Get amongst the greatest wildlife show on earth: The Galapagos Islands. This tiny cluster of Pacific islands far off the Ecuador coast offers a staggering abundance, diversity and wealth of wildlife experiences. Isolated from man for so long, the animals have evolved in their own unique directions and have no fear, providing an unparalleled opportunity to get up close and personal with the greatest wildlife show on earth.
Golden beaches, verdant folds, volcanic peaks and lunar landscapes abound, though it’s the archipelago’s wildlife riches that will have you most enthralled:
- Wander beaches busy with lolling sea lions, pups and marine iguanas
- swim with penguins and sea lions wishing to frolic, mimic and play
- snorkel amongst the vivid patterns and colours of thousands of tropical fish, seastars, reef sharks, eagle rays, coral, and sea urchins, while penguins and sea lions torpedo the depths
- explore the peaks and coast on foot, including Bartolome Island, with its beautiful, iconic back-to-back bays – gaze out by Pinnacle Rock over waters teeming with marine life and sea turtle nesting grounds, or simply swim and bask in brilliant natural abundance
- Look out for dolphins surfing bow waves and whales breaching and arcing over
- watch the courtship rituals and fluffy young of the blue-footed booby and the waved albatross while exploring pristine islands on foot
- experience the air thick with sea birds, all mating, wheeling and plummeting into vast shoals of fish
- Watch red-throated frigate birds careen through the air to scavenge on-the-wing
- walk trails strewn with spiky iguanas, their cousins swimming languidly along the shore
- meet the septuagenarian giant tortoise Lonesome George, the most famous resident of the Charles Darwin Research Station and the last of his sub-species
- see the thousands of cute-as-a-button, new born baby giant tortoises reared alongside
- stroll the main street of Puerto Ayora, dodging the resident pelicans and hauled out sea lions
Swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos
The sea lion is one of those creatures that look odd and ungainly on land – a cumbersome whiskery blob that waddles, barks and sun bathes, without apparent agility or grace. However, away from the beaches and jetties and in the water, these animals move like a waterborne Baryshnikov – they turn, roll, pirouette and torpedo with a skill and speed that belies their size and on-land lethargy. All this swimming talent isn’t just wasted on fishing, however, the sea lions love to play – particularly apparent when you don mask and snorkel and enter the rich underwater world of the Galapagos.
The Galapagos is justly renowned as a wildlife extravaganza – on land, in the air, and, of course, in the sea. Wheeling flocks of birds suddenly plunge from high up to spearhead through schools of fish. Marine iguanas sashay around the rocky fringes and dive up to 10 metres foraging for algae. Sea turtles, reef sharks and eagle rays are also in staggering abundance.
But the sea lion is the star attraction. They’re inquisitive, beautiful and fun, particularly the babies. They seem to think snorkellers are sea lions too – they come up and circle and swirl in front of you, without wariness. Long isolated, the animals of the Galapagos have no inherent fear of man – they just view humans like any other indigenous inhabitant of the island. Watching them swim, fish and cavort underwater is an absolute delight, especially so when they’re keen to interact.
Peregrine’s Galapagos ship, the MV San Jose, is purpose-built for exploring the islands and getting you close to the action. Particularly great spots to snorkel and swim with sea lions are within the Devil’s Crown – a ring of half submerged rock and reef off the north coast of Floreana Island – and at Gardner Bay, on the eastern side of Espanola Island. Both places are rich in colourful tropical fish too. The beach at Gardner usually has plenty of sea lions hauled out and basking in the sun as well – a great place for photography in and out of the water and for simply soaking up the spectacular surrounds.
Galapagos Seasons and Wildlife
The Galapagos Islands are wild and alive like no other land and a wildlife lover’s paradise all year round –you’ll see a truly astounding array of mammals, reptiles, birds and fish whichever season you visit. Having said that, specific wildlife and activities have a particular season in which they most shine.
December to May
- the rainy season
- warm air and sea
- islands brim further with lush plant life
- breeding time for land birds & sea lions
- abundant newborn seal and sea-lion pups (March & April)
- more sea turtles nesting on the beach
ideal temperatures for snorkelling
June to November
- little rain
- cooler, clearer water
- more aquatic life, as fish prefer colder currents
- subsequently, more sea birds
- albatross, blue-footed boobie and frigate mating season
- perfect time for diving
The peak tourist seasons for the park are mid-June to early September and mid-December to mid-January.
M.Y. San Jose
From the exclusive comfort of the M.Y. San Jose you can explore the best of the Galapagos with a dedicated naturalist guide and no more than 15 fellow guests. There’s plenty to see from aboard the boat, but in such a small group it’s a breeze to get amongst the wildlife - on land and in the water.
The San Jose is a modern, maneuverable vessel designed for small-group explorations of the Galapagos. It is perfect for a comfortable yet personal look at one of the world’s greatest marine reserves; getting off the San Jose and amongst the wildlife, both in and out of the water, is an easy, frequent occurrence. For when you want to kick back and relax, there is a lounge, dining area and two great sun decks from which you can view wildlife and be further captivated by this pristine natural world. The ship has eight well-appointed, air-conditioned twin cabins and is small enough to offer individual service and an intimate Galapagos experience.
- maximum of 16 passengers
- eight large, double cabins (5.8m x 2.5m)
- all outward-facing, with great views
- private bathrooms
- big beds, large windows, hot water
- 2 carpeted sun decks with recliners
- Lounge and dining area
- fully air-conditioned
- radar, HF & VHF radio, Satellite Navigation
- 2 motor boat tenders
- 9 friendly, helpful crew
- multilingual, knowledgeable naturalist guide
- dedicated chef and excellent fresh food
- solid, roomy, tourist class vessel
- cruising speed of 10 knots
- 34 metres (110ft) constructed in 2003
Peregrine Community Trust & The Galapagos Conservancy
The Peregrine Community Trust supports the work of The Galapagos Conservancy. The Conservancy is dedicated to raising funds and awareness for Galapagos conservation. It is a membership-based organisation and the largest source of private support for conservation efforts. The 11,000 Friends of Galapagos are individuals and institutions who care deeply about the Islands, and understand the scientific importance of preserving its one-of-a-kind ecosystem. Funds raised by the Galapagos Conservancy support the core operations of the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) and the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS), both located on the island of Santa Cruz. Click here to read about the Peregrine Community Trust and to find out how you can donate to specific community projects.