Has anyone been to the Galapagos?

Has anyone been to the Galapagos? I’m planning a week there at the end of May and am overwhelmed with the number of cruise options and underwhelmed at the lack of mammal reports.

So … it sounds like a cruise is the way to go (right?), but there are a bunch of routes and a flotilla of boats so I would love advice. My priority is – obviously – seeing the fur seals (sounds like the sealions are impossible to miss), but if I could dive with hammerheads too then even better.  I have three questions.

  1. Are fur seals guaranteed on most cruises or do I need to stick to certain routes (bearing in mind I have 5  or 6 nights)?
  2.  What cetaceans are out there (in particular cooler stuff like beaked whales, kogia species or rough-toothed dolphins)?
  3.  I realise the chances of seeing any of the rice rats range from slim to pretty much zero, though I have been told that I could see two species if I could find an excuse to be on shore at sunset on the appropriate islands. Has anyone not on a research trip ever seen a rice rat?

Muchas gracias

Jon

18 Comments
  1. Ian Mackenzie 4 weeks ago

    Diving is a specific boat rather than a cruise ship/catamaran and is focused on the Northern islands. Finding specific mammals is limited by you being restricted to specified pathways on the islands. You cannot simply mooch around investigating. You are not allowed to be on islands outside of daylight hours so notions of sunsets on land are potentially fanciful. My suggestion is try to connect with a really top flight Galapagos guide like Monica Fernandes (I think she is on LinkedIn) who will be best qualified to help you further.

  2. Brett Hartl 4 weeks ago

    Unless the rules have changed, cruises are very rigid in terms of itineraries and when you can land on islands. Most landing areas have very clear trails and limited chances to wander off, and night time activities on any island except Santa Cruz (where the main city is) are probably not realistic. Nearly impossible to do Wolf & Darwin islands where sharks are and combine with normal tour, usually not an option because it is such a long transit to those two islands.

    Fur seal – I saw at a distance on Isabella Island, but best views were on Genovesa Island in the northeast, where we boated right past a group hauled out on the rocks. They are not seen nearly as frequently as ubiquitous sea lions.

    Rice rat – I saw two on Santa Fe Island just during the normal hike, they were not afraid of people and out during the day.

    Cetaceans – I saw Humpback, Fin and Blue whale, mainly around Isabela Island. Keep in mind most tours transit from island to island at night, so open ocean time is limited. Season may matter too because distribution varies with water temperature.

  3. Peregrine Rowse 4 weeks ago

    I visited the Galapagos Is in Dec 2017 doing an 11 day cruise that visited all the main islands except Genovesa. I saw Fur Seals at Punta Vincente Roca in NW Isabela. They were quite tricky to find hidden amongst boulders at the base of a huge cliff. We failed to find them at Puerto Egas in Santiago where they are said to occur. With some effort I persuaded our guide to do a swing out into the centre of the Bolivar Channel W of Isabela to look for Bryde’s Whales. We saw four right by the boat. The guide thought they were Humpbacks …….! I didnt see any Dolphins which I think was unlucky. There is said to be a chance of Orca around the NW tip of Isabela. The western coast of Isabela is much more remote with many fewer boats than the central islands. The cold water of the Bolivar Channel is very rich. This is where Flightless Cormorant is seen. Take your own wetsuit. The ones avalable on our boat were a waste of time.

  4. Samuel 4 weeks ago

    I have been to the Galapagos islands Jon but for a diving cruise so not much mammals seen except for the sea lions (we could also dive with them). Many cool reptiles and birds though.
    In terms of cetaceans between islands we « only » saw sperm whales, orcas and bottlenose dolphins
    So I’m afraid I can not help you much
    Samuel

  5. Shaun Edmond 4 weeks ago

    Speaking as someone who visited without doing a cruise, it is definitely possible since there are ferries between the three largest islands, accommodations within the main towns and plenty of tours on offer there (some of which could take you to fur seal sites), but a cruise would be necessary to get to more remote islands. I only visited San Cristobal myself, where I managed to tick off most of the Galapagos highlights and could have dived with hammerheads too.

