IE Galapagos Islands cruise guest and journalist Julie Hatfield spent the last week exploring the Galapagos and mainland Ecuador with our knowledgeable guides, and was good enough to share her impressions of Santiago, Darwin’s favorite island.

On our morning walk we see the endemic Galapagos flycatcher, a famously sociable bird. In fact, as we hold out our hands, he hops closer and closer until he is sitting on our finger, totally unafraid, constantly curious. He even pecks at one of our camera lenses, supposedly seeing his reflection in the lens, and liking the sight. (Earlier in the week a pretty yellow warbler landed on my pen and lost her balance, falling onto my breakfast table before righting herself and flying away.)

As we walk over the tide pools we’re careful not to step over the hundreds of marine iguanas, the same color of the lava floor: black. The endemic Galapagos hawk poses proudly on a rock outcropping inches away from our cameras, a special treat for the Audubon members in the group. In these islands, where the birds seem to know they are protected, photographers have the unique experience of taking their time to set up shots of birds they can practically touch, who pose patiently for minutes at a time.

We also go down under the sea to snorkel here. We share the waters with red sea stars, golden rays, hammerhead sharks and the occasional octopus. Boli, our naturalist guide, assures us that the sharks we see are harmless, as are the sea lions and the Galapagos penguins that check us out underwater. As always, when we come back to the boat from swimming or snorkeling, the International Expeditions staff greets us with fresh towels, fresh fruit juice and a snack before our lunch taken out on deck.