Few things are as relaxing at home as lying on the sofa with a snack and a cold beer while enjoying a nice nature documentary presented by Sir David Attenborough (feel free to read this in his voice if it helps you get in the mood). More than a few times during this trip we have visited places which are more than suitable for such documentaries. These are places that can already amaze you on a screen, but they manage to blow your mind in reality. Think of the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina which I spoke about in an earlier post. There is however one place that is simply the highlight for any nature and wildlife enthusiast, scientist, biologist and therefore also for nature documentaries, the Galapagos Islands. An archipelago consisting of 18 major islands and many small ones totally disconnected from the mainland by more than 1000 kilometers. These islands are so remote that all plants that grown here were taken here by winds, and all land animals came here by accident floating around on the sea for over two weeks. This happened so long ago that in the meantime these creatures evaluated to something unique, and witnessing this is what Charles Darwin brought to establishing the Evolution theory. Since I heard about this place for the first time some bunch of years back in time I’ve been wanting to see it, so I guess you can imagine that I have a smile on my face while inviting you along in our journey through… the Galapagos Islands.
There is one downside to visiting the Galapagos Islands and that is the associated price tag. First there is the flight to Ecuador and then one more to the islands themselves. Then there is the crazily expensive cruise that you have to take in order to get around on the islands. For this reason we actually already were trying to accept the fact that we simply couldn’t afford to go. But then we heard some rumours about it being possible to enjoy the islands without doing a cruise, by simply hopping around the islands and visiting sites independently. From this point there was no holding it anymore, we really wanted to go! Because next to that, we will get to Ecuador anyway so a large chunk of the flight expenses are avoided. So we are going to try it, Galapagos Islands on a budget. Just so you know, a number of travelling friends asked us to give them recommendations on how and what to do to make it affordable, so I’m going to write a bit more prescriptive (and include some prices) than I normally do. Also, I have an exact Itinerary included with the prices at the bottom and a list with some Tips & Tricks! I hope it proves useful for some people!
Right from the moment where we decide, about 3 weeks ago in Puno, we start looking for flight tickets. We read that the average is $400 for two-ways, and we are happy to find tickets for $310. This means that we have 11 days in Galapagos, perfect. As the 3 weeks in between were pretty awesome too they simply fly by and suddenly its one day before departure. We are in Guayaquil in a hostel close to the airport named Casa Michael. This hostel is perfect before leaving to Galapagos as it feels like a home, it’s cheap and it is close to the bus terminal and a supermarket as well. The owner has been to Galapagos a bunch of times so he gives us some advice, and gets us in contact with a friend who can help is book tours and transport. With that, we are able to leave most of our stuff which is great as this reduces our luggage from mas o menos 45 to 17kg. As Michael correctly noted, you will basically only need flip-flops, swimming clothes and sunscreen. In order to be able to save some money on the islands in terms of food we decide to buy some handy food such as granola, Nutella, snacks and some noodles. And then, after a delicious corn with cheese, it’s time for bed.
We wake up after not too many hours of sleeping as all our excitement didn’t really let us, but we are both very ready for what the day is going to bring us. A few hours later we find ourselves at the airport. There are some extra checks as what you can bring to Galapagos is regulated as to protect the islands and its inhabitants, and for this joyful activity we pay $20 each. As our flight is only at 11 we hop on board in a rather relaxed state. All flights to Galapagos leave around this time.
After one and a half hour of flying we see the first land through our window. We see a big green island with a few beaches on its borders surrounded by endless blue. When we get out of the plane it feels a bit like when we arrived in Havana 9 months ago. It is a really small one-lane airport surrounded by green. It is humid, warm, and we feel incredibly excited and ready to explore. After paying our $100 fee for entering the national park we collect our backpack and get out of the airport. The airport is so close to the town, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, that we just decide to walk. Within a few minutes we are in town and we start looking around us for a place to sleep, and eventually find a beautiful house with a nice garden which seems to be transformed into a hotel, Cann’s House. We meet the owner and she shows us the room, and despite it being a bit expensive ($25 each), we are convinced. We get a nice and new private room with a bathroom and a beautiful view on the ocean.
