Ecuador

The Complete Traveler's Guide to the Galapagos Islands (PART 2 of 2)

by Asurah on August 6, 2011

The Complete Traveler's Guide to the Galapagos Islands (PART 2 of 2)

This article is split into two parts. In the first part, I tried to detail everything I could about backpacking the Galapagos. In this second part, I will share my personal experience of staying in the Galapagos archipelago.

After landing in Baltra, I was in awe that I was finally living my dream of being in the Galapagos. Even on the short ferry ride over across the Itabaca Canal, pelicans and frigatebirds flew overhead, and you could see Galapagos sea lions on the buoys, baking in the equatorial sun. As soon as I got to Puerto Ayora, I found a cheap hostel, left my belongings there, and headed off to book the next 10 days of my stay on the islands.

I originally planned to do my dive trips first and then go on an 8-day cruise around the islands. So, for the first day, I booked a dive to the North Seymour site, and then looked to see what kind of offers I could get on cruise trips. After a couple of hours, I realized that I might have to change my plans, as boats with the itinerary I wanted--those going to both the northern and southern islands--only leave on Tuesdays and Fridays. This meant that I would have to leave for the cruise right after my dive the following day, and the second dive would have to wait until after the 8-day cruise.

After six hours of shopping around, I stumbled upon a little agency with a very nice lady. She helped me find the perfect deal for me and even kept her shop open until 11pm when I could decide and book my cruise for the next day. I ended up booking my 8-day cruise on the Fragata yacht, a first-class boat, for $1,350. Afterwards, I got what I could get for supplies, took a cold shower, and went to bed in order to make my 4:45am dive appointment the next day.

This article is split into two parts. In the first part, I tried to detail everything I could about backpacking the Galapagos. In this second part, I will share my personal experience of staying in the Galapagos archipelago.

After landing in Baltra, I was in awe that I was finally living my dream of being in the Galapagos. Even on the short ferry ride over across the Itabaca Canal, pelicans and frigatebirds flew overhead, and you could see Galapagos sea lions on the buoys, baking in the equatorial sun. As soon as I got to Puerto Ayora, I found a cheap hostel, left my belongings there, and headed off to book the next 10 days of my stay on the islands.

I originally planned to do my dive trips first and then go on an 8-day cruise around the islands. So, for the first day, I booked a dive to the North Seymour site, and then looked to see what kind of offers I could get on cruise trips. After a couple of hours, I realized that I might have to change my plans, as boats with the itinerary I wanted--those going to both the northern and southern islands--only leave on Tuesdays and Fridays. This meant that I would have to leave for the cruise right after my dive the following day, and the second dive would have to wait until after the 8-day cruise.

After six hours of shopping around, I stumbled upon a little agency with a very nice lady. She helped me find the perfect deal for me and even kept her shop open until 11pm when I could decide and book my cruise for the next day. I ended up booking my 8-day cruise on the Fragata yacht, a first-class boat, for $1,350. Afterwards, I got what I could get for supplies, took a cold shower, and went to bed in order to make my 4:45am dive appointment the next day.

DIVING NORTH SEYMOUR ISLAND

On the day of the dive, we sailed from the Itabaca Canal toward North Seymour Island with the goal of starting the first dive at 7am and finishing the second dive by 10am, so that I could join the cruise on time immediately afterwards. North Seymour is a pretty easy dive with a lot of different animals and no major currents to worry about. We saw whitetip reef sharks, Galapagos sharks, a couple of hammerheads, several spotted eagle rays, sea turtles, incredible schools of barracudas, and schools of King Angelfish, the beautiful Moorish idol, and different types of butterflyfish.

On the day of the dive, we sailed from the Itabaca Canal toward North Seymour Island with the goal of starting the first dive at 7am and finishing the second dive by 10am, so that I could join the cruise on time immediately afterwards. North Seymour is a pretty easy dive with a lot of different animals and no major currents to worry about. We saw whitetip reef sharks, Galapagos sharks, a couple of hammerheads, several spotted eagle rays, sea turtles, incredible schools of barracudas, and schools of King Angelfish, the beautiful Moorish idol, and different types of butterflyfish.


