Last month, Latin America For Less’ very own Matt G. traced Charles Darwin’s footprints on a 5-day tour of the Galapagos Islands. Among many animal encounters, Matt came face-to-face with 500-pound tortoises, saw the world’s only ocean going lizards and he even mustered enough courage to confront his fear of swimming with sharks.
Evolution in action
In the years since Darwin first examined the ecological oddities of the Galapagos in 1835, this remote archipelago provides travelers with the opportunity to see some of the world’s most unique wildlife.
Matt took a flight from Quito and flew 600-miles off the coast of Ecuador to the Galapagos Islands. Of the 19 islands that form the Galapagos, only 5 are occupied by humans. The other 14 islands remain natural habitats for animals and plants that are occasionally visited by tourists on wildlife excursions.
Matt split his time in the Galapagos between the Santa Cruz and Isabela Islands. Never without his camera far from reach, Matt enjoyed a range of outdoor activities – from kayaking to mini-trekking tours to snorkeling excursions – that offered him unique, and at times adrenaline-pumped, opportunities to take photos of the diverse native wildlife.
Once-upon-a-time the predecessors of the now brilliantly evolved species of Galapagos animals and plants survived the long seaward voyage from continental Ecuador. Leaving behind most predators, these species thrived and eventually adapted to every ecological niche.
The marine iguana in Matt’s picture above adds to the other-worldliness that is often used to describe this remote island region. In addition to their dragon-like scaly skin and vertebral spikes, these Galapagos iguanas are good swimmers.
Galapagos marine iguanas are generally grey to black in color. But during the mating season the males turn coppery green and red to attract potential mates, which is likely a result of consuming a particular seaweed that blooms in the summer months.
The Galapagos Islands were named after the slow-moving giant posing with Matt in the picture above. (Galápago in Spanish after all means tortoise.) Exceeding lengths of 5-feet and weighing up to 500-pounds, the giant tortoises found in the Galapagos are the largest of its kind. Matt says, “The tortoises are enormous. They are bigger than some of my friends!”
Matt confronted with his fear of sharks during a snorkeling trip in the blue waters of the Galapagos. “My fear originated from watching movies like ‘Jaws’ and growing up in a culture where shows like the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week exist. But the sharks that were near us were not aggressive,” says Matt. “One must remember that we are in their environment and for a human it can be difficult to detach from the idea that you are in the world of another species.”
The white tipped-reef shark featured in Matt’s photo should be appreciated, not feared. Almost all visitors are assured some sort of shark encounter during their time in the islands. Local guides tend to laugh and tell visitors not to worry because the sharks in the Galapagos are vegetarians: There is so much marine life that sharks do not have any interest in you!
“The beauty and elegance of these sharks were beyond belief. While a healthy fear and appreciation for all animals in their natural environment needs to be respected, I came away mesmerized by their beauty and I hope to do it again soon,” says Matt.
The Galapagos Islands are one of the most biologically outstanding and scientifically important places in the world. To discover its magic, join Matt and other travelers who have checked out the evolution in action off the coast of Ecuador.
Photos, videos, and more
Hangout with unique wildlife in the Galapagos
Britt is a California native who left her home to explore South America in 2013 and now lives in Peru. She’s just a little obsessed about planning getaways with her family, scuba diving, and trekking.