After Quito, our next destination was Galapagos Islands. We decided to cover two islands — Santa Cruz and Isabela. Flight from Quito to Galapagos takes around 3.5 hours. There are a large number of tourist companies with cruises that take you around all the islands in 5 - 10 days. We didn't go for a cruise as we get sea sick very easily plus it was on the higher side of our budget. Lots of last minute deals are available in the town of Puerto Ayora which are much cheaper than online or agencies selling in Quito. We preferred to explore the island on our own rather than taking any cruise.
Baltra is the main airport in Galapagos - we landed at around 3 pm. All tourists need to go through immigration and pay $100 mandatory fees which include access to Galapagos National Park. The vegetation outside the airport was quite barren, arid and full of cactus plants. After we got out of the airport, we boarded a bus for Santa Cruz Island. It was a 15 min ride then we took a ferry to cross Itabaca channel to reach Santa Cruz Island. Turquoise colored water and greenery around Itabaca channel were really amazing. Puerto Ayora is a major town of Santa Cruz which is at the exact opposite side of the island where the ferry drops you from the airport. