A Galapagos WOW Moment: Surrounded by a Large Pod of Orcas at South Plaza!

Galapagos WOW moment!

I often feel like a great slogan for the Galapagos would be “The Enchanted Isles: Expect the Unexpected.” Aboard Yacht Isabela II in particular, it almost seems like every day comes with at least one big surprise for all our guests and crew members. As fate would have it, we were on our Central Islands itinerary aboard the Isabela II when the stars aligned, gave way to what we experienced just yesterday on Santa Fe Island during the morning and then South Plaza in the afternoon.

A Brief but Beautiful Prelude on Santa Fe Island

The landing on Santa Fe Island consists of a white sandy beach that is often occupied by a number of sea lion harems. It was a remarkably beautiful morning when we arrived yesterday. As we walked along the island, soaking up the sun and enjoying the tranquility of it all, we were suddenly surprised by humpback whales that were repeatedly breaching the waters and even jumping up out of the water not far from the coast! We all stood in awe and watched as the whales put on this magnificent display of activity before our very eyes. Regrettably, I don’t have any pictures of that but it was almost like a teaser for what we were about to experience later that afternoon on South Plaza Island….

The Main Show: A Large Pod of Orcas at South Plaza Island in Galapagos

Turquoise waters of the channel between South Plaza and Santa Cruz contrast brilliant against the white sand beaches and the black lava coastline of this island. Sesuvium succulents carpet several patches of the island while green prickly-pear cactuses stand like abstract coat hangers of this surreal living space. And the main resident inhabiting this otherworldly place? A large group of yellow land iguanas.

Land Iguanas South Plaza Galapagos
The Galapagos Island Land Iguana Can Be Found On Several Of Its Islands

Our guests were completely enthralled by this island, and we were mesmerized by both the scenery and the iguanas that live here up until our attention was pulled away by an Orca that was, just like the humpback whales, right off the coast of the island! Feeding!

Orca Galapagos Islands
Orca Feeding In The Galapagos Islands

Acting almost as a beacon was a flurry of frigatebirds that were surrounding the orca overhead, going crazy and trying to snag a stray fish from the frenzy of commotion that the Orca was creating in the water.

Orcas Frigatebirds Galapagos
Frigate Birds Trying To Snag Fish From Orcas

Once we finished our walk around the beautiful island, we quickly jumped on the panga (skiff/dinghy) and headed straight to where the orca was, and that’s when we realized…

Galapagos Islands Orcas
Large Pod Of Orcas In The Galapagos Islands

We were surrounded by over a dozen orcas! It was something that was super unique and special, and here aboard the Isabela II, we had never been in the presence of so many orcas swimming around and feeding together as a group!

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Group Of Orcas Galapagos
Orcas In South Plaza, Galapagos Islands

South Plaza is one of those islands where we have a lot of birds and reptiles, and where whales are seen occasionally off the coast…. But this was undoubtedly one of the few times we ourselves aboard the Isabela II have gotten the chance to see something like this. Our guests all had a great time as they were equally awestruck by the experience, both excited and thrilled by what they’d gotten the chance to see yesterday. We must have spent over an hour just floating in the water aboard our pangas, watching in near-disbelief with how close the orcas came to us and continued eating. And it was all at sundown, which was like caramelized icing on this wonderful cake of a Galapagos WOW moment.

South Plaza, Galapagos Islands
Sundown At South Plaza, Galapagos Islands

Updated:May 10, 2023

Published:October 4, 2017


Machu Picchu & Galapagos Islands Tour 2024 Package: 12 days / Quito, Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu / From USD 9,598 per person




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This small, secret rooftop of the restored Casa Gangotena mansion peers over Plaza San Francisco in the center of Quito’s colonial Old Town, the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Order a Cedrón Spritz, a refreshing mix of rum, lemon, sparkling wine, and fresh lemon verbena (cedrón) syrup and leaf, then revel in the mesmerizing, real-time montage of daily life in Ecuador’s capital as it parades past.

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A Font of information, Klaus has spent decades in the field, leading tours in the Amazon, Andes and Galapagos Islands. He hung up his guiding boots a few years back and now creates itineraries for the tour operator, Metropolitan Touring. Adrift in the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles from mainland South America, Galapagos is one of the most biodiverse locales on Earth.

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Santa Cruz II is a replacement for the much-loved Santa Cruz, which plied the waters of the Galapagos for 36 years. It is not a new ship; it was built in 2002 and sailed as Mare Australis under the Australis cruise brand, operating expedition cruises around Cape Horn and to Antarctica. Metropolitan Touring bought the ship in 2015 and completely refurbished it, launching it as Santa Cruz II in October 2015.

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When this modern, minimalist, glass-walled jungle lodge opened in 2012, it changed the accommodation game in South America. Arquitect Alfredo Ribadeneira’s “protective cocoon” would impress in a modern city; in the depths of an Andean cloudforest, it is wild, audacious and beautiful. Though only 70 miles from Quito, Maspi Lodge sits in splendid isolation, perched on a cliff at the end of an unsealed road.

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