Monday 25 August 2014

Day 106: The Galápagos Islands Day 7 - The best snorkelling yet?

Snorkelling with turtles never fails to delight!
The island of South Plaza has a gender balance problem.  It's a warm island and the gender of a reptile depends on the temperature while the egg is incubating, so the output is almost entirely female.  Consequently, members of the island's rather drab-looking sisterhood are all seeking a splendid sulphurous yellow mate, mostly without success.  So a hybrid iguana species has emerged from pairings between male marine iguanas and female land iguanas.  Unfortunately we didn't manage to spot any of these hybrids but we saw plenty of female land iguanas (a languorous lot who didn't exactly look like they were doing their utmost to find a mate).

A land iguana roams amongst the barren scenery
of South Plaza island
Even without any iguana antics, South Plaza would still be a beautiful island.  Like several of the Galapagos' volcanic outposts, the rock here is dark and thinly colonised with bright red and green plants - a striking contrast.  Walking between shrubs, we climbed gently to the top end of the island, which is shaped like a tilted table.

At the far point, sea cliffs suddenly dropped away before our feet, bustling with the many bird species we saw on Daphne but closer to hand and in greater abundance.  It was a top spot for taking action shots of flying birds, diving birds, perching birds, feeding birds, preening birds, nesting birds - the full avian experience.  The air was thick with them.

A red-billed tropic bird soars above the cliffs of South Plaza
Back on board, we passaged across open water from South Plaza to Santa Fe island, accompanied by a new entry on the bird-spotters' list: the Galapagos Albatross.  As we approached land, the captain also spotted a Humpback Whale and we all piled onto the decks to watch.  But even this excitement was easily out-matched by the afternoon's snorkelling session.  Within moments of entering the water we were surrounded by about ten sea lions who dived and played in front of us.  After a decent stint in the front row seats, almost close enough to touch them, we reluctantly dragged ourselves away so we could swim with turtles on the far shore.  They were more plentiful than ever and never slipped out of sight for the rest of the session.  This was our final snorkelling session and, with the possible exception of Kicker Rock, it was the best yet.

Unfortunately the sharks failed to round off the day with a visit, despite the guide's promise that he'd booked them, but our faithful pelican bobbed at the rear of the boat until we motored away.

Tomorrow: back to San Cristobal and the strange world of twenty-first century aviation - a far cry from the world of the turtles.

A land iguana scoffs prickly-pear cactus fruit
Soaring swallow-tailed gulls on the cliffs of South Plaza
Sea Lion sleeps on Santa Fe
I counted 74 Sea Lions on this beach!
Sometimes it's hard to obey the 2m distance rule. The wildlife is very unafraid of humans!


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