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South America : The Galapagos Islands

Las Islas Santa Cruz, Isabella y San Cristobal

by Kerrie

Isla Santa Cruz

We flew in on a small plane from Guayaquil at 12 noon. We arrived at 12:50 into the airport, watched the dogs sniff and jump all over our bags, caught the bus to a small passenger ferry and from the Isla Baltra to Isla Santa Cruz. From here we had to catch a taxi to the town of Puerto Ayora on the other side of the island, 42 km away. Our taxi was hijacked by a tour group who took us 20 mins out of our way to a giant turtle reserve and did they chip in for the taxi, no they didn’t we had to pay for the lot $18, no happy but oh well we are in the Galapagos.

Day 1 animal count: Yellow and brown iguana seen as we were landing in the plane, various birds including two types of pelicans, giant turtles, fish, grey iguana with white head, dogs, cows and red crabs with blue hands.

The second morning we walked out to the Charles Darwin Research Centre. It was about 1km out of town and included a dozen buildings (all offices), a path to the beach, a few animal pens for breeding giant turtles and yellow iguanas.

Next we decided to walk to Tortuga Bay. We had heard it was great snorkelling and so we went in search of a place to rent snorkels. We got a set for $5 as it was the only place open, even here they close heaps of stuff for siesta. We also went past a dive shop having a sale on dives, so we booked one for Saturday.
Then it was off to find Tortuga Bay.We put our snorkels on and jumped in but the water was not clear at all and we couldn’t see a thing. So we just swam, sunbathed and watched the storm clouds roll in.
We decided to head back to the rocky beach near the Darwin centre to snorkel as we didn’t want to waste them but when we got there the water was too rough to snorkel so we looked into a couple of boat cruises. They are more expensive than we thought. We got some good advice from a dive instructor about booking day trips to see most of the islands and also having time on the major islands by ourselves.

Day 2 animal count: Yellow iguanas, turtles, little green lizards with red faces, cats, yellow birds, various grey and black birds, sea birds fishing in the bay, fish and crabs.

We left early, 7 am for our diving tour to Seymour Island. Seymour Island is a small island on the north of Isla Baltra. The plan was to dive and snorkel throughout the day and have lunch on board a sailing yatch. At the entrance to the Baltra Channel we got in a dinghy and headed out to the yatch for the dive trip.
Suited up we headed out onto another dinghy and off to the edge of the channel between Seymour Island and another one, we dropped off the side of the dinghy and into the ocean, where we bobbed in the waves before diving under. Once we got to the bottom we saw a turtle, two sharks and loads of coloured fish.
After the dive we had lunch and hung out on the boat until everyone else had had their dive. A red frigate bird flew above us for a bit. When the last group went in for their dive we went snorkelling. We got dropped off on the outside of another small island in the middle of the channel, the waves were huge and we had to be careful not to be smashed onto the rocks. The highlight here were the sea lions on the sand and swimming in the water near us. Visibility was poor and due to the massive waves so we didn’t stay in too long.

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Day 3 animal count: Seals, fish, red frigate bird, birds, Galapagos shark, white tip shark, sea turtles and a school of yellow fin tuna.

We shopped around for a cheap tour to Santa Fe, a small island only an hour from Santa Cruz. The island is said to have really good snorkelling spots with sea lions. All our equipment was included including a wetsuit and food.
We headed to the docks at 8am to find our boat ‘the Patricia’, expecting the docks to be really busy we were surprised to find no one there. It was really quiet, wiggling either the end of high season or Sunday morning. There was a sea lion playing on the dock so we took some photos while we waited.
Our guide showed up around 8:30 and ushered us on to a water taxi that took us to a bigger speed boat. This was the boat we took across the ocean to Santa Fe.

Our first stop was on the north side of the island for snorkelling. We saw a couple of schools of fish, heaps of fish swimming along in the current. These dark blue fish would pop out from under rocks and chase them. A sea lion swam with bus us for a bit, before swimming off around the end of the point.
The next stop was a 10 minute drive around into a bay. The bay looked man made as there was a fairly straight line of black lava rocks on one side creating the bay.

The water was turquoise. A couple of families of sea lions live in this bay and two of them swam with us and played around. There weren’t as many fish in here as there was on the outer side. The group of sea lions sunning themselves on the sand were watched closely by a group of half a dozen sharks, just hoping the babies would venture in a little too far.
After lunch we headed back to Santa Cruz but to a beach around to the east. It was a stunning, white sand beach with bright turquoise water. The ships captain saw humpback whales but we didn’t. He only waited a couple of minutes to see of it would breach again and then took off back to Puerto Ayora.

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Day 4 animal count: Sea lions, blue footed boobies, Galapagos hawk, other birds, lots of fish, turtles, sharks and iguanas.

We decided to catch a water taxi across to Los Grietas, however the path was closed for maintenance (although we had heard you can still go anyway) but the work men were working around the main entrance to the path and would not let us go through. Walking back we saw some iguanas on a jetty and then managed to see one swimming and eating the stuff growing on the ropes that the boats are feathered to.

