Galápagos Islands – Bartolomé & South Plaza

Sunday June 7, 2009

We departed the catamaran particularly early for our trek to the top of Bartolomé. This small island’s scenic vistas are the Galápagos’ most iconic. We got a 6am start to avoid the groups from the two other vessels anchored offshore. Again we were grateful for Daniel, our fabulous naturalist, and his meticulous planning, which gave us our own private time atop the picturesque hills and enabled us to catch the sunrise over the gorgeous scenery.

The cloudless, early-morning sky allowed for sun-drenched 180° views of the Galápagos’ most photographed landscape. The green vegetation along the central isthmus was an eye-popping contrast against the glowing crimson hills. On the north side of the isthmus was a small, curved beach, punctuated by the commanding Pinnacle Rock. There was also a large crater to the right of this cove – an underwater, volcanic ring whose rocky rim was visible from just below the surface of the translucent water.

After breakfast we took the pangas to a reef on the far side of Pinnacle Rock for some amazing snorkeling. We spent a couple of hours slowly making our way along the reef, around Pinnacle Rock, and back to the beach. It was a pristine area for snorkeling; the water was crystal clear and was full of interesting rock formations and colorful underwater life. We saw many large schools of fish, different sponges and urchins, a pair of eels, a stingray, two types of starfish, and a playful adult sea lion.

After our undersea adventure, we returned aboard for a midday sail. We sailed for a few hours today in the hot sunshine toward South Plaza Island. This was the first time we had any downtime during the daytime hours. We lounged in the chairs on the upper, solarium deck and soaked up the warm, equatorial sunrays. Shortly after departing Bartolomé we were greeted by a handful of unexpected visitors – male and female magnificent frigate birds. As we were not visiting one of the few frigate nesting sites, this was a fortunate opportunity for Stephan to get close to his highly sought-after feathered friends. They perched clumsily on the rails and top of the boat, occasionally attempting a landing on the ship’s antennae, only to be flung off brusquely in the sea breeze. The frigates escorted us all the way to South Plaza Island, where we anchored in a narrow channel between rocky coastlines dotted with sea lions and water birds.

South Plaza is a very small island, and we walked the perimeter in only a couple of hours. We began on rocks along the sea level that were covered in large, prickly pear cacti, land iguanas, and sea lions. The rocks were glossy white and gray, and looked as if they had been carefully tumbled and polished. We crossed over a desiccated lava river and continued across similar terrain. As we made our way to the opposite side of the island, the landscape transformed to tall, rocky cliffs that dropped off to the ocean below. Along the cliffs we saw swallow-tailed gulls, boobies, and red-billed tropic birds. We also saw male sea lion “bachelor areas” atop the high cliffs, where each night they fight to determine who sleeps on the most premium rock.

After our excursion, we boarded the ship for our final night of sailing – 4 hours back to San Cristóbal, where we started this amazing adventure. Rodrigo, William, Daniel and the rest of the crew and captain met us with farewell cocktails, a tasty coconut rum treat. Following a wonderful dinner, we set sail, enjoying the peaceful ride on the outer deck’s lounge chairs beneath a dazzling, orange moon. We sipped beers in the moonlight and chatted with our German friends until we pulled into the harbor at San Cristóbal, the town’s gold lights shimmering in the clear night sky. Although we had returned to our starting point, the island where we began our 1200 nautical mile journey through paradise only 7 days prior, I believe we each left a piece of our hearts in the unspoiled archipelago.


I think we were truly amazed that, in a world overwhelmed with man-made development, there still remains one tiny, tranquil corner of our planet with such pristine and untouched splendor. If Heaven exists, it is in the Galápagos.