The first thing we do after settling down is heading to the interpretation centre. This is a museumlike place where you can learn a lot about how the islands became what they are now. The tectonic plates created the island out of volcanic rock, with no life to be found here whatsoever. Over the years seeds flew over from the mainland and animals floated over through the sea. Only the ones which could withstand the exhaustive draught in the area and found a chance to mate lived on. These creatures found a way to adapt to the circumstances on the islands. Years later the islands accidentally got discovered by a sailor who was trying to get to Peru but got blown of course. For a long time after that the islands were exploited by sailors who took giant tortoises on board as easy long-term fresh food. It took a while before people realized that the biggest value of the islands lies in its biological diversity and beauty. Eventually it luckily turned from exploitation into observation for research and pleasure. Furthermore, we were told about how the place can be in balance with human influence for the time to come, in which for example renewable energy will be of great value which the islands are currently actively implementing.
With all this put into our minds we walk down to Playa Mann, which is supposed to be one of the popular beaches due to its close proximity to the town. We are pleasantly surprised by the lack of people. I get myself a banana/cheese empanada ($1) from a lady as I’m quite hungry. I don’t get much time to eat it as just when Anne gets into the water there is a baby Sea Lion swimming around her and of course I want to join. So we just got into Galapagos, made it to a beach and right away we are here swimming with Sea Lions. That’s just amazing. We stay here for a few hours swimming and relaxing on the beach and once in a while there is another Sea Lion joining us. Then we walk a bit through town and find the port crowded with more of these beautiful animals, occupying benches and blocking the sidewalk. We later find out that this is something you get used to here in Galapagos. We check some souvenir shops, relax a bit at the hotel and then go for dinner at a restaurant recommend to us by the owner. The food was lovely but quite expensive compared to what we are used to on the mainland, $17 for a plate of seafruits and shrimps with rice and some sauce, and $3 for a beer. I guess we have to search for something cheaper tomorrow but today we have something to celebrate, we made to Galapgos Islands.
In total we spend 4 nights in San Cristóbal of which 2 full days . It is a place where you can easily stay for a while as the atmosphere is so relaxing and you basically have everything you need around you. The beach we just visited is very close to the centre. The centre has a bunch of shops where you can get souvenirs or drinks. And there are some decent restaurants where you can get yourself some food. Some of them have daily menu’s which include soup and a main dish for only $5. The main dishes are however always rather basic.
But what I think is the greatest about San Cristóbal is that you are in a nice town but still feel so close to nature. When over the boulevard there will always be many sea lions lying around. Every evening, the beach in the centre is totally packed with them and its hilarious and impressive at the same time to watch. Baby sea lions are looking for their parents, males try to impress each other and everyone is (playfully) fighting for the best spots. We returned here about every evening to witness this.
Our first full day in Galapagos. La Loberia is supposed to be one of the prime spots for swimming with Sea Lions, so that’s something we need to see. But first, we have to find some snorkeling gear. We wanted to buy masks in Guayaquil but couldn’t find any and here they are not for sale. Luckily we can rent the equipment for the day including fins for only $5, which seems to be the standard price everywhere on the islands. We walk for about 30 minutes along a road and 10 minutes on a sand path to the beach. On this sand road we first encounter the Marine Iguana. This dragon like creature is easily a meter long, very impressive. We quietly walk past it and get to the beach where we see a Sea Lion waiting for us near the beach. There are not as many of them as we expected and the police officer who is chilling at the beach the whole day tells us because the water here is relatively warm at this time of the year and they prefer colder water. Too bad but we are happy to have a few of them around. So we just drop our stuff and get into the water with our snorkeling gear and start exploring. I immediately notice that my snorkel doesn’t function properly as I’m breathing water, but I find out that if I hold my hand in a specific position it does the job. Not ideal but I’m happy I don’t need to walk all the way back to town. When we start snorkeling we notice many beautiful fish swimming around us in the richest colors. This keeps us occupied for a while until we suddenly see a big shade swimming towards us, a Sea Turtle. We have seen many turtles during our journey, we even volunteered at sea turtle conservancy ARCAS in Guatamala, but still it is amazing to see and especially to swim with them. They just seem to be the most relaxed creatures in existence. We stay in the water for about two hours and then drop down on the beach, exhausted. The water is a bit more exhausting for us then for the turtles. We read our books, have some bread that we bought this morning at the bakery with Nutella and are entertained by bypassers such as Pelicans and Iguanas while the tide is changing. At some point another Sea Lion comes taking a look and I just can’t resist jumping into the water again to swim with him for a bit. After a while we decide to do another snorkelsession, but we find that the high tide has a dramatic impact on the visibility underwater so it turns out less successful, so we are happy that we left early this morning. On the way back we get to see a whole lot of iguanas drying on the rocks in between the sand path and the sea, and we get pretty much toasted in the sun. As we were aware of the fact that the sun is much stronger so close to the equator we chose to wear a hat and put sunscreen on about every 30 minutes during the day. Despite the effort we managed to get a massive sunburn and we find ourselves finishing a full bottle of aloë vera aftersun lotion within two days. We did have a lot of fun though, so it was totally worth it… I guess.
