Just call me Chuck. I spent eight fantastic days exploring the land and sea of the Galapagos islands. I had absolutely no idea just how much I would love that fabulous place but it is incredible. I don’t recall learning that much about the Galapagos in school, and most of what I knew previously was from Galapagos Jeopardy themed categories. I actually learned quite a bit about the different species of plants and animals while I was in the islands.
The Galapagos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are an archipelago of volcanic islands in the Pacific about 1,000km off of the coast of Ecuador. The islands are widely known for their vast number of endemic species and are considered a melting pot of marine species. The land iguanas, giant tortoises and thirteen species of finch are what inspired Charles Darwin’s development of his theory of evolution.
The first part of my Galapagos trip was aboard the Archipel I, a luxury catamaran yacht that took us around the islands for four days. There were 12 of us on board the Archipel I and everyone was extremely lovely. I even lucked out and got my own cabin! We all flew into the San Cristobal airport, which was the first island we explored before heading to the boat. (A side note for those thinking about a trip to the Galapagos, it is $100US upon entry at the airport and the airport does not have an ATM, so for those thinking (me, whoops!), ah…there has to be an ATM at the airport. Well, there isn’t. Thankfully my guide gave me money till I could get to the ATM in town.) On San Cristobal, we saw finches, lava lizards, sea lions, marine iguanas and pelicans. We watched a beautiful sunset from the boat, had a fantastic dinner and finished it off with a welcome drink from the crew.
(Made it to the Galapagos; San Cristobal airport)
(first look at the rooms on the boat; my very own cabin and bathroom!)
(San Cristobal sights plus sunset from the boat & welcome drink)
On our second day we got up early, had a fantastic breakfast and then went on an early morning hike to visit South Plazas Island. On South Plazas Island, along with many other of the Galapagos Islands, the animals aren’t afraid of people because they have no predators. On some of the more inhabited islands, the animals are slightly more timid due to the induced predators (wild goats, cats, dogs, etc). My favorite part of this island, was the land iguana eating his cactus fruit while his friend was watching near by getting ready to pounce and try to steal the fruit.
Following our morning at South Plazas, we navigated over to Santa Fe Island where we did a late morning snorkel and an afternoon snorkel. We swam with so many sea lions, it was so much fun! In the afternoon, we went onto Santa Fe Island where you can see tons and tons of sea lions lounging on the beach. We also hung out with some pretty large land iguanas. The cactus trees are endemic to the Galapagos and grow tall on the islands in an effort of survival, as the iguanas eat the fruits. Ecuador and Paraguay were playing that day in a World Cup qualifying game and the crew were placing bets on what the final score would be. Naturally, I joined in. We were all wrong. Final score: Ecuador 4 – Paraguay 1. Our crew was quite pleased with that outcome!
(Sea Lions, Birds, Land Iguanas & Ecuador/Paraguay football game bets between the crew…and me)
On the third day, we went to explore Floreana Island (otherwise known as Santa Maria Island) and did a morning hike up to Asilo De La Paz where we got some pretty nice views of the island. After the hike, we took a bus/pick up truck to a giant tortoise reserve where we got to hang out with those guys and watch them play around. My favorite was the little one (well, one of the littlest, but still probably 30-50 years old) eating the guava. Messiest eater I’ve ever seen! So cute. After Floreana Island, we at some lunch and relaxed on the boat (I got in some reading and a glorious nap) for a while.
Our afternoon activity was snorkeling at Sea Turtle Bay where we saw TONS of turtles (hence the name, I suppose). The day was concluded with a boat ride to Enderby Island to see the frigate birds along with some more boobies. On the boat ride over though we saw a bunch of eagle rays jumping and doing flips out of the water. Apparently they do this to rid themselves of parasites. Really neat to watch! Since it was mine and some of the other groups last night on the boat, we had a goodbye drink with the crew and one last amazing dinner! And just to be consistent, I went to bed again around 8:30pm. Something about the rocking of the boat makes me so sleepy!
(Floreana Island – hike to Asilo De La Paz & tortoise reserve; Boating to Enderby Island)
On the fourth day, we landed on Santa Cruz island and our group split in half, as some of the group was staying for the full eight day cruise and some of us only did the four night cruise. I had such a lovely time aboard the Archipel I, it was sad to leave. The crew, the food, the yacht itself, everything was phenomenal! I headed first to the Charles Darwin Center to see the tortoise breeding center. We also learned about Lonesome George, the last known Pinta Island tortoise. Unfortunately they were unable to find a suitable mate for George, since he was the last in his subspecies and he died in the summer of 2012 of old age. He was believed to be more than 100 years old. After the Charles Darwin Center, we headed up to the highlands of Santa Cruz island to another tortoise reserve to see them in the wild. They were quite massive.
(Archipel I route; me & the Captain; me & the barman, Alex; me & my wonderful guide, Dario)
(Charles Darwin Research Center, Santa Cruz Island; tortoise reserve in Santa Cruz highlands)
After my tour concluded, I was on my own for four days on Santa Cruz. I found a room in the hostel section of the Hotel Flamingo for $15/night, which wasn’t half bad! I spent two of the days on Santa Cruz diving with Scuba Iguana. Which was INCREDIBLE and I will be writing about in detail in another post. During the other two days, I visited the beautiful Tortuga Bay, which is a remote slide of heaven. White sandy beaches, turquoise blue waters, plus the added benefits of fun Galapagos animals stopping by to say hello. I’ve seen some amazing beaches on this trip and Tortuga Bay is up there with them in terms of sheer beauty.
With my other remaining day, I decided to take a day trip from Santa Cruz to Isabela Island. Isabela is the largest and youngest of the Galapagos islands. Since it is so young, Isabela is known for is drastic landscape beauty, as the lava rocks have not had time to develope the way the other islands have. During our day trip we saw the Galapagos penguin, sea lions, white tip reef sharks, tons of blue footed boobies and marine iguanas. We also visited the Isabela Giant Tortoise breeding center and saw more of the special animals. Isabela is probably best visited from a cruise since it is so large and there is so much to see, but I was glad I got the chance to explore the island for the day!
On my last night in the Galapagos, I met up with some fellow divers for dinner and Klever, who worked at Hotel Flamingo. We enjoyed some fresh ceviche for an appetizer and reminisced on the spectacular diving we had earlier that day. The Galapagos were something else and I was very sad to leave. It cost me all of my birthday money and then some, but it was completely worth it. Such a beautiful place to visit with so many unique and unforgettable experiences.