Galapagos,  Isabela

Penguins make everything better

We’re getting closer to the end of our stay in the Galapagos but there are still so many things we want to do before we leave. We need to finish various boat jobs before our next stint at sea. It will be the longest single journey at sea that Bob has ever done (at least since Alex has owned the boat) and we need to make sure she is well prepared. On top of that, I’m keen to get the analysis work done for my voluntary work at the Research Station. There’s also one island left to visit – Isabela, which is the final destination we’re allowed to go to as a cruising yacht. It’s the largest island in the archipelago and was originally formed from lava flows of six major and numerous minor volcanoes that have uplifted and joined over millions of years. Some of the volcanoes are still intermittently active. We’ve heard fantastic things about Isabela from other sailors and it had always been on the top of our list of places to visit whilst we’re here. So we decided to set sail for Isabela last Sunday and spend some time exploring the island we’ve heard so much about. It’s much more tranquil, less built up than Santa Cruz and San Cristobal and is home to the infamous Galapagos penguin and Greater flamingo – both endemic to Galapagos.

After a 10 hour sail through the night, we arrived at about midday last Sunday (23rd May). Although we had absolutely no wind for the sail and motored the whole way, the weather was glorious when we arrived. The wind was calm, not a cloud in the sky and the water was shallow and perfectly clear. A flock of probably 200 blue-footed boobies were torpedo diving for small fish schooling under the surface. They would fly in a group, all mimicking the path of the school of fish underneath them before torpedo diving in unison into the water. As we were setting anchor, Alex was concerned that there was a major problem with the windless because it appeared to be jammed and not letting out any chain. Whilst attempting to release the anchor chain by hand and loudly cursing the windless in the process, a curious penguin swam right up to us at the bow of the boat to see what was going on. “PENGUIN!”, Alex shouted whilst excitedly pointing at the water. They are so incredibly cute and I know that my brother have loved to see one (penguins being his favourite animal)! We stared at it for a few minutes before laughing at how amazing it was to see a penguin within 5 minutes of arriving in port, before we’d even finished setting anchor. Suddenly, the windless didn’t seem to be nearly as big a problem and we’d first thought.

One of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had came a few days later when we decided to go for a snorkel off the boat just as the large flock of boobies started their daily fish hunt. It was an absolutely incredible experience to be in the water whilst hundreds of birds were torpedo diving all around us hunting for fish. They are so precise that there was no worry of being impaled by their beaks should they miss and accidently hit us. Still, it’s easy to forget that fact when a hundred sharp beaks are plummeting rapidly from the skies towards you, but the thrill of it all was absolutely exhilarating. All the birds would surface at the same time and take off right over our heads for another round – I could have touched them if I simply held out my hand. At the same time two adult sea lions were also fishing nearby. They would mimic each other’s swimming patterns and as we viewed them from the surface, they looked like synchronised swimmers – mirroring each other’s actions. They were good fun to play with and as Alex tried to imitate their movements, they would come closer to us to investigate what we were doing. Another occasion I had a green turtle swim right up to my face, it hovered in front of me looking at me for a good minute before slowly swimming away and going about its business. The wildlife here is just incredible and I would recommend a visit for anyone with an enthusiasm for nature, there’s nowhere else in the world quite like it.

We’ve also been for a walk to see some of the wild greater flamingos in a brackish lagoons just outside the town which was very nice. There are some really nice walks here which take you right through opuntia arid zones, salt lakes, lagoons and give you the chance to see lots of interesting wildlife in some really unusual habitats. There’s also a fantastic giant tortoise breeding centre here with what appears to be thousands of tortoises, all at different stages of development and a really good education centre.

Of course no place can be 100% perfect and Isabela has its downfalls just like anywhere else. The lack of development means that finding things you need is difficult and the internet connection is practically non-existent – so I might have to wait until we’re back in Santa Cruz before I post this (which I have ended up doing so apologies it’s 2 weeks late!). Also, there seems to be a problem of theft from small dinghies at the small floating dock outside of the town. Although overlooked by a relatively busy pier, anything that is not locked down to the boat is at risk from being stolen. Apparently, even outboard engines have been stolen if not locked down. We have been the unfortunate victim of the theft here too, but luckily just an inexpensive metal clip that was attached to the end of a line that was cut away. It was a subtle reminder that you can find not-so-nice people even in the nicest places. We’ll definitely be locking everything down from now on!

Well, I think it’s time to do something productive. Today’s to-do-list mainly consists of doing some jobs up the mast. I’ll hoist Alex up on some lines while he does the work that needs doing, if he’s nice, I might even let him back down again….

Blue-footed boobies diving in unison into the water
Blue-footed boobies diving in unison into the water


Greater flamingo seen during a hike we did just outside of town
Greater flamingo seen during a hike we did just outside of town
Tiny baby tortoises at the breeding centre in Isable
Tiny baby tortoises at the breeding centre in Isable
 The wall of tears - the final destination of our bike ride. The wall was built by prisoners in the penal colony during the mid 1900s. It's been left as a reminder of the horrible suffering endured in the past. Many of the people now in Isabela are descendants from the penal colony.

The wall of tears – the final destination of our bike ride. The wall was built by prisoners in the penal colony during the mid 1900s. It’s been left as a reminder of the horrible suffering endured in the past. Many of the people now in Isabela are descendants from the penal colony.


  • Vicky

    I absolutely identify with the penguin passion! They were such a fantastic part of my trip to Antarctica/Falklands/South Georgia Island, that I have adopted one, named “Snuggy” by my granddaughter Olvia’s classmates! You bring back fond memories of our Galapagos trip, having been told we must never leave the pathway, we had to step off it to get around the blue footed boobies which had nested smack in the middle of the path and just stared at us. So fantastic that the Galapagos wildlife is so protected that they have no fear of humans. Love your descriptions and fabulous photos. Love to you both. Vicky

  • Catriona from London

    I’ve just signed up to your blog. I think the pictures and the diary are fantastic. The flamingo photo is brilliant. Hope you are both having a great trip.

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