Slightly disappointed about not getting to Los Grietas, we headed back into town to find out about the glass bottom boat ride, the office was closed and another tour operator told us we should head to Floreana to snorkel and visit the island. So we booked it for the next day.

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Day 5 animal count: Fish, red faced black spotted green lizards, birds, ducks, seals, marine iguanas.

Today’s tour took us to Isla Floreana one of the southern islands. This tour included a land tour and a snorkelling tour. The ocean was surprisingly flat today and the sun was shinning so we were excited for the day, however once arriving to Floreana the sun disappeared and so did the warmth.
The first part of the tour was a history lesson about the islands and a trip to the center of Floreana. In the center we went to a turtle coral, they house the turtles here as they are not native to the island. Next it was off to visit a cave where the original three families lived and to see the ‘face’ carved into a giant rock, also created by the original families. Rumour has it that one family killed off the other two so they could have control of the island.
The second part of the day was the snorkelling off the black beach. As the island is volcanic in origin the beaches are black and made of little tiny volcanic stones. The water is warmer around this island because of the black beaches etc and so there is a high number of sea turtles that can be seen here.I was floating above one for a few minutes before I even noticed it.

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Day 6 animal count: Seals, coloured iguanas, penguins, sea turtles, blue footed boobies, other birds, coloured fish, giant land turtles, yellow canary bird.

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Isla Isabella

We caught a ferry over bumpy waters for 2 hours to arrive in Puerto Villamil, Isabella.
After settling in we went for a walk along the boardwalk passed Poza Salinas, passed a gang of iguanas, through Poza Puerta Jeff and along until we saw Flamingoes in the water of Poza Baltazar. Poza I think is just Spanish for little lake. These were the brightest pinky orange flamingoes we have seen so far.
After taking lots of photos we continued our walk up to the turtle breeding center. These turtles are from turtles native to Isla Isabella, but because there are so few in the wild here they are breeding them from ones rescued off the volcano during an eruption. Of the eighteeen rescued they have now had over two hundred babies that will eventually be released back on to the volcano.

In the afternoon we walked along the beach checking out different viewing spots, walking over the rock pools that have formed within lava spills and eventually made it back down to the dock to watch the seals and penguins chase the fish. There were also lots of birds, blue footed boobies and pelicans diving into the water to catch fish. It was really interesting to watch.

We had booked a tour to Los Tunnels to snorkel and walk around on lava tunnels. We left the dock around 8 am and headed off into grey skies and a decent swell. It took us about an hour before we reached a weird iguana shaped rock formation in the middle of the sea that was covered with blue footed boobies and seals.
The next stop was snorkelling around mangroves.

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As soon as we got in the water we were surrounded by black fish with hot pink and yellow stripes and a sea turtle eating the algae. We dove down around it and our guide took photos of us. Then we followed a family of 8 or so golden rays into a little alcove. Here we saw an eagle ray and at one point when we were following the guide he stopped and jumped over Vicki and I turned around to see what was going on and came face to face with a white tipped shark about 1.5m (almost face to face, he was about 1m away from me). The rest of the group followed and chased it away. Then we were told to stick our faces into a cave as there were three other sharks resting in it. It’s a bit scary to shove your face into a cave full of sharks. After the sharks we headed out of the alcove to explore the area a bit more.we saw a lot more coloured fish before heading off to our next snorkelling spot.
It was a twenty minute boat ride to the next spot and to get there we had to ‘surf’ the boat into shore through waves around 2.5 – 3m. It was a little scary but not as scary as coming back out through them. The driver just waited for the right wave at the end of the set and gunned the engine.
The snorkelling spot here was full of seals and penguins. We had a few seals play with us in the water, jump,on rocks and pose for photos with us. It was heaps of fun. The current was pretty strong and sometimes it was hard to swim against.

We had our photos taken with penguins as well. Our guide dove under the water and managed to spot a sea horse so we all dove down to have a look, it was pretty far down so the guide had to push me a bit towards the bottom. After playing with some more seals we got back on the boat where the captain (Ecuadorian John Travolta) hosed us down and gave us towels to dry off.

After lunch we got dressed and the boat headed down the tunnels. The tunnels are a set of lava flows that are full of water and make like rivers through to a big lagoon. These tunnels are full of turtles, sharks, fish and various rays. We spotted lots of turtles and a couple of rays. Climbing around on top of the lava flows we saw seal sleeping and some blue footed boobies and one had a 7 days old baby boobie.

When it was time to go we had to sit in the swell for nearly ten minutes waiting for the right gap in the waves to be able to take off. The boat just went up and down in the waves. Then when the time was right enough the captain floored the engine and we were heading through. Once we were coming out over the last wave and down our guide saw whales, so we started off towards them. We searched for a while but were rewarded with a spectacular show of blow holes, jumps in and out of the water and a baby whale. The guide said they were humpbacks but they looked too pale compared to the ones in Puerto Lopez.

