A myriad of species co-habitate here, but only six mammals are native to the islands. This absence of large predators is what accounts for the other animal's lack of fear toward humans. Needless to say, the Galapagos Islands are paradise for photographers and bird watchers.
Bound for Quito & Guayaquil
Our journey began in the Miami airport where we boarded a Saeta Airlines jet bound for Quito, Ecuador. Videos of tranquil underwater scenes, and soothing new age music greeted travel weary passengers. Some very nice Chilean wines accompanied the inflight meals.
Upon arriving in Quito we were greeted by a Galapagos Network representative who picked up our luggage and brought us to the Hotel Sebastian, a very charming European style lodging.
After an early morning breakfast, the staff carted us back to the airport for our flight to Guayaquil, where we would board yet another plane, bound for San Cristobal, the capital and oldest settlement (population 4000) of the Galapagos Islands.
The staff was wonderful, taking care of everything, including transporting and checking our luggage. In the Quito airport we were pointed to the Ecuadorian National Parks office, where we paid the $80.00 Galapagos entrance fee.
Since the islands are an ecological reserve, under the jurisdiction of the parks system, the number of visitors allowed each year is strictly limited. Various government fees and taxes were collected at points along the trip (totaling about $180.00 per person, so be prepared). U.S. currency is accepted for these fees, as it is in most stores and restaurants in Quito, Guayaquil and the islands themselves.
Arrival in San Cristobal
San Cristobal's runway dead ends a few short feet from land's end, making for an exciting landing. After checking through immigration (yes, you will need your passport here, even though it is technically still part of Ecuador), we were bussed to the town's small harbor.
Brilliant turquoise water kissed San Cristobal's shoreline. Sea lions were abundant, either frolicking in the sea or basking on the sun baked shore. Several had invited themselves aboard small dinghies anchored in the harbor, where they settled in for an afternoon siesta.
The tourists were thrilled to already be seeing animals, but our guides assured us that it was only the beginning. (All visitors to the islands must be accompanied by guides, who go through extensive training and have to pass annual qualification exams.)
We soon boarded a small "panga" or dinghy, which whisked us to the MV Corinthian, a 195 foot ship with all the comforts of home. While passengers checked into cabins (which all had private baths and showers) the Corinthian motored to a remote, San Cristobal beach.
The site of the crystal blue water had us as excited as children on the first day of summer. We suited up, boarded the panga and embarked on our first snorkeling adventure of the trip.
Surprisingly, even though the islands are situated on the equator, the water was a bit cool, as was the night air temperature. For swimming, a light wet suit or Lycra suit adds comfort, although it is not a necessity. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the sun here is extremely strong, despite the misleading balmy weather. Sun screen is essential!