Day 1 Galapagos Islands
Our Air BnB in Guayaquil have kindly agreed to let us leave our bikes and bags with them so we can travel light.
We used the local buses and tram to get to the airport. To fly to Galapagos there are some extra administrative tasks that we had been warned about.
1. Go to a special immigration desk and pay $20 each.
Snag at this first hurdle is that they won’t accept payment if you have no proof of your return flight, we were turned away. We had no WiFi so had to go to one of the desks and book return flights at 3 times the price we knew we could get them for. This is due to the fact that on line we can pay the locals price but at the desk we have to pay foreign national prices, we had little choice so had to book the flights even though we do not really know when we are coming back or from what Island. We checked at the time with the desk and it would appear we can cancel the flights with no charge (well that’s the impression we have been given, let’s hope this is true).
2. Once the $20 is paid and card received the luggage needs to go through a scan to ensure we are adhering to the tight import restrictions. This was a quick process and to me it didn’t look like they were bothered by what was in our bags.
After this it was pretty painless other than the $100 dollars each that you have to pay to enter the Galápagos Islands.
Ginette – the only transport to the Galapagos is by air and there are only 3 airlines operating to the islands, we have researched the islands extensively and at no point had we been informed we needed a return flight, so I was pretty pi**ed off to have to book one at the airport. We were not alone, and interestingly all three airlines had desks at the terminal with 4 operators each waiting to book flights! It is just as well we had arrived at the airport early because this whole process to over an hour.
Our plane was full of excited Americans, fortunately most of them disembarked on were taken by luxury coach to their cruise ships. The islands seems to have very few tourists, it is the low season for the Galapogos apparently September is the coldest month but at 20c we are very happy and we loved the fact that the sun came out to greet us.
Once settled in our room we took the short stroll to the harbour, and what a show nature had set on for us. We spotted some large Iguanas and 100’s of crabs then a small seal sunbathing and all right next to our feet, as we slowly strolled along the front we could see so many seals around it was slightly daunting yet magical. Getting excited about spotting a large seal close by and taking pictures only to look up and find yet more right where we were about to walk in fact one was yelping a warning not to get any closer, all very wow moments.
We have also seen blue boobies, these are feathered birds (not what you was thinking Cliff) and pelicans diving for fish, and even spotted a rat (or 3).
The seafront is packed with wildlife and we are both enjoying the spectacle. We are not so keen on the cost of things around here but hope to find a place we can stay with a kitchen so we try to keep the cost down, we enquired about a snorkelling boat trip and have been quoted $130 dollars each and this is just a day trip.
Ginette – I absolutely love the wildlife, the Galapagos have been on the top of my bucket list for years and I love the fact that we could walk from the airport to town, however I am a little disappointed at how run down San Cristobal looks. I didn’t expect swanky and modern but I did expect it to be clean and tidy. There’s less rubbish than the main land but we have seen dirty river beds and rubbish on the streets and most of the buildings have faded and flaking paintwork. There are thousands of visitors to the islands each week all paying $120 dollars, so what is the money being spent on? My second little gripe is the island has large signs explaining they are eco friendly (including signs saying no plastics) and yet the only transport to the islands is by plane, plastic cups are used on the plane and plastic bags are used in the stores. I will research both of these issues and hopefully my opinions are based on first impressions and will change.
2nd Day San Cristobal
Swimming with seals.
Some attempts to cancel the flight we had to book to be able to get to this island but the WiFi is slow so it’s hard work.
We asked for assistance at a local hotel and they pointed us in the direction of the airport, this is only 10 minutes by foot. The desk however didn’t open until 11am.
We then found another place to stay from tomorrow for three nights, it’s only $20 a night and the plus side is has a kitchen we can use.
Back to the airport and it looks it looks like our refund may be going through, we have to wait and see.
We wandered back along the harbour still Marvelling at the antics of the seals, Iguanas, frigate birds, blue boobies and pelicans.
Then to took a walk around the Interpretation centre which discusses the history of the islands and its future sustainability and effects of tourism.
There is a nice sandy beach near the centre which I later took a swim in with the many seals. Entering the water the seals were all on the beach and there was just me and another lady swimmer but then we had one seal come and swim around and under us and a few others also joined in. All the signs tell you to stay 2 metres away from the wildlife but these seals had other ideas, they are graceful and very quick in the water and it was quite a treat to be interacting with these wild seals.
We walked to another beach, this had less people but still as many seals. We watched a large Iguana set off into the sea then later saw it swimming back and walk up the beach.
