I have happy, fond memories of visiting the Galapagos Islands…and, conversely, nausea at the mere thought of it. The Galapagos are one of those travel venues that offers astonishing views and photographs of some of the world’s most unique creatures, but it is at a fairly high physical cost to many travelers, including this one. If you are considering an adventure to these Islands, here is an unsponsored overview.
We were here for a week visiting seven of the 19 volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles west of Ecuador. There are many sizes of boats and varieties of tours from which to choose. After extensive planning (and saving), we chose a smaller boat for intimacy; it held six couples and a staff of four. A big cruise ship held no allure for us.
I am not usually seriously prone to motion sickness, but I brought a full array of OTC remedies just in case. It was mid-June and one of the best times to visit. But the waters were rough, and unfortunately none of the remedies were fully effective. My partner and I were sick every single night, as were 50% of our group. We’d all 12 start out at the elegantly set dinner table; animated, happy, brimming with stories to share about our day of adventures. Then one by one each of us would excuse ourselves from the table in a panicked rush to the cabin bathroom below deck, where we’d stay for the night. I never had a full dinner aboard ship that entire week.
There are many strict rules to visiting The Galapagos, of which I am all in favor. The Islands are fragile and unique, and with over 150,000 tourists annually, they have had to make restrictions in order to protect the wildlife and natural features. Every visitor, for instance, has to be accompanied at all times by an Ecuadorean naturalist guide. This means you cannot just travel here on your own. You have to make reservations with an approved guide and group, pay a rather large entrance fee, and can never wander unaccompanied off the trail.
The Islands are sparsely populated (25,000), and some are exclusively for visiting scientists, so staying in a hotel is not a common option. In this sense, it is not like Hawaii or Bali or other island destinations, but this is part of the beautiful uniqueness. Hiring a boat and cruising between islands at night to explore them by day is what almost all tourists do. This method demands you travel by boat even if your body may not necessarily want that. Since some of the islands are over a hundred miles apart, it is an efficient way to tour, and very adventurous too.
Day trips to individual islands were the best reprieve from sea sickness, and outstanding in every way. I never loved being on land more in my entire life. Every morning we took a small Zodiac boat from the boat to shore and hiked around. We frequently encountered scenes like this with whales along the way. Several days we snorkeled, too. I’ve shared images and essays of wildlife like the frigatebirds and iguanas, and will share many more in the future as well. We were constantly surrounded by awesome views and beautiful, unusual wildlife, and this is what I absolutely loved.
Charles Darwin accompanied Captain Robert Fitzroy on the HMS Beagle to the Galapagos in the 1930s. A naturalist, he published revolutionary findings about evolution and natural selection through his study of finches while visiting here. And guess what? This great man was always seasick!
For a wildlife enthusiast or photographer, there is nothing on this earth like the Galapagos Islands for observing up-close wildlife. When you’re out in the sea hundreds of miles off the mainland, sea creatures are a common sight. On land, animals and birds are eerily adjusted to life without humans and consequently easily approached. This is what makes these Islands so extraordinary.
Would I ever go back? I never say never…but it is highly unlikely. I noticed recently I had no desire to enter the Jeopardy drawing to win a trip (for free!) to the Galapagos. If I did go back I would take a large cruise boat and not care a wit about the masses of fellow tourists. The bigger the boat, the less jostling.
Am I glad I went? I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!
Photo credit: Athena Alexander