Darwin’s Playground: The Galápagos Islands

IMG_1333-0.JPGAside from the typical descriptions of amazing, beautiful, and all the other things it was, I think rocky would be the choice word I would use to sum up our trip to the Galápagos Islands, in every sense of the word. That sounds more negative than intended, so just bear with me, the happiness will come.

As if having our flight delayed by over an hour from Guayaquil wasn’t a slow enough start, we somehow managed to miss the only bus for the hour that would take us from Baltra airport to the canal in order for us to get on to the island of Santa Cruz, the one we would be staying on for the next few days. Everyone else seemed to have got the memo, leaving us the only confused tourists at the airport, with the next bus only scheduled to come when another flight arrived (an hour wait). One friendly airport employee saw we were noticeably frustrated, reminding us to relax, there are worse places to be stuck. He was right of course, but the bench we were sitting on outside the airport is hardly what we came to see.

Eventually we made it to our hostel, the daylight running away from us but still enough time for a quick tour of the town of Puerto Ayora. We chose to stay at Best Home Stay, highly rated on all hostel booking sites, with one of the most common reasons being the owner, an American expat named Kevin. We were all intrigued by the reviews when we booked, and we were not disappointed. Kevin took us and a few of the other new guests into town, pointing out essentially everything and anything we would need to know about staying in Puerto Ayora from the tours to the home of the giant tortoises in the highlands right down to where to get the best ice creams. One of the first restaurants he pointed out instantly grabbed the attention of our hungry stomaches as they served certain food such as the burgers and fish on a sizzling hot lava stone. Needless to say, that’s what we ate and could not have been happier, so much so that the three girls in our group all polished off their burgers. Unprecedented.

We quickly gathered as much information as we needed to plan our next few days, unfortunately only having three full days left to work with. Not optimal, not negotiable, but not a problem. We still managed to fit in a great deal.

Our first full day started with us catching a cab to Rancho Primicias, the highlands of Santa Cruz and a sanctuary for giant tortoises. It was a standard rate of $30 per cab, and the cab driver will also become a makeshift tour guide for you, taking you for a walk around to see the tortoises. The area is muddy, but luckily they provide you with some snazzy gumboots to wear. Our cabby was particularly friendly, as I assume many are, and also gave me the first real opportunity to attempt a conversation in Spanish. It takes about two hours or so all up including driving time, definitely worth doing and also a good money saver instead of going with the tour companies.

In the afternoon we caught the almost free water cab around the block to go see Las Grietas (literally translating to “the cracks”), a fjord of sorts according to the sign on location. It’s about a 20 minute walk or so predominately along a boardwalk and goes past a small playa, but don’t get too distracted. If you’ve got some of those daggy but useful waterproof shoes, now is a great time to use them. We unfortunately did not, making it a bit more annoying to climb over all the rocks in the water but that shouldn’t turn you off. For some reason we got the impression the water would be almost like a hot spring, but no, no it’s not. We swam from one end to the other, climbing over and swimming under rocks as some fearless locals did backflips from the cliff into the narrow strip of water.

The following day we booked a day trip to the island of Santa Fe, after being convinced it was the better option for snorkelling than Isabella and Floreana (two of the more accessible and popular islands), as well as being a fair bit cheaper. While the tour didn’t go above and beyond, it still gave us a great experience, and best of all gave me the chance to swim right amongst the sea lions, one of which was particularly playful and blew bubbles into my curious face (above picture). We snorkelled for about 3 hours of the day and managed to see many sharks, a few turtles, some blue footed boobies, manta rays, countless different types of colurful fish, and of course the aforementioned sea lions (or seals) and more. Biggest warning for those planning to do day trips like us, the boats are very rocky. Ours was particularly so after one of the motors failed on the way back, but luckily I was already drugged up on some motion sickness tablets (unlike a few less fortunate people on board). Even if you don’t suffer from motion sickness it’s probably a good idea to get some medication

Our final full day was spent at the Darwin Centre, which was disappointing as many parts were closed for renovation but I’m sure is normally quite interesting, and that was followed by a trip to Tortuga Bay. The walk is about 45 minutes, not particularly difficult but chances are it will be very hot like it was for us. Tortuga Bay is a nice quiet little beach where we managed to hire some kayaks to paddle out into the flat water and try spot some sea life. Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be for us and all we managed to see were lots of rocks, but I did speak to a couple of people that said they saw sharks and turtles in that past week. Still a fun time though regardless, and there are plenty of iguanas to see lounging on the sand and having a surf.