The Finches are really brave and come right next to you, Ginette had some biscuits and crumbed them in her palm and the finches eventually were settling on her hand and feeding.
Ginette – it was a beautiful and sunny day – San Cristobal is magical.
3rd Day – San Cristobal
We moved accommodation to a cheaper hostel with a kitchen so we can keep the cost down and do our own cooking.
The weather was overcast and wet so we didn’t set out till later in the morning.
Ginette – By later Gary means 9.30am, he was like a child on the first day of snow, itching to go and see the sealions. However it was cold and wet so I wanted to wait until the mist had cleared.
We hired snorkel and masks for $3 each for the day and set off to La Loberia beach.
It was windy and choppy at the beach so we continued along a walk over rough volcanic tracks to Las Negritas which is a view point over cliffs. Along the track the large Iguanas were sunbathing and at times were so well blended in they made us jump when we realised we were so close to them.
At the lookout we saw at least 5 large turtles in the rough seas below us and spent sometime watching and wondering how the strong sea was not smashing them into the rocks.
Back at the beach I donned the snorkel mask and braved the choppy cold water, there were turtles further out in this slightly sheltered bay but as the tides were strong I didn’t venture far from the beach. The snorkelling was good, the water was clear and there was a lot of variety of fish to see, but it was cold and a bit turbulent. There were loads of seal lions around but none of them came to play today, but when I left the water Ginette had accrued a mum and baby that had bobbed up to where she was sitting and broke the 2 metre rule.
After going back to our room to warm up and have a bit of lunch we set off back to the other side of town in the hope that the sea would be a bit kinder.
We both snorkelled in a sheltered bay near a large statue of Darwin, the water was calm but cold. We spotted loads of fish, a large Ray and a sea Turtle both resting on the seabed, after about half an hour I was very cold so had to get out, afterwards it took ages to get warm again as it was late in the day and the sun wasn’t very strong.
Ginette – whilst snorkelling Gary was at pains to show me the large ray, I tried my hardest to spot it but without any joy, eventually Gary dived down to point the direction, I think I saw it’s tail but could not make out his body. Gary said it was huge and I believe him but I couldn’t see it. I had to laugh at his enthusiasm and frustration he so wanted me to share his ‘treasure’. Whereas the Turtles were so huge you would have had to be blind not to see them. We also saw smaller turtles swimming near by, it was an amazing experience the bay was full of life, if it had not been so cold we would have stayed much longer.
In the evening we got to see more wildlife, there was a spider in our kitchen the size of a small plate, yukkkk, on the upside it may just keep the cockroaches at bay.
4th or 5th Day (so relaxed we’ve lost track)
We loaded the speed boat ferry along with locals with live chickens only to find the boat overloaded, there were complaints and as a result 4 people had to be taken off the boat.
It was a little chaotic but at least someone is considering our safety over profit, although I believe it was a couple of passengers that raised the alarm.
The ferry cost is a set $30 each and in addition we were asked to pay a further 50 cents for the sea taxi that took us 50 meters from the boat to the shore. Santa Cruz is more touristy than San Cristobal, lots more shops and restaurants.
Ginette – I was feeling tired from lack of sleep due to a sore throat and irritable cough, so we had a lazy day. We visited the Darwen Exploratory Centre and read all about the restoration programme for turtles and even saw lots of small and large turtles .I am looking forward to seeing the gigantic turtles in the wild. Seeing them in the centre was cool but a bit like viewing them in a zoo. We also wandered to a local beach but decided to watch some local surfers rather than venturing in ourselves.
There’s far less wildlife in the harbour although we did see a sea lion and some pelicans hanging around the sea food stall.
In the afternoon we chilled, had a beer and generally relaxed.
29th September – Isabela Island
Ginette has developed a very sore throat and nasty cough so she didn’t sleep well. We was up at 5.40 as the ferry leaves at 7am. I had planned to make us coffee but someone had permanently borrowed the lighter in the kitchen so I had no way to light the hob. Hence coffee in an open cafe instead.
We had been asked to meet the lady who sold us the ferry ticket at her office, we then followed her to the docks. It seems that all the agents walk their customers to the docks, heard us into our groups and generally fuss over us. Hence lots of groups all heading off on the various trips. To me this seemed a very inefficient way to do things but it did work.
The ferry trips should be fun but due to the type of boats they use we find ourselves sat inside with no views out of the windows so in effect spend 2 hours reading kindles as the only view is the plastic sides of the windowless boat.
Ginette – this is a real sales pitch opportunity they could offer a pay as you view movie or better still provide videos explaining how the island fee is used to improve the island and what we as tourists can do to improve the environment or/and provide footage of tours available on each of the islands. Instead we had no information, no safety briefing and white plastic walls to look at. Each of the ferry trips between the islands take 2 – 3 hours.
