Our Adventures in the Galapagos Islands – Part Two

In my previous blog about the Galapagos Islands, I shared my overall observations. In this blog, I will share our itinerary of visiting three islands and two cities in Ecuador.

Due to an unexpected, last-minute change of flight schedules (a “minor change” according to the airline), we had to suddenly leave a day early and return a day earlier than expected. This resulted in us having three days in Guayaquil and about 24 hours in Quito, rather than two full days in each city. Since we literally arrived in Quito, ate dinner, slept, and woke up at an ungodly hour, I don’t have much to share about Quito.  

As is customary with most trips to the Galapagos, you must first enter the mainland of Ecuador and leave from the city of Guayaquil. Even though most travel books said Guayaquil was an unsafe, dumpy marshland, we enjoyed our time there. Any city that has a chocolate museum gets some points just for that and this is where we had one of the best Ecuadorian meals of our whole trip. Even riding the local commuter cable car across the river was a fun adventure.

From Guayaquil, we flew to the island of Santa Cruz, where most tourists begin their Galapagos journey by boat or plane. It’s the busiest, most commercial, and crowded island in the archipelago. Think of it as the Oahu of the Hawaiian Islands. The population size is 15,000 and with tourists I read it could be double that on any given day. It is home to the Charles Darwin Research Center, which houses cool artifacts and shares some interesting data. For example, Darwin’s famous book came out in 1859, though he only visited there once in 1834. I must admit I was a little jealous when I read that his famous book sold out in one day, selling 1250 copies. I wished The Purple Parachute did the same, but I’ve surpassed 400.

One of the sad facts about the Galapagos story is how much has been lost. As a point of fact, this research center displays the figure of a famous tortoise named Lonesome George. He was a male from Pinta Island and the last of his subspecies to exist. Despite efforts to help continue his lineage, he died in June 2012. He is now a symbol of conservation efforts in the Galapagos and beyond.

Besides the research center where live tortoises are secured and cataloged, we visited a local place in the highlands of Santa Cruz called El Chato Ranch. It’s a large property that allows the tortoises to roam free and tourists to walk through with guides. We took a local bus there and then rented bikes to get to the property (mostly downhill). We cheated on the way back (all uphill) by taking a taxi back to return the bikes. The road to enter the property was a few miles long and you could see wandering turtles all along it.

Our most strenuous activity in Santa Cruz was diving. We hadn’t gone SCUBA diving since December 2021, so we eased back into it with a “refresher” dive to North Seymour. That was good practice for the much more challenging dive of Gordon Rocks.

The diving was challenging because of the strong currents and remote locations. All dives dropped us off in one place and picked us up in a different location. Also, we had to enter using the “rollback,” meaning you sit on the edge of the boat and fall backward into the water.  Many of the dive sites consist of exploring a large rock in the middle of nowhere. From above you can’t tell, but the variety of animals underwater is amazing. You can see large animals (including many types of sharks) but also small creatures like sea horses.

We took a “ferry” to the next island of Isabela. I put the ferry in quotes because it was just a 24-foot cabin cruiser with bus seats put in. These crossings are well known to cause seasickness. 

This is the largest in terms of land mass, but the population is small, around 3000. Think of it as the Kauai of Hawaii. One of the coolest things we did here was visit a place called Los Tunnels, which is a large mass of former lava fields. Over time, it has turned into a wide span of arches and swimming holes that often look as placid as a lake. You can clearly see the animals in the water as if it was a pool. We saw penguins, blue-footed boobies, turtles, and more.

Unfortunately, the only way into this area is by sea. I would describe the entry as a harrowing experience riding the ocean waves on a small boat into the area and having to exit the same path. Leaving reminded me of similar scenes in The Perfect Storm but a little less dramatic.

We did a lot of hiking and biking here. It was easy to rent bikes and enter the national park that ran along the ocean waterfront, though it was frustrating when Jason’s bike broke. If you go all the way to the end of the path, you arrive at the Wall of Tears. Named because so many prisoners died building it and admittedly, the wall had no purpose. We spent a few days exploring this park as there were tons of cool turn-offs taking you to mangroves, the ocean, and inland water. 

On another day we completed a very strenuous hike to Sierra Negra and Volcan Chico. The former is a huge crater from a volcano (claimed to be the second largest in the world). The latter is a leftover from a volcanic explosion, and it offers a great view if the clouds cooperate. Much of this day’s scenery reminded us of Big Island in Hawaii. Sierra Negra was similar to Kilauea in Volcanos National Park, but the color was a more consistent brown from various lava flows surrounded by a ring of verdant green flora.

To save ourselves from having to take two consecutive two-hour “ferry” rides to our next island, we took an eight-seat airplane to San Cristobal, the Capital of these islands. Jason had eagerly reserved the front co-pilot seat ahead of time but when we checked in, he was told he was too tall. So lucky me, the one who is nervous about flying, had to sit there.

This island feels busier than Isabela but much less busy than Santa Cruz. Think of it as the Maui of Galapagos. Ironically, we found an amazing Italian restaurant on San Cristobal called Giuseppe’s and ate there three times. It was a welcome change from the Ecuadorian meals we had been eating for almost a month.

A sea lion colony lives here. No joke, there are hundreds of them in various locations, including all along the main town waterfront. I forgot to mention the sight of the fish market.  Fisherman bring in their catch and prepare it in front of bystanders.  The sea lions would line up too hoping for a treat.

The best discovery on this island was a snorkel spot called Darwin Bay, with amazing water visibility. It was such a special spot that we visited multiple days. One day that we went we saw a US Coast Guard ship moored and ran into many shipmen who were on R & R for the day. Each time we went was a little different due to tides but every time we saw tons of sea lions that came right up to your face underwater. Once a baby sea lion splashed Jason in the face and blew bubbles into my snorkel mask. On one visit, there was a blue-footed booby that repeatedly made circles before diving into the water right next to us.

Visiting the Galapagos Islands was a magical experience. The sights, sounds, smells, and tastes were unique. It truly is the trip of a lifetime and I’m glad we were able to experience it. They say “You leave the islands but they never leave you,” and I see the truth of that sentiment. 


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