  6. Greg Easton 4 weeks ago

    My wife and I did a cruise booked through the Andean Travel Company on the Treasure of Galapagos yacht. We had an amazing time. The companions we met were part of what made the trip special. We saw confirmed fur seals at Puerto Egas off the coast of Santiago. During our 7 day trip I caught a few distant glimpses of dolphins/whales, but nothing close or long enough for identification. We traveled in February of 2017.

  7. Alex Meyer 4 weeks ago

    My girlfriend and I visited in 2012 and used Archipell for 5 days/4 nights cruise (plus 1 additional night at either end). We chose them for affordability, but our guide Dario turned out to be quite good as well.

    Sea Lions were ubiquitous with the best views being on San Cristóbal where we flew in and spent a night before the cruise. At dusk I attempted to look for either bat species with no luck (but also no leads).

    Well done by Brett Hartl for the Santa Fé Rice Rats. Our guide tried his best with us to look during the midday hour we had to spare, but no rats. He mentioned he had seen them previously during the day as well.

    The only cetaceans we saw were Bottle-nosed Dolphins bow-riding while traveling between Floreana and Santa Cruz.

    Our cruise was short and limited in the islands it visited. It left from San Cristóbal with stops at South Plaza, Santa Fé, Floreana ultimately ending at Santa Cruz. By the end of the cruise we hadn’t yet seen Fur Seals so our guide suggested we travel to Northern part of Santa Cruz and hire a private fisherman to take us searching among the rocky shore there. We did exactly that and lucked out with at least 4 Fur Seals at close distance!

  8. Alvaro Jaramillo 4 weeks ago

    I lead trips to the Galapagos, focused on birds, but all wildlife welcome. Genovesa is definitely the best island for fur seals that I have been to. Also good for Hammerhead. No luck with rice rats. Bolivar channel is the best place for cetaceans – Bryde’s, Blue, Humpback, Sperm we have seen there. Have found Bottlenose and Common Dolphins, but they are not as regular as one would expect. Genovesa and Espanola are absolutely the best for wildlife, seabirds, etc. Most routes do not go to both, as we do on our trips. It is one or the other for most companies.

  9. Profile photo of wildlife_watcher
    wildlife_watcher 4 weeks ago

    I saw a fur seal on Isabella we took a boat out to some arches Los tunnels you swim around, I was mostly focusing on birds and reptiles but you can see some of my trip here https://youtu.be/5GRhMQBW8EA?list=PLRdIrthn9CCDzfB5Se3m3YRFr5cfvz10g

  10. CEDRIC LIBERT 3 weeks ago

    I have been there only once but Gordon Rocks, the “washing machine”, north of Santa Cruz is fantastic dive .. pretty easy to organize from the port with the many diving company… easy bargain…. I did it with my 10 years old son in August 2017 and got fur seals as well hammer head, manta ray, Galapagos shark and moon fish …. of course Darwin is The place to go but need more days…..with only few days there Gordon rocks is a good option to me!

    Cédric.

    • Profile photo of Vladimir Dinets
      Vladimir Dinets 3 weeks ago

      Cédric, do you dive with a 10 year-old? I thought it is only allowed from 12. My daughter is 6 and she can’t wait to start learning.

  11. Profile photo of Vladimir Dinets
    Vladimir Dinets 3 weeks ago

    I was there in 1995 when it was still possible to get there by supply boat. You don’t need to go on expensive cruises. Your cheapest option to see fur seals is a day trip from Pto. Ayora to Islas Plazas, it passes through the channel between Sta. Cruz (the main island) and Isla Baltra (the one with the airport) where a few fur seals haul out (on Sta. Cruz side). Sea lions are everywhere. Both Lasiurus species are most common in Pto. Ayora. The only regularly seen cetaceans are common and bottlenose dolphins. I also saw two Mesoplodon species (M. densirostris on a day trip to Isla Santa Fe and M. ginkgodens while crossing from Guayaquil), but that requires a lot of good luck. Santa Fe rice rats were easy to see, but (1) I don’t know if there are still day trips there from P. Ayora – you can check, and (2) it apparently depends a lot on the year, the numbers fluctuate a lot. Other native rodents are extremely rare and require extended stay on the islands where they occur (Fernandina and Santiago), but that’s pretty much impossible to arrange (Santiago was totally off-limits in 1995 and might still be).

