Photo Of The Day: Galapagos Crab

The unique diversity and one-of-a-kind wildlife of the Galapagos Islands makes it a hotspot for traveling nature lovers from around the globe. In today’s photo, taken by Flickr user wesleyrosenblum, we find a brilliant red crab in close-up on the island of Santiago. This eye-popping crustacean’s wild crimson and orange hue photographed against the otherworldly black volcanic rocks almost had me convinced I was looking at an alien on some distant planet.

Taken any amazing animal shots during your travels? Or perhaps just a shot of your own backyard? Why not add it to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Swimming With Sharks And Sea Lions In The Galapagos Islands

sharks “Don’t freak out, but there are two huge hammerhead sharks right below us.”

My guide Jens’ attempt at having me “not freak out” over the two carnivorous beasts that are 10 feet away from my juicy calves only leads me to begin shrieking and jumping on his back. Soon, though, the sharks are gone, and nobody has been eaten.

“Sharks prefer sea lions and fish to people,” Jens explains. “They’ll only go for you if they’re confused.”

Thankfully, those two hammerheads seemed very understanding.

I am on the Galapagos Island of San Cristobal, taking a snorkeling tour of Isla Lobos, León Dormido/Kicker Rock and Puerto Grande. With its clear waters, white sand beaches, unique flora and fauna and playful sea lions, it’s hard to believe there could be a better paradise than this.

Our first stop is Isla Lobos. The site features a small but pristine island, and a protected channel known for its plethora of sea lions. Here, the visibility is amazing, as you could see every fish, sea turtle and sea iguana very clearly – almost too clearly.

“Do you see how those fish all come together and disperse with a lot of white things?” asks Jens. “That’s sperm. They’re making rock and roll.”sea lion I laugh, turning to tap my friend on the shoulder to tell her, just as she performs a very acrobatic flip out of the water. That’s when I realize it isn’t my friend, but a baby sea lion trying to play a game with me. Two minutes later, three of its friends join in. On land, blue-footed boobies, pelicans and frigatebirds abound. It’s amazing to look at the whole picture at once, as the marine and bird life seem to dance together on one stage.

Our next stop is Kicker Rock, a massive rock formation rising 500 feet out of the water and taking on the appearance of a león dormido, or sleeping lion. It’s also the site of my shark encounter. The guide tells me that sometimes there are almost 100 sharks, so only encountering six for the day isn’t a lot. As I’m used to encountering zero, I beg to differ. However, the Galapagos sharks, blacktip sharks, white tip sharks and hammerheads that reside near Kicker Rock, while large in size, are virtually harmless to humans.

That knowledge does nothing, however, to keep my blood from running cold every time one comes within 10 feet of me. Once we leave Kicker Rock, however, I realize how lucky I am to have had such a unique experience. And, along with the sharks, the Chocolate Chip starfish, sea turtles and an array of tropical fish and colorful corals remind me I’m in one of the most beautiful and ecologically diverse places in the world.

sea turtle For lunch we make a stop at the serene beach of Puerto Grande. The food is great, a huge helping of rice with tender chunks of beef. Once we’ve digested a bit, the group descends into the warm, clear water and makes our way to the beach for a short informational hike. The beach is covered in hermit crabs, diverse pieces of shell and perfect white sand. Apparently, the sand gets its color from the chunks of white coral that lay upon the beach.

We make one more stop at Kicker Rock for a bit more snorkeling and diving – and more shark encounters – before heading back home. As I lay on the bow of the boat, bathing in the last of the day’s sunlight, I hear a loud splash in front of me. Looking up, a breaching whale jumps out of the water, and I slowly watch its tail sink back below. This place really is unlike any other on Earth.

If visiting the Galapagos Islands and interested in doing this tour, it was given by Dive Surf Club, although you can book through any agency as the whole island works together. The guides are hysterical, fun and have a lot of knowledge. It’s $50 to snorkel and $120 to dive, including naturalist guides, dive instructors, snacks, drinks and lunch.

[images via Barry Peters, NCBrian, Dive Surf Club]

10 Extraordinary Islands To Visit On Your Next Vacation

vacation islands

Summer is the time of island vacations. It is time to put as much distance between you and the real world as possible. It is time to stand outside of your everyday life and to see how it all looks from a paradise perspective. Here is a collection of islands for escape – places to recharge, gain perspective and explore. From an island in the land of the gods to a tropical Amsterdam at the edge of an ocean trench, each of these ten destinations provides something extraordinary.

