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Boobies (and other birds) in the Galapagos

While most people tend to enjoy a cruise to see the Galapagos Islands they can be a) very expensive and b) not at all fun if you suffer seriously severe seasickness in even the slightest swell. However, it is possible to do land-based tours in these islands and while it’s difficult to avoid boats completely (well, you could, but you would be missing out), there are a number of tours that offer day trips to the closest islands (couple of hours max in a boat) which provide plenty of opportunities to see the amazing wildlife and spend the night at a comfy hotel in a bed that doesn’t move.

Santa Cruz was the starting point for the trip – on landing at the airport on Baltra, having had all luggage checked by the security dogs to ensure that no extraneous organic matter which could upset the delicate balance of the natural environment was present, we headed straight to the port, grabbed a ferry for a very short journey to Santa Cruz, crossed that island by minibus to the southernmost port and got on a boat. The plan was to spend a couple of nights on Isabela then return to Santa Cruz for another five days and take day trips to some of the other islands.

The trip from Santa Cruz to Isabela was bad. We knew the journey was going to be rough when the crew handed out plastic bags to all the passengers. Hint: sit at the back of the boat (outside) on the right hand side going towards Isabela and on the left hand side coming back otherwise you will get wet! Unfortunately these optimal spots had already been taken by other passengers and we had to sit inside the boat on the way out. Two and a half hours of bumping on the waves took their toll, resulting in the use of the sick bag as lunch eaten an hour before made a return visit. Yuck. However, upon landing on Isabela, all nausea vanished. The islands are truly amazing – there is wildlife everywhere – in fact, you have to be quite careful that you don’t accidentally bump into a sealion or step on an iguana. There are loads of trips available and many companies in the town with whom you can make bookings. Make sure you bring swimming gear- most of the trips we took involved swimming or snorkelling at some point. If you need a wetsuit they are available for hire but we found that the water was warm enough that a swimsuit alone sufficed.

Los Tuneles To See The Galapagos Boobies

One of the first trips we did was to Los Tuneles on Isabela island, a lava formation that encroaches into the sea and has the most amazing land/seascape. Amazing arches of lava have formed in the sea. There’s not much vegetation, but cacti have managed to grow there, some of these are several decades old.

Los Tuneles Galapagos

On climbing onto the lava we first encountered blue-footed boobies. This was one bird species we had particularly wanted to see and we were lucky that we were visiting during the breeding season. The blue-ness of the boobies’ feet is derived from the algae they eat, but it also forms a significant part of their courting ritual.

The male makes a great display of showing his blue feet to his partner. One foot at a time.

Galapagos boobies
Galapagos boobies

He also shows his impressive wingspan to demonstrate what a catch he really is.

She watches on. His voice is a whistle, she honks. And if she is impressed, she will honk her approval.

Galapagos boobies
Galapagos boobies

It must be love.

Boobies And Frigates On North Seymour

We encountered many Galapagos boobies on other islands too. These were on North Seymour, an island about an hour’s boat trip (on much calmer seas) away from Santa Cruz. This female was completely unperturbed at the tourists taking photos of her as she incubated her eggs.

Sometimes you do wonder what the wildlife thinks of all the tourists.

The Galapagos boobies are wonderful birds. The name derives from the Spanish word “bobo”, which means “stupid” or “clown”. The great thing about Galapagos is that you can get so close to the animals as they have absolutely no fear of humans. This male challenged Colin to a contest of ‘who has the blue-est feet.’ Of course the booby won and Colin was deemed to be the beta male of the encounter.

Galapagos boobies

On North Seymour we also saw the magnificent frigate birds. Which were magnificent. And great. ‘Magnificent’ and ‘Great’ being the two species of frigate birds. And they really are spectacular. You see them soaring all over the Galapagos islands, following the boats as we sailed across the sea.

Again, because we visited during the mating season we were able to see the male frigate birds trying to tantalise potential mates with their amazing scarlet throat pouches.

Galapagos Frigate bird

The females have less conspicuous markings.

The main town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz has a row of restaurants lining the seafront. Over the road is the fish market. It’s very pleasant to be able to relax after a long day’s excursions, drinking a cocktail or three and watching all the action across the road. The Galapagos are so special that you will even see wildlife there – frigate birds, pelicans and even sealions can be found lurking as they are fully aware that they might pick up a tasty fish head or some delicious entrails.

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  1. Great info. The Galapagos Islands are definitely on my list and I’ve read so many different accounts of how best to see the islands that it was good to read your clear info. I love wildlife and your trip would have been just what I wanted (minus the rough seas). Luckily I’ve never experienced sea sickness so hopefully that will be one less thing to worry about. Boobies …. yes, I did have a double -take when I saw the word and a chuckle as to its alternative meaning, lol, I had never heard of this blue-footed bird and they look so weird but unique with those feet. Am very jealous of your trip ….. one day I will get there!

    • Really hope you get to visit. If you love wildlife the Galapagos offer some of the best. The creatures have no fear of humans and are really well protected. Yes, the boobies have a great name and are fantastic to watch, particularly when courting.

  2. I’m sorry to hear about your sickness on the boat but from the pictures and experience you had, it definitely seemed like it was worth it! I’d love to see these birds up close and just visit the Galapagos in general.

    • It was absolutely worth the visit, despite the seasickness. As soon as we were on dry land everything was fine and to see the animals and birds up close was a magical experience.

  3. Galapagos islands have been one if the very top spots on our list! We are scuba divers and want to see all of the sea life there (although we hear the diving is difficult). Some of the rarest species on earth! The blue footed boobies are so cute! Didn’t know that algae is what causes their feet to turn blue!

    • The boobies are amazing and were so funny! Oh, if you are divers, we are sure you would have a terrific time. We went snorkelling on pretty much every excursion we took: we swam with turtles and sharks and that was magical. I would imagine the sea life on a dive would be astonishing. Really hope you get to visit one day, we are certain you would love it.

    • Yes, it was most definitely worth it. The seasickness vanished as soon as we touched land and other boat trips were a lot more calm. It has taken Colin several years to come to terms his bluest feet beta status! 😉

  4. The Galapagos are definitely on our list! All of the unique wildlife is just mind blowing. I love the photo with the birds and a seal (otter?) just hanging around at people’s feet at the fish market – just waiting for a snack! Andie is prone to sea sickness, too, so we can relate on that front. Well worth enduring it, though, for an experience that will certainly last a lifetime!

    • The wildlife really was astonishing. The animals have never learned to fear humans so are very relaxed. It was a sealion at the market – they were just waiting for any freebies – and it was such fun to watch them. Sympathies to Andie – seasickness is horrid. We’re planning a post giving a full itinerary for a (predominantly) land-based tour of the islands that maximises the wildlife viewing without too much time on a boat.

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