Home to more subspecies of tortoises than any other island in the Galápagos, Isabela Island may be relatively young, but its massive size and remote location have created a safe haven for countless varieties of wildlife. While there is so much to be seen in the Galápagos on the islands themselves, some of the most wondrous sights can be found beneath the surface of the water.
Golden land iguanas and giant tortoises greeted us as we stepped off our boat for our third and final day on Isabela Island. This was just the beginning of a day filled with an extraordinary variety of wildlife.
The land iguanas looked uniquely different than other land iguanas we had previously seen, primarily due to their large size and golden hue. From head to tail, these iguanas measured several feet long.
Their golden skin glowed under the rays of light shining down on them as they basked in the sun. I don’t particularly find iguanas to be attractive animals, but something was striking about the golden shade of these creatures.
The next stop after our hike was Tagas Cove, a protected cove surrounded by small cliffs. Hopping into our tandem kayak, we were ready to explore the wildlife that had found refuge in this area. One of the first things we saw was a nesting area for pelicans, with at least ten pelicans nesting in that one spot.
As we continued to paddle along, we came across a small group of penguins.
Approaching with (attempted) caution, I began filming as Nick handled the steering and paddling from the rear of the kayak. Little did I know that he could not see the penguins in front of us, and we nearly ran over them!
Luckily, the penguins were paying attention. Just as we got close to them with the kayak, they ducked down and swam underneath us. We missed them by mere seconds!
I was in awe being able to watch them in the water so closely and for so long, but I am relieved we did not end up hitting them!
A bit of paddling further brought us to a nesting area for flightless cormorants, with about eight of them occupying the area in total.
The cormorants were taking turns swimming out into the water, gathering seaweed, and then bringing it back to their nesting area to continue building out their nests.
We tried to keep up with one of the cormorants on its search for more seaweed. They are so fast in the water; we never stood a chance keeping up with it.
The cormorants on the rocks spread their wings out, attempting to dry out their feathers in the hot sun after waddling out of the water.
These birds are impeccable swimmers but cannot fly, resulting in wings that are so small and useless they are almost comical.
After kayaking, we had a chance to snorkel one more time. Almost immediately after we got into the water, we saw a flightless cormorant fishing. It was fascinating to watch.
Being in such close proximity to this cormorant, you could really appreciate how special this animal is, with its unbelievable swimming skills and striking turquoise eyes.
The cormorant would dive down under the water and search for fish under each of the little rock crevices. He swam from spot to spot, shoving his head into seaweed or holding himself upside down with his webbed feet to peer underneath a rock.
He craned his neck to check each nook with the potential for food, before ascending to either eat his catch or to get some air. Immediately afterward, he would dive right back down and try again.
This cormorant was good. After very little time, he caught a relatively large fish. Without hesitation, he began swimming vertically to resurface with his prize.
We swam alongside him, watching him bring it back to the surface as if on a mission. He took a few moments with the fish in his mouth above the water, trying to position it correctly.
Suddenly, he opened his mouth and tossed the fish back into his expanded throat, gulping the fish down so quickly I could hardly believe it.
As we continued to snorkel, I ended up by myself in a small nook along the rocks at one point. I looked around and saw a small shark, measuring less than a foot long.
Unsure of what it was but intrigued, I attempted to get a video of it to show the rest of the gang afterward. Given the rough current in this area and my mediocre swimming skills, it is no surprise that the footage is mostly me jerking the camera around while I am being thrown into rocks.
Luckily, I captured enough of the shark to confirm it was a Galápagos Bullhead Shark. These small, inconspicuous sharks are bottom dwellers that scientists still know relatively little about in comparison to other marine wildlife.
A welcome sight as always, we got the chance to see penguins again. I only saw one penguin—it was right next to me in the water. At first, I was able to watch it elegantly swim for a few seconds before it darted off like a bullet.
Nick saw about eight penguins in total, all zipping by us underneath the water. Sadly, it happened so fast I missed them before I even knew they were there.
The captain and another member of the crew joined us for this snorkel adventure. They spent most of the time swimming ahead of us and keeping an eye out for wildlife sightings.
I have no idea how they found it, but they spotted a seahorse about 15 feet under the water along the rocks. The seahorse was orange with white stripes and probably about 6 inches long.
It had hooked onto a sea plant and was just floating back and forth in the same spot. It was almost majestic watching this bright, delicate creature sway from side to side, moving gracefully with the rhythm of the sea.
It took me three dives down before I was able to see the seahorse. The dive was pretty far down for me, so I didn’t have much time to look each time I went down.
Thankfully, Nick was very patient with me, continuing to dive back down with me to point it out until I could lay eyes on it. I’d only ever seen a tiny seahorse before, so seeing a seahorse as large as my hand was incredible to me.
As with almost all of our snorkels in the Galápagos, we saw so much more in the water. Sea turtles floated in harmony with us, starfish glowed on the ocean floor, and endless varieties of fish swam aimlessly around us.
We ended the day with a second hike. After climbing several sets of stairs and walking uphill, we reached a beautiful scenic view overlooking Darwin’s Lake and the bay of Tagas Cove. Volcanoes towered in the distance behind the water, making for a stunning backdrop.
Nick and I went up to the top deck of the yacht at the end of the night for some stargazing. We spent quite a while staring at the stars in awe.
We were in awe of both the sky and the phenomenal trip we had been experiencing day after day in the Galápagos.
Continue reading about our next stop at Fernandina Island, where we saw marine iguanas eating underwater and so much more.
If you missed it, go back and read about the day we spent in paradise on Isabela Island, which turned out to be my favorite day of our entire 15-day cruise around the Galápagos Islands.