Island Hopping: Galapagos Archipelago

Spring Break!!!!

Yes, we had a spring break while being here. And it was AMAZING. My last class was on March 15th and I left on the 16th for Santa Cruz, the most populated island. I did not come back to San Cristobal until March 24th because I had the whole week free. I went with 3 other girls in my program and we did not plan much beforehand because we wanted to have maximum flexibility. It worked out so well!!

Day 1

We left San Cristobal early in the morning on a speed boat. Tickets typically cost $30 dollars one-way and it is a 2 hour boat ride. Some boats are nicer than others and sometimes the waves are rough. This ride is not great for those who get sea sick. Luckily, I do not get sea sick and I enjoy it!

When we arrived to Santa Cruz, we looked for a restaurant with WiFi and breakfast. We went to The Rock, which is a popular spot. From there, we found a place to stay, Hospedaje Carliza 2, and walked inland to it. It was sort of far from the Malecon and the tourist area of the port, but that is what made it so cheap and within our budget. It had a kitchen too, so we were able to cook meals to save money, which worked out really well.

After resting a little, we bought some snacks, found the bank, and asked a taxi to take us to the lava tunnels in the highlands. I was lucky one of my friends already had a few ideas and did research on what to do. The lava tunnels are on the El Chato Tortise Reserve so we got to see both! It was cool walking through dark tunnels formed by lava and then see tortoises in the wild. It was a beautiful area and a great afternoon.

Day 2

This morning we woke up early and took a water taxi to Las Grietas, a popular snorkeling and swimming spot on the island. The water taxi drops you off near the trail to get there and you walk past Germany Beach and through a wetland to get there. It is a huge crack in the earth filled with water. The pool is deep and you can swim to the end if you climb a few rocks. The calm water is a nice place to hang out.

After Las Grietas, we bought tuna fish, cucumbers, and crackers for a refreshing lunch. Then we took the journey to the well known Tortuga Bay, a beautiful long beach with white sand and turquoise water. You can either walk on a path to get there, which takes roughly 30-45 minutes, or use a water taxi, which would be about $10 per person for one-way. We chose to walk and the path is incredibly gorgeous. When we arrived, we walked along Playa Brava, where you cannot swim due to strong currents, to get to Playa Mansa, the designated swimming area. We arrived late afternoon so we did not have much time, but we enjoyed seeing the baby sharks in the water and many iguanas.

Day 3

I had a friend travelling with me who was also scuba certified and we decided to do a dive in Santa Cruz! We woke up early to go to North Seymour, a small island, and Daphne Minor, an extinct volcano. Both dives were AMAZING! I saw hammerhead sharks, white tip reef sharks, eels, rays, and colorful fish. We dove with Eagle Ray Tours and would definitely dive with them again. They took great GoPro footage for us, check out videos on my Facebook Page (when I upload them)!

The dive trip was over by 3 pm and we were exhausted. However, we still had daylight to kill so we went to the Charles Darwin Research Station. On the way we found a beautiful ceramic garden with mosaics.

My favorite from the garden

At the station, we first looked inside at the exhibits, watched a short clip about research in the Galapagos, and put a stamp in our passports! There is also a breeding center for different species of tortoises from the different islands. In addition, you can see adults from different islands and view the morphological difference.

One of the biggest draws for many people is viewing the preserved body of Lonesome George, the last individual of the Pinta Island tortoise. You can read more about George’s legacy here.

Lonesome George and my brother’s reflection (Taken By: Mom)

Day 4

We woke up very early this day to catch our 7 am boat and traveled to Isabela Island. We arrived at the island again with no major plans so our first task was to find breakfast and a hostel. We ate breakfast and looked up places, eventually finding one that would work. We stayed at Hostal Cerro Azul and loved it. They had a kitchen and fun hammocks in the living room. It was also a perfect location!

After a recovery nap, we rented bikes and went south of the town to find a trail along the ocean. Before we reached the trail, we stopped at a trail where you could view flamingos in a pond/lake. There was a bridge that took you through and it was breathtaking to see these birds in person at Poza Puerta de Jelí.

