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Paddling along San Cristobal Island, the group passes Kicker Rock, which is famous for its snorkeling and diving.
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The Galápagos Archipelago

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.

Isabela Island
Children play soccer on Santa Cruz Island where most visitors fly into the Galápagos. The most populated island in the archipelago, Santa Cruz has experienced such rapid growth in recent years that the Ecuadorian government and many NGOs are trying to limit the number of people that are allowed to move to the islands in an attempt to preserve wildlife habitat.
Canyon Waters
Paddling out past San Cristobal as we leave the harbor.
One of the finches (left) that led Darwin to his theory of evolution, a caution sign on Santa Cruz Island, and the crew paddling off San Cristobal Island.
Ice Camp
Our group prepares to leave the best camping spot of the trip along San Cristobal Island. It is illegal to visit many sites in the archipelago without a guide. The guides themselves are strict enforcers of the rules set down by the Galápagos government to prevent the animals from becoming reliant on, or overly impacted by, humans.
Isabela Island
A woman explores tide pools on Isabela Island. Few people were ever out on this beach and the sunsets and sunrises were stunning. Paradise found.
Isabela Island is well known for its flamingos. This one enjoys a meal by itself.
A marine iguana keeps an eye out while heating its body just before sunset.
After the examination
The above three photos were taken while snorkeling along Isabela Island. The feeding sea turtle (left) swam around me for over an hour while I watched in awe. I spotted the blue-footed boobie (center) perched on a lava rock in the middle of the ocean. The bird displayed the boobie's characteristic fearlessness of humans. In the shallows near the island, a white tip reef shark (right) tore out of the rocks while searching for food. These calm sharks have never been known to attack a human; they are almost like cats and can often be seen laying lazily on the bottom of shallow water.
Crabs bear down against the incoming tide while feeding.
Sea lions rule the Galápagos. During the heat of the day, they use whatever they can find for shade, including kayaks.
South Nahanni River
Two members of our team receive a little aid from the support boat.
Magnificent stars surrounded our group each night. Camping in most locations is illegal without a special permit. The permit itself is hard to come by, but ROW Adventures held a permit that allowed us to camp on wonderful beaches.
Last place to stop and rest
Hiking up Sierra Negra Volcano is one of the non-fauna highlights of visiting the Galápagos. The volcano is the second largest active volcano in the world and the lava runoff from previous eruptions goes on for miles.
Polar Bears
Unloading the support boat after a long day on the water.

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