Puerto Chino – El Junco – Galapaguera
Only 4 of the 18 islands of the Galapagos archipelago are inhabited, and only a very small part of these islands are accessible by land. This is for the simple reason that everything you build (e.g. roads) would mean damaging the nature. On San Cristobal there is one road, which goes from the village in the west 30km towards the south-east ending up at a beautiful beach named Puerto Chino. For going here we got ourselves a taxi for the day which cost us $60. A lot of money but a lot of value and much cheaper than a tour. At 9am we get picked up by Ricardo, the taxi driver.
Then we go pick up a lady somewhere in the village, and we assume that she needs to be dropped of somewhere along the way. This happens frequently here in South America as we learned before. We start driving and we spend the 20 minute drive towards the first stop chatting with Ricardo and the lady. We don’t understand everything they say but after all these months we do manage to keep a conversation going in Spanish so that’s great. The only problem with this is that when locals realize that you speak some Spanish they keep talking more and more and go faster and faster until it gets impossible to keep up. It’s probably all well intended and in general locals appreciate it if you try. First stop of the trip is El Junco, a fresh water lake inside a volcanic crater. That sounds cool. From the road we walk about 10 minutes uphill to the edge of the crater and we find it all covered in the clouds. We are patient and slowly the wind blows the clouds away and it reveals a beautiful and quiet lake which is much larger than we expected, surround by the shape of the volcano covered in green. There are not supposed to be any fish in the lake but for some reason a group of birds are circling the lake and diving into it one by one. Maybe it’s just that they enjoy the feeling of fresh water as this is really rare in Galapagos. It is so rare that this place is like a treasure to the inhabitants of the islands.
After getting back down Ricardo brings us to giant tortoise reserve Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado. We get received here by one of the employees and he willingly guides us through the reserve. Throughout the reserve we find giant tortoises. Some of them are more than a meter in length and almost a meter in height and around 80 years old! We knew that tortoises are one of the well-known aspects to Galapagos, but we didn’t know how important they are. Apparently the seeds that they eat get activated in their stomach and get out of them with a significantly increased chance of becoming a plant.
After about an hour of walking around the reserve we get back to the entrance and we go to the last stop, Puerto Chino. From the road we walk 15 minutes and get to a truly stunning beach. The sand is white and it is surrounded by nice rock formations. Climbing on top of a little hill gives a beautiful view on both the beach and the other side. We were told there is good snorkeling here so we rented gear
but the waves are too big today so we just go inside the water for a swim. There are only a few other people which makes it even easier to enjoy as it feels like the beautiful landscape is just for ourselves. A downside is that just like at other places in Galapagos, as soon as you get out of the sea you get attacked by horse flies and sadly we forgot our bug spray. When looking along the shore we see a huge white thing lying on the rocks a few meters away from the waves. This should be a whale skull washed up ashore a while ago, very impressive. We try to reach it but this turns out to be a bit too risky so we leave it be. After a while we decide to head back to town, where we go chilling at Playa Mann again before heading for dinner. The earlier mentioned women never left us during the trip, I guess she just had a day off.
