The Five Most Photographed Visitor Sites in the Galapagos Islands

December 7, 2019 06:22

From Breathtaking Landscapes to the Wonders of Wildlife

Though most people would consider Galapagos to be a wildlife photographer's dream destination (they would not be mistaken), the archipelago also offers a wildly diverse range of land and seascapes. Created by a volcanic hotspot under the Earth’s crust, Galapagos consists of a dozen larger and many smaller islands and islets formed by continuous volcanic eruptions during the last 5 million years. The most recent islands to the west are still subject to occasional eruptions. The island of Fernandina is the youngest of all, and 90% of its surface is mostly made up of recent and very arid lava fields, with only a few places sheltering plant and animal life.

Read More: Photography Tips for Travelling to The Galapagos Islands

All of this volcanic activity has left a legacy of unusual landscapes, volcanic cones, expanses of pahoehoe lava fields, sulphur fumaroles, lava tunnels, one of the largest sunken craters on the planet, pristine beaches with multi-coloured sand and more.

But the 85 sites designated for visitors to the Galapagos National Park Service do not represent equally impressive landscapes. To help visitors better plan their trips and embark on a superior cruise itinerary, we hired 12 naturalist guides who together have worked for a total of 231 years on the islands to assess the extent to which visitors are impressed by what they see or how much time they spend taking pictures of the landscapes at particular sites. Ratings range from 0% (no interest / few pictures taken) to 100% (everybody is impressed / taking pictures). The following is the result of their work.

Bartolome Island: 98%

Bartolome Island has two sites for visitors, which usually combine into one visit. The first includes a swim and snorkel off a beautiful beach around the well-known Pinnacle Rock; the undersea world is very impressive. You’ll be sharing the waves with sea turtles, penguins, rays, white tip reef sharks and a variety of tropical fish. The second site is accessible by a long staircase, which leads to a breathtaking view from which you can see graphic evidence of recent volcanic activity both on the island of Bartolome and beyond the neighbouring island of Santiago.

Punta Espinoza on Fernandina Island: 91%

Barely a few hundred thousand years old and with no invasive species, this is probably the most pristine island you will ever see in your life. Its central volcano dominates the terrain, extending its rugged lava fields to the shore. One of the island’s iconic species is the flightless cormorants, which nest there, along with “lizard city,” which is, in fact, one of the highest densities of marine iguana, penguins and, if you're lucky, the Galapagos falcon. Big Pacific swells often come crashing ashore here – creating a powerful spectacle.

Sierra Negra Volcano, Isabela Island: 91%

The Sierra Negra volcanic caldera is the second largest in the world. A 45-minute drive from the main town, followed by a half-hour walk or a horse ride will take you to the edge of the caldera. From here, you can follow the path for another hour. It is divided in two: to the west, it heads towards an old sulphur mine; to the east, the path leads to the Chico volcano where one of the most recent eruptions took place (2019). Magnificent views of Alcedo, Fernandina and Azul volcanoes in the distance can be had on clear days.

Gardner Bay on the Spanish island: 91%

Considered the best beach in the Galapagos where you’ll find sea lions and cheeky mocking birds (they will peck at your shoelaces), this long stretch of pristine white sand is what you expect to see in travel magazines under the caption “Beautiful tropical beach.”

Tagus Cove - Isabela Island: 88%

This is a deep-water cove frequented by whalers and pirates, as evidenced by old shoreline graffiti. A short steep walk leads to Darwin Lake inside a volcanic cone. With beautiful views in all directions, you’ll be bumping into Galapagos finches, Galapagos hawks, yellow warblers, Galapagos flycatchers and more. Walk along the path to the end to enjoy a wide view north toward the Ecuador volcano, 35 km (21 miles) in the distance. A small boat ride along the cliffs can get you up close to flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins and Galapagos sea.

Photography Tips for Travelling to The Galapagos Islands

November 27, 2019 12:00

How to Perfectly Capture the Spectacular Beauty of the Galapagos Islands on Camera

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but when photographing the stunning natural beauty of the Galapagos Islands, the photos are truly priceless.

Whether you are a professional photographer or just a hobbyist considering a trip to the Galapagos Islands, there are ways to maximize your experience and improve your chances of capturing the most incredible moments imaginable.

Which is why we’ve gathered the top industry tips for ensuring you get the perfect shot while remaining safe and respectful of the abundant wildlife that habitat the islands.

Cruise Vs Land-Based Tours – Which Will Provide the Best Photography Opportunities

If capturing all the amazing Galapagos wildlife and beautiful landscapes is top of mind when travelling to the islands, then a cruise will provide the best photo opportunities.

A cruise allows you to see the most remote and spectacular uninhabited islands, allowing you to capture a diverse range of impressive wildlife up close.

And because a cruise stops at a new island each day, every day offers something new and exciting to experience and capture forever.

What’s a Typical Day Like on a Galapagos Cruise?

Here is the timeline for an average day aboard a Galapagos Islands cruise tour:

  • 5:30 AM: Wake up, have breakfast on the ship.
  • 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM: Arrive on shore for animal/landscape viewing.
  • 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM: Snorkelling or panga ride/kayaking.
  • 12:30 PM: Break for lunch. Ship may travel to nearby destinations.
  • 2:00 PM to 6:00 PM: Another shore landing and possibly more snorkelling.
  • 6:30 PM: Dinner aboard the ship.
  • 12:00 PM: Ship begins cruising to tomorrow’s destination.

What Kinds of Things You Will Be Able to Capture

The Galapagos Islands truly are a wildlife photographer’s paradise, as there is such an incredible range of biodiversity that isn’t found anywhere else in the world.

