It has been a while, and as connectivity has been limited, this might be a long one!
The Galapagos truly is a wondrous paradise. It comes by its fabulous reputation honestly and we have seen more than we thought imaginable over the past week.
We began this journey on Santa Cruz, staying two nights in Puerto Ayora. The town itself is filled with lots of trendy bars and restaurants, giving it a very modern feel. The goal is clearly to attract tourists and they are very service oriented. We were spoiled by excellent hosts and a wealth of fabulous seafood.
We awoke early and headed off to Bahía Tortuga.This area is only a pleasant few kilometres from town and, as the name suggests, is home to plenty of turtles. They nest here, so anywhere off the path is forbidden. There is a beautiful beach and it is here we also saw our first marine iguanas – one also seriously startled me during a swim! There are also lots of sea birds around and we got a good view of the famous blue-footed boobies and some rays.
The afternoon was busy! A friendly, good-natured taxi driver agreed to take us to a few key spots: collapsed volcanic craters, lava tunnels and to a tortoise ranch. Just when we thought we couldn’t see any more! The craters were much bigger than we had imagined. The photos don’t do them justice, as they were so deep and round you couldn’t see two sides at once from so close. I likened it to the landscape from “Land Before Time”.The lava tunnels were impressive as well, left from magma flowing out after a volcanic eruption, you can climb down and follow its curves and high ceilings, checking out the volcanic rock for over a kilometre.
The highlight of the afternoon was definitely our visit to Rancho Primicias, enclosing giant tortoises. It was amazing to witness these beautiful creatures’ slow, deliberate movements. I had seriously underestimated their size… They are about as big as me! Many of these tortoises were well over 100 years old.
Puerto Ayora is also known for the Charles Darwin Research Station, which breeds various tortoise species, as well as land iguanas. It was worth the visit, and is only a very short walk from town.
The next day we headed to Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island. This was our favourite of the islands – less developed, friendly people and lots to do and see.
We walked to La Muro de las Lagrimas (the Wall of Tears), about a 15km round trip from town. Prisoners were sent to work here in 1946 as punishment. As the saying went “Here the strong cry and the weak die.” Not a particularly encouraging motto. All that’s left now is the wall and a few signs of the infrastructure left behind by the US Army after WWII. The hike to get there is lovely with lots of viewpoints and lagoons off the trail. On our way out we were even lucky enough to see a tortoise in the wild!
Isabela also hosts a breeding centre for various tortoise species. The centre is well laid out and it is amazing to see so many tortoises in one location. Once the tortoises are a few years old and less vulnerable to predators, they are released back into the wild. We enjoyed this particular spot much more than the Darwin on Santa Cruz.
We also explored much more marine life around this island. We first snorkelled a small lagoon, Concha de Perla, filled with lots of little fish, rays, penguins, crabs, iguanas and sea lions amongst other things. A very friendly sea lion swam around us and played, even managing to get close enough to startle Paddy!
Finally, we went on a boat tour to Las Tintoreras. On the way out we spotted some sea turtles, penguins and rays. Then we went on a guided walk along the islands to see the iguanas nesting site (absolutely filled with them – it’s mating season), and a long crevice where white tipped sharks like to hang out. Our last stop was a snorkel amongst the islands where we saw all kinds of fish, starfish, rays, eels and most exciting, sea turtles. I can’t think of a better way to spend Christmas-Birthday!
Our final Galapagos destination was San Cristóbal. It’s an odd place and with a deep port, clearly a more popular destination for the tour boats. This is evidenced by the developed waterfront and underdeveloped remainder of the town. I have a feeling this town may change a lot in the coming years!
We visited the Park Interpretation Centre, which was quite different from the other centres we’ve visited. It focuses much more on the geological and social history of the islands. Behind it are some great trails and beaches where some sea lion colonies live. They are quite the amazing mammals and such fun to watch! We hung out on Playa Man, swimming and watching the sea lions for quite a while. There are lots of pups around!
Something we thought we’d never see: A huge sea lion crossing the road. It looked so comical!
We loved our time here – definitely the trip of a lifetime! We enjoyed the freedom booking our own hotels, not being part of a tour or cruise and just wandering around afforded us. Were we to do this again, we would likely skip San Cristóbal and venture to some of the other less populated or uninhabited islands. Of course, we’d get some diving in too – there are just a couple restrictions at the moment, for the best of reasons!