If you mention the island Isabella to any of the people living on San Cristobal or Santa Cruz, they light up and explain enthusiastically how this is the most beautiful inhabited island of Galapagos. It is even a holiday destination for the people who live on Santa Cruz or San Cristobal. So of course we were excited about visiting it. From San Cristobal we first get a 2 hour boat to Santa Cruz where we explore town. The day after we get the boat to Puerto Villamil (you can’t go here directly from San Cristobal), the town of Isabella. All boats between islands cost $30 but we found a guy who can arrange all boat tickets for us for $25. The boats leave every morning around 7 and every afternoon around 2. I say “around” as delays always happen. It’s still South America. We take the morning boat and we get to our hostel around 10. We have a hostel for $25 each for a night including breakfast and dinner, NAME. This is an okay price as Isabella is the most expensive island, as it is the most remote. Villamil is a very small town and there are some restaurants in the centre, the food here is not great though. The dinner that is included with our hostel is served at one of these restaurant (Cesars), but it turns out to be horrible. I am normally very easy with what I eat especially if it saves money (while travelling), but this was so bad that we decided to skip the free dinner on the second day and go somewhere else. Apart from that the town is very nice. It’s so quite, there are just a few cars driving around and it borders with a wonderful beach. The island Isabella is immense though, so in the 2 days that we spend here we can only explore a small portion of it. It was exactly what the locals from other islands promised, a very beautiful place.
Biking to the wall of tears
After getting ourselves some lunch we decide to rent two bikes. The town is filled with bike rental stores so this should probably be something worthwhile. On Isabella and you have a bike for the whole day for $15. We get very nice and new mountain bikes so that is good. Soon we start peddling out-of-town. For the first bit we cycle over a soft sand road along the very long and white beach which starts in the town and ends about a kilometer or two further on. The sun is out and it is hot but the sea breeze helps us cope with it. It is only when we move more inland that we realize it was not the best idea to start our biking trip on the hottest part of the day. The sun is fully on our head and we are still not really used to the heat. After a while we decide very wisely to drive back for a bit and sit down at a small beach which we came across some time earlier. This turns out to be a very popular spot for Marine Iguanas. It is a nesting location for them so we can only enter certain parts as otherwise we may step on some buried eggs. This is described on an information post surrounded by a group of around 10 iguanas which seem to have a good time together. We sit down in a bit of shade that we find and observe the nature around us. In the mangrove trees next to the water are 3 pelicans which are carefully observing the water looking for fish, and once in a while one of them takes a big jump into the water in an attempt to catch something. Pelicans are animals that really surprised us somehow during our visit to the islands. As a person who grow in a street named the Pelican street there has always been some sort of connection, but they never seemed to be very interesting animals to me. Of course when you know that you are going to see sharks or sea lions that’s very exciting, but pelicans? These are the kind of animals you walk by in the zoo and you only think “hey, pelicans” or not even that, and you don’t really take the time to actually stop and observe them for a while. We see them a lot here and while sitting down at a spot like this waiting for the temperature to go down we can watch them for ages. After a while we decided together that pelicans are very beautiful animals, and we should appreciate them more.
I really do not have any idea of how long we spend here but at some point we realize the shadows are getting longer and we decide to hop on our bikes again and continue our journey. We slowly bike along the gravel trail and again move a bit inland when we suddenly encounter a wild giant Tortoise. We find this guy relaxing on the road and we take some pictures of him (and with him) before we cycle on and during the trip we see a few more of them. It is really exciting to come across such fascinating animals which may be walking the planet for longer than humans get to live. However, they don’t really do much and if they do something it goes soooo extremely slow.
After a total of one and a half hours of cycling excluding all the breaks we make it to our furthest destination, the Wall of Tears. We put down our bikes again and walk towards a wall of big rocks stacked on top of each other. What makes this wall so special is the story behind it. It was created by prisoners from 1945-1959. As a punishment the prisoners were forced to build this wall and thousands of them died in the process. Many years later while standing here it is difficult to comprehend what happened during that time. From here we cycle back towards the town with a few breaks and a swim in between. Another memorable day.
