Having whet our appetites for wildlife in the Amazonian Rainforest (looking not eating!), we decided to follow in the footsteps of Darwin and head to the remote Galapagos Islands. As all flights depart from mainland Ecuador, we spent the night in the city of Guayaquil and surprisingly had the most delicious kosher burger…ever! The 400g “monster burger” from the chic and trendy Kosher Pita Grill was incredible, so much so that I had to seriously resist buying a second one.
After just an hour’s flight, we arrived into the famed archipelago, hidden away among the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, packed with fearless wildlife and fearful tourists… at learning the price of seeing it!Between flights, taxes, more taxes and boat trips, this was definitely going to be the most expensive, but most unique, part of our trip. We were wowed from the moment we stepped foot outside the airport and saw the brilliant crystal clear turquoise waters lapping against the black volcanic rock shores. When visiting the Galapagos there are two options: tour around the islands on a cruise ship, or stay on any of the 3 inhabited islands (San Crstobal, Santa Cruz, Isabela) and take day trips. With the seas being particularly choppy this time of year, we opted for the latter to minimise the chances of sea sickness; whilst my wife is Olive(ia), I’m certainly no Popeye the sailor man!
Two buses, a ferry and a taxi ride later and we successfully made the trip from Baltra Island’s international airport (built on the site of an old WW2 US Airforce base) to our accommodation on Santa Cruz Island. As expected for a city built around high-end tourism, restaurants here are pretty pricey, so having self-catering facilities was a big win, particularly when the fish market has a performing sea lion and daily fresh tuna steaks for £5… per kilogram!
The largest of all Galapagos Islands is Isabela; formed by 5 separate islands merging due to volcanic activity, it’s now home to a spectacular array of wildlife. We arrived at the pier for our 7am boat transfer and, on seeing the rough seas, I nervously reached for the sea sickness tablets. The boat’s three powerful engines repeatedly propelled us up, soaring clear of the waves for just a split second of tranquillity, before violently crashing back down into the waters below. 3 hours later we arrived relieved and amazingly unscathed, although others weren’t quite so lucky. With thankfully nothing more than slightly bruised bums, we merrily hopped ashore and began our Tintorella tour where in 3 hours we saw more wildlife than we had in 3 months travelling. An initial greeting by a couple of snoozing sea lions and a solitary penguin, was quickly followed by flocks of flamingos, frigate birds, and a whole mess of iguanas. We even saw a nice pair of boobies…the blue-footed bird of course.
After getting swelteringly hot from the powerful equatorial sun, we donned wetsuits and snorkels and jumped into the cooling water for one of the most standout moments of the trip: swimming with turtles and sharks! We were assured that the white tipped reef sharks only ate tropical fish (of which the waters were teeming with) however I was most definitely still a little on edge.
All limbs still in place, we climbed back out onto the “ah-ah” volcanic rocks (so called for the sound locals made when walking barefoot on these sharp rocks) and spent a relaxing night on the island before tackling the Chica Volcano trek. The next morning we set off in the cold and drizzle in what we believed to be less than desirable weather. However, due to this towering volcanic crater holding clouds in a fixed place, we suddenly emerged from the mud and fog to swelteringly hot bright blue skies. The scenery could not be more contrasting: from lush greenery filled with wildlife, to a barren black rocky landscape, broken up only by streaks of red and yellow mineral oxidation.
After just a couple of hours in the exhausting heat of this wilderness, we welcomed our arrival back into the grey mist. In an irony worthy of an Alanis Morissette song, dreaming of English weather after travelling half way round the world to a tropical island was certainly ironic!
With our return sea-crossing even rougher than the outward journey (thankfully still nothing more than bruised bums), we decided to spend the next day exploring more of the wildlife on Santa Cruz island. Just a 30-minute drive from the main town of Puerto Ayora, El Chato Reserve is home to a large number of astonishingly large giant tortoises (and free tea to Liv’s delight).
Sadly, as these amazing animals can stay alive for up to a year without food or water, sailors historically used a huge number of them as a long-term source of fresh meat whilst out at sea. With many species such as the embalmed last of his kind “George” (cue Dad jokes) now extinct, the Charles Darwin Station breeding centre is trying to prevent further decline.
Thankfully we also managed to discover a new and unusual species…
From Las Grietas to Tortuga Bay, any time we had a spare few hours we’d dive back into snorkelling and were usually rewarded with views of manta rays, sharks, or a whole host of other weird and wonderful marine life none of which I could name.
The boat trips were equally unpredictable and seem to bear no resemblance to trip cost. From exploring the freezing cold waters of Pinzon Island in a tiny fishing boat barely powerful enough to stay afloat, to the luxurious cruiser which took us around Santa Fe Island and served a delicious tuna steak lunch. It was boat trip roulette, which thankfully finished on a massive high.
This last snorkelling excursion was not only amazing due to playful sea lions biting on our flippers, but also thanks to the super warm wetsuits that I’d “rented” in a desperate 7am act to avoid us turning blue/yellow again. Any thoughts of questionable morality soon faded when experiencing the joy of snorkelling without the uncontrollable shivering!
After re-enacting scenes from Titantic and with our feet firmly back on land, we headed to our favourite coffee shop just in time to watch (and smell) the roasting of this week’s beans, before consuming our body weight in yet more fresh tuna steak.
Finally full, we departed the Galapagos and in search of our last South American country, Colombia, where in order to get there, we would miss not just one but two flights…on purpose! Find out why in the next post…