Friday, Jul 26, 2019
What a great week with my sons! After they arrived in Guayaquil, we stayed in Olon only for a day and then headed to the Galapagos.
Our trip to the Galapagos was short, basically 4 days, but in that time we got to visit three islands and see some of the best things the Galapagos offers.
Although our trip began on Santa Cruz island, it was quite the process to get onto the island and into the town of Puerto Ayora after landing.
The plane lands on Baltra, a small island only a stone’s throw from Santa Cruz island. Going through immigration it is necessary to show a transport card which should have been purchased (for $20) in Guayaquil before flying to the islands. Since we didn’t do that, we had to wait for everyone to go through immigration before we could buy our pass.
We also had to pay the Galapagos entry fee, $6 for residents and $100 for foreigners. Fortunately Easton and I had cedulas, so what could have been $300 was only $112 total. Of course Chase wasn’t impressed with his portion of that. 😉 Next, we each purchased a bus ticket for $5 for a 10 minute ride from the airport to the ferry in order to cross over a very small waterway to Santa Cruz.
The ferry cost $1 each and took about 15 minutes from embarking to disembarking. (note: going the other way, from Santa Cruz to the airport, the ferry portion took 30 min, and even longer for the people who didn’t make it onto the only bus waiting because it filled up. The other people had to wait for the second bus to arrive.)
After we arrived at the other side of the waterway onto Santa Cruz island, we took a taxi into the town of Puerto Ayora. It costs $25 total. The ride into town is between 30 and 40 minutes. Santa Cruz island is very dry and desert like on the west side where we arrived, and very green and lush on the east side where the town is located.
Lirio del Mar
We hadn’t made any reservations for a place to stay before arriving. We found a hostel, Lirio del Mar, that was recommended by a friend. It turned out to be a great place to sleep and shower.
The hostel is located only a block from the docks, and the main eating and shopping area in Puerto Ayora. For traveling on a budget I thought it was fantastic.
We had a private room with three twin size beds and a private bathroom. Although the water pressure wasn’t the best in the shower, the water was very hot. Maid service was provided each day, beds made, room cleaned. We were there for 4 nights. After the second day they gave us fresh towels and new sheets. It only cost $15 per person per night. Who says the Galapagos has to be expensive?
In Puerto Ayora we went to the docks at night, which had lights shining in the water. We could see small sharks, multi-patterned fish, sea turtles, colorful crabs, and sea lions there. In reality at night, the sea lions sleep on the benches on the dock. It is a fun sight to see.
Only two blocks from our hostel is a street referred to as “The Kioskos”. It is a street filled with restaurants owned by the locals and serving traditional Ecuadorian food.
We had a great cup of coffee and breakfast for only $6. At lunch, beef, chicken, fish, or shrimp almuerzos are offered for $5. The soups were excellent. The really fun thing though about “the Kioskos” happens at night.
In the evening the entire street is filled with tables in front of all the restaurants. Each restaurant has fresh fish, octopus, tuna, lobsters and a myriad of other sea food displayed for purchase for a fresh grilled dinner.
One night the three of us split two large lobster tails ($25 each). The dinner came with rice, salad, fries or patacones. The cocktails were 3 for $10 and they didn’t hold back on the alcohol. During dinner street musicians played among the crowd for tips. The vibe was very cool and fun. A must do evening in Puerto Ayora.
We spent one morning at Tortuga Bay. It is a short walk from town to the entrance that goes to the bay. We followed a wood planked path through a cactus tree forest for about 30 min to the beach. There are two beaches actually. The first one has strong currents and larger waves. Some surfers can be found there. Walking past this beach brings you to Tortuga Bay. It is a beautiful calm bay with a white sandy beach. Perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and getting tan. Kayaks are available for rent here too.
Oh yeah, the beach is shared with the iguanas so be careful not to step on them.
Los Gemelos y El Chato
In the afternoon we hired a taxi ($50 total) to take us to see Los Gemelos, craters formed from lava collapses, and El Chato Reserve where hundreds of giant tortoises roam free. The entrance fee to the reserve is $5 each. Also located on the reserve are lava tubes you can walk through.
At Los Gemelos a short trail off the main road takes you by two giant craters. The taxi driver waited while we walked the short route. It is a common misconception that these are volcanoes, but they are in fact areas that have collapsed where lava had at one time flowed underneath the surface.
Between the beach and the tortoises, we had a great day in Puerto Ayora.
We ventured to San Cristobal which is a two hour boat ride one way. It costs $25 each way for the ferry to get to the islands. On San Cristobal we did our own thing. When we arrived we had breakfast at a great place in front of the ocean. Almost directly off the pier we rented a snorkel, mask, and fins for $5. We hit two beaches on San Cristobal.
Playa del Oro
The first was Playa del Oro which we shared with a myriad of sea lions. The beach had more of a bay shape, an inclined sandy beach, and a small restaurant and bar. The snorkeling was good here. Chase and Easton had sea lions playfully swimming under and around them which was a great experience.
We walked further down on a dirt road that led to a small path which put us onto Playa Mann. Although the beach has some nice sand, it smelled pretty bad. For me the smell was a combo of fish and urine, basically a result of the sea lions there. The water was choppy so we didn’t snorkel.
There was a small light house at the point on this beach that we visited. When we looked up inside we saw a sea lion that had apparently climbed the concrete circular stairs and was laying in the sun on the platform at the top.
I decided if I was a sea lion, the Galapagos is definitely the place to live.