Tours are expensive in Galapagos and we find that quite some beautiful spots can be visited independently and for free. In general we try to avoid them. But some things you just should not miss out on and we were told by both locals and travelers that this is especially true for Los Tuneles. We therefore decide to make an exception and pay the $110. At 7 in the morning we get picked up and we drive towards the dock just out-of-town where we get on the boat with Jorge (the guide), a family from New Zealand and a family from Argentina. Jorge is a very nice and knowledgeable guy who has been working as a guide on the cruise ships for many years. He sees this as a sort of holiday as the cruise life should be pretty intense. We start the one hour journey towards our destination and find ourselves surrounded by manta rays and sea turtles throughout the ride. Halfway through we make a stop at a very impressive rock formation in the open sea, which is nicknamed Bachelor Island. The island is continuously challenged by massive waves which in turns cover and uncover 5 more meters in height of the rocks. It was named this way as sea lions who did not manage to get a female during the season come here to recover from the effort, gain more strength and try again next season.
In order to get to Los Tuneles we have to go right through the wave break. A wild ride which brings us to the quietest area you can imagine, a true paradise. Like everywhere, everything will always change over time and there was a time where there was lava flowing here, forming the islands. The years shaped this particular area in a maze of blue water with incredible wildlife, decorated by walls, tunnels and bridges of lava rock. Just try to imagine that before looking at the pictures. The best thing is, we are going to snorkel in this maze to discover what is underneath the surface.
We hop in the water with our snorkelmasks and fins on and swim underneath the first bridge is like the entrance to the maze. We see many fish around us and the shapes of rocks look even more beautiful below the surface. We get to a cave and the guide tells us to look inside. Here we find a white tip shark testing on the bottom in the dark. A white tip shark is probably how you would imagine shark, but then they get only 2 meters big and have a white tip on top of their fin. Hence the name. This is the first mature shark that we ever see in the wild so we are really impressed. And then we enter a next cave, and here are 15 of them waiting for us. Crazy start of the snorkelsession. Further on we see a few Parrot fish (named after their colours) which we see oftenly in Galapagos and are really pretty. Then there is a big Sea Turtle! We thought the ones we saw at La Loberia were big, but this is definitely the biggest one we have ever seen. He doesn’t mind about us and casually continues eating from the grass on the bottom. We continue navigating through the maze untill we get to the start of the mangrove forest. Here we get to swim to the edge of this forest one by one where we find something very interesting, a couple of Seahorses. I always imagined seahorses to be really small, but I would estimate the male of the couple to be 10 to 15 cm tall. From here we slowly go back to the boat and we all get our lunch, a sandwich.
After lunch we get to walk around the landscape which again gives a totally different impression. The rocks are very spiky, there are big cactuses everywhere and we can observe some wildlife from above. One of the New Zealand kids goes way too far out, but finds a stranded turtle while doing so. There is a big difference here between low and high tide, and this guy didn’t calculate it correctly. He is stuck in an emptying pool and with the heat of the day and the amount of time it takes for the tide to change, he will most likely die. So together with the family from New Zealand we decide to help him out by carrying him into the next pool as from here he has a way better chance to survive. It turns out to be a challenge as these animals are really heavy fully grown, but we make it and are happy to see him swim away freely. From here we hurry back to the boat and head back to town.
As I told Villamil has a beautiful beach, but that’s not all. The coast is connected to a a whole lot of small islands known as Tintoreras. It is shallow and has a lot of marine life which makes it perfect for snorkeling, unfortunately you need a tour for going here and then you have to go snorkeling in a group again which we are not the biggest fans of. Don’t get me wrong, Los Tuneles was awesome. It would just have been even better if we could have done it alone as you can just take your time discovering the area. Luckily, if you walk from Villamil towards the port and take a left just before you get there, you get to a lagoon which borders with la Tintoreras and you can enter it for free. We went twice as it was so nice, though the morning is the best because of low tide just like other places on the islands. We expected to find a beach but this was not the case. You walk through the mangrove forest and a wooden platform has been built at the end from where you can get in the water. Right at the start we see some iguanas swim over, we see a big sea turtle again which just stays nice. But the funniest thing is, we see some Galapagos Penguins as well!
Santa Cruz is the most populated island of Galapagos. Almost half of the population of Galapagos lives in its port town Puerto Ayora. Knowing that the total population of Galapagos counts 25,000 inhabitants it’s still okay though. Puerto Ayora has the most facilities in terms of restaurants and shops. We really love Isla Grill where they serve the best swordfish and delicious Bloody Mary’s which Anne had been craving for since a long time. A cheaper option is Los Kioskos where locals simply put tables and chairs on the street blocking the road, where you can just sit down and order a $5 menu from their little restaurant. After dinner it was great to just walk around town and along the dock, where we were surprised to find really a lot of small sharks cruising around. During the day the bay is a favored place by marine life as well; one time we saw a group of Golden Rays from the water taxi. Despite its less tropical and authentic feeling due to its size we still had a great time in Santa Cruz. It is also the central island which makes it hard to avoid, and with that there are some other very good reasons to visit this island.
