Galápagos Islands – 25th March – 2nd April

After an overnight stay in Guayaquil, we arrived at the airport at 6:30 to find that our 8:10 flight had been rescheduled to 10:40… We finally arrived at Bantra airport at about midday and we then hopped on a local bus, ferry and another bus to take us to the main town of Santa Cruz island – Puerto Ayora.

Day 1 – Santa Cruz Arrival & Agencies

After dropping our things at Hostal Germania, we visited a number of travel agencies in search of a last minute cruise of the islands. Most of the cruises were already full or too expensive, but we managed to find a 3d4n cruise at (what we believed to be) a reasonable price which we combined with a 3d2n land based tour of Isla Isabella.

In need of a change of scene after dealing with salesmen, we wandered along the town’s harbour front. Within the space of no more than a couple of minutes we saw a snake, sea lions, marine iguanas, crabs and pelicans!  We then headed in search of dinner and happened to bump into a group of Americans we had met on the Inca trail and we ended up having dinner with them.  Paul and I had some delicious fish in a coconut sauce served with rice (pescado encocado).

Day 2 – Exploring Puerto Ayora and setting sail for Isabella

We started the day with a 4km walk to Tortuga bay.  This made for hard work in the hot sun, despite having set off shortly after 9am.  Unfortunately swimming wasn’t allowed at the first beach we arrived at due to strong currents, but we still enjoyed strolling along the fine white sand (where marine iguanas were basking in the sun) with a view of the turquoise water.

Having arrived at the swimming beach (a small lagoon), I decided to head out for a snorkel, but I came away disappointed by the poor visibility. We did manage to spot some rays from the beach though.

After lunch we headed to meet Padi (our travel agent) at his office where he told us that we would start our tour to Isla Isabella from.  But Padi was nowhere to be seen…We eventually tracked him down at the port and after waiting a while we finally boarded the boat.

Having arrived on Isabella island it soon became clear that Padi hadn’t done a great job of organising our time there either.  The hotel we were due to stay at was fully booked, so we had to move to an alternative one across the road.  Padi had also booked us onto a snorkelling tour for the Wednesday afternoon, rather than the Wednesday morning which meant that we would have to stay another night on Isabella, despite having a hotel reservation in Santa Cruz, as per the established plan. Luckily we managed to get Padi to agree to pay for the additional night and our meals.

Day 3 – Sierra Negra and Concha de Perla

Another early start – this time to hike to Sierra Negra, one of five active volcanoes on Isabella island.  The crater is an impressive 6 miles wide, making it the world’s second largest crater.  Our guide, Xavier, also pointed out some endemic plant species to us, as well as telling us how introduced species such as Guava trees have upset the natural ecosystem.  Luckily there are initiatives to remove introduced species in favour of endemic ones.

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Our next stop was a huge lava tunnel which was covered in fungus, which glistened like gold under the torch light, and volcanic stalactites.

After a quick packed lunch which consisted of a cheese and jam brioche roll (interesting I know…), we headed to the island’s flamingo reserve and then to Centro Brianza – home to the eponymous Galapagos tortoises. They can grow up to 2m long and live for hundreds of years (they don’t reach full size until they are about 120!).  The reserve is helping to conserve these amazing animals for generations to come, as unfortunately introduced species such as donkeys, horses and rats can destroy the tortoises’ nests.  The reserve ensures that the tortoises grow their large protective shell before they are released to the wild.

Warm from the day’s walking we headed to Concha de Perla – a free spot for snorkelling.  We were greeted by numerous sea lions basking in the sun on the board walk. The snorkelling was great too – lots of species of fish and marine iguanas.

Day 4 – Los Tuneles

We spent the morning walking along the main beach of the island all the way to Playa del Amor – an organic beach made up of coral and shells.  En route we stopped to visit another lava tunnel and to watch the numerous crabs and marine iguanas scramble across the rocks.

In the afternoon we headed off on a boat trip to Los Tuneles – home to the best snorkelling on the island. And we weren’t disappointed!  We saw lots of huge sea turtles, reef sharks up to about 6ft long and a solitary sea horse camouflaged against the sea bed!

Unfortunately our Gopro case was broken and let in some water, so we were unable to capture any shots on camera.  We thought our luck had come when one of the guys working for the boat company said he had a spare Gopro case which he sold to us for 20usd.  We considered this to be a good deal given that they were charging over 100 usd at the electronics store on Santa Cruz.

