A Truly Complete Guide to Galápagos

Review of “Galápagos” by Josef Litt

 

Josef Litt has created one of the most comprehensive guidebook on Galapagos. He has put together a work of both in-depth information, through remarkably thorough research; as well as visual beauty, by utilizing his skills as photographer. He covers not just the visitor sites with their unique flora and fauna, but also the history, people, geography, political context, science and conservation work, as well as general tourism topics. The reasoning for it being one of the best is that it balances interesting written content with ample images to compliment it. In summary, “Galápagos” by Jose Litt is part guidebook, part textbook, part beautiful coffee table book.

It is a fantastic read for those looking for detailed, interesting, and in-depth material to inform them of what to expect to see and discover during their trip to Galapagos; alternatively, it is entertaining and insightful for those simply interested in that special Archipelago.

As one would expect, the bulk of the book though is about the various visitor site locations one can see either by land tour or cruise; Litt breaks these down by island. The exhaustive amount of research Litt conducted for this book is apparent. Each visitor site’s description is not just complete, but includes special notes not found in your typical guidebooks. For example, he highlights the sole button mangrove found at La Lobería beach on San Cristobal Island – a stunning photo of it is found on page 149. For these site descriptions, Litt includes artistically descriptive language as well as stats, measurements, photographic insights, and historic notes when possible.

Throughout the book Litt also brings in aspects of natural (recent) history. For example, he mentions the observation that flamingoes used to spend time in the lagoons near Playa Espumillla on Santiago, before the strong 97-98 El Niño event. This type of historical example provides helpful demonstrations of the impacts of such climate events in Galapagos specifically.

While he does a fantastic job of providing details of each visitor site, the one element I would consider missed in parts are how the various visitor sites are approached. One very frequent question we receive from our guests is about “dry landings”, “wet landings”, and what to expect for each when arriving on location. Some visitor sites have rather tricky landings, while some are a sandy beach on which the visitor simply needs to plop on to from the dingy. Where he does make brief mention of landings is for Punta Espinosa on Fernandina Island, where visitors can only use the man-made landing dock during high tide; at all other times of the tide cycle visitors to Punta Espinosa must make their way onto land via the lava rocks that border the small beach area.  Perhaps this small extra bit of practical info could be added in the next edition?

Beyond the tourist sites and natural elements of the Archipelago, Litt is able to clearly and succinctly describe the various political influences on human life in Galapagos. He goes through the changes implemented by the Special Law for Galapagos, as well as certain challenges in bringing it in to force. For those interested in stats, he presents a clear picture of the numerical impacts of the special law both on people and the tourism industry.

The photographs throughout the book are stunning. In addition to Litt’s own fantastic images, he includes a variety of others from a wide range of sources (all thanked in his opening acknowledgments). What is particularly interesting is the use of aerial photographs throughout the book. Drones have only very recently been allowed in the national park/marine reserve (with special permits only) and the amount of such images from a bird’s eye view is impressive. The shot of the Corona del Diablo on page 169 is particularly stunning (photo by Heidi Snell) as well as my personal favourite of Sombrero Chino and Rocas Bainbridge (courtesy of Rory Stansbury, Island Conservation). These are not the perspectives from which regular books on Galapagos tend to present the Islands. 

Litt truly delivers on what he mentions about himself, “As much as I enjoy taking images, I am keen to understand the subjects”. This book does exactly that – at first glance it provides the reader with stunning images of all that is Galapagos and upon closer inspection of the contents, the writing leaves the reader with ample knowledge of what their eyes have seen in the awe-inspiring images captured. What Litt has done is brought a level of detail to the entirety of what is “Galapagos” - something rarely seen in guidebooks.

One aspect that struck me personally was towards the end of the book – one minor point that proved to me that Litt had truly done his homework. Litt lists various ways to support the conservation work done in Galapagos by including organizations based in different countries of the world to which citizens of those countries can donate. This may seem a minor point and, admittedly, given my background in fundraising at the Charles Darwin Foundation/Research Station I am perhaps more attuned to these details than most. However, one would be shocked at how much confusion there is over this topic – even by some very closely involved with it! Litt does an excellent job in providing that information clearly. 

The book is larger and heavier that your typical guidebook.  It may not be one to pop in your backpack and take with you on your expedition, but it is, in my opinion, a must read both before and after your trip to Galapagos.  It would also be a good bedside companion during your trip (should you have the room in your suitcase).  The level of detail in Litt’s descriptions is remarkable and it is a great tool to prepare you for what to expect on your Galapagos voyage. Later, the stunning photographs throughout the book will leave you feeling nostalgic when you look through them after your return back home.

For those that perhaps Galapagos is still a dream not yet attainable (especially in this time of the pandemic), Litt’s book is an informative piece of art that will take you there through his stunning visual and descriptive imagery.

 

 

 

news