Here in Galapagos we really spend a looooot of time in the water as there are just so many beautiful animals to see. We both love swimming, snorkeling, and animals. This particular place you do not go to for the marine life, but for the impressive surroundings; Las Grietas. To get here we have to take a water taxi ($0.80) to “el otro lado” or the other side of the bay which only take a few minutes. The bay that we cross is beautiful. On one side you find a natural wall with many cactuses on top and on another side there are cruise ships, massive private sailboats and yachts, but also just some traditional fisherboats. Only locals are allowed to fish in Galapagos. Once on the other side we start walking the 20 minute track, and halfway my flip-flop decides to break. Of course this is gonna happen a few times during such a long trip, but why always at such inconvenient times! This is not a trail you like to walk barefoot. The stones are all really spiky and you are sure to open up your food. Also, the black lava stone gets incredibly hot in the sun. We somehow manage to fix something with the elastic that normally keeps together my towel. I have to walk like a lunatic, but for the rest it’s all good. Track is easy and nice and brings us along a very pretty beach, a salt mine and a lot of cactuses. Before we know, we make it to Las Grietas. Our first experience with Las Grietas is the sound of children screaming and jumping in the water and having fun, not really what we were looking for, but the place itself is wonderful. We find ourselves on the edge of a crack in the surface of the land, halfway filled with water. There are steep cliffs on both sides and it goes on for about 50 meters as far as we can see. Very enthusiastically we put down our stuff and get into the water with our snorkel gear, and then its time to explore the underwater world of Las Grietas. We didn’t expect any life here but right away we spot some beautiful big fish. The sun reaches the water only on one side of the crack, meaning that we can see the wall perfectly on the right side untill 5 meter underwater and the middle and the left is black. We have no idea how deep this crack is. We slowly swim to the back where we get to a pile of rocks, and carefully climb over it (would have been easier with water shoes on). This brings us to another pool which is very shallow and quiet. Here we start looking for something as we heard that there is a third pool as well with a “secret” entrance. We have to dive 1 or 2 meters below the surface to swim underneath a big rock and then we are there. We right away find that this pool is the most beautiful one. There is almost nobody here and it is a sort of combination of the first and the second pool. First it is shallow with many rocks and then there is a again the deep crack, partly lit by the sun. This is where we spend the most time swimming and playing around and after a while we slowly swim back to the beginning. From here we walk to the beautiful beach that we walked by earlier and relax here for a while.
Scuba diving at North Seymour
It has been 4 years ago since I first discovered the beauty of diving in Koh Tao, Thailand. One year later I returned to the same place and got my Advanced diving license. Despite the fact that I really loved it, I didn’t dive ever since. But I wanted to. And now we are in the Galapagos, one of the best places in the world for diving as for the abundance of marine life. So I simply couldn’t let this opportunity sail by. First I wanted to dive the famous site Gordon Rocks but this turned out to be a bad idea because of my “lack of experience”. Currents are terrible at this place and therefore you need at least 30 dives, with some of them as recent as possible. So I decided to go for North Seymour, also a very promising spot where you can see some awesome stuff. However, I know that as always with wildlife you need a bit of luck, it’s not a zoo. The price is pretty steep at $140 for two dives so let’s hope it’s going to be worth it, but then again, it is the Galapagos.
