Galápagos: a surreal and humbling experience

marine-iguana-resting-lava-rocks-galapagos

When I landed in Galápagos it felt as if I wasn’t supposed to be there. I remember reading so much about it and watching dozens of documentaries to kickstart my dreamed wildlife observation journey, but nothing could have prepared me for what lied ahead. It was all too surreal. Sea lions hanging out at the entrance of my hostel as if they were street dogs, and birds that weren’t scared of humans! (I later discovered the birds’ behaviour was down to a lack of predators). It was such a humbling experience and at that point, I could really understand why Darwin and even Attenborough were so fascinated with the archipelago.

I visited the archipelago for 7 days with a yacht cruise called ‘The Montserrat’ which had comfy rooms, good food, helpful crew, and most importantly a very knowledgeable and friendly tour guide. Below is the itinerary with all the islands I visited, the must-see places and best spots for wildlife observation, snorkeling and diving.

San Cristóbal Island and Cerro Brujo

My trip started on San Cristóbal island where I had the chance to go for a quick explore around Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and Punta Carola beach before jumping on my boat. Once on board, we arrived at Isla Lobos which is home to a big colony of sea lions.

swimming-sea-lion-Galapagos

The island is named after them in Spanish, lobo marino. There is a protected channel where you can go snorkeling with them as shown above. This area is also an ideal place to watch nesting frigates and blue-footed boobies.

Cerro Brujo Hill Galapagos

Other interesting places nearby are ‘mirador Cerro Tijeretas’ (viewpoint) and Cerro Brujo  (shown above) which is located on the northern coast of San Cristóbal Island. It is a great place to watch marine iguanas swim (while they snort salt from their nostrils), or visit a tortoise breeding area in the highlands with lots of endemic flora.

Española Island

One of the oldest islands in the whole archipelago at around 4 million years old, La Española is actually dying and with time it will become a barren land with no vegetation. Having said that, this is great spot to see waved albatrosses, and if you are extremely lucky like I was, the blue-footed boobies mating dances.

Blue-footed-booby-Galapagos
Blue-footed Booby

I also explored a lovely sandy beach in Bahía Gardner and wrapped my day up watching the bird colonies at Punta Suárez.

Waved Albatross Galapagos

Highlight: There’s an epic blowhole in Punta Suarez that you can’t miss!

Blowhole Galapagos Punta Suarez

Floreana Island

I had the opportunity to dive here at a fascinating site called the “Devil’s Crown”, it’s an underwater volcanic cone with schools of fish, sea turtles, sharks and sea lions, and many exquisite coral formations.

fish-bank-galapagos

Punta Cormorant is also a must, only a short walk past a lagoon to see flamingos, rays, sea turtles and lots of Sally Lightfoot crabs. Post Office Bay is quite nice to visit since you are already there.

Turtle swimming Galapagos

Santa Cruz Island

Here’s where you visit the Charles Darwin Research Station to see the incredible giant Galápagos tortoises roaming freely. Puerto Ayora hosts the largest human population in the entire archipelago and it is a great place for chilling at a beach bar.

Giant Tortoises Galapagos Wildlife Observation

Tortuga Bay is a beautiful and very long sandy beach where you can not only swim but also spot white tip reef sharks close by a natural mangrove that’s only a short walk from the beach.

                                                                                                           Giant Tortoise Galapagos

Playa El Garrapatero is a nice beach to spend some time at. Possibly the highlight for me on this island was hiking up to the Los Gemelos (The Twins) craters to see some very old rock formations.

Highlights and Top Tips for Wildlife Observation in Galápagos:

  • How to get there?

There are two ways to get to the Galápagos archipelago, either flying to Baltra or to the San Cristóbal Airport from Quito via Guayaquil which is the option I went for. There are three airlines flying daily to the archipelago: Tame, Avianca, and Lan; all have two-morning flights, but make sure to book in advance to avoid overbooking.

  • What currency?

The official currency in Ecuador is the US Dollar. Generally speaking, it is very cheap to travel around Ecuador. However, prices on the Galápagos are more expensive. Also, make sure to take cash out before arriving in the archipelago as sometimes ATMs on the islands aren’t reliable.

  • Wildlife Observation highlights

I went on a mission to spot all the wildlife I possibly could around the islands, and most of the time I was very lucky.

Manta Ray resting Coral Reef Galapagos

My wildlife observation highlights include: seeing underwater marine iguanas and penguins on land and swimming, hammer-head and reef sharks swimming above me, frolicking sea lions chasing me, diving with eagle and manta rays, spotting a camouflaged octopus (still can’t believe it!), blue-footed boobies, lots of seahorses and starfish (yay!), getting a glimpse of an albatross and the flightless cormorant.

Galapagos penguin catching fish
Galapagos penguin catching fish

Also places like ‘Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado’, Galápagos Beach at Tortuga Bay, and ‘Reserva de Tortugas El Chato’ are great to learn more about the giant tortoises.

Fun fact: the Spanish named the archipelago after the giant tortoises that once roamed the islands. As in Spanish “galápago” translates to giant tortoise. 

  • Top place for diving and seeing hammerhead sharks

A visit to Kicker-Rock or León Dormido (original name in Spanish) where I had the opportunity to go scuba diving and see hammerhead sharks.

Kicker Rock Galapagos

It is one of the most extensive marine wildlife diversity preserves in the world (only place that rivals this is the Great Barrier Reef). Just remember the water is very cold, so make sure you pack a thick neoprene wetsuit or be prepared to rent one or two!

Galapagos Reef Shark

  • Don’t forget!

Last but definitely not least- it is really important NOT to feed the wildlife and to limit your interactions with them. While you should enjoy being surrounded by nature and wildlife, increased tourism to the national park does have a negative impact on both flora and fauna, as human presence affects their natural behaviours! So, let’s all try to keep it as pure and wild as possible.

 

3 thoughts on “Galápagos: a surreal and humbling experience

  1. This is an informative post. Much appreciated. I’m heading that way in December. Only interested in the land experience. Can you recommend a tour operator for booking?

  2. Hi there, it really depends on what you want to do in Galápagos. If you are looking to explore one place and don’t want to sleep on a boat I’d recommend just going to Isabela island. There is a ferry boat departing from Santa Cruz Island everyday and the tickets are sold on every agency in Puerto Ayora.

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