We’ve had about three weeks with very limited internet – But alas! For everyone’s reading pleasure I have split our adventure in the Galapagos Islands into 2 very detailed posts. We spent the first 8 days on a cruise sailing the western itinerary (see below) and then a further 5 days staying on San Cristobal Island (the large island to the east).
We flew from Quito, once again admiring the mountainous landscape. There was a 40 minute stopover in Guayaquil where we were instructed to stay on the plane as some passengers disembarked and more tourists on their way to the Galapagos refilled their seats. The next leg of the flight path was mostly of the ocean. As we neared Balta Island (#1 on the map), I thought the land looked a bit like outback Australia with its red dirt and small shrubs. Disembarking the plane, straight onto the tarmac, we were hit with the heat, a huge difference from Quito. After paying our visitor fees and clearing customs -which is quite thorough being a National Park, we were met by our friendly tour guide, Enrique, and the other travellers on our cruise. Our boat is named: Golindrina I and she caters for 16 passengers (plus crew which we had 8 including our guide). At the airport, we left our luggage in the capable hands of the crew members and our guide issued each of us a bus ticket. Our transit to the boat wasn’t as long as many, as she was moored only 10minutes from Balta airport (most other boats depart from a harbour 40 minutes from the airport). We hopped off the bus at a small harbour and taxied out to the Golindrina by dinghy. There are two dinghies each holding 8 passengers. Kadin and I end up in different dinghies which gave us an opportunity to meet and mingle with the other passengers. On board we were instructed to go down to the dinner deck where we were provided with a cool beverage and then our guide sorted us into our cabins. We were surprised to be given Cabin #7 which is located on the top deck as we were expecting to be down on the lower deck. Our cabin is small but tidy. Luckily, we had backpacks as they were able to squash down out of the way after we unpacked our clothes into the drawers (other travellers with suitcases had trouble with the limited room in the compact cabins). After lunch the boat began to move, first to the fuel pump to refuel and then off towards our first stop. We spent this time up on the main deck, getting sorted with our snorkel gear and mingling with the group. You could also hire wetsuits, but we thought we’d see how we go with just our swimwear and snorkels before hiring the whole lot.
We soon made it to Mosquera Islet (#2 on the map), …a beautiful white sand beach with the occasional playful sea lion rolling in the sand. It looked very inviting; however, the captain made the call to not land the dinghies onto the beach due to the swell coming in at the low tide. So instead of snorkelling off the beach the dinghies took us near the rocks, and we jumped off the side into the deep water. The water temperature was good enough for us. Unfortunately, the water clarity wasn’t the best but there were plenty of fish around… including a massive shark! It was gracefully swimming below us. Amazingly, I didn’t panic. It was by far the largest shark I’ve ever snorkelled with (not a reef shark), later we estimated it to be about 2m long (but our photo makes it look like a small reef shark). Our guide identified it to be a Galapagos Shark and was super shocked to have seen one there. A truly rare encounter. Also, in this spot were a few eagle rays.
Towards the end of our snorkel (about 1.5 hours) we did start to feel a bit cold …but it wasn’t too bad as we went straight back on board where we had a hot shower. An early 6pm dinner (although it felt like 7pm to us due to the time difference from the mainland). Then our boat commenced its 13-hour navigation overnight. This made for a rocky first night’s sleep on board.
After a delicious breakfast served in the dining room, we were briefed by our guide about the day’s activities. Enrique also informed us that overnight while we slept, we travelled from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere and back again! Our morning spot was just below the equator line. We began with a morning dinghy ride around Vicente Roca point (#3 on the map). Here we saw many Blue Footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies, Flightless Cormorants, Marine Iguanas, Sally Lightfoot Crabs, Sea Lions and Sea Turtles over the side of the boat.
We also entered a large sea cave. The geology was also very interesting and Kadin was equally impressed with our guides geological knowledge.
After our dinghy ride, we quickly changed into our snorkel gear. As soon as we slipped into the water, we saw a large sea turtle grazing on the seaweed below us. It was a beautiful snorkel and in one part we found ourselves swimming alongside a sea lion who was very interested in our go-pro. On top of one rock we found a Galapagos Penguin sitting next to some marine iguanas and a sea lion. It was also pretty special when the flightless cormorant was diving into the water nearby and we could watch it chasing fish through the water. The only bad part was swimming through a whole heap of tiny jellyfish. Their stings irritated the skin a little (and made me consider hiring a wetsuit) but it’s fine after a hot shower.
After lunch we cruised across to Fernandina Island (#4 on the map). Kadin and I had a little nap during the navigation and we almost slept through our next activity! Luckily the crew rang a bell to let everyone know that it’s time for the next activity. So, we quickly changed into our snorkel gear and jumped into the waiting dinghy. Our fellow travellers laughed when we apologised for napping through. Just off the island, was the spot to go snorkelling with marine iguanas. It was a pretty crazy thing to see these creatures feeding on the algae and swimming through the water. Apparently, they can hold their breath for about 30 minutes. We also found a heap more sea turtles as we snorkelled along the rocks.
Later in the afternoon we had a dry landing on Espinoza point (#4 on the map). We took our time to walk over the lava field and learn more about the marine iguanas (which were plentiful on the lava rock).
We also spotted three Galapagos Hawks. These birds are at the top of the food chain and are rare to come across because there aren’t many and their territories are large.
Our guide spent some time teaching us about volcanology and about many of the plants growing among the lava rock.