At 6:40am I get myself to the dive shop (Eagle Ray), where I try a wetsuit and other gear. A wetsuit, so the water is going to be cold. We all get divided over three taxis (white pick-up trucks in Galapagos) and follow the main road to the north of Santa Cruz island, I try to see it as a bonus excursion through the highlands. After 10 minutes we suddenly stop as there is a giant tortoise chilling on the road, blocking it. We’ve experienced this a lot during the entire trip, but with cows, goats, sheep, dogs, and even lama’s and alpacas, but this one is new. We do arrive safely to the other side of the island and hop on a small boat. We are with 12 people, the captain and his right hand, 3 guides and 7 guests. All nice people. We navigate around some islands for 20 minutes and stop at a quiet spot, where we spot the frigate bird. This bird has a red belly which blows up during mating season. It’s not mating season, but this one was still friendly enough to show us his moves. This is not the reason we stop here though, we stop for an equipment check. Where we are going to dive the current is somewhat strong too and therefore it would be very inconvenient if you do not have the right equipment, that’s why this is necessary. So I put on my wetsuit, 8kg of extra weight to get me below the surface, the BCD (inflatable vest) with oxygen tank, mask and fins and get in the water. In contrast to my expectations as it was such a long time ago, I right immediately feel like a fish in the water (mehh). We get back into the boat and move to the correct spot.
The instructor gives us some last instructions and a bunch of hand signals which will be used the presence of certain animals around us. Hammerhead, white tip, black tip, Galapagos shark, ray, turtle and some more signals, he shows us casually. Mkay. So we get ready again, I do a buddy check with my buddy who luckily still knows how that works, and we fall backwards into the water. We meet at the back of the boat and go down together to meet at the bottom. Both dives today are drift dives, meaning that we will simply go along with the current for as long as we have oxygen in our tanks and the boat will pick us up at the end. We start and right away we are surrounded by blue everywhere I can see, with a few people around me and some rocky wall to our left which we have to keep within sight. Especially the top of the wall is crowded with the most beautiful fish, big fishes of up to half a meter with the most bright colours. Except from red, as you don’t see red more than 8 meters underwater. They swim alone, in pairs or in big groups and are totally at home at this place where we just came by for a visit. They don’t really mind about us and it’s just amazing to see.
Within ten minutes I hear the tinkling signal sound of the guide, look at him and see him put his fist next to his head. I was hoping for this signal but didn’t dare expecting it and look at where his finger is pointing. And there I see a small group of Hammerhead Sharks sliding through the big blue ocean at about 5 – 10 meters away from us. They swim exactly how I thought they would, but instead of finding it intimidating I find it hypnotizingly beautiful. They do not get really close as these particular sharks are very shy, but their typical head shape can clearly be distinguished. For a while after this we dive along the wall and find white tip sharks resting in multiple different caves or on the open sand on the ocean floor. These type of sharks are only active at night and rest during the day, the ones we encounter are maximum 2 meters long. We swim some more just on top of the wall. Next to the fish we also see some big star fish lying around. A bit later we see a big Eagle Ray flying in the distance. His wings go up in down and it all seems to go in slow-motion. Then I look straight ahead and see 3 hammerheads swimming by and once they disappear into the blue, a sea turtle enters my vision. Is this really happening? I think to myself. This is just insane. After 53 minutes we get to the surface and we all scream out different variations of “wow, that was amazing”.
Once back on board it takes a while for us to calm down, but after a while we are just chilling on the deck of the boat. We have a little snack and wait for about an hour before we start again. Such a break is very important between dives. Not so much because the diving itself is so exhausting, but because the pressure from diving at depths otherwise gets too much for your body and you might get sick. When the time is up we move to the next spot. The waves are incredibly high and the boat is flying in all directions, one girl even has to hang over the baño for a bit. We do get reassured that once in the water circumstances will be totally all right.
Once in the water we descend quickly because of the waves. We swim to a sandbank in between the rocks untill we see some shades in the distance and this is where we wait. Here I get behind a big rock attempting to have some sort of shelter, and I notice that I share the same idea with a rich variation of beautiful fish who carefully hide behind the rock. Before we know, a number of big sharks are swimming around us. The biggest type is the Galapagos Shark which may be around 4 meters long. These sharks are active during the day, but as far I as know not for hunting purposes. The place where we are now is called a cleaning station. Sharks come here knowing that tons of little fish are eager to do them a favor. Namely, by feeding themselves from dead cells on the shark’s skin. We stay here about 15 minutes witnessing this documentary and then move on. During the rest of the dive we find more sharks (Hammerheads, Black tips and Galapagos) and many more beautiful fish untill another 55 minutes have passed, I am almost out of air and it is time to go up. Afterwards we are starving and get a delicious lunch prepared by the captain before we make our way back to Puerto Ayora. I had a great day and am incredibly satisfied with what I have seen. I think that ray, hammerhead, turtle scene is going to run through my mind frequently in the future. It doesn’t say that much as this makes 13 dives, but this was easily the best diving experience I have ever had.
