Nature lovers, wildlife enthusiasts, snorkelers and divers will delight in The Galápagos Islands – a dream destination for many travellers. Locates six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador and comprised of 16 islands resulting from volcanic eruptions out of the earth’s crust is the archipelago where Darwin began developing his theory of natural selection.
We had ten days to explore this unique part of the world and started our adventure in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz. We haggled with a few hotels to get the best deal for our group of four, originally thinking we’d manage with a fan but quickly changing our minds in the humidity and temperatures over 30 degrees: air con was a necessity! We spent the first afternoon exploring the locality, watching blue footed boobies diving in sync, fishing in the harbour and marvelling at the seals flopped out on the pier or having a nap on the benches. After negotiating with a few travel agencies we secured a bargain for a 3 day trip to Isabella and a 3 day boat cruise to Floreana, Espanola and San Cristobal.
The Friendly Giants of Santa Cruz
With our itinerary locked in we set out to explore the highlands of Santa Cruz. First stop was the giant tortoise reserve at El Chato. Wow, those tortoises really deserve their title as giants! The males can weigh up to 250kg and can reach 150 years old. We saw many wallowing in the water, or munching on the vegetation and even a couple mating – a rather long process involving lots of grunting!!
Next up we went underground, escaping the heat to wander through a lava tunnel. At one point we were down on hands and knees, shimmying along the ground at a very narrow section! It was amazing to see what was created from a volcanic eruption.
Our guide suggested we also take a look at two craters which was a nice extra before dropping us off at the beginning of the path to Tortuga Bay.
The sign said it was a 45 minute walk and unfortunately, it wasn’t ‘American tourist time’ and was a bit of a slog in the heat of the day. We were relieved to finally reach the beach and dip our feet in the water.
It was a lovely walk along to the next, more sheltered bay where we watched marine iguanas trot along the sand, or bask on the volcanic rocks where they were nicely camouflaged.
When we reached Tortuga Bay we splashed around in the calm waters to cool off.
That evening we enjoyed dinner in one of the back streets filled with lots of grills, and tables and chairs taking up the whole road. A highlight was the whole fresh fish served in coconut sauce.
Isabella – penguins, orcas and boobies
It was an early start the following day to make our boat to Isabela. It was a production line of tourists, grouped by coloured stickers and shuttled out on little taxi boats to slightly bigger speed boats and then zipped between the islands. On arrival, we were greeted at the docks by numerous, gorgeous, Galapogas penguins zipping through the water and seals flopped out on the back of the boats.
We had a relaxing first day with a short trip out to see the beautiful, pink flamingos basking in a lagoon, followed by a snorkel near the harbour at concha perla where the highlight was swimming alongside a marine iguana! Slightly creepy but equally amazing! Unfortunately the restaurant associated with our hotel where our meals were included wasn’t up to much which was a bit disappointing but we made up for it with enjoying cocktails at happy hour!
The next day we headed out for a snorkelling trip to ‘Los Tunnels’ at the other end of the island, named for the rocks below the surface which you can swim through and around, spotting sea life at every turn.The boat ride out there was a wildlife watching cruise in itself as we saw numerous birds, manta rays and astonishingly, a pod of orcas!
It was breathtaking. The whales came really close to the boat, surfaced in twos and threes and there was a fair bit of tail splashing. Our captain was very generous, allowing us to stay and watch these beautiful creatures for around half an hour, a completely unexpected highlight of our trip.
Before snorkelling we docked at a spot where we went for a short walk over the volcanic rocks. Our guide excitedly whispered, ‘I’ve seen a booby, I’ve seen a booby!’ Chuckling away we followed quickly after him and got within a few metres of a gorgeous blue footed booby who sat preening herself and posing for our photos, totally at ease despite our close proximity.
The snorkelling was also fantastic. The visibility was fabulous and we saw about ten giant sea turtles, a sea snake, a seahorse and lots and lots of beautifully coloured fish. I was a little intimidated by the sea turtles to begin with as they were enormous and would suddenly appear right underneath you. However they were completely docile, munching away on the algae along the sea bed, seemingly oblivious to our presence. Absolutely beautiful creatures, we felt so privileged to be able to admire them up close in their natural habitat. We saw the orcas again on our boat trip back where they put on another superb display and much to our horror, two tourists from another boat, jumped in to snorkel with them! Fortunately, the whales must have already had lunch as after circling the couple, they left them alone – some people are just crazy. Despite this, we’d had one of the best days on our trip so far and were completely blown away by the abundance and variety of wildlife we’d seen in just one day.
Later that day we visited a tortoise breeding centre where we could view the tortoises at their different stages of development. It was really interesting to learn more about these creatures and the conservation efforts to protect them. We walked back to town along a lovely boardwalk, where we spied flamingos within a few metres, herons, and marine iguanas. This was an amazing find, a sight not to be missed.
Hiking to another planet
On our last day we undertook a 16 km return hike up a volcano. Fortunately the elevation was fairly gradual as it was very hot but the views were worth it. The first flat topped crater was incredible and enormous at 10km in diameter. Further down hill we were able to walk across another.
It was like walking on another planet across rocks and channels of former lava flows. Although there wasn’t much wildlife on the hike we saw another side to these islands with this incredible,other worldly landscape.
Fortunately our hotel allowed us access to their showers to rinse off the sweat and grime before boating back to Santa Cruz in time to catch our cruise boat, The Eden, which would be our home for the next 3 days…