Best of Galapagos Islands, without a map.

October 16, 2018

A giant tortoise takes a slow stroll through some fresh grass 

 

Hi Gentlemen,

 

This is a series of 3 posts about travelling from sea-to-summit in Ecuador. Why are sea to summit trips amazing? Because you get to experience the entire diversity of the country.

 

Especially countries like Ecuador that offer such a huge range of opportunities and hidden corners. So, let’s dive into this wonderful experience.

 

My travel started with one of the icons from this corner of the world. Galapagos. The Archipielago is just a jurassic-like world that has a unique tone and vibe. Is not cheap, not easy to reach and things are -of course- the Ecuadorian way…

 

First things first, Ecuadorians are lovely people. A bit slow, but lovely. They take everything with extreme calm and -normally- what they tell you does not stick.

 

So, if you want to have things under control, do not rely on what they tell you and always make sure by yourself that everything is in order.

 

When it comes to Galapagos, there are special taxes for tourists and rules that do not apply to nationals. Be ready to stand in line and spend a good chunk of time in this bureaucratic approach.

 

I started the journey in Quito and took a flight to San Cristobal Island. While my final destination was Isabela Island - Puerto Villamil (named after the queen of Spain), you either go to San Cristobal or Baltra airport.

 

From here, you need to take a motorboat to the final island you want to reach.

 

I had two objectives in Galapagos: go for a diving day and hopefully get so see some hammerhead sharks and obviously the giant turtles.

 

Both objectives were accomplished and I must say one of the beautiful things about this places is raw nature that you don’t even have to go out and look for.

 

It basically comes to you.

 

You’re going to waste a full day just to get to your final destination and be patient as you need to take boats, and buses, and ferries and all sorts of things to get there (paying at each point of course).

 

I went there with a friend and we rented an apartment (cheaper than going to a hotel) and the place was about 10 min walk from the beach.

 

I would definitely recommend this option because everything foreign in the islands (as well as in Ecuador) is heavily taxed and you will pay ridiculous amounts of money in restaurants.

 

Better cook by yourself and buy local products only! (not affected by the tax). For example, a bottle of wine is two or three times more expensive than a kilo of fresh yellow fin tuna!

 

So, save yourself some money and troubles and get a beautiful apartment with a kitchen you can use.

 

Snorkeling

 Wildlife is basically everywhere in Galapagos. No need to pay expensive or complicated tours to find these buddies along the way.

 

Let’s be clear on this. Unless you plan to spend a month and a half in the archipielago, is very unlikely that you’ll be able to do everything you can possibly do here but, here are some really important tips.

 

When it comes to snorkeling activities DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT pay any tour. Everything that must be seen you can experience by just having your fins and snorkel and jumping directly into the water.

 

By walking straight to the beach and just start swimming, you will be able to watch:

 

  • Tintoreras (white tip reef sharks)

  • Giant Sea Turtles

  • Penguins

  • Small Manta Rays

  • All sorts of colorful fishes

  • Octopus

  • Seawolves

  • Sea Iguanas

 

There are tons of tours offering you to see the “real place” to snorkel and after making the mistake, I can tell you it is exactly the same.

 

So, just get into the water and spend a couple of days just snorkeling your way. It is absolutely incredible.

 

The most typical offer consider visiting the Tintoreras (the sharks) and Los Tuneles (A lava-rock formation where you have the same animals) and like I’m saying, they make no difference except for you having to shell out some money for it.

 

 

Giant Tortoises

 The beauty of these animals is unprecedented

 

While you can see these beautiful creatures in a closed breeding area close to the Darwin Museum, I would highly recommend to take a tour to one of the open farms where the tortoises live.

 

These “farms” are merely breeding areas with higher concentrations of them in the wild and -for a small fee- you can just wander around and witness the magic of these giants.

 

You’ll probably spend a day in this activity (moving from and to) but it is fun and pretty. Also one of the reasons why to visit Galapagos in the first place. If you need a recommendation Arnaldo Tupiza breeding centre is a great place to visit when it comes to this.

Do not upset the animals. Respect them. (Image taken with a 600mm lens from almost 50 mts away) 

 

There's very little else I can tell you about this other than the taxi will cost you and that you will not regret it.

 

Respect the paths and try to bring a. long lens if you want to make images. This ways you won't upset the tortoises as they are extremely sensitive.

 

Diving

 Rock formations on the way to our diving spot

 

One of my goals when coming to the archipielago was to dive. Marine life around the islands is fantastic and there are plenty of things to see. My main wish was to see a school of Hammerheads.

 

While I could only see a couple and not from very close (they are very shy when swimming individually) there are countless -luckier- divers who got to witness groups of 200 individuals and more. (Make sure you read this article by PADI)

 

I hired a local guide (you’ll find plenty) and, to be honest, there’s not really a great way of telling what outfitter might be better than the other.

 

They all share -more or less- the same level so, I asked to inspect the equipment we were going to use on the diving trip just to be sure the seals are properly maintained, the valves and gauges are in good conditions etc.

 

Just as you would do with any kind of gear you trust your life on. Paid about 280 US and got ready to set out next morning at 7:30 am

 

Rushkult has a lot of detailed information on this and -although- I would love to show you more of my own material when it comes to the diving, I'm not an underwater photographer and my results were pretty poor and I rather not ruin your vision of the experience. Honesty first! 

 

Here's an option that is definitely worth exploring.

 

We departed directly from the Isabella pier on a small motorboat and headed towards the area of an island called Pinzon.

 

This is the closest point to have some chances of seeing hammerheads but it’s a lucky shot since the real area is all the way up to Darwin Bay at the Genovesa island but, since my time was pretty short, I couldn’t really consider this option.

 

I truly recommend thinking of just coming to Ecuador for a full 10-day diving trip. There's much to see and I am definitely making another trip here for a dedicated experience.

 

Some considerations you need to keep in mind:

 

  • This is the Pacific, so the water tends to be cold and with strong-mixed streams. It is hard to keep buoyancy and if distracted you can easily end up smashing against rocks. So, beware at all times.

 

  • The mixture between cold and warm water creates an oily effect that makes visibility a bit challenging. Although you can get all the gear from the outfitter, I recommend you to bring your own goggles or get quality ones before this experience. It will make a huge difference.

 

  • This is not technical diving but you can easily dive to 45 meters here as the depth seems endless. Beware not to get into deep pockets without warning your group about it. People are distracted trying to find the sharks and other type of wildlife and the whole concept of buddy diving doesn’t really apply here unless you’re travelling with your diving partner.

 

  • Take note about the fact that you’ll be constantly trying to get buoyant and your air supply will deplenish faster due to the effort. Outfitters normally charge you for a 45 min immersion but it will last approx. 30 min.

 

That’s it for now gents. The next chapter I will tell you all about exploring the amazonian jungle and some of the cool features of this environment! Stay tuned :)

 

A.

 

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