Unique & unusual Galapagos
Stunning island views, historic sites, lava flows, colour-changing weed and a harbourside feeding frenzy are among the more unusual things you’ll see in the Galapagos.
One of my favourites was the fisherman's market. The variety of fish on offer is impressive but the undoubted stars of the show are the sealions and pelicans waiting for the scraps that are kindly provided by the workers. I just loved people and wildlife watching here.
While wildlife is the main draw, nature, geology and vegetation all put on a good show in the Galapagos. Other-worldly lava flows, cones and sinkholes are testament to the islands’ volcanic origins while the volcanoes themselves provide excellent vantage points for breath-taking views. Vegetation adds colour and shape to the scene and man-made sites offer a fascinating glimpse into the past. At Puerto Ayora waterfront you can watch humans, animals and birds together sharing the spoils of the daily catch.
- Bartolome panorama: The view from Bartolome is one of the most photographed in the archipelago and well worth the effort of climbing to the island’s highest point. The land slopes down to the coast with arcing bays to either side and the shard-like Pinnacle Rock on the right. The blue-green water contrasts with the golden sand of the bays and in the background you see the hills and dark volcanic shores of Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island.
- Post Office Bay: I don’t think there are many post offices like this one! It consists of a barrel placed here by mariners in the early 19th century so they could ‘post’ letters home by placing them in the barrel for a crew member from another ship bound to that destination to take and deliver, leaving his own letter in turn. A simple and effective idea. Today the barrel is surrounded by driftwood painted with recipients’ names and addresses and you can join in by leaving your postcard and taking one you can deliver, continuing a unique Galapagos tradition.
- Lava fields, cones & tubes: You don’t have to look far to find evidence of the volcanic nature of the islands. Lava flows of two kinds are unmistakable: the jagged ridges of a’a and the almost fluid rope swirls of pahoehoe. The sheer force of erupting magma is shown by spatter cones, the remnants of air-flung lava fallen back to earth, and tuff cones formed from solidified volcanic ash. Lava tunnels once had molten lava flowing through them where now you can walk as you imagine the scene. Sinkholes, or pit craters, are the remains of underground magma chambers which collapsed after the magma had flowed away. Los Gemelos in the Santa Cruz highlands is a prime example.
- Fish feast: It might not be an obvious holiday highlight but the fish market at Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz might just surprise you. It’s a busy place when the boats are just in with catches being weighed and prepared. Pelicans are wise to this potential feast and can be seen wandering along the waterfront, frigatebirds occasionally swoop in for titbits and sea lions wait for scraps or, when impatient, move in and take their own. The fishermen turn a blind eye and are quite happy to put on a show. It’s all very entertaining and everyone’s a winner.
- Cacti and colour-changing plants: Opuntia, also called prickly pear cacti, demonstrate similar adaptive qualities to the wildlife, growing to great and evasive heights where there are giant tortoises. Their fruit is consumed by land iguanas and birds as well as tortoises, they provide nesting sites and live for around 100 years. The bat-shaped, spiny pads make striking silhouettes against the blue sky and are good photographic subjects. Another plant of note is sesuvium, a succulent which covers the ground. It undergoes a dramatic transformation from bright green in the rainy season to red and purple in the dry as it loses chlorophyll. South Plaza is the best island to see this ‘Galapagos carpetweed’.