The Galápagos Islands can really push a family’s “happy buttons”. The close-up look you get of penguins and sea lions are almost too cool to believe, and our past guests can attest to that. Check out what one of our teenage guests has to say about his recent trip to the Galápagos on one of our family tours:

“I’m the type of person who doesn’t always believe the brochure. A place might be hyped up to be an incredible natural habitat and you go there and you see one lizard, and that’s it. That’s why the Galápagos Islands surprised me.

When I woke up the first morning in a room that was right on the beach, I went outside with my friend Jack and there were five giant sea lions sitting there. There was one huge one that was just chilling out right in front of us. I knew right then this trip would be different.

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And it was. There was constantly so much to see and do that I rarely even wanted to get on the Internet. I used my phone as a camera, and that was about it. Instead, I had the best up-close encounters with nature I’ve ever experienced — like walking right up to an enormous tortoise that was on the trail in front of us. He tucked his head in his shell and stared at us for a while. Then he poked it out again and lumbered off .

Another time we went kayaking, to check out Galápagos Penguins and marine iguanas. We did see penguins and iguanas, but the coolest part was when we got out of the kayaks to snorkel, and our guide led us to this little tide pool area. One of the pools had a bunch of sea lions pups that ended up swimming around and playing with us. They weren’t afraid of us at all. After about 10 minutes, one of the people on our trip yelled, “Something’s coming!” and the mom sea lion came over and started taking an interest in us. We swam away then, because we didn’t want to activate her maternal instinct.

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We swam with the marine iguanas, too. The funny thing about them is that they’re huge — maybe four feet from tail to head — and they swim in what looks like a clumsy way by wiggling their tails, but they’re still way faster than you. There are so many of them that by the end of the trip, we’d gotten past the point of “Look, there’s an iguana,” — unless we were seeing a new color. (It’s True. Over time, they’ve adapted to take on the particular colors of the different islands.)

Anytime we saw an animal, our guide named Alfredo knew exactly what it was and could tell us about it. He was super-cool and knew everything about everything. He reminded me of a younger version of The Most Interesting Man in the World from the Dos Equis commercials. My dad said he was like Antonio Banderas, but I don’t know who that is. Alfredo was suave and interesting — he knew all the surf spots and was a big-time food connoisseur.

Speaking of food, everything we ate was delicious. I’m not typically an adventurous eater, so it was great that although the food was very different, it wasn’t scary — not like eating a live octopus or anything. The main interesting dish was ceviche, which is almost like a soup or stew with fish and local vegetables.

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Another one of my favorite parts of the trip was that I got to know everyone in our group, especially my parents, in a new way. My parents always talk about how traveling is a good way for kids to become more mature and learn to appreciate the “outside world.” But what’s really cool is that, on this trip, I got to see my parents acting like kids. They swam with the iguanas and penguins, they played with the giant tortoises and they rolled around in the sand imitating the sea lions.

One of the best things about the trip, though, actually happened after I got home. I went to the Galápagos knowing that it’s one of the most diverse and ecologically interesting places in the world — and it was. But what’s odd is that when I got home, I suddenly appreciated more what I have here. I went snorkeling just 10 minutes from my house and saw some really cool stuff that I’d never noticed before. I guess it’s because in the Galápagos, wildlife is not only everywhere but it’s always in your space, so you’re forced to notice it. After a while, you get used to picking things out because everything there is interesting. And then you go back home, and you’re still used to that. In a way, it opened up my senses to notice and appreciate nature right where I live.”