July 23, 2024


A Guest Article by Karen Helland


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Typically, when you think of navigation you probably think of large scale navigation issues  involving maps, or GPS, or radar or sonar systems. And those types of navigation can be useful in the Galapagos for sure. Fortunately, navigation on that scale is typically handled by your tour director, personal guide, or boat captain (at least hopefully!).  So today I want to talk about a slightly different aspect of  navigation in the Galapagos.  It deals with navigation issues on a somewhat smaller scale. Navigation at this scale is not about compasses or sextants but rather about the basic and simple stuff – like how do you successfully navigate from a catamaran to an island  – doing so  with the correct clothes and gear – and accomplishing all this your dignity in tact.  This can be a bit more of a challenge than it may seem – trust me.

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 Returning To Our Home Base Catamaran After Island Visit

On my recent excursion to the Galapagos we traveled among the islands on a nicely outfitted catamaran.  For it’s size it provided great accomodations and food for it’s fifteen  passengers and ten crew members.  The cruise agenda called for travelers to disembark from the boat twice a day to visit one or two different islands.  Sounds easy enough, right?  Well, think again.  Each island, and therefore each landing was a bit unique.  As a result we received briefings about the upcoming landing – information like would it be a “wet” or a “dry” landing,  would snorkeling or swimming be involved, what type of walking environment would we encounter.  Based on that information we could then organize our gear for our outing – selecting appropriate footwear, swimming and wetsuit gear, walking sticks, and also what type of cameras to bring and what type of camera hazards to be aware of.

G Boat 2 sExample of “dry landing”–North Seymour Island (catamaran at sea)

The selection of footwear was not determined by “bling factors”. No No! Shoe selection is based on the type of landing area used on the island. We traveled from our home base catamaran to the islands on small rubber rafts called “Pangas.” Sometimes the panga could run us right up onto the beach and we would have a “dry landing.” We mainly had dry landings so hiking shoes were needed.  However, sometimes conditions preclude a full beach landing and meaning that travelers have to wade from the panga to the shore.  This, of course, is known as a “wet landing.” We were fortunate,  we didn’t have any wet landings, but we still had to have that kind of shoe in our gear, just in case!   We also needed a third pair of shoes to be worn only on the catamaran.  Flip flops will work for this just fine.

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Example Footwear for the Galapagos Islands

If snorkeling is on the agenda (We had three opportunities to do this) then wet suits are needed.  (And please, don’t fool yourself, the water is cool even with these suits.)  You can bring your own wet suit if you want.  But they are bulky and a packing challenge. Most catamarans and other boats will provide wet suits for a daily fee of about $7.00 a day.  By the way – getting into these suits is a big challenge in it’s own right. Thank goodness that pictures or videos of us getting into these things are not available.  Once suited up all you have to do is add a life jacket and you are ready to get into the panga with mask, fins and snorkel in hand. Then it’s time to “hit the beach.”

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The Galapagos Islands are not a g rocks 1 sseries of sandy tropical beaches.  A couple of times we used walking sticks to help navigate the lava rocks and uneven terrain.





Once on shore, we left our life jackets in the panga for our later return to the catamaran.  Island visits typically lasted around three to four hours in the morning and another three hours in the afternoon, giving us ample time to explore and photograph the various sites and inhabitants. Then it was time to head back to the panga, don our life jackets, and return to our catamaran.  Upon the arrival at the catamaran the entire routine is reversed – we removed the life jackets, rinsed off the wet suits, fins & gear, and finally removed shoes to be washed and stored.  This ritual was done every time we came back to the boat to try to keep contamination to the islands to a minimum. We would walk around the boat with bare feet or flip flops.  The flip flops were only used on the catamaran.

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Panga Returning From Island – Gear In Hand

All this “navigating” from catamaran to panga to the various islands and return was well worth the effort — even the challenge of getting in and out of a wet suit and walking in flippers ( There is really no graceful way to do either of these activities as far as I could figure!)  The  Galapagos Islands offer a variety of species of plants and animals and their native environments.  Wonderful sites to see and to visit. Just be prepared with the right gear and the right frame of mind – you are going to have to do a bit of “navigating.”


Karen traveled to The Galapagos in May. My thanks to Karen for another great guest article and for sharing her Galapagos Adventures here on Travel And Photo Today.

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Here’s a photo of Karen with one of her well shelled friends in the Galapagos.







Karen’s Brief Bio –

I am a retired elementary school library/media specialist who loves to travel.  I travel to visit my two sons, their wives and four grandchildren.  I have traveled throughout the United States.  I have traveled to every continent but two, with the greatest amount being in Europe.
I am originally from Connecticut and I have lived in Rhode Island and Wimbledon, England.   For the last 32 years I have resided in Columbia, South Carolina.

The Galapagos Are Awesome ………. Enjoy The Adventure!


Travel Photography by B W Bean, Visit


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