The next chapter of our South American adventure was all about Galapagos but our gateway to the islands was the capital of Ecuador, Quito, nestled within the Andes mountains. This was just a short overnight stopover initially, made even shorter by a number of delays to our flights across from Rio! We did get to enjoy a spectacular sunset though!
The next morning, we had a three hour flight across to Galapagos’ main airport on Baltra Island. The flight is a bit weird as you take off from Quito but land briefly at Guayaquil to pick up a few more passengers and cargo before the last leg to Baltra. Once you’re on Baltra there’s a bus from the airport to the Ithaca Channel, followed by a short taxi boat to Santa Cruz island and finally a bus to the local town of Puerto Ayora. Galapagos is made up of lots of different micro climates causing the weather to dramatically change within short distances so even in this short bus ride we saw hot and cold weather. You need to be prepared for all weather on Galapagos!
We also got our first glimpse of wild Galapagos tortoises on our drive to the local town while the bus driver dodged the iguanas on the road that really weren’t fazed by the vehicles passing by. Wildlife was a theme that was going to continue throughout this trip. Arriving into Puerto Ayora, initially we were both really surprised with just how built up and touristy Santa Cruz is. We kind of expected a more remote island.
Charles Darwin Centre
Once we had checked in to the hotel we headed towards the Charles Darwin Centre. Along the trail, we saw lots of iguanas, lizards, sea lions and crabs just everywhere! It was incredible to see how they all lived alongside each other and weren’t bothered about us humans at all. Rich now refers to the Galapagos as a Disneyland for wildlife.
At the centre, there are a number of iguanas and tortoises in captivity. We got to meet Super Diego, the Galapagos tortoise who has fathered approximately 800 tortoises saving his particular species from extinction. The centre looks after over one thousand tortoises until they are three years old when the shell is hard enough for them to be released into the wild (or in some cases a bit later depending on when a helicopter can be borrowed to lift them up to the highlands). Rich and I have been so inspired by the conversation work these guys are doing we are going to do some fundraising when we are home for the centre – more about this to follow in a later blog!
The next morning we were up early and popped over to the fish market and saw all the sea lions, pelicans and birds doing there part to ‘help’ the fishmongers – eating the days catch! To be fair, they’re surprisingly well behaved.
‘Live Blue Planet’
The rest of the morning allowed us to head over on the trail past Playa Los Alemanes (German Beach) to Camino a Las Grietas. The different ecosystems along the trail are astonishing. One minute you are going through a cactus forest, then past a pink salt lake before finishing up at a beautiful clear water creek in the rocks – perfect for a quick dip.
On our way back to catch the water taxi we had the first of our really magic Galapagos moments when we took a quick break at Playa Los Alemanes. We were just casually taking a stroll in the water when a sea lion suddenly appeared and darted towards us. Despite it first appearing like we were going to be that morning’s meal, thankfully the sea lion had decided to go for the fish option. We were able to watch it corner a shoal of fish and were able to watch the sea lion flying through the water and the fish jumping out of the water in an attempt to escape. It was like a live episode of Blue Planet right in front of us – truly magic.
After drying ourselves off, it was time to head to Floreana island – the first of many boat trips ?
Make sure you have cash in US dollars ready to pay for the Galapagos transit card ($20 payable at Quito airport) and then the tourist entry fee of $100 (payable at Baltra airport). This goes towards conservation of the islands.