After spending some time in the higher altitudes and cooler climate of the Andes, we made our way to the Galapagos Islands. The warm humid weather was a welcome change for us. It was nice to return to shorts and t-shirts. Initially, we had considered giving the Galapagos a miss, because we were concerned that spending a week or so on a boat would not be ideal with kids. However, it would have been a shame to come all the way to Ecuador and not see the islands. Thankfully, we decided to visit the islands, stay on land, and try to see as much as possible.
The first island we visited was Santa Cruz. We rented an apartment on the edge of Puerto Ayora, which is the largest city in the Galapagos. The city is not very big though, as it only has a population of about 12,000. It has a busy water front street that is lined with all sorts of tour operators, dive shops, and restaurants. The many souvenir shops sell almost anything possible labelled with “Galapagos” or “I love (blue footed) boobies”.
We had some initial sticker shock at the price of day tours in the Galapagos. I guess we shouldn’t have, considering that it is such a big tourist destination. However, it was a good lesson in math: a day tour for 1 person = USD$155, a day tour for 2 people = USD$310, a day tour for a family of 5 = Holy F@#!in’ expensive!!! We decided that doing day tours everyday would be wonderful, but it would also cut our trip drastically short!
We ended up biting the bullet, and went on a snorkeling trip to an area called North Seymour. The tour was on a dive boat, so half the people were diving and we were snorkeling. We were a little concerned on the morning of the tour as it was raining a fair bit. Luckily, it cleared up and was sunny by the time we started snorkeling. The tour company had assured us that the location we were going to was the calmest area for kids……..but it was a little rough when we arrived. Unfortunately, it was a bit too rough for Milo. He was feeling a bit sea-sick by the time we arrived at the snorkel site, so he initially stayed on the boat. Finn and Nico showed no fear and jumped in the water right away, even though I’m sure they were feeling a little hesitant.
Despite the rough sea, we were able to see a lot of different animals. We saw hammerhead sharks, black-tipped sharks, white-tipped sharks, mobula rays, spotted eagle rays, a sea turtle, and too many fish to name. Fortunately, the water calmed down a lot, and I was able to coax Milo into the water once his sea-sickness settled. All the boys had a wonderful time, and we couldn’t get them out of the water! The snorkeling tour was great, but considering the Galapagos math, we decided to stick to DIY adventures after that.
We didn’t realize it before we arrived, but there are many activities you can do by yourself in the Galapagos. On Santa Cruz, we hiked to the beautiful white sand beach called Playa Tortugua. The walk to and from the beach was a stifling 3 kms in the sun, but it was well worth it. The beach has amazing white sand, is stunningly beautiful, and there are marine iguanas everywhere. There is a small area where the sea is really quiet and a great place for swimming. Of course given that we are in a wildlife reserve, we shouldn’t have been surprised by the baby shark that swam up just as we were going in the water. It is actually not that unusual to see small sharks swimming around the dock and at the beaches. Pretty cool for the kids and us to see! It is easy to take for granted how much wildlife there is the Galapagos. Everywhere we went, there were interesting birds (frigates, finches, boobies), iguanas, fish, sea lions etc.
We visited the Charles Darwin Research Centre, which is just a short walk from downtown Puerto Ayora. This research station is a great place to see and appreciate how the Giant Tortoise population of the Galapagos was decimated to the brink of extinction by the sailors that first started visiting the islands. In fact, only 11 of the initial 15 species remain, and the population was reduced from about 200,000 down to about 3000 by the 1970s. The research station had wonderful displays about the ongoing Giant Tortoise breeding program, and gives you the chance to see the tortoises in all sizes, from small babies up to full adult size.
There are a few attractions we managed to see in the highlands of the island as well. We visited “Los Gemelos”, which are two giant sinkholes. These large sinkholes are beautiful to walk around, slightly nerve-racking when you peer over the edge (thanks to typical South American safety railings). They are also a great place to observe some of the island’s birdlife. We also visited “Los Tuneles”. This is a huge tunnel that was created by a lava flow many years ago. A giant lava flow cooled on the outside, while the inner core remained liquid and drained out. The result is a tunnel with lava stone walls that is about 400 metres long, and about 4 metres across inside. It is not the most amazing cave, but it is pretty cool to walk inside it and think about how it was formed.
After 6 days on Santa Cruz, we took the two hour boat ride over to the island of San Cristobal. It was a fairly loud and uneventful trip. However, those of us that didn’t fall asleep were lucky enough to see a number of dolphins jumping out of the water behind our boat. It was instantly apparent when we arrived on San Cristobal, that it had a much different vibe than Santa Cruz. The main city of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is much more laid back and less busy.
Once again, we rented an apartment and saw the sights on our own. There are quite a few beaches and snorkeling areas that are easily accessible by walking. We enjoyed playing with baby sea lions and snorkeling with sea turtles at Punta Carola. had a great day playing in the waves at La Loberia, and did some great snorkeling at Bahia Tijeretas. It is so much fun to see the kids take an interest in snorkeling, and to see them enjoying all the fish.
There is also a large sea lion colony in the centre of town. It can be quite amusing to watch the young pups playing in the shallow water, and it is interesting to see the kids playing at the playground with big sea lions wandering by. However, as anyone who has been around sea lions knows, they are loud and stinky. If the noise and smell wasn’t bad enough, Nico is now the first person I know that has stepped in a large pile of sea lion crap!
So after 12 days of equatorial sun, beaches, and lots of wildlife, we actually felt ready to head back to the mainland. As much as we loved the Galapagos, it felt time to head back to slightly cooler weather where could walk more than 3 blocks at noon, and we didn’t have to wear sunscreen constantly. So, off to Cuenca…….