South America – Ecuador
Galapagos Islands – 38.1324° S, 33.2808° W
Volcanic Archipelago… Wildlife … Charles Darwin
72hrJetsetterGirl could not wait to visit the Galapagos Islands as part of her Ecuador Adventure. The natural wonder had always been on her bucket visit and seeing a reasonably priced package deal she jumped at the opportunity to explore Ecuador and the Islands. Usually 72hrJetsetterGirl is an independent traveler, however she though the small group tour would take the stress out of navigating around Ecuador and island hopping in the Galapagos.
With a very early wake up call to make the 8:10am flight from Guayaquil to Baltra Island, Vivian the tour guide ensured that the group accomplished all what was required prior to obtaining their boarding pass. No just rocking up to the check in counter for the Tame Airline Flight for a flight to the Galapagos. First the luggage needs to be scanned for any fruit, seeds etc and secured and then a migration card needs to be purchased before even thinking about going to the check-in counter.
72hrJetsetterGirl has noticed when traveling in Latin America, that folks do not form queues as such, rather everyone just merges together, which can be a challenge knowing if you are “merging” for the right thing. Ok, all the pre-work has been completed now time to check in.
A boarding card was obtained with a seat assignment. However, when traveling with Tame Airlines, 72hrJetsetterGirl received a seat assignment but was quickly advised that it does not mean anything – its open seating in other words a free for all – the survival of the fitness LOL! That will be interesting. However, with all of this additional checking in responsibility, 72hrJetsetterGirl’s mood was still high – she was going to the GALAPAGOS!! Woo Woo! Time to bid farewell to our guide Vivian as we passed through security.
The domino effect
Whilst pursuing her boarding pass, 72hrJetsetterGirl notice that the departure time has changed to 11am instead of 8:10am. There was heavy fog in Guayaquil and this delayed the inbound plane from Quito – Ok fair call. Then that 11am departure then turned into a cancelled flight, then turned into a different flight number leaving at 12:30 and then back to the original flight number departing at 1:30pm. MMMM…. Interesting – this was 72hrJetsetterGirl’s first adventure on an Ecuadorian low-cost carrier and probably her last!. However, they did provide a complimentary snack and beverage during the wait. 72hrJetsetterGirl was impressed by this kind gesture and the Wi-Fi in Guayaquil airport was awesome. Just imagine the tension if there was no Wi-Fi connection? Mutiny??
Even with these tribulations, 72hrJetsetterGirl remained upbeat as she was off to the Galapagos! Seat belts tighten and ready for take-off at 2pm to Baltra Island (the airport on the Galapagos).
Not all going to plan
72hrJetsetterGirl was now beaming as the plane landed on Baltra Island – finally made it and now ready for the real adventure of exploring the Galapagos. Let the adventure begin… yes it was certainly a different adventure that unfolded.
After clearing immigration and paying the National Park entrance fee to visit the Galapagos (the fee aids the sustainability of the island), 72hrJetsetterGirl patiently waited for her luggage. Whilst watching the custom dogs leap onto the luggage to check for any nasties, 72hrJetsetterGirl thought gee that must be the first load of luggage from the plane. Once the K9 had done its duty the luggage was available for collection, only problem 72hrJetsetterGirl’s luggage was not on the rack (no carousal as such here). Then to be advised that not all the luggage had made it as a smaller aircraft was used and actually many passengers were bumped from the flight. Ok – 72hrJetsetterGirl was happy to be in Baltra Island however, having only her Ecuadorian souvenirs (a stuffed Llama and warrior mask) in her carry on – she was up the creek in a barbed wired canoe.
Help is on the way!
Luckily the naturalist who was meeting the group also acted as a tour guide in gathering the details for the lost luggage. However, she did remind the group several times that she is a not a tour guide but felt sorry for us so she helped out, given that none of us spoke fluent Spanish.
