The Galapagos Islands, located off the west coast of South America, are home to hundreds of species of animal, amphibian and reptile found nowhere else in the world. A double World Heritage site, both the land and sea are protected.
Charles Darwin famously formed his Theory of Evolution while studying birds and wildlife here, and it's no wonder. The Galapagos penguin - the only penguin native to the Northern Hemisphere - Galapagos tortoise, flightless cormorant, blue-footed boobie, and marine iguana are just some of the wildlife found only in the Galapagos. Travel to the area is strictly controlled to protect the biodiversity in this one of a kind eco-system.
Once here, one of the best ways to explore these magnificent islands is by kayak. You can paddle in harmony with the marine life unique to the area and create memories of a lifetime.
When you're exploring by sea kayak, you may find yourself at eye level with inquisitive, friendly sea lions, dolphins and penguins, or float near stingrays and schools of fish, or catch glimpses of sharks or possibly an orca or pilot whale.
San Cristobal Island and Kicker Rock
San Cristobal Island might be your arrival point, and it provides a variety of options for kayaking adventures. See Galapagos sharks up close and personal as they cruise through the water below you in search of a meal. Kicker Rock is a 186 mile (300 ft) high monolith that rises from the water and dwarfs kayakers. There are also dozens of open beaches populated by sea lions, shorebirds and sea turtles on San Cristobal.
Santa Cruz Island and Charles Darwin Research Station
Santa Cruz Island is the location of the Charles Darwin Research Station, famous for its tortoise breeding program. Kayaking here might bring you face to face with sea lions, sea turtles or the iconic blue-footed boobie. You'll know you're in the boobie's nesting area if you see a ring of droppings with an egg in the center. This line of demarcation is all the nest the boobie needs.
Punta Cormorant and Post Office Bay
Post Office Bay got its name from 19th century whalers, who began a postal system in a barrel on the beach. They left mail for others as they sailed past, and picked up mail to deliver to ports they planned to visit.
The tradition continues today, with tourists leaving addressed, but unstamped mail in the barrel on the beach, and then sorting through the mail in the barrel for items close to their homes that they can then deliver. As you kayak in the area, exploring secluded coves and looking at the abundant wildlife, you may want to become a letter carrier. Some bring the mail back to their home country, and then stamp and mail it. To fully honor the tradition though, the mail should be hand-delivered to the recipient, with the tale of the mail's journey from the Galapagos to the addressee.
When weather permits, Quark travelers have the opportunity to kayak, snorkel and swim at Post Office Bay, and explore the lava tube, a natural cave formed years ago by flowing lava.
On nearby Punta Cormorant, olivine mineral crystals color the beach green, and you can snorkel and kayak with sea lions for company. Chances are good you'll also see flamingos and turtles, as well as marine iguana and tortoises. Travel inland and keep an eye out for Darwin's finches (also known as Galapagos finches), which helped Darwin form his Theory of Evolution.
Floreana Island and the Devil's Crown
Located just off Floreana Island, Devil's Crown is a ring of rocks formed from a volcanic crater. The ocean has eroded most of the rock, leaving only a few jutting out of the water. Experienced snorkelers and SCUBA divers list Devil's Crown as a premier location, and kayaking you can experience some of what goes on beneath the surface. The rocks make it attractive for small fish which in turn can attract hammerhead and white-tipped reef shark, and manta and sting ray. A colony of sea lions live here and have been known to join in the snorkeling fun.
Kayaking is easy to master with a few short lessons. There are top landing sites in the Galapagos inaccessible by cruise ship or land, and to truly appreciate the biodiversity, you need to explore the cliffs and rock formations by water. If you want to experience Galapagos marine life in its natural environment, paddling its waters is an ideal way to do so.
Photos courtesy of Ecuador's Ministry of Tourism and International Expeditions.