Everyone is appealed by the idea of traveling to an exotic island, since it’s a synonym of white sand beaches, waters bursting with marine life, high coconut trees, and a dazzling tan. Hawaii, the Bahamas, Mauritius, and Polynesia are all popular in travel bucket lists; however, I, personally, never heard of someone ranting about visiting Galapagos…and neither did I dream about going there until a week prior to embarking on a airplane in Guayaquil, Ecuador, to Santa Cruz, Galapagos. I’m not gonna lie, the first time I laid my eyes upon the dry, treeless, and rocky shores of Santa Cruz Island I wasn’t blown away; nevertheless, 17 days later I didn’t want to leave this tiny paradise anymore. This post will be dedicated to my account of how the archipelago of Galapagos amazed us in a very, very special way!
Before Darwin laid his eyes upon the black, rocky shores of Floreana Island, Galapagos, the archipelago was already the home to the descendents of pre-Colombian indians who arrived in large rafts from the South American continent. Since then, numerous tentatives of colonizing Galapagos followed; however, the land proved to be barren and hostile. In 1832, the archipelago was incorporated to Ecuador, and in 1835, the Beagle ship anchored in Floreana during its global expedition. On board of the British boat, young Charles Darwin commenced to formulate his evolution of the species theory based on the fauna and flora of Galapagos. In 1925, false advertisements attracted many Norwegian to this isolated “paradise”, which promised peace, work, and fertile lands; unfortunately, the great majority of foreigners only found death and disillusionment. In 1946, the Isabela Island turned into a penal community for 13 years, where the worst criminals and cruelest police were sent to live. The inhumane conditions costed handful of lives, and the famous Wall of Tears stands in memory of those who were abused and mistreated. Nowadays, the islands of Galapagos thrive in sustainable tourism and is becoming popular worldwide for its unique landscapes, and exuberant and exotic fauna.
Isla Santa Cruz
The most populated island of the archipelago, as well as the most developed one, Santa Cruz is situated in a strategic point regarding day tours to the others islands, for it stands right in the middle of the agglomerate of islands. As soon as we disembarked from our plane, crossed the little canal to Santa Cruz with the ferry and grabbed a taxi, we stopped to visit Los Gemelos, two volcano craters on the highest point in the island. Shortly after we visited one of Santa Cruz’s most famous tours—El Chato Ranch. The ranch is home of the renowned Galapagos giant tortoises—some live up to 180 years—which calmly graze on the grassy fields and bathe in mudholes. Once we arrived in our AirbnB and settled down, the hours and days passed by like a blur due to all of the activity we did: the Turtle Bay beach trail, one of the few white sand beaches in the island; the scuba dive in Isla Mosquera, where we saw numerous hammerhead, black and white-tip sharks, as well as manta rays, turtles, barracudas, and huge fish scubas (we did this tour with Aquatic Expedition Company); and a great day tour to North Seymour to see the famous blue-footed boobies, fragatas, land iguanas, and seal ions, stopping at the paradisiac Playa de Las Bajas on our way back.
It’s amazing that out of all the places I have scuba dived/snorkeled in my life, nowhere matches the abundance, size, and color of the marine life of Galapagos! The fishes varied from tiny silvery ones to almost 1-meter-long multicolored parrot fishes, from the great grey hammerheads and other sharks with black and white colored fins to the playful, big-eyed sea lion pups swirling around us. As we swam in the cold waters, huge sea turtles floated by and rays came and went; above water, male blue-footed boobies danced and courted the females, while male fragatas puffed-out their blood-red chests to attract females (the already “taken” males deflated their chests). Also, great yellow and greenish iguanas lazily laid under the sun; similarly, their “cousins”, the jet-black marine iguanas, crawled onto the volcanic rocks from the sea. Due to recent volcanic activities, the majority of the island’s soil was composed of igneous rocks, and low vegetation spread about the landscape.
In order to check out the town more closely and stretch our legs, we basically walked/biked around town, which is much nicer and cheaper too. Two places I recommend eating at are the Cocktail & Coffee Tj Restaurant—Galapago’s famous dish is their encocados, which is basically fish/seafood bathed in a creamy coconut milk sauce and sautéed vegetables—situated in the Calle de Los Kioskos, and my absolute favorite coffee place: 1835 Coffee Lab, a famous coffee house in the Galapagos!
The only way to cross from Isla Santa Cruz to Isabela is by boat, a rough two-hour-long ride. Even though it’s a pain to island-hop, I definitely recommend doing it! There are many options of day-tours to other islands—such as Isabela and San Cristobal—but I don’t think it’s a great idea to go and come back on the same day due to the not-so-pleasant crossings (only to tiny nearby islands such as North Seymour). The boats leave extremely early in the morning around 6-7 am I believe, only to return after lunch; thus, if you are visiting either Isabela or San Cristobal, that means you will be in a boat feeling sick for the majority of the day.
