What better place to experience marine life than the Galapagos Islands?
I’ve seen amazing land animals while on an African safari, so I could not wait to explore what lived below the surface of these islands’ waters. I have only snorkeled once prior, so I was a little nervous about doing so two to three times a day. The fact I’d be swimming in salt water and wearing a wet suit eased my mind, as I knew I would be more buoyant. Yet, by the end of our seven-night cruise, snorkeling was my favorite part of the trip. I encountered animals I was crossing my fingers to see, and to my surprise, saw so many more of which I had only dreamed.
The most playful and fun animals are the sea lions. When the pups are about 8-9 months old, they enjoy swimming and interacting with the tourists. Their favorite thing to do is “terrorize the tourist” which is swimming quickly straight toward your goggles then diving down at the last second to give you a bit of a scare, but they are only playing. This definitely startled me the first time! Each time after that, I couldn’t help but giggle at how much it reminded me of my dog trying to get me to play.
The animal I most wanted to spot was a hammerhead shark. Many of my colleagues had returned from the Galapagos without a sighting, so I tried to not get my hopes up (yeah right!). Luck was on my side however, and we came across a group of over 100 golden rays with 4 hammerhead sharks swimming below them along the ocean floor. I did a little happy dance in the water while trying to avoid getting water in my goggles. This was such an unbelievable moment I actually needed to pinch myself to ensure I wasn’t dreaming.
To be swimming with these majestic sharks was something I didn’t think I would ever get the chance to do. As they glided underneath, I couldn’t help but realize how sharks are very much underappreciated and unjustly feared due to their portrayal in the media. Our guide had been right to encourage us to soak up every moment with them, and instead be wary of the Galapagos beach masters which are territorial male sea lions. If you give the sharks their space, like they give you your space, there is no need to worry, and your guide will give you the best times of day to snorkel with them.
One of my favorite snorkels was at Kicker Rock, a volcanic tuff that split over time. We snorkeled in between its two extremely tall and deep rock walls. There were over 50 sea turtles at this one site. Swimming along, I would have to look up frequently to make sure I didn’t bump into one! I felt like Nemo swimming with Crush and all his friends. A few times I had to move around them, as they were leisurely swimming along directly in my path. This same snorkel, I saw spotted eagle rays, black tipped reef sharks and Galapagos sharks all at once. Add this to the list of unbelievable moments!
Another moment I couldn’t believe what I was seeing was when we came across a nine-foot wide manta ray during our morning snorkel at Rabida (Jervis) Island. We almost missed it as it was in deeper waters, but then came close to feed in shallow waters so we turned back to watch it gracefully move along. At one point, I was floating over the manta ray and stretched my arms out as wide as I could to really get a feel for how large it was. It was breathtaking and hard to believe they can get up to 20 feet wide!
One of the rarest penguins in the world is the Galapagos penguin, the only of its kind found north of the equator. With a population of less than 2000, it was another animal we were not expecting to actually see. And yet we got to swim with them not just once, but twice. As we approached our snorkel spot in the panga (small motor boat), we could see the little birds waddling and swimming in the distance. We quickly slipped overboard to not miss our chance to swim with these adorable fast birds. They swam around us minding their own business as if we weren’t even there. Some were sun bathing and dipping in and out of the water, so we sat on the rocks in an attempt to take a selfie with the penguins.
The Galapagos Islands gave me many surreal moments that I will never forget and can’t wait to experience again one day. You never know what you will end up seeing and often encounter scenes you’d never even imagined. For those looking for a different type of safari, a trip to the Galapagos Islands is a must. You’ll see animals that you wouldn’t anywhere else in the world and return, like me, confident that there is just no other place like it!