The Galapagos Islands are home to one of the world’s most unique marine environments - all within the world’s second largest marine reserve (recognised by UNESCO as being worthy of World Heritage listing). The seas in the Galapagos teem with creatures – from reef sharks to hammerhead sharks, from pilot whales to blue whales and from sea lions to green sea turtles. But the best places to see the rarest sea creatures are away from the well-trod tourist path. We show you where you should go to have a private audience with the most unusual sea creatures on Earth.
Whale Sharks, Hammerheads and Much More
This will involve a much longer boat ride; but that’s what it takes to find yourself in what’s widely regarded as the world’s best diving and snorkeling destinations. Get yourself to the northern-most islands of the Galapagos – Wolf and Darwin islands – for guaranteed daily meetings with the world’s rarest sea creatures. The Galapagos’ waters are rated one of the seven underwater wonders of the world – but the rarely visited waters just off Wolf and Darwin islands are the absolute epitome. And if you visit between May and December you’re guaranteed to swim with the marine world’s most elusive prize, whale sharks. Each swim will bring you face to face with hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, green sea turtles, reef sharks and more.
There are approximately 50 000 sea lions in the Galapagos – and these are, by far, the most playful creatures of the sea. Though they have been recorded bites, most sea lions are incredibly gregarious and it’s rare to snorkel or swim in the Galapagos without being joined by sea lions. However, why not increase your chances of having a snorkel session with sea lions - who will swim all around you, often coming right up to your face to see themselves reflected in your mask - at Chinese Hat, off the southern tip of Santiago Island. This is a nursery for sea lion pups, so the water is teeming with the creatures. It’s also a great place to see Galapagos penguins, reef sharks and sea turtles.
Green Sea Turtles
Green sea turtles can grow up to a whopping 150 kilograms and only in the Galapagos will they allow you to snorkel right beside them on every snorkel. The best places to see green sea turtles are where the ocean floor is covered with green algae (their primary food source). So travel to Tagus Cove on the less frequently visited Isabela Island (the most western of all the Galapagos) where the entire floor of the ocean is covered in green algae and is home the largest collections of green sea turtles in the Galapagos. You’ll also find a sea full of green sea turtles off the tiny island of Floreana – travel to Post Office Bay on the north-west tip of the island (the site of a failed Norwegian settlement in the early 20th Century) and swim just metres off the perfect white sandy beach and you’ll find dozens of enormous green sea turtles feeding on algae.
Orca, Sperm Whales, Bryde’s Whales, Blue Whales and Humpback Whales
Who knew you’d find orca – more frequently sighted in the freezing waters of the Artic and Antarctic and off southern Canada – in the Galapagos. But because of the cold Humboldt Current that runs through the Galapagos, orca are frequent visitors, usually visiting for two to five weeks at a time in hunting packs. Orca breach just like whales (and can grow beyond eight metres) but they also ‘spy hop’ – lifting their bodies right out of the water. You’ll have the best chance of seeing orca in the deep waters around Isabela and Fernandino islands on the western fringes of the Galapagos. Here you’ll also see sperm and Bryde’s whales year-round, while the marine world’s largest creatures – the blue whale – and humpback whales visit these waters each year between July and November.
The Waved Albatross
So they’re not technically a sea creature (though they spend the majority of their lives at sea feeding on fish), but no-one should visit the Galapagos without observing the mating rituals of the Waved Albatross – considered the most unusual of any creature’s on Earth. You’ll find the Waved Albatross on just one island on the planet – Espanola Island, an uninhabited island in the southern Galapagos group 50 kilometres south of your arrival point at San Cristobel. Waved albatrosses have the most elaborate mating ritual in the animal kingdom. Take a seat and watch the show: each albatross faces each other, bows, opens its beak wide and then proceeds to embark on a bizarre ritual involving drumming their beaks on lava rocks and clacking beaks together for up to half an hour at a time. When it’s over they’re partners for life.