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vacation islands

Santorini (Greece)
Abstract: As legends change hands, the stories transform. Storytellers take liberties, moving to impress wide-eyed audiences with tales of glorious antiquity. With each telling, they speak of monsters that grow stronger, of men who grow bolder, of explosions that tear apart the earth and take along with them civilizations that grow greater. These stories come from places like Santorini – a Greek paradise perched on the thin edge of a circular archipelago where the earth once swallowed a city whole.

Maybe that city was Plato’s Atlantis and maybe it was not, but what it is today is one of the most stunningly gorgeous and unique places on earth. Whitewashed villas adorned with oceanic blue domes cling to volcanic rock mountainsides in the most romantic of settings. Greece is the land of old gods, and Santorini is where those gods likely vacationed.

Highlights: Sailing to Volcano Island, hiking from Fira to Oia, and visiting Red Beach
High end lodging: Oia Castle Hotel
Mid-range lodging: Zorzis Hotel
Get there: Fly to Santorini for cheap on Easyjet from London or Milan. Flying from Athens is also a simple and inexpensive way to reach Santorini.


vacation islands

Gili Trawanagan (Indonesia)
Abstract: Gili T feels like the last party at the edge of the world. And it could be so, perched on the precipice of a trench that tears over 5 miles into the ocean floor, the Gilis are an outpost at the edge of a tectonic plate that tore away from Asia eons ago.

Gili Trawanagan is one of three islands in the Gili island chain. Gili T is known for dawdling sea turtles, plush white sand beaches, reggae jams, and mushroom shakes. Reached by just a short boat ride from the eastern coast of Bali, each island is governed by village elders substituting for a proper Indonesian Police force. An Amsterdamian party scene has developed and thrived in the absence of these formal police forces. The Tropical Amsterdam is like an upstart Ibiza with all-night parties and hung-over beach rehab. After partying all night, catch a ride home via horse taxi as no motorized vehicles are allowed on the islands.

High end lodging: Luce d’Alma or Marta’s
Mid-range lodging: Rumah Kundun
Get there: Take a boat from the eastern coast of Bali over across the Lombok strait with Gili Cat or one of the other transfer services.

vacation islands

Borneo
Abstract: Borneo is an ancient land of wild beasts and peculiar flora. It is one of the largest islands in the world and stocked with mysteries hidden deep within its ancient rain forests. It covers three countries: Malaysia, Indonesia and tiny Brunei. There are mysterious cultures like the ex-headhunting Dayak, massive orangutans and some of the best dive sites in the world. It is also one of Asia’s top budget destinations.

Beyond dusk boat rides in search of Proboscis monkeys or long jeep safaris into the heart of the lost world, Borneo also has some unexpectedly nice beaches. Off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, several islands bask in tropical waters with great reefs and nice sandy shores. For orangutan sightings, head to Sepilok nature reserve near Sandakan. The orangutans in Borneo grow to much larger sizes than their Sumatran brethren. This is supposedly due to the evolutionary effect of an absence of tigers in Borneo. In Sumatra, the orangs must take to the trees to stay safe, but in Borneo, the “orange men of the forest” have no need for tree-dwelling. Sadly, nothing can protect them from encroaching humanity.

Highlights: Climbing Mt Kinabalu, diving Sipidan, exploring the lost world of Danum Valley
High end lodging: Bunga Raya Island Resort near Kota Kinabalu
Mid-range lodging: Hotel Eden 54 in Kota Kinabalu
Get there: Flights to Kota Kinabalu are cheap from Hong Kong, Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur on AirAsia.

vacation islands

Perhentian Islands (Malaysia)
Abstract: These sun soaked islands in Malaysia once served as a stopping off point for Malaysian traders bound for Thailand. Today, The Perhentians are a jewel in the crown of otherworldly Malaysian beaches. It is the kind of place where you could misplace an entire lifetime, bound to the gravity of simple island life.

The islands are surrounded by seas rich with biodiversity and corals, and it is one of the least expensive places to learn how to scuba dive. The snorkeling here is also top notch and some attest to its superiority over diving. Be sure to visit between April and October, when the monsoons are away. Accommodation is pretty inexpensive across the board, and it is easy to get a room for under $25 a night.

Highlights: Snorkeling with sharks, jungle trekking, and finding an appropriate stretch of white sand to waste a day or three
High end lodging: Perhentian Tuna Bay Island Resort
Mid-range lodging: Abdul’s Chalet (book early as they fill up way in advance)
Get there: Take a speed boat from Kuala Besut, which can be reached by bus from Kuala Lumpur


vacation islands

Tasmania (Australia)
Abstract: One of the last stops before Antarctica, Tassie is Australia’s wild frontier island. With about 40 percent of land being national parkland, Tasmania is a well-protected gem boasting fascinating wine regions, gigantic kelp forests and some of the most perfect beaches in the world.