During our walk we also came across a Galapagos Snake (another rare find). It was exciting to watch this snake because right beside it was a Galapagos Lava Lizard (aka dinner). The poor lizard looked terrified and part of me felt a little bad for wanting the snake to eat it. This snake is a restrictor, but it also uses venom to help kill its prey. After a tense few minutes, the lizard got away and our snake friend slithered along looking for another victim.
Our walk on the island came to an end with the sunlight. It was a beautiful spot to enjoy the sunset.
Back on board, we enjoyed dinner and ended our night with a few rounds of card games with some of the other passengers. Our sleep was a bit better as we stayed anchored in the calm waters off Island Fernanda until about 4am before the boat started its navigation to our next spot.
Straight after breakfast we prepared ourselves for a wet landing at Urbina Bay (#5 on the map). We had to hop off the dinghy straight on the beach (although it was pretty calm, so we only got wet up to our ankles). On the beach we saw the tracks from the sea turtles laying their eggs. We started with a coastal walk on an easy flat sandy loop track. It was rather hot and humid so we tried to find shady trees to stand under while Enrique told us stories and facts. During our walk we spotted many finches and some mockingbirds. We also saw a few land iguanas basking in the sun on the walking track.
But the highlight was seeing the Galapagos Tortoises. First, we spotted a small one (still rather large, really) right in the middle of our track. Later we found two more babies before we managed to locate one giant adult hiding in the trees.
After our walk we went for a snorkel off the beach. The water was very clear and there were so many sea turtles! We had fun getting photos with them. At one stage Kadin had 5 turtles on film surrounding him (I will try to upload a film of Kadin’s go-pro movie footage at a later date, but for now we have plenty of stills to share)…
We also saw large schools of fish. I spotted an octopus, but it went under a rock pretty fast. I got a cramp in my foot from snorkelling, so I signalled to the dinghy. I planned to get up and walk it off, but the dinghy driver gave my foot a real good massage which completely fixed my cramp. So, I jumped back in and continued to enjoy the marine life below all the way back to the beach.
After our snorkel we boarded the Golindrina and started our navigation north. We enjoyed lunch during this time. By 1.30pm we were ready for a dry landing at Tagus Cove (#6 on the map). Here we went for a walk up to Darwin’s Lake (in the crater of a volcano). Further on we made it to a great lookout over the island and lava fields.
After working up a sweat we headed back to the boat and got ready for our afternoon snorkel in the cove. This time we were sharing the water with many of the Galapagos penguins. They were pretty speedy in the water. Kadin and I also came across a small shark which our guide identified as a Galapagos Horn Shark; another rare find.
Once we were back on board, the night navigation started immediately, due to the large distance needed to travel for our next stop. We watched the sun set from the top deck while looking out for whales and manta ray. We saw many manta rays on the surface but no whales. Dinner was served while the boat continued to move -the crew did such a great job at serving with the movement. They even made a birthday cake for dessert as one of the passengers was celebrating her birthday. Feeling exhausted, and knowing we had a similar day planned ahead we retired early to our cabin ready to be rocked to sleep by the ocean.
We woke up to find ourselves looking out to an island with beautiful cliffs, a light house on one end and an abandoned stone house straight across from us. Enrique, told us the house was used for the salt miners who worked on this island, named ‘Santiago Island‘ by the private owner. However, it has now been returned to the Galapagos National Park and the locals call this island Isla San Salvador.
Our first activity of the day was a wet landing onto the black sandy beach of Egas Port (#7 on the map), where we started our coastal hike. We saw plenty of birds and on the other side of the island many sea lions playing inside the lava caves and sleeping on the ledges.
After our walk we geared up for a snorkel off the beach. There were large schools of small fish, heaps of large colourful parrot fish and the highlight was a white tip reef shark resting on the sandy bottom that Kadin found (after everyone had taken a photo, he dove down deep with the go-pro to get some better footage).
Back on board we commenced another navigation. Along the way several Galapagos Frigates flew alongside the boat. Some perched on the rigging for a rest too.
After lunch and a break, we pulled into a small channel off the east side of Santiago next to Chinese Hat Island (#8 on the map). The landscape was very peculiar with the marine green waters, white sandy beaches and then a black rocky island behind with large cactus plants growing on it. We prepared for another wet landing. This time as we went ashore, two sea lions playfully glided through the shallow waters straight towards us and then rolled around on the sand. We then went for another beach walk which had a good view of the Chinese Hat Volcano.
Back on board we geared up for our afternoon snorkel. This time we were allowed to jump straight off the back of the Golindrina and swim towards the rocks and around the corner to the snorkelling spot or take the dinghy. If we jumped off the back, there would be more of a chance to find a hammerhead shark. So, most of us jump off the back. After about 5 minutes I gave up… it was hard work battling the waves and currents and there wasn’t much to see. Instead I went in the dinghy until we reached the calm snorkel area. Even though noone found the hammerhead sharks, there were a heap more fish to see and the water was very clear. That night we found our check out letter. However, we still have 3 more nights (unlike most of the other passengers who only booked the 4 night/5 day experience). So, we check with our guide and apparently, we may be joining up with another boat tomorrow. At dinner it is confirmed that us and 1 other passenger will continue our journey on the Fragata. This is exciting as it’s a bit fancier than the Golindrina (an option we didn’t book due to the significant price difference). We spend the evening up on the top deck looking at the stars, chatting to other passengers as the boat moves closer to Santa Cruz Island. Once we anchor in the main harbour for the night, we go to our cabin and pack up our belongings ready for the next day’s departure.
To continue reading, please read: Galapagos (PART 2) – On Board Fragata + San Cristobal Island
Have fun at work!