From unique creatures in their natural habitat to volcanic landscapes surrounded by stunning, crystal clear turquoise waters and pristine white sand beaches, there is no limit when it comes to the immense amount of beauty you will be able to capture when visiting Galapagos.

Some highlights of the close-up encounters you can expect with the islands’ wildlife include:

  • Marine and land Iguanas sunning themselves
  • Majestic birds flying overhead
  • Playful sea lions frolicking on the beach
  • Courtship displays of the Waved Albatross
  • Vibrant red and blue-footed boobies
  • Galapagos penguins swimming
  • Magnificent giant tortoises
  • Rainbow coloured Sally Lightfoot crabs

Types of Shots to Focus On

With so much to do and see during a Galapagos cruise tour, deciding what kind of images to capture can be difficult to narrow down.

Here are some recommendations for shots to focus on to make the most out of this amazing photography opportunity.

Open Landscapes

Galapagos has some of the most open and expansive landscapes you may ever see in your lifetime, so be sure to capture everything it has to offer by using a wide-angle lens. Make sure to capture the contrast of the vibrant blue waters surrounded by darky, volcanic rock and white sand beach.

Landscape with Focal Foreground Element

Focusing in on some flora or fauna in the foreground, while also featuring the gorgeous landscape in the background makes for another incredible landscape shot.

Landscape with Many Elements

Try to capture what it actually feels like to be in the Galapagos islands without making the landscape or wildlife the sole focus.

Photograph the landscape from a wider angle and feature some animals in the shot, without making them the focal point.

Portraits

Use a longer lens to capture a portrait of one single animal and use a wide aperture to help blur the background. You should still be able to see enough of the background to get a sense of what is going on in the animal’s surroundings.

Macros/Details

You don't need to just focus on portraits of the whole animal. Galapagos has several species with unique characteristics and other interesting details that make for incredible macro shots. Focusing on the vibrant feet of blue or red-footed boobies, in particular, make for great detail shots.

Animal Behaviour

One of the most amazing things about the Galapagos Islands is that animals are typically not fearful of humans, allowing you the opportunity to see them up close in their native habitat, and capture their unique quirks and behaviour.

Take advantage of this opportunity by observing from a bit of a distance and using a longer lens to capture some of this behaviour in real-time.

What Photography Equipment Should I Bring?

When travelling abroad, lugging all of your expensive camera equipment with you can be a challenge, especially when taking part in a cruise.

To avoid having to pack up and lug around a large amount of heave photography equipment each time you leave the ship for an excursion, try and limit your gear as much as you can and only bring the essentials.

Avoid bringing a tripod, as it will only end up being a burden, and you will have limited opportunities to use it. Don’t bring a flash or drone either, as both are against national park regulations.

Do bring, however:

  • A telephoto lens
  • A wide-angle lens
  • Extra memory cards
  • Extra batteries
  • Padded camera bag
  • Extra camera strap
  • Monopod
  • An underwater camera for snorkelling shots

Photography Tips for Getting Great Wildlife Shots

Do Your Research and Get to Know the Animals’ Behaviour and Patterns

The secret to capturing the best wildlife shots in the Galapagos Islands is to get to know the animals you are photographing.

Do your research and observe them for a bit to find out when they wake and feed, what they eat, and where can they be found.

Get Close to Ground Level

Most animals in the Galapagos are small and reside quite close to the ground, so getting down on their level will help you see the world from their point of view and capture the perfect shot from straight on.

Make Sure Subject Is in Focus

There’s nothing worse than photographing an incredible subject like Galapagos wildlife and having your photo out of focus.

Prevent this by shooting at a higher shutter speed when capturing a moving subject and have your camera set to auto-focus.

Try to Capture Behaviour

As previously mentioned, spend time observing wildlife and their habits and try to capture some of their unique behaviour, such as:

  • Sally Lightfoot crabs cleaning ticks from the skin of marine iguanas
  • Male blue-footed boobies strutting in front of females
  • Waved Albatrosses taking part in adorable breeding rituals
  • Galapagos fur seals splashing around in the water
  • Marine iguanas basking in the sun

Zoom In

In order to truly capture the unique characteristics of Galapagos wildlife, you will need to get close using a long lens. Get some tightly cropped close up shots of animals that allow you to see some amazing details.

Pay Attention to The Background

When photographing wildlife, it can be easy to forget about the gorgeous landscape that surrounds you. Keep in mind that the wildlife isn’t the only thing you will want to look back on and remember about the Galapagos Islands when you return home.

So, along with close up shots of wildlife, remember to get some shots with the stunning landscape in the background.

Safety Tips

Don’t Get Too Close

While many Galapagos creatures don’t fear humans and may get close to you, National Park rules dictate that visitors must maintain a distance of at least 2 metres from all animals. This is for both your safety and the animals’.

For this reason, having a longer lens will come in handy for getting close up shots.

Take Your Time

To avoid frightening the animals, try not to rush and make sudden movements. Be patient and take your time observing the animals in order to get a few perfect shots, rather than running around trying to get as many photos as possible.

Always Look Behind You

Some critters are shy, but curious and may sneak up on you if you are not careful.

Always be looking around to prevent an unexpected run-in with the creatures you are trying to capture.

Be Respectful

The most important thing to remember when visiting the Galapagos Islands is to show respect for the wildlife. After all, you are entering their habitat, not the other way around.

Remember that these are living creatures that are incredibly important to the delicate ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands, which is why the National Park has such strict rules in place.

The Galapagos Islands are one of the most unique travel destinations in the world and should be on the bucket list of every photographer.

However, it’s important to do your research and plan ahead to ensure you are able to get some amazing shots while staying safe and respecting the rules of the Galapagos National Park and the animals that live there.