Before leaving the terminal, the group were advised that the luggage “might” arrive tomorrow, however it was not certain. Slight problem, the tour group will be leaving Santa Cruz Island early the next day for Isabela Island and would not be back for another 2 days. Hence 72hrJetsetterGirl would be wearing her current attire for the next 3 days – Wonderful!
The adventure continues
With long faces, the group boarded the public bus from the airport to be transported to a water ferry at the dock on Baltra Island some 10 minutes away. Once at the dock, it was time to fasten life jackets and board the ferry to Santa Cruz island. At this stage 72hrJetsetterGirl is glad that she was part of a tour.
After the brief ferry ride, it was then another 40 minutes in a mini bus to the supposed “highlight” of the day – a tour of the Land Tortoises Sanctuary. One positive,72hrJetsetterGirl did not have to luge her luggage on and off the ferry – thankful for small mercies.
Rolling in the Mud
A twinkle in 72hrJetsetterGirl’s eye appeared when she saw the large land tortoises rolling around in the mud. On the Galapagos, the land tortoises are the king you could say, they get preference for all the water during the dry season. The largest tortoises are male and around 100 years old. An interesting fact is that tortoises start reproducing around 40-50 years of age.
Sometimes 72hrJetsetterGirl is not that quick off the mark when videoing on her phone, however she does make it this time as these tortoises are definitely no Jaguars. They move very very slowly, in a 1 minute video the giant land tortoise has only taken a couple of steps.
As the majority of the group did not receive their luggage, this created another spontaneous fun activity – shopping in Santa Cruz Island. NOT! Just to set the scene, the population of the island is around 20,000 – so there is no Target or Walmart, just very expensive tourist shops and a mini market selling the essentials at astronomical prices. This actually involved being very creative as the shops did not accept credit cards so careful budgeting was required as not to spend too much of the small US$$s as large notes were not accepted on the Island. 72hrJetsetterGirl was being to think is this still a dream trip??
Do you like my Booby??
72hrJetsetterGirl purchased just the absolute essentials she needed to last until she was reunited with her luggage. Usually not one for the touristic t-shirt, but desperate times, call for desperate measures and she purchased a tie-dye Blue Footed Booby t-shirt which did coordinate very well with her pants and pink sneakers. Trying to look as fashionable as possible, given the circumstances.
Upon arrival at the accommodation, the group was introduced to their “Host”, Jimmy, for the Galapagos Islands to provide them with all the essential details – times, places, activities, what to take (in 72hrJetsetterGirl’s case that was minimal), what to expect the next day etc. The group soon learnt that Jimmy was not that good on the details.
Minor Details missed… Actually, Major details not communicated
72hrJetsetterGirl put on her new t-shirt and her happy face for the adventure to Isabela Island to see WILDLIFE. Yeah Baby! Boarding a water taxi to be ferried to a speed boat for the ride to Isabela Island, the tour group was ready to wash away the pain of the last day. There were certainly cheers of joy for the first 10 minutes of riding the waves of the Pacific, only to learn that this crashing of the waves was going to keep going for the next 2 and a half hours. Jimmy omitted to tell the group about the duration of boat ride and the “roughness” of water, so there was no opportunity to pop those sea sick tablets to settle oneself for the journey.
72hrJetsetterGirl does not usually suffer from motion sickness, and carefully positioned her lifejacket over her clothes (remember this is her only outfit for the next 2 days) to avoid any mishaps that might occur from those around her (hope you are getting the drift). However, after one and half hours of this speedboat action she became very acquainted with the black plastic bags as well. Being sick on a boat in very rough waters is definitely not a “relaxing speedboat” ride as described in the itinerary.
Every cloud has a silver lining
As this was the group 10th day of being together, the bond was certainly strong amongst us and after this experience it became greater. Those who were able to ride out the speedboat journey were on hand to assist those feeling under the weather, it was friendship at its best! You do not see need to see pics for this activity!
Feeling Like the Pope
Upon arrival at Isabela Island, once again we were ferried from the speedboat to the dock via a water taxi. Feeling grateful to be on terra firma, the majority of the group were ready to kiss the ground. 72hrJetsetterGirl was ready to kiss the seals snoozing on the sand. How cute!