We had a little time before we needed to board our ferry back to Santa Cruz, so while we waited we decided to try the locally brewed beer, Endemica. For my taste it was too “vinegary” but we had a nice spot to sit and enjoy the ocean.
The third island we went to was Isabella. This island seems more undeveloped than Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. It does have some breathtaking coast line. We paid for a tour on this island that we booked on Santa Cruz for $120 each. This included the 4 hour round trip boat ride to Isabella and back to Santa Cruz (which alone costs $50).
When we arrived at the island we paid $1 each for the water taxi from the ferry boat to the dock. At the dock we had to pay an island entrance fee, $5 with a cedula and $10 for foreigners. I have to admit I enjoy being able to show my cedula and get the resident discounts!
Our guide met us at the dock about an hour after we arrived. In hindsight I think the guy we bought the tour from in Santa Cruz told us it would go like this, but I didn’t remember it at the time. So after a bit of confusion it all fell into place.
We first walked through another tortoise reserve. What was interesting here was a particular tortoise species that has a flat shell. There are only 18 of these tortoises in the “breeding” area. These were the last 18 flat shell tortoises alive after an active volcano lava flow on Isabella in 1998. Giant tortoises don’t begin to breed until they are 25 years old, so even though the reserve has hatched over a thousand eggs since then, the younger tortoises are still not breeding.
In the mean time the 18 are having a hay day. We caught this particular guy “in the act”. Our guide said that tortoise copulation is a two hour long affair. This also is the only time they make an audible noise. Let me just say the noise is universal for this activity. 😉
Another interesting fact is how the eggs are hatched. They are gathered from the nest after being laid and kept in a temperature controlled box. Temperature determines the sex of the tortoise. Incubated at 29.5 C is a female and 28 C is a male.
I believe the goal is to breed more females so they can increase the population of this tortoise species quicker.
I See Pink
Isabella is home to a few hundred pink flamingos. Originally from the Caribbean, they would migrate to Galapagos. Because of the ideal climate and year round food supply, they eventually stopped going back to the Caribbean. Our guide said they still migrate to a couple of different islands in the Galapagos, but that is as far as they go. Who can blame them?
Kayak and Snorkel
My highlight of Isabella was kayaking and snorkeling in the bay and through the channels of tiny islands. The water was beautiful in color and there is plenty of sea life here. On the rocks along the shore we saw Galapagos penguins and Blue Footed Boobies.
The three of us chose not to rent wet suits and that was a mistake. The water is cold, and although we were told snorkeling less than an hour without a suit would be fine, I thought I would freeze to death.
The day we snorkeled here the skies were overcast, and without the sun hitting the surface of the water there was no forgiveness from the chill. The first 30 minutes were uncomfortable but bearable. In that time I saw many interesting and colorful fish, a manta ray skimming the ocean floor, as well as a few sea turtles gracefully moving through the water eating submerged vegetation along the rocky shoreline.
During the last 20 or 30 minutes snorkeling we were in deeper water, which meant colder, looking for white tip sharks. Our guide did find two of them several feet below the surface sleeping in a cave-like rock cluster. It took him at least 10 minutes to find them, during which time all I could think of was getting back to my kayak and out of the water.
So why were these sharks just sleeping and not swimming around? I firmly believe it was because the water was too damn cold! Brrrrr!!
At any rate, I did make it back to my Kayak. After I warmed up I was very happy for everything we did and what I was able to see. Plus, it was a great outing with my sons!
The Water Commute
The disadvantage of staying on Santa Cruz island as home base when traveling to other islands, is that it requires a same day round trip boat ride back to Santa Cruz. The boat used is a typical small tour boat that I have been on for trips out of Puerto Lopez, Ecuador. It seats about 20 people shoulder to shoulder along the sides and back of the boat.
I never felt overly crowded on the boat. What became a real burden though was sitting for two hours on a thin cushion over a hard surface. The often and sometimes constant bounce of the boat over the water had my rear end in a very sore state. Four hours a day of this, two days in a row, pretty much was max for me. Of course if we had more time, a couple days on each island before boating to the next would have solved this problem.
Charles Darwin Station
The morning we flew back to the mainland, we first went to the Charles Darwin Station located in a national reserve at the end of the main street in Santa Cruz. Here there are many tortoises, some of the youngest and smallest we saw while in the Galapagos. There are museums and exhibits, as well as beach access to snorkel. It is also a place to get a Galapagos stamp for your passport if you didn’t get it on arrival through immigration.
Time to Leave
When we hopped in the taxi to head for the airport we gave ourselves one hour to arrive at the airport which left us one hour to get through security and to the gate. It actually took us an hour and a half to arrive at the airport. Once there we checked in for boarding passes, stopped at another check point to hand them the $20 transport card we purchased on arrival. And only after that, were we able to go through security. Fortunately it was only a few quick minutes through the line.
As we stopped at the restroom before going to the gate, they were paging our names over-head. When we got to the gate, Chase offered a friendly “Hola” and all he got back was the raised eye brow and look of “uh huh, where the hell have you guys been” look. In fact we each got that same raised eyebrow look as we presented our boarding passes. Nevertheless we made our flight!
After landing in Guayaquil, catching a taxi from the airport to the bus terminal, riding the bus three hours to Olon, and then taking a 10 minute taxi ride to my place in San Jose, we came walking through the door. It was a great trip with my two favorite men, sons and friends, and one that I will cherish forever.