I often feel like a great slogan for the Galapagos would be “The Enchanted Isles: Expect the Unexpected.” Aboard Yacht Isabela II in particular, it almost seems like every day comes with at least one big surprise for all our guests and crew members. As fate would have it, we were on our Central Islands itinerary aboard the Isabela II when the stars aligned, gave way to what we experienced just yesterday on Santa Fe Island during the morning and then South Plaza in the afternoon.
A Brief but Beautiful Prelude on Santa Fe Island
The landing on Santa Fe Island consists of a white sandy beach that is often occupied by a number of sea lion harems. It was a remarkably beautiful morning when we arrived yesterday. As we walked along the island, soaking up the sun and enjoying the tranquility of it all, we were suddenly surprised by humpback whales that were repeatedly breaching the waters and even jumping up out of the water not far from the coast! We all stood in awe and watched as the whales put on this magnificent display of activity before our very eyes. Regrettably, I don’t have any pictures of that but it was almost like a teaser for what we were about to experience later that afternoon on South Plaza Island….
The Main Show: A Large Pod of Orcas at South Plaza Island in Galapagos
Turquoise waters of the channel between South Plaza and Santa Cruz contrast brilliant against the white sand beaches and the black lava coastline of this island. Sesuvium succulents carpet several patches of the island while green prickly-pear cactuses stand like abstract coat hangers of this surreal living space. And the main resident inhabiting this otherworldly place? A large group of yellow land iguanas.
Our guests were completely enthralled by this island, and we were mesmerized by both the scenery and the iguanas that live here up until our attention was pulled away by an Orca that was, just like the humpback whales, right off the coast of the island! Feeding!
Acting almost as a beacon was a flurry of frigatebirds that were surrounding the orca overhead, going crazy and trying to snag a stray fish from the frenzy of commotion that the Orca was creating in the water.
Once we finished our walk around the beautiful island, we quickly jumped on the panga (skiff/dinghy) and headed straight to where the orca was, and that’s when we realized…
We were surrounded by over a dozen orcas! It was something that was super unique and special, and here aboard the Isabela II, we had never been in the presence of so many orcas swimming around and feeding together as a group!
South Plaza is one of those islands where we have a lot of birds and reptiles, and where whales are seen occasionally off the coast…. But this was undoubtedly one of the few times we ourselves aboard the Isabela II have gotten the chance to see something like this. Our guests all had a great time as they were equally awestruck by the experience, both excited and thrilled by what they’d gotten the chance to see yesterday. We must have spent over an hour just floating in the water aboard our pangas, watching in near-disbelief with how close the orcas came to us and continued eating. And it was all at sundown, which was like caramelized icing on this wonderful cake of a Galapagos WOW moment.