Friday September 11, 2015 finally arrived for me to be reunited with Deanna, my amazing travel bestie/kindred spirit/soul friend from Los Angeles, whom I met on a dog sledding tour in Iceland in April, 2015. Meeting in Quito, Ecuador, we were about to spend 7 days seeing the Galápagos Islands. It’s a destination on many people’s bucket lists, including Deanna’s, and I was so excited we were going to share this dream destination together.
The Galápagos Archipelago is located 970km (600 miles) west from the coast of Ecuador. A UNESCO World Hertiage Site since 1978, it consists of 13 greater islands, 6 smaller islands, 42 islets and several rocks. Covering a total area of 7,850 square kilometres, it was formed 4 to 5 million years ago as a result of volcanic eruptions.
Neither of us are much into boats, so being land based and island hopping was the only option. It worked perfectly! Taking an early morning direct flight from Quito airport to Seymour on Baltra Island on Saturday September 12, 2015, we landed just after 8am. Here are the highlights of our amazing time on the Galápagos!
Most Random Event
After checking into our hotel on Santa Cruz in Puerto Ayora, we decided to walk to Tortuga Bay. A twenty minute walk through the town centre brought us to the start of the trail. A young woman approached us, and I was expecting her to ask us for directions. “Would you like to be part of a documentary we are making about the people of the Galapagos?” she asked us. Deanna and both looked at each other, “of course”.
For the next ninety minutes, we were taken on a guided walk to Tortuga Bay with our very own personal guide, film crew and other unsuspecting tourists as part of Dr Kum-Kum Bhavani’s sociological project at the University of California, Santa Barbara. We learned about the Galápagos Islands and how tour guides relate to their life, work and their environment . On our very first day, this was the most random, surprising, but rewarding event we were part of. Definitely a magical start to our vacation.
Most caught-off-guard moment
Tortuga Bay is beautiful! White fine sand, turquoise coloured water, red crabs scuttling on rocks and green mangroves. We hiked to the right of the beach after arriving, and we were so engrossed in admiring the scenery, we failed to notice all the marine iguanas frozen like statues on the sand. Caught completely off guard, these animals look not only prehistoric, in a dragon, reptilian type way, but they have this look about them that’s kind of intimidating! As we stopped to take photos, some of them spat water from their mouth. I kind of felt like they were spitting at us. Then two of them tried to surround us as they made their way towards us from two sides. Further along, two of the marine iguanas were stationed to stop us from progressing any further. Don’t mess with the marine iguanas of Tortuga Bay!
To travel between the Galápagos Islands of Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristobel, you need to pay between $50 to $60USD round trip to sit in a small boat that takes two hours to reach your destination. Perhaps because it was non peak season, but the boats we took were more open than what was described to me by other people who warned me not to sit downstairs where the boat was enclosed, but upstairs on one of only four seats available. Our boat was not enclosed, but opened to an outside area. Deanna and I still chose to sit on the forward facing, back seats of the boat where the sea air blew and the water frequently wet us, mostly lightly, but occasionally heavily!
The swell at times was huge as the boat rolled side to side. But we are so proud to say neither of us projectile vomited on any of the crossings, thanks to sea sickness medication! Even when the boat tipped to the far right in huge swells, crossing between San Cristobel and Santa Cruz, we managed to not only stay in the boat and not fall out, but keep all stomach contents within. Not eating before each crossing was a good idea too, and listening to music helps as well!
Most ferries leave Santa Cruz early morning or early afternoon to San Cristobel and Isabela, with return times similar (early morning or early afternoon).
Best Snorkelling Trip
So much of the wildlife on the Galápagos is in the water, so we took three snorkelling trips, one on each island, all with their own special highlights. On Santa Cruz, we took a trip to North and South Seymour Islands which had a 7.30am departure time, and a 3pm return back to Puerto Ayora.
