Ultimate Galapagos 2019 Trip Report

By Wayne Lynch on Jun 26, 2019

Charles Darwin made his legendary visit to the enchanted islands of the Galápagos in 1835.  Today, more than 180 years later, the archipelago is recognized globally as a living laboratory of biological evolution and one of the great natural wonders of the world. For most, a visit to the Galápagos Islands is a magical event; one in which cherished memories are forged and never forgotten.
Travellers come to these distant tropical islands for a number of reasons.  Some visit because of the evolutionary importance of the islands, others to scuba dive, a few for the dramatic volcanic landscapes, but most, especially natural history photographers, come to see and capture images of the birdlife. Today in the Galápagos there are roughly 60 resident species of birds, and around half of these are extremely rare and found nowhere else in the world making them worthy targets for inspiring imagery. What makes time in the Galápagos even more enticing is the fact that many of the birds are delightfully unwary.  They may perch on your head, tug at your shoelaces, or ignore you when you are an arm’s length away. The trip we made this past June fulfilled all of these expectations and was a non-stop photo adventure.  

Most of us flew into Quito late at night so an easy day of touring the old historic city was a stimulating way to fill our first day. The architecture of colonial Quito is still reminiscent of the way it was 450 years ago with narrow cobblestone streets lined with whitewashed walls over which the steeples of historic churches rise. In 1978, the United Nations designated the old city of Quito as a World Heritage Site and it is easy to understand why. Another highlight of the day was a cable car trip from the main city to 13,700 feet, giving us a grand overview of the central valley.
Tip Top II GalapagosFor our voyage around the islands we travelled aboard the Tip Top II, a luxury catamaran, professionally operated by a friendly crew of nine and coordinated by veteran Ecuadorian naturalist, Peter Friere, who had 27 years of guiding experience. Peter’s special interest in photography ensured that we got the most out of each landing, and the wealth of images recorded by the participants was ample testament to his efforts. Each day, we had a morning and afternoon landing and we were always ashore in time to capture the sunrise, and again in place in the late afternoon for the golden rays of sunset. In total, we visited 15 islands, and our ambitious itinerary included all of the major photo stops a photographer to the islands could dream to experience.
I first visited the Galápagos in 1992, and this was my 14th time leading a trip to the islands. Even though there are many more visitors today than there were 27 years ago this was one of the finest and most photographically rewarding trips I have made. Our intrepid group experienced numerous remarkable natural history moments, a few of the many included: 
  • A male frigate bird with his scarlet throat pouch inflated to the size of a grapefruit, mantling with quivering outstretched wings over a female that sat atop a flimsy stick nest cemented together with liquid white droppings
  • Yellow Land iguana with cactusand orange-tinted land iguanas roughing up a cactus fruit with their heavily clawed feet to remove some of the needle-sharp spines before eating the juicy meal
  • An amorous male giant tortoise, grunting with eagerness, pursuing a reluctant female through the shrubbery, repeatedly ramming his bony shell into rocks obstructing his path
  • A rarely seen Galápagos snake silently searching the cracks and crevices of an old lava field for hatchling marine iguanas
  • Elegant red-billed tropicbirds courting in aerial duets as they prospected for a nesting crevice along a steep coastal cliff
  • A half dozen frigate birds, like aerial pirates, repeatedly swooping over a coastal dune and plucking up hatchling sea turtles within moments of their emergence
  • A mixed pod of 75-100 bottlenose dolphins and short-finned pilot whales cavorting around our boat, surfing the bow wave, and porpoising in the propeller wash of our wake
  • An Pilot whales in Galapagosafter-dinner treat of dozens of Galápagos sharks, each 6-9 feet long, attracted by the lights of our boat milling around the stern, their triangular dorsal fins repeatedly slicing the surface
  • Snorkelling with Galápagos penguins, so close they tapped the lens of my underwater camera with their beak, as well as algae-munching marine iguanas swimming amid a kaleidoscope of green-and-blue parrot fish, scarlet cardinalfish, golden moorish idols, and yellow-tailed damselfish
  • Diurnal- hunting short-eared owls stalking furtive storm petrels nesting in the dark crevices of a lava field
The Galápagos Islands has always been among my top four nature destinations for wildlife photography.  They are in the same league as the Serengeti Plains of East Africa, Norway’s Svalbard Archipelago and the Island of South Georgia in Antarctica.  All of these destinations never disappoint me which explains why I have returned to them over and over again in my 40-year photo career.  Consider joining me in May, 2020 when I will once enjoy savor the photographic delights of Darwin’s enchanted Galápagos Islands.

2019 Ultimate Galapagos trip participants

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