Imagine paddling off the coast of an island in the Pacific Ocean. To your right is a long, sandy beach with a bare volcano rising behind it. To your left lies endless ocean dotted with more small islands. A light breeze blows across the water. A sea turtle pops its head up next to your boat for a breath. A few minutes later, a dolphin jumps in the air just yards from the bow of your kayak. You paddle by a bait ball of sardines and a hammerhead shark rips past you, splitting the school of fish in two. This is the Galápagos archipelago, a place so teeming with wildlife that encounters like these are the norm.
Thanks to their unique ecology and storied history as a birthplace of Darwin’s theory of evolution, the Galápagos Islands are on the bucket list of many travelers, vacationers, animal enthusiasts, and birders around the world. The islands are located roughly 700 miles off the coast of Ecuador along the Equator and their economy is driven largely by ecotourism.
Despite their fame, I didn’t hear about the Galápagos until I was in my early twenties. I grew up in a small Canadian town with a history education that consisted of the English and the French fighting over eastern Canada. When a fellow traveler in Central America told me about the islands, however, I knew I had to go. As a paddler, I decided there’d be no better way to visit these islands--a place famous for its sea life--than by kayak.
Years later, I was able to make the trip happen. I flew into Santa Cruz and joined an eight-day tour with outfitter ROW Adventures. Our group of fellow tourists and local guides visited well-known attractions on three of the islands in addition to many lesser-known treasures. Between climbing volcanoes and swimming with sea turtles, I spent every day of the trip grateful that I was finally exploring this natural wonder.