After two dives, I joined the Fragata and was assigned to a double-cabin with private bathroom and AC, as expected for a first-class boat. I found out later that would have the cabin to myself for the next four days while the boat was not at full capacity. My group mates for the first leg of the trip included four Americans between the ages of 30 and 60 years, a Danish couple, and an Irish-Australian backpacker couple. After lunch, we headed off to our first site. Well, it was my first site. Most of the crew had already been on the boat for four days prior to my arrival.

LAS BACHAS BEACH

In the afternoon, we made a wet landing at Las Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island. The area used to be some sort of base for American troops during WWII. Today, it's mainly a nice beach with Sally lightfoot crabs, a lagoon with flamingos, and different types of birds walking around. After a while, we took a dingy, a boat that transports you from the yacht to the different sights on the islands, back to the yacht just in time for a cocktail and snack. Yes, life on a first-class Galapagos yacht is very hard. You get three excellent meals, and after each excursion or snorkel, you get a cocktail and a snack, and sometimes even hot chocolate! Hurray. Since the sail that night to Genovesa Island would be pretty rough, we all went straight to bed after dinner. And if you were wondering, yeah, the night was very rough.

GENOVESA ISLAND / DARWIN BAY

We were anchored right next to Genovesa Island, one of the three northern islands of the archipelago. The island is basically the rim of a huge, ancient volcano that is slowly collapsing into the sea. The island hosts a huge variety of sea birds, including frigatebirds, Nazca boobies, and the endemic red-footed booby. This is the only place in the world where you can find the red-footed booby. Their red feet and bright, blue faces are very unique, and they make excellent photos. We were there right in time for nesting season, so we got to see their eggs and some really cute chicks. And by "cute chicks," I mean baby birds, of course. Also on Genovesa, are Short-ear owls, which are pretty rare to see during the day.

It's really hard to express in words how fearless and indifferent the animals are towards people. The rules of the Galapagos National Park state that you must not get within two meters of the animals, but this is quite impossible on islands like Genovesa. The Nazca boobies nest on the ground, sometimes right on the walking trail, and some of these fascinating birds just stand right in your way. Some are so fearless that they will even try to eat your shoelaces or nib at your pants.

 

On Genovesa, we also had the chance to snorkel in the volcanic crater (now filled with sea water), but there wasn't anything too special to see there. We returned to the boat for lunch, and after a short siesta, we left for Darwin Bay, a beach on the other side of Genovesa Island, where Galapagos fur-seals lay on the sand and male frigatebirds blow their red neck membrane in order to attract females. Some great photography options right there.

BARTOLOME ISLAND / BLACK TURTLE COVE

Bartolome Island is not famous for its wildlife but rather its landscapes, which have been compared to that on the moon. Since I've never been to the moon, I cannot really comment on that. However, the arid volcanic land, interesting rock formations, and odd cactus make for some really beautiful, unique landscapes.

On Bartolome, we went snorkeling along Pinnacle Rock, a sharp huge rock just off the shore of Bartolome. Shortly afterwards, we were joined by three penguins during their hunt for fish. It was truly an amazing swim. The fish were in frenzy mode because of the penguins, and the penguins themselves were swimming around us so fast. At one point, I was resting on the surface, when one of the penguins came to take some air as well. It was not even one foot ahead of me. Then he dove in, and I followed. And before I realized what was happening, the penguin came to me, and using its beak, pinched my nose. I had my snorkeling mask on so he only bit the rubber, but it was so freaking cool. I was super-psyched after that.

After lunch, we headed to Caleta Tortuga Negra (Black Turtle Cove) on Santa Cruz Island. This is a mangrove area that is famous for, you got it, sea turtles. We saw maybe 10 of them--really big ones as well--just swimming around our dingy boat.

 

SOUTH PLAZAS ISLAND / CHARLES DARWIN RESEARCH CENTER

This was quite a different day than the others. Since most of the crew would be leaving the yacht later that day, we got an early start. At 6am, we headed to South Plazas Island just off Santa Cruz. The island has large land iguana and Galapagos sea lion colonies. It was quite nice to see the sunrise from the island, and also to see the iguanas and cactus plants. Over the years, the plants were forced to grow tall to avoid being eaten by lizards. Unlike other islands, where the cactus really look like cactus, here, they look like five-meter high trees, but with cactus instead of tree branches and leaves. Pretty weird stuff.

