This trip to Ecuador was incredible each and every day. A huge highlight whilst on the the Galapagos was the short walk at Punta Suarez on the island of Española. We arrived offshore on the Sunday morning on La Pinta and disembarked for the dry landing on a headland. We’d been told to expect something special, and how right they were.
It has got to be one of the greatest wildlife walks in the world – Galapagos sea lions, marine iguanas, lava lizards, blue footed boobies, Nazca boobies, nesting waved albatrosses, views to die for and all in about a 4 kilometre circular walk. All the animals are so lacking in fear of humans that they completely ignore you – you have to watch your step not to tread on a marine iguana or a sea lion pup. Truly awesome.
Particularly worthy of note are the waved albatrosses. Española is the nesting site for almost the entire global population of these majestic birds (apparently a few pairs have been know to nest on Genovesa Island and Isla de La Plata). Española is, therefore, pretty much the only place in the world where you can see waved albatrosses nesting. Watching the adults flying by is a truly amazing sight, their 2.2 to 2.5 metre wing span silently gliding them over your head.
Española is also the home of one of the most successful conservation stories over the past few decades. The population of the Española endemic tortoise dropped to 15 individuals – they were rounded up and taken into a captive breeding programme. The island was then cleared of the introduced goats (a great story in it’s own right), which had wreaked havoc with the endemic vegetation. Then the young tortoises from the captive breeding project were reintroduced to the island. You can read more of the wider Galapagos tortoise story in The Galapagos: A Natural History by Henry Nicholls. Pirates, whalers and even Darwin himself loved the taste of tortoise meat!
A note on the tourism pressure on the islands and it’s management. I was really impressed with the level of knowledge from the La Pinta guides and their commitment to safe guarding this special environment. As I understand it the National Park licences tourist operators and guides. Each visitor site has a limited number of visits, and groups can only visit each site with the trained guides. The tourist operators are on a strict rotation and so the La Pinta only visits each site once a fortnight – so if you have a particular site or island you want to visit you should check the timetables carefully. If you step off the path the guides will be quick to point it out and ask you to get back on. 97% of the land area of Galapagos is National Park! The vast majority of the land area is not visited except if you have a licence to undertake research of the national park. And even those are very limited.
Although the islands are now well protected – and pirates & whalers (or Darwin) no longer visit the islands to collect tortoises – they are still under pressure and if you do visit please, please respect the rules and regulations – don’t be the one to introduce some plant or animal that creates more havoc. And do as the guides ask – it’s a bit weird being quite forcefully told what to do and what not to do when your on holiday – but please do as they say – it’s very, very important and crucial to the survival of these remarkable islands.
Thanks to excellent Metropolitan Touring and LAN for making this trip possible and making an ex-biologist very happy. Get a hold of them if you wish to have this experience, you will never ever regret it!