  12. Profile photo of Jon Hall Author
    Jon Hall 3 weeks ago

    Dear all – thank you so much for all this advice. Brilliant stuff. Just what I needed. I don’t know what I will do still but at least have the right information now to decide. WHat a well-travelled group of people follow this blog. Seriously impressive. Thanks again

  13. Philip Precey 3 weeks ago

    I’ve been lucky enough to visit Galapagos 8 times since 2007.

    Key will be to pick the boat itinerary that gives you the best mammal chances, and go from there.

    Fur Seal: easy/virtually guaranteed at Puerto Egas, Santiago, where they haul out in ‘Darwin’s Toilet’, or at Prince Philip’s Steps on Genovesa, where you should be able to snorkel alongside them. They’re also around the north of Sta Cruz (eg the cliffs at North Seymour, although only seen them once there, and Mosquero Island), and Isabela (eg Punta Vincente Roca).

    Santa Fe Rice Rat: as others have mentioned, seems to be do-able at any time of day, although having said that I’ve visited Santa Fe four times and still never seen it…

    The bats used to be easy to see around the streetlights in Puerto Ayora, especially around the mangroves at the fish docks, but there’s been a lot of development there in the past decade, and I haven’t seen any at all since 2007. I’ve never stayed in Puerto Villamil, the sleepy ‘town’ on Isabela, which is less built up, nor have I ventured out into the quieter parts of Puerto Ayora or up towards Bellavista at night, so they may/should still be out there.

    Cetaceans are very hit and miss, and as others have said, unfortunately most of your longer sea journeys, over the deeper water, happen at night.

    I’ve had Orca once, between Floreana and Sta Cruz; Spinner and Common Dolphins once each, both times big pods out in Bolivar Channel; a breaching Mesoplodon just off Baltra; Bryde’s Whales on 4 trips and Bottle-nosed Dolphins on 5 trips. It probably goes without saying, but don’t assume the guide or crew are looking for cetaceans… be on deck all the time!

    And you will, of course, see your fill of Galapagos Sea Lions…

  14. Philip Precey 3 weeks ago

    the ‘honeypot’ islands are Genovesa, Fernandina and Espanola. I think the only way of seeing all three now is with a 14 day cruise.

    for mammals, a cruise itinerary that included Genovesa, Santa Fe and Fernandina would be perfect, and if it included Puerto Egas on Santiago all the better.

    and then have a night or two in Puerto Ayora to give you the chance to get out to look for bats, and a diving day trip to Gordon Rocks.

  15. Rob Smith 3 weeks ago

    Hola Jon!
    A few years back I did a few days amazing diving out of Puerto Ayora (Scuba Iguana). Loads of hammers + mola mola, golden rays, galapagos sharks, silkies, etc! Only did 3 days diving but was ace.
    Followed that with a 1 week cruise of Fernandina portion. Got the fur seals….whales were very hard though. The cruise was with Enchanted expeditions – they have a fancyish boat and a standard one. I wasn’t paying so was happy to be on the fancy one! They are a good operation with decent guides.
    Drop me an email if you want any further info.
    Hope you’re doing well mate!
    Rob
    rob@wildaboutcolombia.com

  16. Matt Miller 3 weeks ago

    We went many years ago, but fur seals at the time were easy to see (at close range) on Genovesa. Sea lions were ubiquitous.

  17. Profile photo of John Fox
    John Fox 3 weeks ago

    Jon, I haven’t been there but have been to a lot of web sites about it. Most were fairly worthless but Galapatours.com has a list of animals to see including rice rat and both bats, and where to find them. The cruise finder has a checklist of animals and returns cruises that go to the places with them. It can also return cruises with solo cabins with no single supplement which was a draw when I was planning on going with my sister.

    John

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