Once back on solid land we rented some snorkels for $2.5 and headed back to,the dock to swim with the penguins and seals. We were surrounded by a group of very playful seals who were twisting and somersaulting all around us.We had had the best day swimming with so many awesome sea animals.

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In the morning we walked out to the wall of tears, a wall built by the penal colony that once inhabited the island. It was really tall and wide. The bricks were made from lava rocks. We stopped at a couple of lagoons along the way one had a single flamingo and we saw some land turtles in the wild, crossing the road.
Isla San Cristobal

We left Isabella before sunrise on a boat headed for Santa Cruz, from there we would catch the afternoon boat to San Cristobal. The weather was horrible when we left Isabella and we sat up the top with the captain. He had the front screen open and the wind and rain flew straight into my face, I was drenched within minutes. It was a pretty bumpy ride and the captain couldn’t even see the island and where to enter the harbour the cloud and rain was so thick. We did however see some humpback whales and a big black thing submerge as we passed.

In Santa Cruz we had a big breakfast to warm up and headed over to Tortuga Bay where we spotted a white tip shark swimming along the shore. It was heading for this couple who were playing in the water and the freaked when we told them there was a shark swimming towards them.

The boat to San Cristobal was the roughest boat ride we have taken yet. We arrived late afternoon and found ourselves a place to stay before wandering around. We walked along the malecon and watched the sea lions sleeping, there were heaps of them. We popped into some tour shops as we want to snorkel at Kicker Rock so see hammerhead sharks and get on a day trip up to Punta Pitt so see the red footed boobies.

We booked a tour for Kicker rock for tomorrow and rented a snorkel and fins and headed off to Punta Terrijjo. To get there we had to walk through the interpretation center. The interpretation center showcases the history of the Galápagos Islands and what is being done today to preserve them. It was pretty interesting to read.

Following the trail at the back of the center we went to Frigate Hill a look out at the top of the hill where frigate birds nest. We didn’t see any with the red bulge though.
We had the best time snorkelling in the bay. We saw turtles, lots of coloured fish we hadn’t seen on the other islands including a giant orange fish with black spots and swam with a little seal. The little seal had one white eye and so a couple of times he nearly swam into us.

When we walked passed there were seals laying in the slides. Then we found a local place for lunch, fish with rice and salad and juice for $3.

So our boat left at 9am for our snorkelling tour to Kicker Rock. We began in a small bay to check our equipment, one girl in our group was diving off Kicker Rock and so I think the checking of equipment was for her, but it was fun anyway. We saw turtles, coloured fish and some really long, thin fish. Visibility was actually pretty good too.
Back on the catamaran we headed across to Kicker Rock and to begin the main part of our snorkelling adventure. We all had our fingers crossed that we would see hammerhead sharks as they are common in this area. We put our gear on and jumped off the back of the boat into freezing cold water. It was a shock to the system. At first we couldn’t see much as it was really deep, down to nearly 100m in most areas. Then some silver and red fish appeared, loads of them.
We snorkelled into a cavern in the rock with seals and more coloured fish. The waves were really strong so we couldn’t go in all at once. The sides were covered in brightly coloured corals, anemone and barnacles. We could hear the seals voices echoing for ages after we left.

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Next spot was the channel and as we went through we spotted an eagle ray (sting ray with spots and a bird face). We saw a turtle further in and a family of eagle rays on the bottom (about 20m deep) and a solo shark swimming with them.
Back on the boat we had some lunch and then a giant family of dolphins swam around our boat and we played with them for ages. They swam up under our boat and jumped in and out of the water along side us.

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It was freezing cold on the boat and after we ate we had one more snorkel to go at Kicker Rick, this time on the other side. We jumped in in front of the channel and went back through it. This time we saw an eagle ray swimming along side us and below us some seals. The seals suddenly darted off and we saw a shark swim through. Then we saw a couple more sharks and then suddenly we were surrounded by sharks. There would have been at least twenty babies (1.5 – 2 long) Galapagos sharks swimming under and around us. I put my underwater disposable camera to use and took some pics. The only one not phased by the sharks was the giant sea turtle swimming along with them.
We continued to snorkel around the rock formation seeing turtles and coloured fish. A seal came to swim with us and came so close to my face I could feel the bubbles coming out of his mouth.

He swam around with us for a while longer, before jetting off into the deep.
On the way back we stopped at the first beach again to snorkel or play in the sand. We were too cold to snorkel so we walked around the beach. There was a lagoon behind the trees with fish and some birds, the horse flies were biting so we hurried out quickly. There was a baby frigate bird under a tree, it had an orange head, and some seals sleeping near it.
The catamaran hugged the coastline the whole way back and we got a good look at some of the male frigate birds with their red bit all puffed out.
Having scored a return plane ticket for $112 we decided to splash out for our last breakfast and ordered a large fruit salad and a couple of coffees. We were soon joined by a couple of girls we kept running into on the islands and chatted away the morning. It was the first day the sun rose and stayed out, not a cloud in sight. We were a little shattered to be leaving, thankfully we were not on our favourite island!
We went to the docks to watch the seals play and saw a few turtles. It was a really nice way to spend our last few hours.