The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
24.04.2011 - 05.05.2011
The Galapagos. Research beforehand inferred that your expectations heavily affect your experience of the islands and I’m inclined to agree. It’s no safari with big cats and other large mammals but there are some uniquely quirky creatures, stunning beaches and fantastic snorkelling (and diving) opportunities. Where else in the world can you swim with penguins – unless you want to freeze to death – or laugh at the strange sounds of the Blue Footed Boobie?
We booked our cruise very last minute, the day before in fact. It was extremely monetarily beneficial doing this and I’d recommend going last minute to anyone. We flew to Baltras Island from Quito very early the following day and were on board our boat, Nemo II, a first class catamaran, by midday. (11am Galapagos time, they’re an hour behind the mainland.)
It almost felt like we shouldn’t be there given that we’d been backpacking and staying in hostels and cheap hotels for the last 4 months or so. Luckily our boat wasn’t full of old American couples like many others we encountered. There were two couples in their late twenties and another in their thirties plus a family of three. Totaling eleven – one less than maximum capacity – the boat didn’t feel crowded despite its small appearance from the outside.
Our island itinerary was as follows:
Day 1: Sunday - Baltras and Santa Cruz (north)
Day 2: Monday - Santa Cruz (south) - Saw a hammerhead shark at Kicker Rock!
Day 3: Tuesday - Lobos Island and San Cristobal
Day 4: Wednesday - Española
Day 5: Thursday - Floreana
Day 6: Friday - Santa Fe
Day 7: Saturday - Chinese Hat and Bartolomé - Where the penguins live!
Day 8: Sunday - Baltras
On day one we visited Baltras beach, so named due to the pier that broke off from Baltras island and washed up here on the north of Santa Cruz island. There were lots of crabs, a couple of flamingoes in a lagoon, a heron and our first blue footed boobie sitting on a rock near the sea. We couldn’t really get a good look at the famous Galapagos bird but there’d be more to come. It was our first chance to snorkel here and I was already impressed by the sea life despite the shallow depth and proximity to the beach. At one point I got a huge shock as I saw a 1.5-2m tiger snake eel! I was not expecting it and I’ve never seen one before so for a split second I panicked thinking it was a snake. They do look quite snake-like with only a small top fin.
Back on the boat I went straight inside to have a shower just as the boat started out into the ocean – BIG mistake. I don’t normally feel seasick but it was inevitable after that. Several people suffered on that first navigation.
This blog entry could easily become three or four and bore you with an account of every island and every sea lion, iguana and bird we saw each day but I think you’d probably prefer to see all the photos instead. I may have gone a bit overboard with uploading pictures but I've tried to narrow it down for this entry - there's even more in the gallery!
We could see hundreds more bobbing up and down on the water out to sea, waiting to come in. They mate for life and come back every year to this spot to reunite with their partner and breed.
There's an beach called Post Office Bay where some American style post boxes stand just back from the beach. You put your postcards in the box and in return pick out someone elses' who's addressed it to a person who lives near you or in a country you're headed to next. The idea is an many as possible get hand delivered. I only managed to write a few before we anchored but I heard they all got home
Sadly I can’t show you photos of the underwater world. I really wish I’d taken a waterproof cover for my small camera. Some of the others on the boat had them and they got some great shots. Every day we went snorkelling at least once if not twice and each time we saw something different or at least in a different way. It was by far the highlight of the trip for both of us.
On our second day we snorkelled out in the ocean by a huge rock called Kicker Rock along its wall face and I saw several turtles, thousands of fish and so many sharks, mostly Galapagos sharks and some reef sharks. I even saw a hammerhead shark but I was so excited I looked around to tell someone else and by the time I looked back it was just disappearing into the blue beyond.
Another day Chris and I saw a huge shark, around 3m long. It swam right towards us before changing direction a few metres away which was a bit scary. I couldn’t get over how many sharks we saw. We saw lots of rays as well – sting rays, southern rays and even manta rays jumping out of the water while we were navigating from one island to another. On one navigation I saw a huge tail fin crash back into the water but I don’t know for certain if it was a whale or just a really big fish.
On a couple of days we got to swim with sea lions. They’re really playful underwater, sometimes even with you grabbing your flippers and doing somersaults around us. At one point I was watching some younger ones play and then a huge bull sea lion came past me only a couple of inches away, just to let us know he was keeping an eye on us!
The penguins were also amazing to see; they’re so speedy underwater and much more graceful than on land. There’s nowhere else in the world you can snorkel with them. One girl swam underneath one as it surfaced and it nearly pooed on her head!
I saw three or four more snake eels, a couple of different types. I like the fish and animals that look nothing like the others – eels, stone fish (so called as they are well camouflaged against the rocks), box fish, octopus, star fish (there were huge, brightly coloured ones littered everywhere). My favourite has to be turtles though. There’s just something about them, the way they glide through the water with a simple swoosh of their feet/flippers(?). We saw so many by the end but I never tired of them.
Anyway… I think you get the idea that I loved the underwater world!
At the end of our cruise we returned to Santa Cruz Island and stayed in the town of Puerto Ayora for a few days before flying home. I was going to do some diving but since the snorkelling had been so good I decided to save my money. We visited the beach, where baby sharks brush your legs while you’re paddling(!); a giant lava tunnel; and the fish market again, watching the audacious pelicans and sea lions try to steal a meal.
It was several kilometres long but we walked a section of it about 1km.
We also found a great ice cream shop, essential for any Chris and Emma destination
The Galapagos is AMAZING – YOU HAVE TO GO!!! We got our trip for about half the original price because we booked last minute so it is doable for a “reasonable” price. If you want any more information or tips, just ask.