10th -15th Feb 2016
I can’t believe I’m getting to write a post about the Galapagos. Just a couple of weeks before we went it was a definite no, no matter how much I wanted to go. It’s known to be expensive even to get to, let alone when you are there, and just wasn’t in my budget which is already pretty tight given the amount of time we’re out here. The time until leaving ticked by though, and it was becoming more and more likely that we could try and do it for a decent price, and in the end I caved and went for it. Best decision ever. We were expecting to need a budget of $1500 (£1000) for a six day, five night trip, including flights and park fees and anything we spent over there. With some great last minute deals and a surprisingly cheap flight back, we brought this down to a total of under $1000, which although still very pricey was a thoroughly worthwhile splurge. Who needs money when they get back?
I’m going to try and break this down by day. We were on a last minute tour that we booked from a guy on the bus when we got there (legit) and it included what we wanted to do for a reasonable price and took out some of the organisation factor from us. It was cheap, so meant meals were a little repetitive, some guides weren’t much more than taxi drivers, and we didn’t always know quite what the plan was, but we still saw a hell of a lot of stuff for our money. Here goes. Will try to do more pictures than be too wordy, but they hardly do it justice!
Day 1 – Arrival
Our flight got us into Baltra Island at around midday. From there we took a bus, a quick ferry, and a taxi over to Santa Cruz, checked into our hotel, and were immediately touring, as another taxi driver came to pick up the three of us.
First stop, Los Gemalos. Two massive volcanic sinkholes in the national park, surrounded by finch-filled trees.
Next, a giant tortoise reserve. They are actually gigantic – seemed like real dinosaurs. They were around every corner, and our guide was pretty keen for us to see them mating (which he decided to mime out for us with noises) and was pretty keen to talk about a lot in the car. And tell us that we could have as many boyfriends as we wanted in Galapagos. Wasn’t sure about that guide.
There were also some fun lava tunnels at the ranch which we could play in.
Day 2 – Santa Fe
On our first full day, we had a full day tour to go to Santa Fe which is an uninhabited island about 45 minutes by boat from Santa Cruz. We joined a little group on a bumpy speedboat, bikinis on and ready to go.
The first stop was for some snorkelling on a rocky side of the island. The sea is absolutely packed with fish, and we swam through huge shoals of them. As with my blogs covering snorkelling before, I can’t really name any of them. But they were cool. And a surprise sea lion made a fleeting appearance.
Between stops, our boat captain let the three of us sit on the front of the boat. This meant some awesome views, and a great spot to nap a little, but we learned the hard way that a sunny day lying in the equatorial sun leads to some pretty nasty sunburn…
Next place to visit was a bay a bit further down the coast, home to a colony of sea lions. This was one of the absolute ‘wow’ moments of the trip. Two week old baby sea lions played on the rocks amongst bright orange crabs, only metres away. In the water the huge territorial males swam back and forth right by us, while smaller females swam right underneath us catching fish.
Final stop after a quick lunch on board the boat was a hidden beach back on Santa Cruz, with white sand and a calm bay. We were a bit exhausted by this point to do anything much, but even from the boat the water was so clear that you could see rays, turtles, and even a tiny shark in there.
Day 3 – Tortuga Bay and Isla Isabela
We woke on day three burned and tired, but still ready for a day full of activities. A pickup arrived to take Amber to the Darwin research station (it was actually Darwin’s birthday on this day, so that was fun) and Rav and I to Tortuga Bay.
Or sort of to the bay. Actually the cab took us to the start of a hot and hilly walk to the beach, which was ok going there but an exposed and exhausting trek back in the midday sun.
Still, the beach was fantastic. Absolutely enormous and perfect white sand and blue waves, it was also populated by hundreds of marine iguanas. We had fun taking pictures of them and just enjoying the vast unspoiled beach.
Around the corner was another little cove, where Rav went for a dip in the sea and I stayed as much out of the sun as possible and read my book. It was all very idyllic.
