Many of the world's special places have been coined "The Galápagos of the (fill in the blank)." It never made sense to me. The Swan Islands are the Galápagos of the Caribbean. Haida Gwaii is the Galápagos of the north. The islands in the Sea of Cortez are Mexico's Galápagos. It's like saying that Paris is the New York of France. Having never been to Galápagos, however, I jumped at the chance to see what all the fuss was about. And I quickly realized why every wild place on earth would want to be associated with it.
This voyage was taken as usual with Lindblad Expeditions , aboard the National Geographic Endeavour. The ship was fantastic, full of hard working crew, extremely knowledgeable naturalists, and enthusiastic, curious guests that kept them on their toes.
Galápagos is perfectly primed for photographers. The wildlife is just there. Everywhere you turn, it's there, undisturbed, calm, and available (within reason) to be shot in the scene to the photographer's choosing.
The next cover of Vogue, perhaps?Marine iguanas quickly became my favorite creature on the islands. They are all kinds of creepy. Darwin called them "imps of darkness." But they are fascinating subjects in adaptation. Found nowhere else in the world, these iguanas have evolved to leave the lifeless volcanic shores upon which they originally landed and survive by diving up to 30 feet deep in seas rich with green algae.
The incredible thing about Galapagos is that it's not just about one iguana over there, or another over here. They are EVERYWHERE! Turn to avoid getting too close to one and you could be inches away from one behind you. This is what I call an Iguana Carpet, located on Fernandina Island.
The raw volcanic landscapes made for terrific hikes. Many of my fellow travelers took full advantage of the iconic views for photos that will surely serve as next year's holiday cards.(This might be mine...)
As with many Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic voyages, a National Geographic expert was on board. This time it was Andrew Evans, a writer for National Geographic Traveler and the magazine's Digital Nomad. If you're not already following him on Twitter at @wheresandrew you should check him out. (I'm on the left with the Tilley hat, by the way. Some have called it goofy, but it's a great travel hat.) Now, back to the wildlife... I call this juvenile frigate bird The Phantom of the Galapagos Opera. Get a good look at it now, because when it gets older it will look like this...
Sea lions are everywhere in the Galápagos. Having traveled to Alaska and Baja California many times and San Francisco a few, I'm very familiar with these guys. But since Galápagos sea lions (among other creatures) don't fear humans, they have a gentleness about them that I found incredibly captivating. (Note: Juvenile males and fur seals can get a bit ornery. Keep your distance.) Sally Lightfoot crabs scurry along the volcanic coastline. They peek around rocks and add the perfect splash of color everywhere they go.
Sea turtles, like this one catching a breath next to our Zodiac, are blissfully abundant. Swimming with them was as close as I've come to feeling like I was flying. They glide along, unafraid. The feet of the blue footed booby get all of the attention, but look at their faces! The Galapagos dove is not only a beautiful bird with red legs and blue eyes, it was Darwin's favorite meal!
Lastly, meet Diego, one of the giant tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Station. Although Lonesome George, the unique giant tortoise who was the last of his species received more international fame than Diego, Diego has fathered to over 2,000 giant tortoises contributing like none other to the proliferation of his species at a time when numbers where dwindling. One can also see many little Diegos at the Research Station, set to be the big attraction for future generations of travelers.
That's just a taste of the Galápagos, wild, beyond compare, and ready to be explored again.