Our decision to go to the Galápagos was a bit of a mistake actually. It’s well known to most backpackers that adding these islands to your itinerary cuts a big chunk out of your budget, even if you do hang out for the last minute cruises. One evening, however, we stumbled across some ridiculously cheap flights online with Avianca Airlines, from Guayaquil to Santa Cruz Island, which seemed too good to be true.
It turns out they were. Once you got through to the payment stage it asks that you pay with an Ecuadorean card, of which you’ll need to bring with you to the airport along with I.D. to prove it belongs to you. The flights were for locals only.
Back you go to reload the webpage as a non-Ecuadorean and boom, the prices double. But having been so close to confirming our trip, we had it in our minds we would be seeing these exciting and mystical islands. Also, Sophie would have loved to have visited them; she loved weird and wonderful animals and places of mystery. So, we booked.
And we don’t regret it.
We only had five nights, as our visas were expiring, so we stayed on the Island of Santa Cruz and took day trips from there, which worked well for us. We’d booked in at Gala House Hostel, a ten-minute walk from the small town of Puerto Ayora. Until the last night, we were the only ones staying there so it was wonderfully peaceful apart from an annoying cockerel that, every morning, did not stop crowing.
The five days felt like a mini holiday from the big holiday. We had some beach time, hiked, swam, relaxed, and ate some delicious dinners. Puerto Ayora, in comparison to all the other South American towns we’d been staying in, was tranquil and quaint. There aren’t as many vehicles on the road, only camionetas that drive around like taxis, taking people to places all over the island. Or people ride bikes everywhere. There’s a great cycle trail that runs all the way from Puerto Ayora, which sits on the south side of the island, to the canal port on the north side. We didn’t get bikes but we did run part of the trail one balmy evening.
The highlights, of course, are the flora and fauna.
The animals are unbelievably tame and fascinating to watch. They act as though tourists are nothing more than slightly irritating paparazzi. We visited the Charles Darwin Research Centre which gives you an overview of the preservation of certain animals on the islands, what they’re doing to conserve land and species, and information how you can help. They also house a sanctuary for the Galápagos giant tortoise and you can see them at all different stages of their life. They start off so tiny and grow…well, giant.
Lonesome George is there too. George was a male Pinta Island tortoise and the last known individual of the species. Until his death in 2012 he was the rarest creature in the world. His body has been preserved (although we found out the eyes are fake) and you can visit him in a climate controlled room where only a few people are allowed in at each time. George now serves as an important symbol for conservation efforts in the Galápagos Islands and throughout the world.
Lining all the pathways around the island and on the dunes of the beaches there are the Galápagos marine iguanas; a species of iguana found only on the Galápagos Islands that has the ability to forage in the sea, making it a marine reptile. It’s quite amusing to watch them move around, searching for a sunny spot (usually the middle of the road) where they’ll stay for hours, so unfazed by the vehicles swerving them or humans traipsing past them. On the islands, the animals certainly rule the roads, which is exactly how it should be.
We also met some friendly seals. They too are so unperturbed by humans. While we were sitting at a beach a seal waddled jauntily onto the sand and started baking in the sun just a few metres from a family picnic-ing. There was another who obviously must have missed that last boat home and found a quiet bench to sleep on for the night at the main port.
The pelicans were fun to watch. They’re so brazen in their attitude, hanging around the fishermen and just blatantly swooping fish out of the buckets when their back turns for a second. The fishermen don’t seem too bothered by it. I couldn’t help but hear the thick Aussie accent in my head of the Pelican from Finding Nemo: “fish gotta swim, birds gotta eat”.
On one of our days, we took a tour with Nauti-Diving. As I have my PADI I was able to do two scuba dives and Tim, being the ever so competent swimmer, did two snorkel trips. We sailed up to Mosquera and Daphne Island, picking two spots to dive at. I was a little worried I’d forgotten all the scuba training but luckily, it’s a bit like driving, and it all came back once we were in the water. I forgot how meditative scuba diving is when all you can hear is the sound of your breath.
Yes, I’m all yogic these days.
Anyway, the dives were great. The visibility wasn’t perfect because the waters were pretty choppy but we saw stingrays (who were mating), black and white tip sharks, garden eels, trumpet fish, rainbow fish, puffers fish, sea lions, turtles and hammerhead sharks! I only caught glimpses of the Hammerheads in the shadows as I think they saw us and are more scared of us than we are of them. It was incredible though.
Both dives were 40 minutes but it felt like 5. It was a momentary glance at ocean life before we withdrew to life on land. Scuba diving always leaves you wanting to see more.
We walked from our hostel to Tortuga Bay, arguably one of the most picturesque beaches in the Galápagos. The sand is clean and white and covered with iguanas and the waters are full of turtles. Unfortunately, when the currents are strong you can’t swim there (even though some idiots completely ignore the red flags), and you have to walk all along the beach and around the peninsula to find a swimming spot. It’s worth the walk as there’s a little inlet of calm blue water, protected a rocky peninsula which houses a cactus forest. It’s the perfect spot to relax for an afternoon.
Another walk was to Las Grietas Reserve. You have to catch a little boat from the main port, across the harbour to Playa Alemanas, and then walk about half an hour through some salt flats to a deep canyon in the rocks. Here you can jump off the platform into the water and swim along the canyon to the other side. We brought our snorkel gear but we only saw rainbow fish, which was still cool!
Even though we stayed only on Santa Cruz Island our days were full and we’re glad that we weren’t rushing around to see everything. However, if we go back, the other islands are certainly on the list. There is so much to see.
We felt as though we embraced our inner-David Attenborough’s, spending time observing the animals; appreciating the magic and uniqueness of the Galápagos. Whatever the cost, it’s 100% worth it and I like to think Sophie was there in spirit with us. She would have liked the Iguanas the best. Or these little fellows.
More photos from the Galaps here