The Galapagos Islands is an archipelago of volcanic islands about 1,000 kilometres off the coast of Ecuador. While they’re technically Pacific Islands, they don’t have the same tropical islands feel like that of Tonga or Fiji. There are no palm trees here, for example.
Most people travelling to the Galapagos come for a cruise to see the diverse animal species. Most cruises are organised from the mainland before arriving and can be expensive. So, I decided to book a flight to the islands and to look for a ‘last minute’ deal when I got there, like I had for Antarctica 7 months ago. If you have time to spare, this is the cheaper way to go.
After an hour in a taxi from the hostel to the airport, a 30 minute stop off in the port city of Guayaquil and a 90 minute flight, I finally arrived on the islands. The airport is situated on a desert island, not the sandy romantic type, but a more rough dry vegetation type. What they don’t advertise is the US$100 entry fee into the National Marine Park – which covers all of the islands. Luckily, I had just enough on me, otherwise they would have taken my passport and I would have had to pay and collect it somewhere in town.
I caught a bus to the ferry pier, caught a ferry to Santa Cruz Island, and another bus to Puerto Ayora. After my early flight I napped for the hour and a half it took to cross the island. I woke as I arrived in the port town…
At the hostel I met a Uraguayan guy, Ernesto, who I ended up hanging out with for the rest of my time on the islands. We were greeted by the owner Kevin, from the US. Kevin took us on a free tour of the town introducing many of the aspects that were useful to know. At the end of the tour, Ernesto and I booked a 4-day cruise at a fairly good price. It was a couple of days away, so we explored some parts of the island.
At the top of the island is a sanctuary for the massive giant tortoises that can only be found on these islands. They wallow in mud, chew grass and take very leisurely strolls down the side of the main cross island road. While fencing is used to separate properties on the islands, the tortoises are allowed to go anywhere they want, albeit slowly.
A taxi to anywhere in town is US$1 by law, but to get to the Giant Tortoise sanctuary it costs US$30 and the driver who takes you up there becomes your impromptu tour guide – thankfully Ernesto could translate. At the end of the tour, the driver takes you to several other places before dropping you back at your hostel.
The reserve on Santa Cruz Island isn’t large but we met many of the tortoises who were just sitting around munching grass or drinking muddy water. The very large ones are the males (some 1.5m long) while females are smaller. There were several young aged 3-5 years, which were about the size of normal turtles. You’re not allow to approach to within 2 metres of the animals, but even at 5 metres some of them pull in their heads and hiss. They could no doubt give a nasty bite, so we kept our distance.
After visiting the tortoises, the driver took us to a large lava tunnel and dropped us at the start before going to wait for us at the exit. Stairs descend into the tube, which was slightly taller and wider than a train tunnel. The tube is nearly 500m long and is lit by sporadic lights.
Near the end the tunnel roof descends, giving only a crawl space for about 2 metres. After crawling through on our bellies we met the taxi and were taken back to town.
While it’s not steaming hot in the islands, it can be a little muggy first thing in the morning. The day before the cruise was cloudy but warm, so we decided to find the swimming hole we’d been told about. Just prior to leaving, an English couple arrived at the hostel and we invited them to join us.
From the pier at the centre of town a water taxi takes us across the small harbour for 60 cents, zig-zagging through the yachts.
We then walked across volcanic rock for 20 minutes to a natural fissure in the rock about 40 metres deep. The bottom 10 metres is filled with water.
A pair of bikini clad girls from Florida at the edge of the swimming hole told us the water was cold. Of course the best way to get into cold water is to dive. But, the water wasn’t as cold as expected and the four of us ended up swimming for an hour, occasionally climbing up the sides and jumping from the rocks.
Puerto Ayroa has plentiful restaurants and being in the Pacific, seafood is common. For the three nights we stayed we ate in three different places. Firstly, at the pier where the boats bring daily fresh catches. In the morning they sell their catches of fish and crayfish, then in the evening they have a cheap seafood fry up. Very tasty.
On night two, we discovered a street where all the small restaurants block the road by setting up plastic tables down the middle. At one particular restaurant, I ate a local fish dish – Caviche – where they slowly cook raw fish in a lime throughout the day. Yum!
Day three, with our new English friends, we ate at a normal restaurant. Boring, but still tasty.
Tortuga Bay Beach
Lastly, on returning from the cruise, we decided to head to Tortuga Bay beach, a 30 minute walk along a 2.5km path. The day we went was warm but very cloudy and when we arrived at the beach it was beautiful but rather cold.
As we walked we spotted several black Marine Iguanas wandering down the beach. Middle right in the above picture. When necessary, he uses his long tail to swim through the surf. Then, at one end of the beach, we also found an Iguana pile…
As evening approaches, the Iguanas head a special location and pile on top of each other to conserve heat during the night. The Marine Iguanas are the only species of in the world that do this, and at a half a metre long each, that’s a big pile.
Next, the 4-day cruise around the islands.
The Trail Wanderer
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