The Galapagos Islands in Pictures
Story and photos by Annika S. Hipple
Seattle Times’ Trip Magazine, August 2008
Ever since the arrival of the original ecotourist, Charles Darwin, in 1835, the Galapagos Islands have fascinated travelers – including me.
I first visited the islands in college, and ever since, I’d longed to go back. The spectacular volcanic landscapes, brilliant turquoise water and face-to-face encounters with unique creatures, both on land and in the sea (it was in the Galapagos that I fell in love with snorkeling), made for a week that I would never forget. Now that I was finally on my way back, I could only hope that the islands would live up to my memories.
After a 90-minute flight from mainland Ecuador to Baltra Island, it was a short bus ride to the pier, where frigate birds circled overhead and a sea lion snoozed on a bench labeled “Provincial Government of the Galapagos.” Motorized Zodiac rafts carried my fellow passengers and me out to the 40-passenger Isabela II, our home for the next week.
Although the four inhabited islands offer a variety of lodging options, cruising remains the best way to see the Galapagos, since you travel at night and wake up in a new place each morning. We visited nine islands, including Santa Cruz – where giant tortoises roam through highland forests – and Fernandina, one of the youngest islands, still covered with exposed lava flows.
Off-boat, we hiked along beaches and cliffs, through forests and shrublands. On the beaches, sea lions lazed in the sun and frolicked in the surf. I saw one playfully chasing the tail of a marine iguana, an amphibious species unique to the Galapagos.
We also had frequent opportunities to explore the underwater world of the Galapagos, snorkeling with sea lions, stingrays, sea turtles, penguins, colorful fish – even the occasional (harmless) Galapagos shark.
The Galapagos are not Eden. Both tourism and the resident population have increased exponentially in recent decades, creating new pressures on the fragile flora and fauna. Tourism-related economic opportunities have contributed to the rapid influx of people from the mainland.
Fortunately, the Ecuadorian government has passed laws restricting new immigration to the islands. Overall, tourism appears well-managed and generates revenue that supports efforts to combat threats such as invasive species, oil spills and illegal fishing.
Despite challenges, the Galapagos remain enchanted, offering a unique window on the evolution of an archipelago and the species that live there. A place where you come face to face with the forces of nature, the Galapagos make me think about where we’ve come from as a species, where we’re going and how we can protect the places we love.