the span of five minutes, the thick haze had moved through and we were again greeted by blue skies and clear views.

Our afternoon excursion was a Zodiac cruise among the colorful rock formations of Santiago Island. From here, we took in the abundance of life in these islands. Everywhere we looked, seabirds plunged into the water to catch fish or soared gracefully in the breeze. Cacti grew from volcanic rock, sea lions arched their backs and pointed their nose to the sky on shorelines, and we caught sight of a white-tipped reef shark hunting near the coast with dorsal fin emerging from the surface. As we navigated, our naturalist told us about some of the folklore attached to the towering rocks surrounding us, such as ‘The Monk,’ which is an impressive formation (towards the bottom right of the photo below) that nature has sculpted to look like a praying man.

Every day on our weeklong sailing was filled with many incredible adventures, and each excursion was rich with the charismatic wildlife that the Galapagos Islands are so well known for, and works so diligently to protect. One of the most notable aspects of this voyage, and one that truly enhances all components of the journey, was the phenomenal guides onboard the Silver Galapagos. Each member of the naturalist team had a remarkable, deeply impressive understanding of the intricacies of this unique ecosystem; there didn’t seem to be a single question they were unable to answer, no matter how far-flung. The guides' knowledge of and respect for each living organism and natural formation was inspiring, and really brought the experience to life.

My colleague Aubree and I took in the incredible wonders of this land, soaking in the daily hikes, kayaking journeys and snorkeling sessions with the enthusiasm of first-time travelers.

While it is easy for the wildlife and scenery in the Galapagos to steal the show, the Silver Galapagos acting as our home base was extraordinary. With multiple dining options (we spent most of our time at the sunny upper deck grill), a hot tub (to warm up after snorkeling outings), our sunny balcony, and the jaunty soundtrack provided by the pianist Alfredo, being onboard the ship was almost as exciting as being off. Receiving our breakfast in our room each morning and starting the day with a cup of coffee on the veranda was a real highlight. Wildlife encounters were plentiful from the ship as well—rays flinging themselves out of the water around the ship, and nimble frigate birds soared in the sky above the sundeck calling to mind pterodactyls from the Jurassic era.

The diversity and prominence of the wildlife in the region is what I will remember most; I have never been in a place where it was common for three or four different species of animals to be present in my line of sight at the same time. Frequently we would be paddling in an inlet with several sea turtles swimming past, sea lions gliding alongside us, pelicans diving headfirst into the water, boobies perched on a rock and frigate birds soaring overhead. Colorful Sally-lightfoot crabs were nearly always present, and it wasn’t uncommon to add marine iguanas or a few shark fins into the mix.

These islands are special. I know many can relate in feeling like it is increasingly difficult in our day-to-day lives to slow down—to find a place where we can disconnect from our devices and reconnect with nature, to strip away the distractions of living in the 21st century and experience a healthy and abundant natural ecosystem in action. The underwater world in these islands is just as vibrant as the terrestrial one, with impressively sized parrot and sergeant fish, octopus, sea stars, turtles, and marine mammals bringing to life the rock formations beneath the surface. It feels a bit like going back in time, a place where everything is just as it should be.

It was a perfect week in these Enchanted Islands, and one I will never forget.

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