By this stage, the group’s patience took a turn for the worst, another surprise? Yes, you better believe it! only to be advised that we had to pay a $10 entrance fee to Isabela Island – another detail missed by Jimmy. At this stage, 72hrJetsetterGirl’s surplus spending money was on the downward slope. The only way is up?? Wrong, after 15 minutes waiting on the dock, our local guide finally appeared to take us to the hotel, minor issue the transportation vehicle could not fit everyone in! Does it get any better?
At this stage, the majority of the group are at their wits end. 72hrJetsetterGirl tried to take a positive approach and think about all this great material for her blog! Hopefully these minor hiccups will be a thing of the past once we see all this wildlife!
Time to Explore!
Julio, the new guide advised us to pack our swimwear as the afternoon’s activities will be a boat ride to Grieta Tintoreras Inlet and then snorkeling afterwards. Well, of a group 19 only four people had “swimwear” – others improvised. 72hrJetsetterGirl passed on the snorkeling options.
Thankfully the boat ride to Grieta Tintoreras Inlet was calm and serene. Hallelujah! Our first glimpse of wildlife – a seal sunny himself on the back of an abandon boat. The mood of the group had reached a new level. The Oohs and Aahs were in full force; more soothing sounds from the group than the sounds some of us were experiencing on the speedboat ride just a couple of hours earlier.
Octane Level increase
Just when you thought everyone was excited to see the Seal, the decibels increased when two blue footed boobies were spotted on the rocks ahead. As everyone was keen to get this photo opportunity, 72hrJetsetterGirl felt the front of the boat getting a little deeper into the water, oh well it was for that awesome pic. Julio then went onto advised that we were lucky to see these birds here today. Mmmmm.. 72hrJetsetterGirl was not expecting to hear that comment.
Jose guided us around the lava island, for our first Galapagos wildlife adventure! Sticking to the nature path, 72hrJetsetterGirl became distracted by trying to get that perfect picture of a Sally Lightfoot crab and nearly put her foot right into a group of marine iguanas as they blend into the natural surroundings.
How many are there?
The inlet was literally overrun with marine iguanas, so was 72hrJetsetterGirl’s photo stream – how many pics of these creatures do you really need? Try 168 photos to be exact – want to get pics of the wildlife. There were big ones, small ones and baby ones, each proposing for a photo shoot whilst hissing saltwater out of their mouths. There was a kind of a strange smell on the island.
If 72hrJetsetterGirl had seen one marine iguana she must have seen thousands more, but not much other wildlife. Yes, a couple of marine turtle poked their heads out of the water in the bay of the inlet and were definitely too fast for 72hrJetsetterGirl to take a pic. Hopefully she will see some more! With the emphasis on hopefully.
Birds of a feather flock together?
Well in the case of the Great Blue Heron, they do not flock together, as there was only one cruising the inlet. Yes it was certainly a very find specimen.
Are the animals on holidays?
To be honest 72hrJetsetterGirl was disappointed on the different species of wildlife she saw on Inlet. Yep there was a substantial number of marine iguanas, but very little of birds or marine life. Did 72hrJetsetterGirl have too high expectations of the Galapagos? Julio did advise that after snorkeling the group would be visiting Flamingo Lagoon. 72hrJetsetterGirl just loves flamingos and was so looking forward to seeing a lagoon of flamingos.
Time to get wet
Next activity was snorkeling, as the water was a touch chilly and lack of a swimsuit, 72hrJetsetterGirl decided to go through her 168 photos of marine iguanas, and 48 photos of the one grey blue heron instead. Those who did snorkel enjoyed but were rather disappointed with the amount of sea life on offering.
The Flamingo Lagoon
72hrJetsetterGirl was sooo hyped to see the LAGOON of flamingos as promised by Julio. Oh memories of her time in Curacao and visiting the flamingos there came flooding back, of course the flamingos on the Galapogos would be so much better than Curacao – do you think??