The highlight of this trip was seeing our one and only Galápagos shark and giant manta ray! The divers definitely saw more marine life deeper below us including hammer head sharks, the only marine creature that escaped us the entire trip. The Galápagos shark and manta ray were very awesome, and very large.! Just as well the shark didn’t pass us too closely, I think we might have freaked out a tad bit if it had! Bird watching and spotting the frigate bird, while sunning ourselves on the front deck of the boat was very relaxing too!
On Isabela, a snorkelling tour of Los Tuneles was a must do half day trip. The landscape and the Tuneles are beautiful, and it was the best snorkelling trip we did in terms of wildlife. Our hike on land brought us to many blue footed boobies that don’t seem phased by our snapping cameras. Snorkelling in the waters of Los Tuneles is just like being in a giant aquarium of which we felt part of. We saw penguins, seahorses, marine tortoises, sting rays, eels, lobsters, fish and reef sharks.
On San Cristobel, a full day snorkelling / diving trip to Kicker Rock is the thing to do! We went with the tour company Chalo Tours which is the only operator that uses a catamaran. It was an outstanding day out! The catamaran was smooth and spacious , Kicker Rock is impressive with only one third of it above the water’s surface, and we saw star fish, reef sharks, fish and marine tortoises. Our after lunch rest and relaxation was spent on a remote beach, where we played with young sea lions in the water.
The price of each of these tours was $75USD, $90 USD and $90USD respectively for each of the trips above. The price can increase as the day goes on, especially if you book it late in the day, and it pays to try and negotiate to try to get the best price! However, most tour companies quote the same price. Each tour included drinks, snacks and lunch.
We paid a taxi driver $40 USD to take us out of town to visit the giant tortoises at El Chaito, which included the lava tunnels there, then a detour to see the two twin craters on route back to Puerto Ayora. Our taxi driver was really friendly, and it probably helped Deanna speaks fluent Spanish. He accompanied us around these destinations, pointing things out and taking all our photographs for us.
The funniest moment was at El Chaito after our walk around the natural reserve to see the giant land tortoises. There are 2 tortoise shells you can climb into to channel your inner giant tortoise. Here’s my impression of a tired giant tortoise!
We stayed in four very good places while in the Galápagos, all with their own strengths. On Puerto Ayora, we started at Hotel Pelican Bay, which was a two minute walk to the main road in town where all the shops, tour companies and restaurants are. http://www.hotelpelicanbay.com.ec/
On our last night before flying back to Quito, we stayed at Twin Eco Suites which was set amongst a very lush, green and beautiful garden. http://www.twinsuitesgalapagos.com/
On San Cristobel, we stayed at Hotel Mar Azul which was a short walk to town with lots of stores and restaurants nearby with easy access to the pier. http://www.marazulgalapagos.com/
Our favourite place was Drake Inn on Isabela. The beach front was ten metres from the front door once you crossed the dirt road, and it had an amazing roof terrace to take an afternoon snooze on, and to admire the views of the ocean front and the mangroves. http://www.drakeinngalapagos.com/
Single Overall Highlight
We had an amazing 7 days in the Galápagos, seeing and doing so many things. Each island and event was both unique and special. But if we had to pick the best thing we experienced, it would have to be swimming and playing with the young sea lions after our Kicker Rock swim on San Cristobel.
We spotted one adult sea lion emerge from the ocean, fifty metres from where we were frolicking in the water, and grabbed our stuff to head towards it. As the adult sea lion made a slow and awkward journey further onto the sand dune, we spotted two young sea lions in the water. For the next hour, we played with them, and they played with us. The young sea lions put on quite a show, flipping upside down to clap their fins, diving around our legs like torpedoes, and swimming to and from us, beckoning us to chase them. In fact, they became even more playful when I dived under the surface to stare at them from behind my mask, while trying to swim with them. It was a totally joyful experience that had us all smiling and laughing like children. Definitely the single overall highlight for both us, and a bucket list experience for me!
We had an amazing, magical and affordable time exploring some of the islands of the Galápagos Archipelago, seeing all the animals we wanted to see except for the elusive hammer head shark. Fingers crossed we will when we next visit with our PADI diving certifcation!