Tintoreras: Operation Penguin

A Galapagos penguin on Tintoreras

I have to admit that one of the top reasons we wanted to go to Galapagos was to see real, live penguins in the wild. Penguins are my wife’s absolute favorite animal of all time, and Galapagos is the closest place to the United States to see them. Some Galapagos penguins even live north of the equator, the only penguins in the world to do so. After a few days in Peru and a week exploring other areas of Galapagos (including a prehistoric land of giant tortoises), we were determined to meet a tuxedoed ambassador of bird-kind. Commence Operation Penguin.

If you take the land-based approach to seeing Galapagos like we did, your best bet to see a penguin sits right off the southern coast of Isabela, the archipelago’s largest island, in Las Tintoreras.

Just about a half-mile from Puerto Villamil, Las Tintoreras is an irregular group of low volcanic rocks surrounded by shallow coves. The area makes an ideal nesting ground for the Galapagos penguins, because they can nest among the rocks and swim around safely in the relatively calm waters. Las Tintoreras host much more than penguins, however. There are so many unique species to see in Galapagos (view a slideshow here), and this atoll of volcanic rock serves as a home and nesting ground for dozens of them, including boobies, frigate birds, herons, marine iguanas, sea lions, and the namesake of the area – las tintoreras, the white-tipped sharks that are endemic in these waters.

Las Tintoreras provides one of the best diving areas in all of Galapagos, too. Beneath the shallow waters among the cracked and craggy rocks, you can see all sorts of wonders – rainbow fish, sea cucumbers, rays, sharks, sea turtles, marine iguanas, and, yes, penguins.

Toward the tail-end of our trip, we took a tour of Las Tintoreras, which consisted of three parts, a boat tour, a walking tour and a diving session. I had bought a cheap HD underwater camera specifically for this excursion – in no reality would I leaving Galapagos without a picture of Taylor meeting a Galapagos penguin.

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Reserva El Chato is Jurassic Park

You know that scene in Jurassic Park? The one where the jeeps stop, and Sam Neill, hands shaking, pulls off his sunglasses and first lays eyes on a living, snorting brontosaurus? That’s how it feels to walk into Reserva El Chato.

Our visit unfolded in much the same way. Our taxi driver¬†parked his truck in a gravel parking lot and pointed out the front windshield to something. Not seeing what he was gesturing toward, and neither us nor him speaking much of the other’s language, he motioned for us to get out and follow him. We did, and not 100 feet into the park’s low trees and grassland, two Galapagos giant tortoises lay bathing in a pool of mud.

For the tortoises, we probably served as another daily annoyance standing in their sunlight, as their resting tortoise faces betrayed. But for me, having arrived on the island of Santa Cruz in the Galapagos just hours earlier, it finally dawned that I was standing in the Land that Time Forgot. There’s nothing like a staring contest with a 120-year-old reptile to make you feel like you’ve reached the end of the earth.

Reserva El Chato is one of the most spectacular reserves I’ll probably ever see. Located on Santa Cruz, the large island in the middle of the volcanic Galapagos archipelago, El Chato is a nature reserve for the island’s famous giant tortoises. For the ridiculously underpriced entrance fee of $3 per person, you can spend an entire day walking among the forest, watering holes and grasslands where these living legends lumber.

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20 Animals You’ll See in Galapagos

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What other reason is there to visit the Galapagos Islands if not to see the incredible diversity of wildlife that lives on this one-of-a-kind archipelago. Taylor and I went in search of tortoises, penguins, sea turtles, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies and more, and frankly, they weren’t too hard to find.

In Galapagos, unique wildlife can be found behind seemingly every lava rock, cactus, reef or mangrove. Here’s a slideshow¬†of some of the best Galapagos wildlife photos we took on our trip in May 2016. If you go, you could see these animals and more! Click below to see the slideshow:

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