“There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath”
– Herman Melville, Moby Dick
It’s calm, even when the sea isn’t. The waters around the Galapagos Islands are generally calm, but it can get rough as was noted on one particular Zodiac excursion that included large swells on the way to shore.
The water around the archipelago is clear, as were the skies with the sun that didn’t feel as intense as expected along the Equator. Following the volcanic shoreline, paddling slowly in an attempt to not miss any wildlife encounters, was a highlight of the week.
The activity I looked forward to most on this Lindblad Expedition through the Galapagos was kayaking (I had hoped for more than two opportunities to do so). I was so enthusiastic that I was one of the first to sign up, though I wasn’t quick enough to get a solo kayak on the second outing. There was also the option for paddle boarding, but that was less interesting as it would’ve been more difficult to take pictures and balance.
Kayaking Between Galapagos Islands
The first day of kayaking was a stop between Isla Isabela, the largest island in the Galapagos, and Isla Fernandina. The water between these two islands straddles the Equator and is home to some of the Galapagos’ endemic species that aren’t found on other islands, including the Galapagos penguin.
While I was excited to see the wildlife, I was equally anticipating the views — the landscape of the archipelago is beautiful. This day on the water certainly didn’t disappoint with either, though the wildlife outshined landscape once again.
I had expected the waters around the Galapagos to be calm, but this day was an exception. It was the roughest waves I encountered on the trip — fortunately, it wasn’t too bad while kayaking (much worse on other excursions during the day). As it was my first time in a sea kayak, I was concerned about tipping over, though I was told later that it would have been difficult to do so.
The waves made photography difficulty balancing the paddle on the kayak in the waves and leveling my phone in the waterproof case while it was tethered to me (I also recognized the limitations of my 5-year-old phone camera compared to fellow travelers with their new ones).
It seems that after human lunchtime is wildlife lunchtime — every create I saw from the kayak was feeding. It was a beautiful, and sometimes noisy, excursion watching the feeding frenzy.
Most of what I witnessed was courtesy of the pelicans as they dove and thrashed in the water for fish. It was a fascinated sight with so many in one place — I didn’t know that pelicans hunted in such large groups.
The ones I wished I could capture on camera were the penguins that darted beneath the surface of the water around my kayak. Even if I had a better camera with a waterproof case, I would not have been fast enough to catch those little penguins in search of lunch.
Closer to the surface, I encountered some sea turtles poking their heads above the surface — they weren’t quite close enough to my kayak for a good picture, but I made some attempts. There were also plenty of sea lions, which had already become a common sight by the third day of this trip.
More Impressive Galapagos Landscape
The next day, we had our second kayaking outing the Galapagos around Santiago Island, the fourth-largest island to the east of Isla Isabela. This was a morning activity with a group of travelers taking part in a deep water snorkeling expedition (I could not do that as I realized I can’t see without my glasses when snorkeling).
It was a grey day, but the water was bright and clear — the sky helped make the excursion feel less tiring without the equatorial sun beating down. The waves were calmer than around Isabela as well.
I shared my kayak that morning with my brother, which made it a lot of fun — instead of a quiet paddling around the island, I had someone to talk with and navigate along the coastline. Plus, this was a family vacation, so it was enjoyable to have more time with family.
Santiago is known for basalt lava cliffs, which provided some amazing views. The rocks jutted up off the coast and some were home to prickly pear cactus (a much larger species of the Opuntia genus found in New Jersey).
There were small coves around the island, including one with an overly friendly young sea lion that swam circles around kayakers while popping out of the water and barking. The sea lion was a bit too quick to catch a good picture.
While I was concerned about kayaking with another person, even though it was my brother, we were able to communicate directions to paddle swiftly through the clear waters. We knew which way to steer and when to slow down — a much better experience than my previous double kayak adventure years ago.
The excursion felt a bit longer than the previous day of kayaking around Isabela, but it may have been that we covered more distance among those basalt cliffs. We were gentle coaxed out of the kayak and onto the Zodiac as we reached a small basalt island covered in cacti (not that we could have gone on shore with the cliffs).
As we returned to the National Geographic Endeavour II ship, one boarding dock was closed due to a young sea lion that wanted to nap on the steps. The crew mentioned that this particular sea lion visits the ship anytime it’s near Santiago Island.
2 thoughts on “Kayaking and Wildlife in the Galapagos”
Looks like a lot of fun! What a cool family vacation. I love paddle-boarding too but it’s true photos are tricky when you’re trying to balance.
I figured kayaking was a better choice than paddle-boarding if I wanted to watch wildlife.