Galapagos: Observations from an Experienced Antarctic Traveler
National Geographic Endeavour
In my worldwide travels, I’ve discovered it’s rare to find a place as special as Antarctica. I became well acquainted with the raw beauty and wildness of the White Continent while working on Antarctic expedition ships, and it's a must-see for nature lovers and avid expedition travelers. Presented with the opportunity to visit another renowned destination—the Galapagos Islands—I wondered how these two extraordinary corners of our world would compare. Stepping onto the ice amongst the plethora of penguins, you can feel the wild spirit of Antarctica. How would Galapagos measure up to this unique and pristine destination?
Eager to explore Galapagos aboard the National Geographic Endeavour, I welcomed my chance to compare and contrast the two unique environments. As one might expect, the first difference is the packing list! I happily left the neck gaiter, heavy gloves, and long underwear in my dresser… opting for flip-flops and board shorts instead. Getting there was also noticeably different, as the flight times seemed more manageable. I was relieved that the four hour flight from Miami to Ecuador made travel to this diverse South American country surprisingly easy. I chose Quito as my gateway city to Galapagos, which added a lovely cultural and historic element to my itinerary. While Buenos Aires and tiny Ushuaia are certainly nice places to visit, the colonial center of Quito is spectacular! The entirety of Old Town Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as one of the oldest and best preserved cities in the Americas.
Except for the different climates, I expected the Galapagos expedition experience to be similar to the one I enjoyed so much in Antarctica—multiple daily landings via Zodiac, excellent photography opportunities, and spectacular wildlife. And it absolutely was. The very first landing was at Las Bachas on Santa Cruz Island. Though it was just a few miles from the Baltra airport, it seemed like an entirely different world. No one minded the wet landing in the 85-degree heat as we disembarked on a wild and pristine beach. During the short hike, it became evident that the same curiosity you find among Antarctic wildlife abounds in Galapagos. A Galapagos flycatcher perched close to my head and hopped toward me inquisitively. I was only able to snap a few photos before he jumped from the branch and landed on my head!
A few mornings later, we anchored off Fernandina—an active volcano and the youngest island in the archipelago—and prepared for an early morning landing. Stepping off the Zodiac onto a pitch black lava flow, I could feel the wildness of the place just as I could in Antarctica. But here I was not stepping around penguins, but over dozens upon dozens of marine iguanas. There were countless experiences like this as we traveled through the islands… from snorkeling with playful and curious Galapagos sea lions to watching the clownish mating behavior of the Blue-footed booby from just a few yards away. While snorkeling, I even ran into relatives of old friends from my Antarctic days when we spotted a Galapagos penguin, and for a few minutes we swam together in the warm tropical sea.
Expedition travel in Galapagos and Antarctica share many similarities: encountering surprisingly approachable animals, being surrounded by pristine scenery, and enjoying the simple pleasure of speeding along in the Zodiac in a magnificent wilderness. My shipmates, likeminded travelers who enjoy exploring wild places and interacting with wildlife, formed a great onboard community just as in Antarctica. In fact, many Galapagos travelers have also explored The Ice down south, and I made lifelong friends. And like my travels in Antarctica, my time exploring the Galapagos Islands has given me amazing memories, rich experiences, and taught me many things… but the one thing it proved, without a doubt, is that Galapagos is a special place indeed.