After saying our good-byes, the remaining bunch (the Danish couple and myself) set off for Santa Cruz Island to visit the Charles Darwin Research Center (CDRC), the main research center for the Galapagos. The CDRC is also the center responsible for rebuilding and recovering some species, such as the land iguana population in the past, and now the giant tortoise population.

Tortoise have been hunted for hundreds of years by pirates, whalers, fishermen, and colonists on the islands. Several very unique tortoise species had gone extinct as a result, and the CDRC's goal is to save what's left to be saved. At the CDRC, you can see the different tortoise in their "pens," where they are kept until they reach three years old, at which point they are returned to their natural habitats.

While at the CDRC, you can also see Lonesome George, the last remaining Pinta Island giant tortoise, and one of the most famous living animals in the world. If you come to the Galapagos and haven't said hello to George, it's like you've never been there.

 

After some free time in Puerto Ayora, a new group joined our boat, setting us to full capacity, which meant I now had to share my cabin. It was kind of a bummer, but I can't really complain, eh? The best thing about it was getting to meet so many different people. On the yacht, we had people from Denmark, Norway, the United States, Israel, Ecuador, and even one Estonian girl. I can't say I've ever met anyone from Estonia before.

LOS GEMELOS / SANTA FE ISLAND

The fifth day began with a trip to Santa Cruz's Los Gemelos, twin volcanic craters on both sides of the road to Puerto Ayora. The sights are unbelievable. These craters are huge, and the change in vegetation is immense compared to the views on other islands or even in the coast of Santa Cruz. If you're an avid bird watcher, this will be heaven for you. You'll be able to see six of the 14 different species of Darwin's finches, the little birds that sparked Charles Darwin's mind during his visit here, and the ones that gave him the first hint at the theory of evolution. Some of the finches are very sneaky, but on a good day, you can see most of them here.

In the afternoon, we sailed to Santa Fe Island, which is known for its sea turtle nests. The beach is full with nests at this time of year, but we couldn't see any recently-hatched turtles on the beach. We did see a bunch of sea lions, but at this point, they were becoming part of the scenery. On Santa Fe, it's also highly probable to spot stingrays really close to the beach, which is pretty cool on its own.

ESPAÑOLA / GARDENER BAY

Overnight, we sailed to Española, a southern island and one of the most biodiverse islands in the archipelago. As soon as you get off the dingy, you can see literally thousands of marine iguanas, really amazing creatures that live on land but feed underwater. They can dive for over an hour to feed on seaweed. They also look like little Godzillas, and in mating season, their skin turns red though it's normally black.

A few feet from the shore, it is bird heaven. There you'll find Nazca boobies, blue-footed boobies--only the best animal ever--and the very impressive waved albatross, the biggest birds in the Galapagos that are endemic to this island. We even managed to surprise some Galapagos hawks, a pretty rare sight.

 

We snorkeled a few hundred meters from the shore, where we managed to see sea turtles, different stingrays--mainly diamond and eagle spotted--and even sharks. After lunch, we got on the dingy again to visit Gardener Bay, another nice beach on the island, where sea lions can be found by the dozens. And, boy, are they playful!

FLOREANA ISLAND / POST OFFICE BAY

In the morning, we reached Floreana Island, one of the most interesting islands in the archipelago, and not because of its wildlife. I'm not going to tell the entire story here, since this article is already too long, but the story is really interesting and involves Utopian German colonists; a S&M mistress who went by the name, "The Baroness"; poisoning, mysterious disappearances; millionaires; and more. If you visit this island, your guide will probably tell you the story, but they usually tend to exaggerate the details for the dramatic value. I really recommend buying the book, The Curse of the Giant Tortoise, in Puerto Ayora or any major bookstore in Ecuador. There, you'll find interesting stories about the Galapagos islands, and also the most comprehensive and reliable version of the Floreana story you can get.

