Honeymoon in Ecuador: Part Three (The Galapagos Islands)

Blue footed booby of the Galapagos Islands

After our six day guided tour of mainland Ecuador, we boarded the plane to head to the Galapagos Islands!  

The Galapagos archipelago consists of 13 large islands, 6 small islands, and more than 40 islets.  First and foremost, leave all expectations of the famous Galapagos Islands by the wayside.  If you picture the Galapagos to be a magical, enchanting, isolated community where tortoises and blue-footed boobies live peacefully and harmoniously, you have to remember that a) thousands of people actually live here permanently and raise their families, b) the islands have become increasingly popular and open to tourism, and c) "everyday" animals (cats, dogs, goats, pigs) have been introduced to the islands and pose a threat to the endemic species.  This means the besides the fascinating animals and plants, there are also restaurants, houses, churches, hospitals, police forces, litter, graffiti, road construction, etc.  This was somewhat disappointing at first, but as I adapted to new expectations and I realized how incredible it is to have all these unique and amazing species living in this region despite the growing population of residents and tourists.


Our Galapagos adventure began on Santa Cruz island, the highest populated of the islands (12,000 residents, most of whom live in Puerto Arroyo).  We stayed at the Hostal Aquamarine, which was very safe and had air conditioning, WiFi, and breakfast.  Santa Cruz has a wide variety of restaurants.  (We enjoyed Isla Grill.)  Our first day included lunch next to the harbor, where we watched the pelicans swooping for fish, followed by a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station.  I really enjoyed seeing the tortoise breeding station, where the subspecies of Galapagos tortoises are carefully bred, raised, and reintroduced to their environment.  We met the tortoise "Super Diego" from the San Diego zoo who saved the Espanola tortoises from extinction by fathering 1,700 babies!  We also met two female tortoises who were potential mates for Lonesome George, the famous tortoise that was the last remaining of the Isla Pinta species but unfortunately passed away in 2012 after failed attempts at mating.  The research station also had exhibits for the beautiful, yellow land iguanas.

Baby tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Station

Tortoise Breeding Center

One of Lonesome George's potential mates

Galapagos tortoise

Land iguana



Galapagos tortoises



The next morning we went for a bay tour around Santa Cruz, where we snorkeled among beautiful fish, observed dozens of sea lions taking a siesta on the rocks, and watched the marine iguanas walk around the Playa de Los Perros.  These iguanas are amazing!  They can swim in the water, then bask in the sun on the beach to warm up.  Like the sea gulls of our beaches, these iguanas are literally everywhere.  They lie all over the rocks, in the middle of the sidewalk, even on the bar at a beachside restaurant we visited!  

Marine Iguana

Sea lion

Marine iguana coming out of its nest

I love watching these guys walk!

They are everywhere!
Literally everywhere...

That afternoon we took a two-hour speed boat ride to Isabela Island, where we spent the remainder of our Galapagos adventure.  Although it is the largest island in size, only about 2,000 people live there, and it feels very quiet and remote compared to Santa Cruz.  We stayed at the Albemarle, one of the nicest hotels in town with a picture-perfect location on the white sand beach.  There were a handful of restaurants on the island (our favorite was La Choza, which had excellent food and a beautiful view of the sunset over the ocean), and a fun beachside bar called Iguana Point.

Our room on Isabela Island

The beach outside our door

Albemarle Hotel, Isabela Island

On Isabela Island we enjoyed a long hike to Volcan Sierra Negra, one of the island's six active volcanoes.  Despite the humidity it was a beautiful hike through lush greens, around the side of the massive volcanic crater (6 miles in diameter), and into a valley of volcanic rocks from a previous eruption.  The crater, which most recently erupted in 2005, continues to emit steam, and the ground is very hot.  

Crater of Volcan Sierra Negra



Land iguana in its natural environment on Isabela

Volcanic rock formations



By far the highlight of our Galapagos adventure was snorkeling around Isabela island!  We took a boat ride to the Lava Tunnels - bridges of rock formed by the volcanoes - and had several opportunities for snorkeling.  We saw sea turtles, a sea horse, an octopus tentacle, a white tip shark, manta rays, and many varieties of beautiful and brightly-colored fish in the undersea world.  On the boat ride we also had the opportunity to see blue footed boobies, sea lions, Galapagos penguins, rays, crabs, iguanas, blue herons, and flying fish.  This was such a fun and memorable day!

Blue footed booby

Lava Tunnels


Galapagos sea turte


Rays

Galapagos sea lion

Galapagos penguins (the only penguins to survive north of the equator)

After three nights on Isabela Island we returned to Santa Cruz and stopped to see Los Gemelos (the twin craters) before returning to the airport and flying to Guayaquil.  With six days remaining of our trip, we were looking forward to relaxation on the coast!

Stay tuned for Part Four...



Tips for Travelers to the Galapagos:
-Number One Rule: Don't touch the wildlife.
-The entrance fee to the Galapagos is $100 per person, plus a $10 transit fee, both Cash Only.
-Plan your Galapagos trip ahead of time!  There are many choices to consider regarding time of year, type of trip, details of your itinerary, etc. 
-If I were to return to the Galapagos, I would opt for the cruise route, where tour groups spend the day participating in activities on each island (snorkeling, hiking, visiting the parks, etc.) and travel between islands on the cruise ship at night.  We found that there's not much to do on the islands at night and the hotels weren't anything special.  Plus the intra-island speed boat was miserable, so a cruise ship would have been much more pleasant and allowed us to visit more islands.
-Isabela island is very remote compared to Santa Cruz.  There is no bank or ATM on the island.  Some restaurants will allow you to get cash back on charges, but plan to have enough cash on hand to cover your stay.
-If Ecuador is the "Land of Manana," then the Galapagos is the "Land of Sometime Next Week."  The tourism industry was poorly organized and we spent a lot of time waiting.  My advice would be to be patient and flexible!  Everything will work out!
-Located close to the equator, the sun is intense in the Galapagos!  Apply and reapply sunscreen liberally, especially when near the water.  SPF 30 probably isn't going to cut it.
-I wish I had an underwater camera for snorkeling!  This would have been useful during the rainy hike in the Amazon too.

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