The frigates - nicknamed "pirate" birds around here - lead the way, as the yacht I am on glides toward Mt. Seymour, the next island in the Galapagos where we've been promised a view of the monster-sized land iguanas. The pirates hover over us as we sit on the open deck, so close that we flinch when bird droppings fall toward us. Suddenly, a pelican pops up above the railing and hovers eye to eye with us. He stares, then flies overhead and disappears behind the yacht before anyone can lift a camera to record the moment.
It's just another boat ride between islands during our Galapagos cruise. That statement may sound blasé, but it's impossible to act world-weary when you're visiting the Galapagos Islands. Even the most jaded and experienced world travelers find these islands that cluster around the equator like nothing they've ever seen before.
Photos of the Galapagos IslandsPhotos of cruising in the Galapagos Islands. For images of Galapagos Islands animals visit this photo gallery.
Darwin and the Galapagos Islands
After visiting the Galapagos Islands and spending little more than six weeks here, Charles Darwin returned home and turned his findings about the unique biological adaptations on these islands into the Theory of Evolution. Today, a Galapagos Island cruise is an increasingly trendy vacation because visits to these islands (now a tightly regulated national park) include views of fur sea lions, red-footed boobies, Christmas iguanas and colorful flowers that appear nowhere else on earth.
Where to See Boobies, Sea Lions and Albatross
Every day during our week-long cruise, which included visits to six islands, we walked on paths - at times skirting around fighting bull sea lions and nesting blue-footed boobies that ignored us. We all took a zillion photos (thanks to the digital age) to record the variety of endemic, native and migratory birds, animals, flowers and plants we were seeing on the Galapagos Islands.
Where are the Galapagos IslandsThis archipelago of volcanic islands (some with active volcanoes) is on the Equator, in the Pacific Ocean 600 miles west of the coast of Ecuador. UNESCO, which lists the Galapagos Islands as a World Heritage site describes the Galapagos as: 19 islands and the surrounding marine reserve have been called a unique 'living museum and showcase of evolution'. Located at the confluence of three ocean currents, the Galápagos are a 'melting pot' of marine species. Ongoing seismic and volcanic activity reflects the processes that formed the islands. These processes, together with the extreme isolation of the islands, led to the development of unusual animal life - such as the land iguana, the giant tortoise and the many types of finch - that inspired Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection following his visit in 1835." In addition to the 19 islands, the largest being San Isabel, there are more than a hundred islets and rock formations including the dramatic spire nicknamed Kicker Rock.
Galapagos Cruises and Galapagos ToursMy husband and I were on the M/Y Eric, one of three yachts owned by Ecoventura, a family-owned Galapagos-based company that was first in the islands to earn and maintain the ecological certification, SmartVoyager. They got the ranking in 2000, and I can testify that on our ship everything - from the energy used on-board to the toilets are eco-sensitive. The MY/Eric that we were sailing on has both wind and solar power.
Ecoventura is currently garnering key awards for its eco-sensitivity. The company is the recipient of Travel + Leisure's fifth annual 2009 Global Vision Award for Green Cruising. In September, Ecoventura was awarded with the Conde Nast Traveler's 3rd Annual World Savers Award in the category of Best Overall Cruise Lines.
Some travelers prefer to stay on one of the few Galapagos Islands that are populated, including Santa Cruz and Isabela, and take day trips to explore, snorkel and scuba dive. About.com's guide to South American Travel, Bonnie Hamre, has a list of places to stay in the Galapagos Islands.