Anyways, Isla Isabela was such a contrast compared to Santa Cruz! Even though it’s the biggest island in the archipelago, only a tiny fraction of it is populated. The island is composed by 6 shield volcanoes–Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Ecuador, Sierra Negra, and Wolf–who stretch from the northern tip southward; consequently, like the other isles, Isabela’s landscape is mostly formed by dark, igneous rocks and very little vegetation (with the exception of the farming lands on the base of the Sierra Negra Volcano). The little hotel we stayed at was just a few minutes away from the main plaza, so, like Isla Santa Cruz, walking was our primary mean of locomotion. Besides all of the strolling around, we rented bikes to visit the Wall of Tears, one of the most famous sites in the island, which depicted the inhumane treatment of Ecuadorian prisoners sent to do forced labor in the most precarious conditions during the 40s and 50s. The ride from downtown to the wall was quite pleasant, and we encountered numerous marine-iguanas and secluded volcanic beaches along the way, which eventually led to a lookout built by the remains of an American satellite from the WWII. Another extremely famous tour is the Los Tuneles and El Finado (we went with a boat called Cactus from Galapagos Shark Company, and our guide was Luis) an awesome day-tour to snorkel with black-tip sharks, turtles, octopus, numerous fishes, rays, and much more. Once we jumped into the freezing water, snorkeled for about an hour and had lunch, our guide led us to one of the most amazing spots in the island—El Finado. El Finado is a maze of rocks and stone bridges which formed adjacent to a crystal-clear bay, where marine life is easily seen from atop the boat; furthermore, we descended and walked around the maze to observe blue-feet boobies and their nests. Luckily, we witnessed the most sweet moment as a male boobie courted, whistled, and danced, exposing his bright-blue feet to a female; the “show” lasted about ten minutes before she accepted a tiny stick he placed on her feet (a present for their future nest). Our last day-tour in Isabela was to Volcan Sierra Negra, one of the “open to the public” volcanoes. Right before lunch, we climbed to an adjacent little crater called Volcan Chico—whose crater was formed by rocks with hues of red and brown—where we were blown away by the view of the whole island below us.
Ps: my favorite restaurant in the island was the El Cafetal, whose menu del dia and seafood pasta were really good!
Isla San Cristobal
We had initially planned to spend around 3-4 days in San Cristobal; however, we liked the island so much that we stayed more than a week there! Besides having numerous cafes, restaurants, hostels, and a cute waterfront, San Cristobal had a completely different “vibe” from the previous isles—a very laid-back surf town. I honestly didn’t know there was surf in Galapagos prior to visiting the islands, but apparently there are very famous spots—such as Tonga and Playa Canon—throughout the Island of San Cristobal on a international level. We stayed in a well-situated hotel called Hostel Leon Dormido (the owner, Robert, was the kindest host ever) and had our breakfasts on the next door: Hummus Breakfast & Coffee. On our first day, we decided to walk all the way to San Cristobal’s Interpretation Center, Mirador Cerro Tijeretas, Muelle Tijeretas, and Playa Carola. The hike took us through the town’s waterfront, then across some beaches and a petrified forest, until arriving at a beautiful bay where only a handful of swimmers relaxed by the cool water. Even from afar, we were able to see the dark, slim shapes of sea lions playing in the clear waters, darting from one side to the other. We snorkeled for the majority of the morning, crossing the bay and contouring the rocky walls to the open sea—we saw so many sea lions and turtles! We finished the day with purple lips from the cold waters, yet, everyone was beyond happy by the numerous encounters with the local animals! Later in the evening, we dined the best shrimp encocados at El Cangrejo Loco. On the following day, we toured the island with a taxi so we could see the most popular spots on the region: Casa del Aceito, an extremely fun and interactive place with a tree and a boat (they did put a boat on a tree) house to rent for $20/person per night; La Loberia, one of the best spots to sightsee sea lions resting on the beach; and Puerto Chino, a secluded beach accessible only by hike with white sands, a rare thing in the volcanic archipelago. Other days we rented surfboards at The Point Hostal, one of the places I studied at due to the good wifi (Galapagos’ wifi sucks), whose staff/owner we befriended; additionally, they prepared great food and the best brownies!! Even though we did numerous fun things in the island, the best one by far was scuba diving at Kicker Rock—a great, solitary rock situated off the coast of San Cristobal. It’s a true sanctuary for the fauna of Galapagos, especially the huge fish scubas, sharks, and turtles. The Wreck Bay Dive Center we went with was impeccable! The dive masters, cook, and crew were extremely professional and friendly. We set off early in the morning with a small group of travelers from all over the world, and did a quick equipment check on a calm bay, something I hadn’t done in any other diver but proved to be the best option regarding security and comfort. From there, our boat followed the island’s rocky shore and eventually turned towards the great mass of rock standing in the middle of the sea. We did two dives, the first we descended adjacent to Kicker Rock’s wall to a depth of sixteen-ish meters and the second not as deep. Both dives were extraordinary and surpassed all of my expectations—the ocean was alive with fishes of every sort and color, great and small turtles, a variety of sharks, including a handful of hammerheads who peacefully circled our group, and clouds of thousands of silvery fishes which engulfed everything on their way! On our way back, the sun bathed the brown coast, turning it into a golden color, and the cool wind persisted; the dark-blue waves relentlessly crashed against the rocks and boat—a perfect day I would say so. On our last day, after coming back from a nearby beach, we stopped at Chris Burguer, which is probably one of the best burger joints in Ecuador by far (try their avocado bun). As we packed our bags and hailed a taxi to the airport, our hearts were sad for leaving such a paradise, yet, we had so many new memories and adventures to cherish and reminisce.