In the afternoon we took a boat over to the biggest Galapagos island: Isabela. It was two hours and not a pleasant crossing, so we were happy to be met at the dock by a friendly rep with a sign for Babina, Amber, and Blair.
Activities in the late afternoon involved a trip to see some flamingoes feeding, and to a giant tortoise breeding centre where we could see them at all stages of their growth, from two day old babies to giants over 100 years old.
Day 4 – Sierra Negra and Concha de Perla
The morning started early on day four as we were heading up a volcano and were told we would be picked up at 7. Of course with latin american timings this meant the bus actually came an hour later, but it at least took us a good way up in terms of altitude.
The majority of the hike was easy, but slightly dull. It was so foggy that there were no real views most of the way, and we spent hours trudging up through very similar looking paths.
The crater was pretty cool though, 10 miles across and last erupting in October 2015. The clouds cleared just enough to get a bit of a view, which was an improvement on our volcano trek in Guatemala.
We then walked a bit through some lava fields to get some views over the rest of the volcano chain. Again some good views. Our guide was keen to get it done as quickly as possible, and tried to send slow walkers back at this point. Amber was going to head back, and the generally pretty irresponsible guide was willling to let her do this alone even with pretty rough terrain so, deciding I wasn’t missing out on anything by skipping the end, went back too. We had much more fun without the guide anyway.
In the afternoon we went to another cove nearby on Isabela called Concha de Perla. This one wasn’t a tour, we just borrowed snorkel gear from the hostel and went for a swim. More fun fish and some rays, but we were too tired to stay out long.
Day 5 – Isla Tintoreras and back to Santa Cruz
This was a trip I’d been particularly excited for, as I’d been told there was a chance of seeing penguins in the bay on the way to Isla Tintoreras, a small, volcanic island off of Isabela. On the way out we saw blue footed boobies diving for fish, plenty of pelicans and sea lions, and finally a pair of very small, cute penguins resting on a rock. Yay!
The island itself was pretty small, and covered with sharp lava rocks. It was absolutely crawling with marine iguanas (both full grown and babies), and had a beach with more sea lions and frigate birds (which were trying to eat the baby iguanas). All very cool.
After just about managing to get back onto the boat in a very bumpy sea, we changed into snorkel gear and headed out into the cove. Not long into being in the water, Rav called me over as she had found the hugest green sea turtle (over a metre probably in length) eating something from a rock. It was incredible, one of the best things I’ve seen in all the snorkelling we’ve done. The whole swim was packed with amazing sights – more turtles, stingrays, eagle rays, puffer fish, all sorts.
We had hoped to see sharks on this tour and were not disappointed. As we swam through a narrow rocky pass, suddenly everyone stopped to look at something. I couldn’t see it, so waited behind and followed after them. Looking down I realised that just a metre or two below was a massive shark (they’re safe ones but big) swimming right beneath. Terrifying but wonderful. Not only that but just as we were about to get back in the boat, we caught sight of another shark and followed it a bit, only to find ourselves absolutely surrounded by them all over the place. I tried to count and got to at least 11. What a way to end our last tour.
All that was left to do was to board a boat back to Santa Cruz (we thought we hadn’t been booked on but it turns out they had been given the names Davina, Andres and Harry) and prepare for the journey back. It was valentines day so we treated ourselves to a nice meal and cocktail out – obviously need to treat yourself after a lavish Galapagos trip.
Day 6 – Heading back to Quito
Our flight back was from San Cristobal island so we had one final fun water taxi journey and spent the morning souvenir shopping and doing some last sea lion watching before our plane.
I’m so unbelievably glad I went, and will gladly sacrafice having any money left when I get home for the experience. Very few other places can you see so much wildlife in it’s natural environment so easily. Just standing on a dock waiting for a boat you can watch sea lions, pelicans, crabs, and even sting rays in the completely clear water. Already wishing I was back there (and still nursing my peeling burned skin…).