Before heading back to the main town, we visited an area of lava tunnels which we wandered around and became acquainted with our first blue footed boobies of the trip.  One of them was even performing its ritual to attract a mate.

Day 5 – Pinzon and Daphne

The day started with us taking the 6:30 boat from Isla Isabella back to Santa Cruz.  On pulling into the harbour we were greeted by Padi who promptly ushered us from our boat onto another one where we would spend the day (the package we had booked included a day trip to some of the other Galapagos islands located to the Northwest of Santa Cruz).

We had a great time snorkelling at Pinzon island where we saw reef sharks, sea lions, sea urchins, 2 penguins and plenty of fish – including a yellow bubble fish which was amazing to see.

After lunch on the boat which consisted of fish and rice, we continued to Daphne island where we snorkelled with fish and sea lions. Unfortunately our deal from the previous day turned out to be less than ideal as water flooded the Gopro case causing the Gopro to break – turns out the 20 USD spent had ended up costing us several hundred pounds…so no snorkelling pics…

Days 6-9 – Cruise On the Lonesome George

Before joining our cruise group at 11am, we visited the Charles Darwin Research Centre – the base for research and projects focused on the conservation of the Galapagos terrestrial and marine ecosystems.  It is also a breeding centre for more amazing giant tortoises.

The real adventure then started as we boarded our boat – Solitario Jorge (Lonesome George) – which was set to sail to South Plaza island, Floreana island and San Cristobal island.  Unfortunately we were unable to stop at Santa Fe, as per the original itinerary, as the island had been closed due to bull shark sightings.

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We weren’t sure what to expect from the cruise, as the only reviews we had found on the internet were really bad, but we were pleasantly surprised. Our room was small but functional, the crew were friendly and we ate really well during the four days (including a slap-up meal complete with white table clothes on the last night).

We also had a great group made up of Austrians, Swiss, Germans, Costa Ricans, a Canadian, a Mexican and an Aussie with whom we enjoyed numerous games of cards whilst sailing, as well as some karaoke…

Throughout the cruise we saw a huge array of land and marine life, as well as visiting Post Office Bay (where you can find a post box to leave unstamped postcards, which fellow travellers from the same town as the addressee will collect and hand-deliver) and the San Cristobal interpretation centre (which details the geological and natural history of the Galapagos).

Our personal highlights were:

-Champion Island (off the coast of Floreana) where we snorkelled with sea lions and spotted a solitary shark

-Kicker Rock – a beautiful rock formation which towers 100m above the sea.  Here we snorkelled with reef sharks and a beautiful ray.

-Isla Lobos – on land we saw blue footed boobies and frigate birds (the males have a huge red balloon on their chest to attract the females).  In the water we snorkelled with innumerable sea lions (hence the island’s name).  It was amazing to see just how playful the sea lions were, as they swam up to the Gopro and did flips under the water.

-Punta Carrion – our last stop on the cruise, just off the northeast coast of Santa Cruz, but also one of the best.  The visibility in the water was great and we saw a wealth of sharks, tropical fish, lobsters and even a sea snake.

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Our cruise finished early on the final day, which meant we still had the whole day to spend back on Santa Cruz island.  We decided to visit las Grietas – a collection of sheletered swimming holes – together with Barbara and Hans Peter (the two Swiss from our Cruise group).

Unfortunately Paul and I only made it as  far as the first swimming hole, as Paul contracted a mystery pain in his back, which meant that he spent almost an hour sat on a rock as I tried to soothe his muscles with a damp T-shirt!  Eventually we managed the swim back across the swimming hole to safety and spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach.

For our last dinner we treated ourselves to fresh lobster (I say treated, but it was still significantly cheaper than ordering it in Europe at about £12 for a whole lobster served with rice, chips and salad).

Day 10 – Return to the Mainland

The time had come to head back to the mainland, so we set off by taxi, bus, boat and bus back to the airport.  On the final bus there was an obnoxious Dutch man who complained about there not being a seat for him on the public bus which, may I add, was completely free of charge.  In any case, he kicked up a stink and exclaimed “Lazy Galapagos people. Can’t be bothered to work. Stupid Galapagos. They put 3 turtles on here and expect us to be impressed!”

His outburst couldn’t be further from what we have experienced – friendly, hard working people who are the guardians of a magical place which I hope will continue to amaze people for generations to come.

Phil

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