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How the Galapagos Islands changed my life.

Jenny Vidler, Galapagos Conservation TrustJenny Vidler visited the Galapagos Islands as a guest of ours in 2015. Such was her experience that, on her return to the UK, she began volunteering for the Galapagos Conservation Trust (GCT) in London. After six months she was offered full-time employment and now works as GCTs Communications and Membership Assistant.

Here, as our guest blogger for October, Jenny talks about her life-changing trip to Galapagos and work with the Galapagos Conservation Trust.

In August 2015 my mother and I embarked on a trip of a lifetime. My mother, an ex-biologist, has always wanted to travel to the Galapagos Islands. Her love for the natural world has been passed on to me, so last summer we packed our holdalls and arranged a month long adventure in Ecuador with Think Galapagos, booked with the help of the ever helpful Rachel.

Our itinerary was extensive; eight days in Galapagos aboard the Angelito, four days in Mindo cloud forest, two days in Quito and four days in the depths of the Amazon at Sani Lodge.

I have watched countless programmes and read many books on South America, Galapagos and Darwin. However, nothing could have prepared me for seeing the beauty of the Islands. It struck me immediately how Santa Cruz at its lowest point is arid, almost desert like, but as you climb higher, grass starts to show, followed by scrub, bushes, grasses and finally the Scalesia forests of the highlands with trees coated in lichen reaching 30m into the sky. It’s a complete transformation in the space of less than a mile.

Sea lions on Galapagos beach

The different Islands of Galapagos
I was amazed how every single island in the Galapagos is different to the next, and every area of every island was different to what I’d seen before.

Rabida is made of mounds of bright red soil spilling into a sapphire blue sea. North Seymour is built out of smooth bright white rocks and pebbles with a shoulder high layer of scrub where sea birds nest in the twiggy branches. Santiago is made of towering black sand and layers upon layers of ancient lava, dried, resembling chocolate brownie and honey comb, and the moon shaped bay of Genovesa is bordered by sheer granite cliffs towering above the sea.

The wealth of wildlife was astounding. As Galapagos does not have any natural predators, the birds as well as the terrestrial life across the Islands showed no particular fear of humans, allowing me to feel like Snow White.

Juvenile sea lions advanced towards us as we sat on the beach and snorkelled in the shallows. Blue-footed boobies and waved albatrosses made their nests on the ground out of twigs and pebbles, frigate birds nested in the spindly mangrove branches and scrubby bushes no higher than the average person’s waist, and true to Darwin’s word, the mockingbirds were so curious, they sat on our shoes and investigated our cameras.

Sea lions on Galapagos beachAngelito Yacht, Galapagos Islands

Conservation in Galapagos and Ecuador
The adventure opened my eyes to the world of conservation. I have previously volunteered in rural Tanzania where I worked with the local people on healthcare and education, as well as local conservation.

However, the level of conservation in Ecuador is much higher than any other African or Asian nation I have visited. The local people, as well as the Government, are incredibly passionate about preserving their country and the exotic and unparalleled wildlife within it.

Every person we met along the way is acutely aware of how much money can be made through sustainable living and wildlife tourism if biodiversity is protected. Our guides in both Galapagos and Sani were second to none. They seemed to possess some sort of x-ray vision, and knew a vast encyclopaedia’s worth of knowledge of the local flora and fauna. They were even able to mimic bird calls and rodent sounds.

Waved Albatross, Galapagos IslandMarine Iguana, Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Conservation Trust and me!
As part of my booking, Think Galapagos automatically signed up my mother and I as members of the Galapagos Conservation Trust (GCT).

I found the GCT website incredibly useful, full of information on what to pack and what to look out for in Galapagos. GCT have a number of projects in the Islands to conserve the endemic and highly endangered wildlife and to work with the local people through education projects, working closely with the Galapagos National Park and other project partners including the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) in order to understand the human needs on the Islands as well as the animals.

Throughout our stay we were given information and talks whilst on board the boat. The sheer amount of information on the geology, wildlife, marine life, invasive species and human presence was almost overwhelming, and on my return from Ecuador I was keen to find out more about this incredible place.

I decided to start volunteering for GCT in January 2016 in my free time for two days a week. My interest in conservation was piqued thanks to visiting on of the most biologically diverse countries on the planet and I was keen to help preserve the wildlife and educate others on Ecuador’s importance.

After six months, volunteering turned into a full time job as GCT’s Communications and Membership Assistant. I am thrilled to have experienced such a journey, and look forward to building my career with GCT in order to help protect the most diverse and delicate ecosystems on the planet.

I would like to say a huge thank you to Rachel and Santiago for organising such a seamless trip, and to GCT for taking me on to help conserve one of the most diverse and important archipelagos in the world.

If you would like to learn more about the work GCT does on the Islands, the wildlife of Galapagos and similar volunteering opportunities, click here.

Sea bird, Galapagos IslandsCollection of Marine Iguanas, black and white

All photographs by Jenny Vidler.

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