Reaching Isabela we had the same water taxi ride but somehow this islands fees are double at $1 each, it’s not a lot but it does grate, I offered to swim instead.
The weather was overcast so beach sunbathing was off the cards. We had no accommodation booked so tried to use a cafes WiFi but it was really slow. We ended up walking and finding one that Net had seen on the web when it was running.
Ginette – as we are out of season it is easy to find accommodation and to negotiate a lower fee. We paid on average 22 dollars per night, granted these were basic hostals but they served a purpose.
We opted to go for a fairly long walk to see the Wall of Tears (build by prisoners of war), we past long beaches but the wind and surf were up so the only ones in the water were surfers. Our walk took us past last large sea Iguanas, flamingo lakes (with no flamingos) and to our delight giant tortoises that were roaming free.
These giant tortoises were sitting directly in the footpath so we had some nice close encounters, on the way back later most had taken shelter in the undergrowth and we spent the walk seeking out their hiding places. A couple of times when we had no choice but to pass close to them the tortoise would reel his head back in and make a funny blowing noise of displeasure.
The wall of tears is a large wall built from volcanic rock by Ecuadorian prisoners, several hundred died whilst forced to build the wall and this ordeal only ended after the prisoners had to overthrow the guards.
Ginette – I struggled a little today, I have a hacking cough and a really sore throat, it feels like I’m swallowing razor blades. We went to the pharmacy but they wanted to charge an extortionate fee for some lozenges. I could see the marked price on the packet but the pharmacist wanted to charge 4 x the amount. Gary insisted I purchase them but I resisted and opted to buy some Halls lozenges from the local shop for a fraction of the cost. I’m hoping this head cold will improve for my birthday and that I don’t pass it on to anyone else.
Isla Isabela in the Galápagos isn’t to bad a spot to celebrate a birthday.
The weather was overcast and windy but still warm. We enquired about and promptly paid for a kayak and snorkel excursion and had only a few minutes in which to get changed into wet suits.
Ginette we managed to negotiate the price down from $45 dollars to $35 dollars – which felt like a bargain
The trip was an easy paddle from the beach over to a sheltered small set of islands just in front of the harbour, our guide was full of facts and useful information as we kayaked around the shore edge. We spotted Iguana, lots of crabs (we learnt that the many coloured crabs were all the same species but just different ages) herons, pelicans, we had numerous sea turtles swim near and under our kayaks and the icing on the top was the Galápagos penguins. These penguins don’t hang out in large colonies so we was lucky to spot 3 of these penguins resting on the rocks and even better when another one swam past us and joined them.
After this we kayaked to a shell at and had an hour snorkelling in which we spotted sharks, rays, Parrott fish and many other smaller fish.
The way back to the beach was over the choppy water and we caught a couple of waves to ride on.
Ginette – Gary says we caught a couple of waves on the way back this was purely down to his determination and excitement – fortunately the people in the kayaks ahead of us saw the funny side when we whizzed through the waves and mounted their boats. Bless him he can get a little carried away – but I wouldn’t change him for the world. It was a great birthday treat and one of the few birthdays I have not cried.
Tortoise, turtles and penguins
Still overcast and choppy seas, so we went for a walk to the tortoise breeding centre. We learnt that the tortoise lay the eggs and that the babies are then left to hatch and grow but that due to the non native species that have been introduced to the Galápagos these babies rarely survive. Hence these breeding centres also gather the eggs from wild sites and hatch and raise the tortoise until they are large enough to survive in the wild.
Later I hired a snorkel and mask and snorkelled a little sheltered bay called Concha Perla, spotting another 2 turtles a couple of puffer fish and various other fish
We was then treated to a few more penguins swimming close to the beach, in fact we saw more activity from them in the harbour than on our paid kayak trip
Ginette – I had a day off from snorkelling, I have developed a streaming cold, and didn’t want to risk giving it to anyone else by hiring a snorkel and mask. Seeing the penguins swimming in the harbour was a real treat.
2nd October – back to Santa Cruz
The ferry left early at 6am so an early wake up for us (04.40). It was a very bumpy ride and this time we had a good view out of the back of the boat. To add to the adventure the ferry ran out of fuel just within sight of Santa Cruz, they had to call one of the water taxis to come and bring fuel. It was only a 20 min wait bouncing in the choppy waters and we could see land.
Ginette – it was an interesting crossing, fortunately Gary and I have strong stomachs unfortunately 2 of the other passengers were not so lucky.
