• WorldView
  • 4 Min Read
  • 3 Sep 2021

Guest Spotlight: A First-Timer's Galápagos Photo Diary

Galapagas sea lion in the surf

No matter how many times you've been to the Galápagos it will always amaze and surprise you. But nothing can quite compare to that very first visit—to that jaw-dropping thrill when you step foot on your first otherwordly island, tiptoe around your first mountain of marine iguanas, or spot that first giant tortoise meandering across the trail. This past August, New Jerseyite and professional photographer Steve Freeman joined us aboard National Geographic Endeavour II to discover this legendary place which he had only seen in documentaries. Here, he shared his best first-time memories and the exhilarating photos to match. 

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Blue Feet Meet & Greet

When I made my plans to go to the Galápagos Islands, one of the first animals I thought about seeing was the blue-footed booby. It’s probably the most iconic bird native in the Galápagos. We were extremely fortunate to get permission to visit North Seymour Island. When I say that this is a bird watcher's heaven, it’s an understatement. The amount of blue-footed boobies was mind blowing. And the fact that they’re not afraid of humans allows you to watch them up close without them flying away. I’ve seen their renowned mating dance before in documentaries but never thought I’d have the opportunity not only to see it in person, but to be able to capture it in a photo. In my image here the male is seen sky-pointing. It was such an incredible experience. And if you’re wondering, she said "Yes!"

On the Rocks

We were able to hike around North Seymour Island for about an hour before the sun started to set. We knew that we had to head back to the ship before sunset and with some clouds rolling in, it was getting darker sooner than we expected. As we were walking back towards the Zodiacs, I turned and saw the sunlight break through the clouds and give off these beautiful rays. At that moment, this Galápagos sea lion awoke from a nap up on the rocks and looked to strike a pose just for me with the rays glowing perfectly behind him. It felt like such a magical moment and truly only something you can experience in the Galápagos.

One Large Lizard

On our second day in the islands, we were able to explore Santiago, another untouched island that's home to some iconic Galápagos wildlife. While walking the trail with my group, a large land iguana crossed our path and everyone stopped in awe at the size of him. He had to be close to four feet long from head to tail. This massive beast acted as if he was the king of the island. Before scurrying off in the brush, he stopped just long enough for me to capture this striking portrait of him.

Small Wonders

On the beaches of Santiago you could see these red spots out by the water, but from far away you couldn't really see what they were. We were able to walk out onto the volcanic rock to get a closer look. I grew up on the beach in New Jersey and never in my life have I seen anything as vibrant as these Sally Lightfoot crabs. The bright reds and yellows of these gorgeous creatures really pop against the contrast of the volcanic rock that they inhabit. The first time seeing one, my mouth dropped open in complete amazement of how incredibly vivid they were. These three individuals looked to be fighting over which one got to sit on top of the rock.

Formidable Formations

As we walked back to the Zodiacs on the black sand beach of Santiago Island, the end of the trail opened to this beautiful landscape with a natural arch rising out of the ocean just off shore. The view was so stunning that, at first, I didn’t even notice the sea lion that was only feet away from the trail. She was most likely resting after spending hours swimming in the ocean looking for food. I love the colors and the subjects in this photo. When I think of my trip to the Galápagos Islands, this is the photo that will forever come to mind.

Galapagos Sea Lion Napping on the Shore

Making Friends with the Locals

Cerro Brujo on San Cristobal Island was the last place we explored before sailing to our final destination to disembark. It was this beautiful white sand beach that hadn’t been touched in well over a year due to the pandemic. After walking along the beach for a bit, this baby Galápagos sea lion came swimming onto shore. She immediately saw me and started walking towards me. Our naturalist said that, based on this sea lion’s size, we were most likely the first humans it had ever seen. She was so curious and kept coming towards my camera and vocalizing loudly, almost as if she was “talking” to me. This photo captured that really special moment she was welcoming me to Cerro Brujo.

Galapagas sea lion in the surf

Golden Hour Goodbye

The final night of our expedition, the Captain had a farewell toast on the observation deck of the ship and sailed us around Leon Dormido, or the Sleeping Lion, an uninhabited islet a few kilometers off of San Cristóbal. Its name comes from the shape of it resembling a sleeping lion. We had some clouds in the sky but, just as we were coming out to Leon Dormido, the setting sun peaked through and gave us this spectacular view. You couldn’t ask for a better way to say goodbye to the Galápagos Islands, a truly majestic part of the world.

Inspired to see Galápagos for yourself? Browse our expeditions in these legendary islands.