For some people, a dream trip is heading to the GE Olympics later this month. For me, it was my inaugural visit to a place thought to be the origin of many species—most specifically, the Galapagos tortoise.
You can’t help but laugh when you see these guys. Like the sloth, they’re just a bit silly-looking—albeit, a little scarier, particularly if you’re trying to steal their food!
As soon as our Enrichment Voyages crew arrived in Puerto Ayora, the main town on the island of Santa Cruz, it was off to the Charles Darwin Research Station, where we took a guided tour of the facilities.
There we saw many of the giant tortoises in protected habitats—they went as far as to give us the full “experience” and engage in a bit of adult fun while we wandered through the center. (Awkward.)
I couldn’t believe how big these guys were—particularly their feet, which looked like an elephant’s—and how far their necks extended from out beneath their shells.
Tortoises aside, there were a few iguanas who lived in habitats all by their lonesome.
After an hour or so of wandering around, we made our way back to the center of town by foot, a pleasant and scenic 15-minute walk.
We made friends with some of the locals along the way. It’s truly bizarre to be in a place where giant iguanas roam around town freely like it’s no big thing.
Downtown Puerto Ayora was pretty bustling for being on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. In fact, while we were there, so was the Ecuadorian vice president; he was giving a speech in the town square, so there were crowds of thousands of people just beyond the quaint dock. Definitely not what I expected to see in the Galapagos Islands!
Heading on your own dream trip to London for the Olympics? Be sure and keep the Olympic Park map handy as you explore the sprawling city.
I’d rather see the island than the Olympics. Those things are amazing.
I’m more of a nature girl myself.
Although I absolutely love to watch the Olympics on TV, having lived in Athens in 2004, I can say with 100% certainty that they are one huge hassle live and in person. I’d definitely take the Galapagos Islands!
I know what you mean–Atlanta is just two hours from where I grew up (I’m actually there now), and they held some of the events from the 1996 Olympics in Chattanooga, and we didn’t go. I’m not big on crowds, but I still would LOVE to see an event or two at some Olympics!
Wow these guys look almost pre-historic. Craziness!
Probably because they are! One of the species we saw had originated more than 1 million years ago. Can you even imagine?!
I remember when I lived in Panama that iguanas just roamed around freely – in our yard, in the street. One of my sister’s earliest memories is running around in the front yard and stepping on one. The photos of the tortoise are really good!
That’s one of my favorite things about South/Central America–you never know what you’ll find outside your door…
Love these shots, love the Galapagos!
Well both the Olympics and the Galapagos are on my list of things that I want to experience at some time but if I had to choose then I’d definitely go with the Galapagos first. Love your photos – the tortoise shots are amazing! Iguanas always freak me out a bit – but they aren’t aggressive, are they?
They’re very passive. We actually stumbled upon, literally, thousands of them sunbathing on rocks the last morning there, and we scrambled through the throngs of them, and they barely moved! Crazy.
I’d love to be able to see a tortoise like that up close. They do seem massive. But the iguanas freak me out a little. I’m always afraid to get close to them … afraid they’ll attack. Weird, I know. Glad you had a great time and thanks for leaving out any R-rated tortoise images 😉
500 pounds! So yes, I think “massive” is an accurate description. And you don’t know how much I wanted to add the video of “tortoise porn”…but I try to keep this space SFW =)
I would love to get that close to turtles! Great pix!
We got even closer the next day… =)
Despite all my time in South America I have never been to the Galapagos, now I have to go!
It’s definitely not an easy place to reach–nor is it cheap–which I guess only enhances its allure, right?
I bet these tortoise are more than 50 years old… or more. yeah they look pretty scary, nevertheless, fascinating creatures.
Oh yes, they are! The one who I am going to feature today was actually 100+ years old…and he shared your name =)
Oh my goodness! What a tour. I love that you caught the tortoises engage in some, ahem, adult activities.
We loved hanging out in Puerto Ayora before heading out on our week long cruise. I can’t imagine thousands of people in that square, crazy…
It was bizarre. It was our first night in town, and we didn’t expect Puerto Ayora to be an actual town, let alone have enough people to fill the entire square and spill over into the dock. Now, if only I had brushed up on my Spanish pre-trip, then I would have known what they were actually talking about!
I must go to the Galapagos. I met so many people who were going when I was studying Spanish in Quito. The trip seemed so expensive at the time, but it is totally worth it.
You’re right: It is expensive, which is why I had never been before and only got to go because my employer covered the cost. But I think it is definitely worth the money, and should you ever go, you need to do a boat tour of the islands instead of a land-based trip. You just see so much more from a boat than we were able to do based on Santa Cruz Island.
Great photos! I love the Galapagos, it’s hands down the best diving I’ve ever done and I loved the tortoises so much that we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station 3 times, although I never did get a good photo of Lonesome George, but I’m glad I got to see him while he was still alive.
I only got his butt (debuting on the blog later this afternoon)! He was an elusive little sucker. RIP George.
I keep telling myself we will save enough to be able to go. When we finally made it down to Ecuador we realized we wouldn’t be able to make it work if we wanted to make it down to Buenos Aires.
I’ll be back.
If there’s anything I have learned over the past decade of traveling, it’s that you can’t do everything at once. And there will always be another opportunity down the line. There are so many places I had yet to explore that I have had to pass up awesome assignments to visit and it absolutely killed me, and then I’d find myself in that same place twice in one year for, say, Semester at Sea or some other project I was working on.
The Galapagos seems like one of those places that you have to really commit to for a vacation. We figure one of these days we’ll plan a big trip down there and do it right…. but until then, we’ve got your photos. 😉
Even heading there from mainland Ecuador–just 600 miles away, mind you–for three days was a huge challenge. I would only go back if I could do it for 10 days or more and by boat, but I’m definitely grateful I had the chance to see a brief glimpse of it (and for free, at that!). Enrichment Voyages offered a seven-day tour by boat that about 20 of the passengers went on; I think that would be the ideal way to tour the Galapagos Islands.
Wonderful pictures of the turtles 🙂
I once saw an iguana in the wilderness of some island in the Caribbean and I FREAKED OUT. He was really far away from where we were, sitting on some rocks next to a stream or something, but I could not stop looking at him because he seemed, at that moment, the coolest little dude in all the lands. They’re such funky looking creatures and it’s so cool so see them wild, just doing their silly iguana thing.
Bonaire maybe? I went there two years ago, and there were massive iguanas the size of these Galapagos suckers lurking beneath every tree. I think Aruba has them, too.
There is a chance I might be going there in September, though I’ve been told it’s probably the worst month of the year…
I have goosebumps…what a dream trip…wow!!!!