While visiting, rent a car and explore the Tasmanian countryside. Be sure to spend a few days checking out the Bay of Fires on Tasmania’s northeastern coast. While it is winter down under from June to August, it is possible to enjoy off-season rates. But, if you really want to enjoy the beaches, wait until winter hits the northern hemisphere. After all, the Bay of Fires sandy curves have recently been named one of the best beaches in the world. The crystalline turquoise waters and pillow-soft sand beaches welcome travelers with their unencumbered magnificence and laid back vibe. Inland, waterfalls, mountains and Tasmanian devils await intrepid travelers.

Highlights: Bay of Fires, Tasmanian Devils, and road trips through old forests
High end lodging: Islington Hotel (Hobart) or Saffire Freycinet (Wineglass bay)
Mid-range lodging: Fountainside Hotel (Hobart)
Get there: Fly to Hobart non-stop from Melbourne, Sydney, or Brisbane


vacation islands

The Maldives
Abstract:
An ethereal water-nation where the highest point is less than 8 feet, the Maldives defy imagination, budgets and reality with their perfect islands and hyper-luxury resorts equipped with private yachts and planes. The islands are the kind of place where work seems unimaginable, and the “real world” feels as though it must, too, be on hold somewhere out there thousands of miles from these sun-bathed atolls.

Few places deserve a distinguished “The” prior to their name, and the Maldives are almost never uttered without the obligatory distinction. This is because they are a place unlike anywhere else. They are THE Maldives.

Highlights: Snorkeling with sea turtles, diving with Manta Rays, exploring Maldivian villages and finding the perfect beach
High end lodging: Cocoa Island Resort
Mid-range lodging: Kurumba Maldives
Get there: Flights are possible from Dubai, Colombo, Kuala Lumpur and London (Gatwick)

Galapagos (Ecuador)
Abstract: Great thinkers and artists throughout time have all had their muses. Darwin had these islands in the Pacific Ocean. Filled with giant tortoises, swimming iguanas and warm weather penguins, the Galapagos are a last bastion of wilderness smack dab in the middle of nowhere.

With new restrictions year after year, the Galapagos will continue to become less accessible and more expensive. As one of the top eco-locations globally, these wild islands hold natural treasures that can be found nowhere else on earth.

Highlights: Cruising around the islands, swimming with sea lions and bird watching
High end lodging: Red Mangrove Aventura Lodge or book a live-aboard tour with Cheeseman’s
Mid-range lodging: Book a cheap live-aboard cruise by arranging a tour locally, though the available boats are generally sub par. Organizing a trip through tour companies in Quito is a good middle ground for value.
Get there: Flights can be arranged from Quito or Guayaquil

vacation islands

Corsica (France)
Abstract: This French island is Europe’s sleeper destination. With snow-capped mountains, white sand beaches, old world citadels and the legendary GR 20 hiking trail, Corsica does many things at once and does them all incredibly well. Known as the island of beauty, it holds up this moniker with particular strength from its sandy shores to the almost 9,000-foot-high Monte Cinto.

The GR 20 hiking trail is a 15-day-long distance trail that takes travelers through some of Europe’s most stunning vistas. Walk through clouds along the backbone of Corsica, passing small refuges and bonding with other travelers. At the seaside, Corsica’s aquamarine waters do not disappoint and boast some of the best shores in Europe, including the beaches of Plage de Saleccia, Palombaggia and Santa Giulia.

Highlights: Calanche Cliffs, the perfect little island of Iles Lavezzi, trekking the island’s interior, and beaches – lots of beaches
High end lodging: Demeure Loredana
Mid-range lodging: Rocca Rossa
Get there: Take a ferry from Nice or Marseilles. In the air, Easyjet flies to Corsica from Geneva, London and Paris.

vacation islands

Palau
Abstract: With more than 250 islands and roughly 20,000 inhabitants, Palau is a sparsely populated gem of an island chain. While places like Bora Bora and Fiji get all the airtime, Palau idles by humbly, welcoming well-informed travelers to its cerulean waters and sandy beaches perched under dark limestone outcroppings.

Thousands of years ago, a bay on the island of Eil Malk slowly closed off to the surrounding ocean. As a result, the jellyfish in the lake changed. Due to a lack of natural predators in their paradisiacal enclave, the golden and moon Jellyfish of the “fifth lake” abandoned millennia of evolutionary adaptation. The translucent beings lost their ability to sting and as a result, you can swim through armies of bobbing jellyfish as though you just ate an invincibility star.