We continued back to the road to follow the trail along the coast and through wetlands with the end goal of reaching El Muro de Las Lágrimas (The Wall of Tears). In the 1940s and 1950s, this wall was built by prisoners sent to the island from the mainland of Ecuador. They lived in a penal colony and were forced to build this wall to “keep them busy”. These prisoners faced harsh conditions and punishments. Viewing the height and the roughness of the lava rocks made me shiver as I thought about the pain they must have endured.

The wetlands we biked through are called Los Humedales del Sur de Isabela and in 2002 was named a Ramsar Site, Wetland of International Importance. The roughly 11km path features many trails off of it for different views, lava tunnel, beaches, and sites to see different mangrove forests.

We did not have much time to stop everywhere, but I went back a week later with my family and I was able to see much more and show them everything.

Day 5

The next day, we woke up and prepared to walk a lot. We had signed up for a tour to hike Sierra Negra Volcano. This is one of five of Isabela Island’s active volcanoes. The volcano last erupted in 2005 and the last recorded activity of the volcano is June 2018 after earthquakes opened up fissures.

The hiking trail is roughly 15km depending on which routes you take and takes about 5-6 hours for the round trip. Once you reach the rim, you can see the 6 mile wide and 300 feet deep caldera. For part of the trail, you hike around it seeing different angles of it. Eventually the paths turn into lava rock, but not just any ole lava rock…the most beautiful rocks. The colors were breathtaking.

During our hike, we got to see the area where there was activity in 2018. It was so surreal to think about how less than a year ago lava flowed where I was standing.

Although it was a lot of walking, it was not terribly difficult. I would highly suggest this activity!

Photo creds below to either Lucy, Lily, or Emily.

The sunsets on Isabela were also breathtaking…

Day 6

On the last day on Isabela, we went on a tour of Las Tintoreras, a group of small islets off the coast. The boat first takes you around to view different areas where there are groups of penguins and blue footed boobies. It was amazing to see so many cool birds at once! The is also an area the boat drops you off where there is a small 5 minute walk to view one of the cracks in the rocks where white tip reef sharks like to hang out. You also have the opportunity to go snorkeling in the bay and through the large cracks.

Later that afternoon, I went on the boat to go back to Santa Cruz with two other friends in the program. We spent that evening trying to decide what day tour we wanted to do the next day.

Day 7

We decided to go on a tour that took us to many places. We took a trip to go bird watching at the Daphne Islet, then snorkeling and enjoying the beach at Bahia Borerro, ending with a longer snorkel at Pinzon Island. We saw White tip reef sharks in the mangrove area and beautiful fish.

Day 8

On my last full day on Santa Cruz, I fulfilled my itching desire. I went scuba diving to Gordon Rocks, a dive site around the remains of a volcanic crater with 3 pinnacles sticking out above. It is often called “the washing machine” due the the strong currents and upwelling. For this reason, they suggest intermediate to advanced divers only do this. One dive master once told me, the number of dives and the experience does not determine someone’s ability to scuba dive. Although I only had a few recreational dives under my belt, I felt confident that I could do the dive. I booked through Eagle Ray Tours again, but they sent me with their friend’s company since they were not going that day. I ended up going with Jesse from SharkBay Dive Center, who had no issue taking me to Gordon with my dive experience. It was amazing and they did a fantastic job during the whole day. It was an awesome dive.

We saw so many things….hammer head sharks, fish, Galapagos sharks, rays, etc…These are some stills of my footage!

Here’s some stills from SharkBay Dive Center!

The day was finished with a quick trip to the fish marke where you can see all the Galapagos animals surround fishermen as they return with their catch.

Day 9

The next day, I came back to San Cristobal just in time to meet my family from the United States at the airport for their visit on the Galapagos for a week. 🙂

I took them to see all the beaches on the island, to Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido), a tour of the highlands, including El Junco (freshwater lake), Galapaguera (tortoise reserve), and Puerto Chino. In addition, we did a quick trip to Santa Cruz Island for the Charles Darwin Research Station and to Isabela Island for a night to enjoy the biking and the views.

It was nice to have a little taste of home, but it also reminded me I was going home soon. The last 6 weeks went by so fast and we were all really upset to even think about leaving the island, our new home.

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