The following article was written by Galapagos traveler M. Sparga. Thanks for the contribution!
The first time I went to the Galapagos Islands, one of my traveling companions had his cap blow off into the sea while we took a dinghy from our cruise ship to one of the islands. Another tourist joked that we would probably run into a sea lion wearing the cap later that day. Of course, our naturalist guide had to turn the dinghy around and go scoop the hat out of the water; after all, with so many unique species to preserve, there was no way we could leave any litter behind us.
The Galapagos Islands are home to animals, plant life, and landscapes unlike anywhere else. Each island’s beaches seem to have a different color of sand than the others in the chain. And because the islands were so isolated for so long, and because they are now so protected, the animals haven’t learned to be afraid of humans. You aren’t allowed to touch any of them, but you can sure get up close.
Most tourists visit the Galapagos Islands from June to August, but you’ll find amazing wildlife there any time of the year. The Galapagos Islands lie at a crossroads where cold water currents meet warm ones, so many different types of wildlife can flourish there, and the subtle changes in temperature bring different species through that you can often see up close. You might see flamingos dipping for food during the warm season from December to May and penguins paddling through the water from June to December. And of course there are always the year-round inhabitants, including species not found anywhere else on the planet.
If you’re interested in checking out animal mating rituals up close, you don’t want to miss Seymour Island. I like to call it “See More Birds” Island, because tons of frigate birds and blue footed boobies populate it. The frigate birds are especially fun to see during their mating season, which peaks in March and April, because the males’ red throats swell up like a balloon to attract females. The males just sit there inflated (figuratively and literally), looking like giant red berries in the branches. They think they’re hot stuff as the tourists snap photos of them, even though we snicker as we do it.
The blue footed boobies, in spite of their silly name, are quite fascinating. They breed year round and lay their eggs in pairs, but one is laid a few days before the second egg. That means that big brother or sister has a few days’ head start to grow bigger and command more of the food supply. Because the birds haven’t learned to fear humans, you can walk right near the birds’ nests on the rocky ground and observe the chicks up close during feeding time. Will the older chick grab the other’s neck with its beak so that Junior can’t get any food from Mom? Some older siblings will, some won’t. This is the reality of nature unfolding right before your eyes.
If you want to observe mammals on the Galapagos Islands, sea lions are your best bet. And you can see them any time of the year. They hang out on the beaches of many of the islands. Just keep in mind the rule about not touching any of the animals, but don’t be surprised if a curious sea lion scoots through the sand to get a closer look at you. I even had a sea lion pup chase a school of fish around me while I was snorkeling.
There are so many other animals to see, like the black marine iguanas lounging in groups to soak up the sun, sneezing up the salt that they ingested while foraging underwater for algae. And if you get a chance, stop by the National Park Tortoise Reserve on Santa Cruz Island to see the famous gentle giants. They’re shy, though, so don’t expect to see much more than their shells.
I remember seeing a small, orangish animal creeping high up along a rocky bluff – perhaps to stalk sea birds? When we asked our naturalist guide what it was, he checked through his binoculars, then griped, “A cat.” Yes, as protected as the islands are, the endemic species are still threatened by invasive species. Who knows how much longer the islands will remain a magical place where the waters are clearer than anywhere else I’ve ever snorkeled and the animals don’t dart away from me when I approach?
In all, there really isn’t a “right” or “best” time to visit the Galapagos Islands; it all depends on what you’d like to see. But I would say there is a wrong time to visit the Galapagos Islands: someday. Someday may not come soon enough.