In the afternoon, we visited Post Office Bay, which served as a "post office" for the islands. By "post office," I mean a barrel that contained letters left by ships for other ships to pick up and deliver. This still goes on unofficially, so tourists can write postcards to their friends and family (or themselves), and put them in the barrel. The rule is that the postcards have to be hand-delivered, so if you find a postcard with an address near where you live, you can take it with you and deliver it when you get home. And someday, when someone who lives near you takes your postcard home, you'll receive your mail from the Galapagos.

Just off Post Office Bay, there is a really cool lava tube that is over a kilometer in length. You can walk inside, though during some parts of the year, the tunnel can fill up with water and you won't be able to go far before you have to swim. It's still a pretty cool experience and made me feel like a pirate or something.

NORTH SEYMOUR ISLAND / PUERTO AYORA

My final day on the yacht started, again, very early. We visited North Seymour Island, the same island where you can go diving. On the island, you can see blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, swallow-tailed gulls, sea lions, and if you're lucky, the largest land iguanas in the Galapagos. Some of them reach two feet in length! From North Seymour Island, we headed back to Baltra airport, where I took the bus-ferry-bus combination to get back to Puerto Ayora and booked my last dive trip.

DIVING AT GORDON ROCKS

I was pretty much wrecked after the previous day's early start. So, it was an early finish for me as well. And the fact that I had to get up at 4:45am again for the diving trip didn't help much either. After an hour's sail, we reached Gordon Rocks, the most famous dive site in the Galapagos. Because the area is notorious for its strong currents, we had to mentally prepare ourselves for a drift dive, possible with some holding-on to rocks. The area is also famous for its large quantity of Galapagos sharks, whitetips, and hammerheads.

What we didn't expect to see was Ricky, the name I gave a baby sea lion who decided to follow us during the entire dive. He swam around us, entertaining us with underwater acrobatics and while trying to steal our fins from time to time. That was wicked cool, I must say, and a great opening to the dive to come.

Gordon Rocks is deservedly famous. We saw all types of sharks common to this area, including a lone hammerhead that came so close to me, I could touch it. I was very much paralyzed when he got near me, but as he turned his head and caught the sight of me with a sideways eye, he swam away so fast it looked like a cartoon. It was a very scary experience, but also super-awesome. There were also sea turtles; so many different stingrays you couldn't keep track of them; and schools of fish floating along with the current. It was, indeed, an incredible dive.

 

On the second dive, we entered the water in the same place, but due to very intense currents, we had to go deeper and hold on to the rocks. We couldn't find Ricky this time, and I was kind of sad about this because I was really starting to connect with him. Shortly after, though, while holding to the rocks at about 30 meters down, one of the divers waved at me and then pointed upwards. I looked up and saw the most amazing thing I have ever seen, a school of maybe 20 hammerheads swimming 10 meters above us. If you try to picture a hammerhead, you would probably imagine seeing its figure from below, which is a very impressive sight. And that's exactly how we saw it, but times 20.

This dive marked the last activity for me in the Galapagos and also the last activity on my trip. Twenty-four hours later, I was already on a plane back to Quito, and 24 hours after that, I was on a plane to Madrid. From there, I started to feel that I was coming back home. My trip to South America has been a truly amazing trip, and the Galapagos provided a truly magnificent finish. I'll always remember that, and I am sure I will be back some day.


Matan
Flag Comment as Inappropriate

by Laura
About 5 years ago

What was the name of this hostel Mattimperial?

Matan
Flag Comment as Inappropriate

by darli
About 6 years ago

Hi Akanksha, how did you get on with your hiking? Can you recommend a tour company and rates? I had not planned on being in ecuador so im a little unprepared and would like go go to cotopaxi or at least get to some mountains without too much effort planning.. And suggestions most welcome. cheers

Matan
Flag Comment as Inappropriate

by akanksha
About 6 years ago

Hi, I need some advice! It'll be great if you could help :) I'm planning to go to Quito on 10th feb. I'm wondering if it will be ok for me to climb the cotopaxi on 11th feb itself ? Keeping in mind the acclimatization etc. Also, what tour company did you use ? I'm trying to book in advance. Thanks!Akanksha

Leave a Comment

Your Email
Your Comment
Security Code

Reload Image
Subscribe to future comments by email