THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
Before arriving to South America, if you were to ask me the number one destination that I was most excited about visiting, I would have answered: The Galapagos Islands. These islands have always been a dreamy fantasy lingering in the back of my mind ever since I first watched earth documentaries in my high school science class. I really didn’t know much about them or that they were even a part of Ecuador. I only knew that they had massive iguanas that looked like dragons, abundant marine life unlike anywhere else on earth, and numerous volcanoes. Little did I know that there was so much more!
The Galapagos are a chain of islands off the coast of South America formed very similar to the Hawaii Islands. Many years ago, massive volcanic mountains emerged under the ocean forming peaks resting above the ocean’s surface. There are 21 total islands with a population of about 25,000 people living on only a few of them. Ninety-seven percent of the island chain is considered National Park territory with strict regulations conserving this unique habitat. Charles Darwin’s voyage and documentation of the vast number of endemic species living on these islands significantly increased awareness of this enchanting paradise. What I found most fascinating was reading about the first recorded humans visiting the islands in the 1500s and that permanent settlements didn’t even occur until the 1800s.
OUR ARRIVAL ON THE ISLANDS
When we first stepped foot on Baltra Island, we were greeted by the world’s first “green” airport with tall ceilings, massive fans, and gigantic vented windows. After grabbing our bags and taking a free five minute shuttle through the desert terrain, we hopped on a ferry boat ($1) to Santa Cruz (the most developed island in the chain). The next leg of the journey was another bus shuttle ($2) for an hour across the center of the island to Puerto Ayora (the major port town.)
Unfortunately, we hadn’t heard from our Workaway volunteer host in weeks and didn’t even know if we were still confirmed to work there. Once again, we truly had no idea what our plan was on the islands, but had complete faith that everything would work out. We strolled around the town asking people for directions to Galapagos Native Hotel and when we walked in, the hotel owner looked a bit surprised to see us. Luckily, he escorted us to the volunteer hotel room without any issues.
Several hours later, we received an email from the founder of iGalapagos (a local environmental organization) asking us to stay on San Cristobal Island and write two research articles for his website. We were stoked! The problem was that he wanted us to hop islands as soon as possible, but we were already committed with volunteering on Santa Cruz Island. I walked into the restaurant and asked Joffre (the hotel owner) if we could return in a week to volunteer at his property. I further explained our purpose for traveling across South America and he was eager to have us return in a week and help him improve the hotel website photos, the English verbiage throughout the website, and his new restaurant menu.
THE JOURNEY TO SAN CRISTOBAL ISLAND
The following morning, we departed on the two hour speed boat ride across the trecherous ocean to San Cristobal Island. Both Corinne and I get sea sick on rough waters, so we ended up squeezing each other’s hands trying to survive the journey the entire time. Luckily, we were able to climb the ladder and sit on the top of the boat beside the captain. The views were stunning! We took in the crisp ocean breezes, listened to our music, and soaked up the entire breathtaking journey.
→ TIP: The speed boat shuttles cost $30 one way to the other islands. During the months of June to October, the ocean is extremely rough and sea sickness is very common among travelers. We recommend trying to sit up on the top of the boat with the captain or finding a seat in the lower/back of the boat facing in the direction the boat is moving. Good luck!
When we arrived on Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, we were shocked by the number of sea lions sleeping on boats, chasing each other on the sand, and barking for attention. We found our accommodation for the week, Hostal Los Algarrobos, and prepared for our work assignments. For more information on both of our environmental awareness articles that we wrote for iGalapagos, click here and here.
PRISTINE BEACH NEAR TOWN
Our favorite beach, about a thirty minute walk from town, was called La Loberia. Here you can find beautiful white sand and bright blue water. While Corinne relaxed under the golden sun listening to her podcasts, I jumped in the water for a quick snorkel. Within the protected cove is some of the clearest water that I have ever swam in my life. Bright, colorful fish scurried around in schools swarming the captivating reef below. After only a few minutes, I spotted my first Galapagos sea turtle. It was MASSIVE! It was easily double the size of any sea turtle that I swam with while living in Hawai'i. After chilling with my new buddy, I headed back into shore to snooze next to Corinne under the sun. With only a $2 snorkel rental, this is an incredible low cost experience!
OUR FAVORITE LAND ADVENTURE
Several days later, we decided to take a break from our work assignments and head across the island. We rented bikes ($15) and took a taxi ($5) to the highest point of the island to Laguna El Junco. This is the only fresh water crater lake in the entire Galapagos and has a beautiful thirty minute trail surrounding the circumference. After our leisurely stroll taking in the breathtaking views, we hopped on our bikes and cruised down the steep mountain to the other side of the island. Along the side of the road, we stopped at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado, which is a Galapagos Tortoise nesting area to protect these incredible creatures. We were able to see a wide range of tortoises from all different ages. These gentle giants can live up to 180 years old! After walking the loop trail, we hopped back on our bikes and headed to the end of the road. There’s a fifteen minute trail which takes you directly to a pristine, white sand beach to relax for the rest of the day. This was our favorite full day adventure on the island!
→ TIP: There are numerous taxi drivers that wait at the trailhead. We recommend taking a taxi ($5) back up to the top of the mountain so that you can cruise along the bike path all the way back down to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. This is the perfect day trip for only $25, and you get to see so much of the island!
SWIMMING WITH SHARKS
If you were to ask any tour agency in town, they’d tell you that Kicker Rock is the ultimate scuba and snorkel trip departing from the island. We completely agree! This incredible mini island is off the coast of San Cristobal with frequent marine life visiting this underwater haven. Unfortunately, due to a spontaneous lung collapse while I was younger, I wasn't able to scuba dive, but snorkeling was a blast! For the first fifteen minutes, one of the playful sea lions jumped in the water and swam beside me joining my snorkeling adventure! The reef was one of the most colorful that I had ever seen, and luckily, the sun peered through the clouds for nearly my entire experience. While I was hugging the surface, Corinne was deep below scuba diving in the eerie dark waters with several Galapagos sharks circling around her! It’s known by locals that sharks here are “human vegetarians” due to the abundant food sources throughout the islands.
→ TIP: This was our most expensive experience of the trip. The Kicker Rock snorkel costs $110 and the scuba dive is $160. We walked around to numerous travel agencies and they were all giving the same price. Try to go directly to the scuba dive shops and negotiate with them rather than choosing a tour agency office to book.
Stay tuned for our upcoming blog post discovering the wonders on Santa Cruz Island, volunteering at an Eco-Hotel, helping open up a new restaurant, and working in one of the first farms on the island!