The rest of the day was spent settling into our new hostal and chilling, the day was very overcast so we decided to use the limited wifi to research where to go next.
Les Grietas and Tortuga bay
A sunny day in Santa Cruz
Ginette spent the first hour of the morning booking our flight back to Ecuador and I went for a walk around the local area.
Ginette – I had hoped to achieve so much more in an hour than simply book a short flight but the wifi was poor and I had all sorts of problems, many of the search engines insist on changing our surname from Corr to Run and on others they would not recognise some of the info inputted on their site, it was very frustrating.
We set off for Las Grietas, at 10.00am, Las Grietas is a natural water filled canyon, to get to it we had to take a short trip across the bay on a water taxi, then a walk along a track past posh hotels. Past another small beach and some ugly lagoons where they are harvesting sea salt.
Les Grietas is a popular spot and there were loads of other tourists at the first steps, I had read someone’s blog that mentioned that there were 3 ponds to this canyon so I snorkelled to the end of this busy first lagoon, climbed over some rocks into a smaller pool then over more rocks to the third pool.
This was much better, it seems the news about these other pools has not spread and I had it to myself. The water was about 8 metres deep and you could see right to the bottom, the fish here were fairly large and docile except for the Eel I spotted that did it’s best to hide away.
I enjoyed this area especially having the last pool to myself.
Ginette – I am still full of cold, so I decided to give the snorkelling a miss and instead opted to walk over the canyon, from the top, I could see clearly the fish below and video Gary climbing and snorkelling in the gorge.
We took the water taxi back to the port and after a pack lunch walked the 1.5 mile walk track through the sparse woods to the surfing beach of Tortuga bay. The red flags were up as the current is strong here, so we walked right to the end of the beach into a sheltered cove called Playa Mansa.
The sea was dead calm here and also very shallow, I snorkelled out and could still stand up from quite a way out. The snorkelling is not that good, even though it’s shallow the visibility isn’t great and there was not a great deal of sea life to sea anyway.
On the local news Ginette spotted that there was trouble in Ecuador, there are large protests about the removal of fuel subsidies and the government has declared a state of emergency, let’s hope this settles down as we fly back to Ecuador in 2 days time. At present taxi drivers are blocking the main roads and all public transport providers are on strike.
Ginette – On the topic of taxis, in Santa Cruz there is a fixed fee for all journeys and pick up trucks are used rather than cars.
4th October – last day on the Galapagos
Tide and time waits for no man.
Up early at 5.50 for the 7am ferry to San Cristobal, we reached the port at 6.30 and made the mistake of letting Gary have breakfast. In effect we ended up late even though we was at the port at 6.50. Apparently the ferry was loaded and gone already.
Walked back the 20 minutes to the hostel so Ginette could take advantage of the free breakfast (my breakfast cost over €50 due to missing the ferry).
Ginette – ouch! that was a hefty mistake and not one we can afford to make, money is running out fast – c’est la vie
Spent the day just chilling by the dock reading and playing Ukulele.
The ferry ride was bumpy and a lady fell over in the toilet area and hurt herself. This ferry only had 8 people on it, a stark contrast to the other overcrowded ferry trips.
Ginette – the health and safety on the ferries is non existent, this lady fell from a seat into the toilets and had to be taken to the hospital. There are no signs informing people that it will be extremely bumpy, putting those with bad backs, elderly and pregnant at serious risk of harm.
San Cristobal is still our favourite Island, it has seals and Iguanas in abundance right from the moment you get off the boat. We tried the same hostel as previous but no one was home, we was hoping that maybe the camera we had lost was there but with no one home this was not possible.
We walked back to the harbour front, one hostel we approached wanted to charge us $60 dollars for one night, but just around the corner actually closer to the waterfront we found a room in San Francisco hostel for $25. This is a big difference and I can see no real reason why the other would be so much more.
We ate out, the menu prices looked a bit steep but we asked if they had a menu of the day which is a set menu we was offered fish beans and rice for $5 each (half the price of any of the meals on the menu) it goes to show that you can get the prices right down with a bit of knowledge.
Ginette – it is without a doubt expensive to get to the Galapagos Islands, but the price of accommodation is low compared to the UK, however food and drink is probably about the same which is much higher than the rest of South America. Tours and transport around the islands is very expensive in total we have probably spent £1600 which includes flights from the main land approx £500, Island fees £200, Ferries £300, accommodation £200, food and drink £300, trips £70 (including $10 each additional fee for Isabela Island) and misc £30 (gifts for the xmas tree, pharmacy, toiletries etc).