Highlights: Swimming with friendly jellyfish in Jellyfish Lake, basking on a sun soaked beach, and buying ornately carved wooden storyboards
High end lodging: Palau Pacific Resort
Mid-range lodging: Caroline’s Resort
Get there: Reach Koror, Palau by plane from Tokyo, Manila, Seoul and Guam

vacation islands

St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Abstract: The largest of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix beckons travelers with tales of swashbucklers, golden beaches and old, Dutch charms. Since St. Croix is part of the United States, there is no need for a U.S. passport, and getting in is as simple as flying into Christiansted and finding the nearest beach, in which there are plenty. Beaches along Cane Bay and Buck Island are prototypes for paradise.

St. Croix has a number of old world Dutch Forts and much of the Christiansted area is stocked with preserved colonial gems and abandoned sugar mills. At dusk, take to Salt River Bay in clear kayaks not far from where the Columbus expedition ran ashore in 1493. Due to bioluminescent sea creatures, the clear kayaks become fringed with color as the water glows beneath. It feels like rowing through a microgalaxy. Dive into the dark waters and your entire body glows in the dark.

Highlights: Night swimming in the Bioluminescence of Salt River, visiting Buck Island, and exploring abandoned Dutch forts
High end lodging: Palms at Pelican Cove and The Buccaneer
Mid-range lodging: Hibiscus Beach Resort
Get there: Fly in from Puerto Rico, Miami and Atlanta

[All unattributed photos by the author]

New Galapagos Islands travel regulations go into effect next week

New travel regulations for the Galapagos Islands go into effect next week.On February 1st, a new set of travel regulations will go into effect in the Galapagos Islands, which are designed to help protect the environment there, while simultaneously presenting travelers with a better experience. These new rules have already had an impact on available itineraries, but visitors can expect the same overall options for visiting this amazing destination.

The new rules are actually quite simple. The Ecuadorian government, which oversees operation of the Galapagos National Park, has passed regulations that state that no vessel operating in and around the archipelago will be permitted to visit the same site more than once within a 14 day period. The purpose for this change in operation is that it should help disperse the ship traffic throughout the region, thereby keeping overcrowding to a minimum, while also protecting the unique and fragile ecosystems there. By reducing crowds, the overall experience of the Galapagos should be preserved for visitors as well, keeping it one of the top destinations for future generations to enjoy too.

When the new regulations were first announced there was some concern that tour operators would do away with the shorter itineraries in favor of those that were 14 days in length or longer. That hasn’t been the case however, as companies recognize the fact that they must cater to the needs of all travelers, including those who don’t have two weeks to spare for their getaway. As a result, they’ve had to get a bit creative with their itineraries in order to operate within the 14-day rules, but there are still plenty of 7, 10, and 12 day Galapagos adventures available to go along with the more extended trips.

Adventure travel company Metropolitan Touring, for example, operates three ships in the Galapagos and made the switch over to the their new itineraries earlier this week. Their options can all be combined to create trips of various lengths ranging from 10-15 days, and guests have the ability to extend their stay further by booking rooms at an eco-lodge located on Santa Cruz Island. Other travel companies offer similar flexibility in their schedules, giving travelers the ability to find the right itinerary to fits their needs.

The Galapagos Islands are truly one of the most unique natural environments on our planet, and are home to a host of wildlife that isn’t found anywhere else on Earth. These regulations will help to ensure that the islands, and the creatures that live there, stay safe and protected for years to come.

Snorkeling in the Galapagos

Snorkeling allows those of us who either can’t afford or are too scared to SCUBA dive to still experience the wonders of the ocean. That said, often the most awe-inspiring aquatic sites are hidden deep below the surface and hidden to those of us who don’t have an oxygen tank strapped to our backs. Thankfully, if you find yourself in the Galapagos Islands, the animals of the sea come looking for you. That makes it one of the most satisfying and rewarding places to snorkel.

I visited the islands a few months ago and strapped a ContourGPS HD video camera to my snorkel mask for a week of exploration. Every single time I entered the water, I swam with a creature that I’d only previously encountered at aquariums. Notice that I said “swam with.” It’s not an exaggeration to say that the sea lions frolicked with us, the penguins teased us and the sharks shared some close encounters with us. Unlike any other place that I have been, snorkeling in the Galapagos is very much an interactive wildlife experience and you don’t need to be a professional cameraperson to capture the action.

Of course, it’s not all fun and games with animals in the Galapagos. I learned a few things in the water. Did you know that penguins poop while swimming? It’s like a public pool over there!