Upon enter the mangrove swamp lagoon area, 72hrJetsetterGirl’s jaw dropped as south as the Pacific Ocean could go. “Lagoon of Flamingos” mmmm…there was one flamingo in the “Lagoon of Flamingos”. Julio did go onto say that the flamingos are not native to the Galapagos and the handful of flamingos that are on the island got there because they were lost. Unfortunately, the Galapagos wildlife adventure is not turning out as 72hrJetsetterGirl had hoped.
Time to drink your sorrows and prepare for tomorrow!
As the deflated 72hrJetsetterGirl made her way back to the accommodation with the rest of the group, it was time for the group to turn those frowns of disappointment upside down at Happy Hour at the Booby Bar to watch a lovely sunset.
Whilst sipping cocktails, thoughts moved to the dreaded boat ride back to Santa Cruz tomorrow afternoon. The group had been advised that it will be a bigger boat and calmer waters – however there was a level of uncertainly amongst the group, so after Happy Hour 72hrJetsetterGirl hit the local pharmacy for the drugs….Dramamine the drug of choice.
A Volcano hike
The last activity on Isabela Island for the group was either snorkeling the tunnels (Los Tuneles) or a 15km hike to one of the island’s active volcano – Volcan Sierra Negra. As 72hrJetsetterGirl does not like getting her hair wet the hike it was!
Sierra Negra (Black Mountain) last erupted in 2005 and has an elevation of 1,124 metres. It was a 15 km hike that traversed the rim of the caldera along the east side before heading into the fresh lava fields at the north east corner of the main crater.
Ready to depart
The time had come to depart Isabela Island to go back to Santa Cruz and to be reunited with the delayed luggage. Those feeling under the weather on the initial journey were given prime positions on the larger speedboat – out the back deck in the fresh air with eyes fixed on the horizon. 72hrJetsetterGirl has never been so relieved to see three engines on a speedboat – yes a quicker return! Fortunately, on the return journey, the boat is going with the tide rather than pushing against it.
Happy to report that no black plastic bags were used on the return! Happy Days.
Due to the delayed flight, the group missed out on visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station on the first day on Santa Cruz Island, so there was a quick stop before heading to the airport for the flights back home.
The Nuts and Bolts of this Wildlife Adventure
Why this Destination?
- The Galapagos Islands have always been on 72hrJetsetterGirl’s bucket list to see all the wonderful wildlife.
- You need to do your research before going to the Galapagos. 72hrJetsetterGirl had booked 12 day Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands guided tour. In hindsight, there are 10 islands in the Galapagos and 7hrJetsetterGirl only visited two. To get the most of visiting the Galapagos you would need to visit more than Santa Cruz and Isabela Islands and be a scuba diver or be good at snorkelling. Most of the amazing wildlife on the Galapagos is under the water. Tours on the islands can only be guided by certified naturalist on the Galapagos – ie no self guiding allowed. Also depending on the time of the year, the waters in the Galapagos can be quite rough – which will impact snorkeling and not to mention the boat ride from Santa Cruz to Isabela. Also note if you intend to Island hop, be prepared to pay a national park fee to visit.
- 3 nights, 4 days. 2 nights on Santa Cruz Island (1st and last night) and one night on Isabela Island.
- Water taxis and speedboats. Upon arrival on Baltra Island, there is a public bus service that commutes between the airport and dock where the boats leave for Santa Cruz Island. Once on Santa Cruz it is about a 40 minute ride to the town.
What to take
- In 72hrJetsetterGirl’s case this was not really a concern as her luggage did not arrive until the last day. Wet suits can be hired as the water temperature was quite cool when 72hrJetsetterGirl was visiting. No ball gowns are required! LOL!.
In all honesty, 72hrJetsetterGirl was disappointed in her visit to the Galapagos Islands. She thought that the animals had gone on holidays during her visit. However, the highlight of the trip was the comradery with her fellow travelers that made the trip the Galapagos enjoyable one she will remember.