I could give you way more details about our experience but seeing that the post is already getting pretty lengthy I’ll leave it at that. Below you will find the promised itinerary and some tips & tricks, I hope it is all useful if you are planning to visit Galapagos (you should)!
To conclude, normally you have to be a bit careful with your expectations as you might get disappointed. This does not count for the Galapagos. We had the highest of expectations but we were still amazed. This place is a true paradise and I’m incredibly happy to see how humans and animals are living here together in mutual respect. May you have any questions regarding visiting Galapagos or anything else you think I may have an answer to (you never know), feel free to ask in the comments!
The perfect Itinerary for Galapagos without a cruise!
“Perfect” is of course a matter of perspective, but for us this itinerary is perfect. You experience a lot if the islands while keeping expenses relatively low as you do a lot on your own initiative.
Day 1 (all prices are per person)
– 11:00 Flight from Guayaquil to San Cristobal. This is the best option as flying from Guayaquil is generally the cheapest and San Cristobal has the nicest airport as you can just walk into town. If you fly to Santa Cruz you have to shift around a little bit with the schedule. ($310 flight + $100 fee + $20 control)
– Check in at Cann´s House ($25)
– Afternoon _ Interpretation centre + Playa Mann (Both free)
-08:00 head for La Loberia (Free, but you should rent snorkel gear for $5)
– 07:00 Take the boat to Santa Cruz ($25)
– Check in at Lava House ($20)
– Afternoon _ Explore town, visit the Charles Darwin Research Centre and the nearby beach (all free)
– 07:00 Boat to Isabella ($25)
– Check in at a hostel, I forgot the name of ours
– Rent bikes and head towards Wall of Tears. The biking is 1.5 hours, but there are many beautiful places for stops ($15)
– 07:00 Los Tuneles Pick up ($110)
– 13:30 If you still have some energy left, head for Concha Perlas for snorkeling ($5)
– Get up early to go to Concho Perlas. Mornings are the best and the quietest ($5 for snorkeling gear)
– 14:00 Afternoon boat to Santa Cruz
– 08:00 head for Las Grietas, bring snorkels! (Free + $5 for gear, $0.80 for water taxi)
– 06:40 Diving! Choose your own location and dive centre. There is something available for every level of experience. I did North Seymour with Eagle Ray Dive Centre and it was awesome! ($140)
– 07:00 Tortuga Bay, should be a beautiful beach. We did not go unfortunately because it was raining terribly (Free+ $5 snorkelgear)
– 14:00 Afternoon boat to San Cristobal ($25)
– Check in at Cann´s House
– Arrange a taxi and head for Puerto Chino with stops at El Junco (fresh water volcano lake) and Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado (tortoise reserve) ($30 each for 2 people + $5 for snorkeling gear)
– Flight back to Guayaquil
Total price: $1,270 (including $20 per day for food)
Tips & Tricks for visiting Galapagos
– We did not make reservations for any of the hostels. There are plenty and its cheaper to arrange something on the spot.
– Food per day could cost you $20 each maybe a bit less if you do it really well and always go for the daily menus. If you want some more quality, you are obviously going to pay more.
– We recommend buying a snorkeling mask and tube before going to Galapagos. At Galapagos it is very expensive, rental is cheap but if you are unlucky it might ruin your experience. Fins you can always rent with low risk.
– Bring a loooooot of sunscreen. We brought a big bottle of sunscreen and aftersun and both were finished within a few days and this stuff is expensive on Galapagos.
– Just try to avoid having to buy anything in Galapagos except from food. For food, every town his its bakery so if you bring something like Nutella or peanut butter this can save you a lot of money.
– Try to find an agency which can help you booking some boats and tours as this may give you a package price. The boats were $5 cheaper for us per ticket. We used Galadventure, would recommend them!
– We heard it is possible to fly to Santa Cruz and back from San Cristobal. This can safe time so if possible, why not. We did not know this before.
– Go for a hostel that allows you to fill water bottles, as buying water is expensive and unecessary. Our all did.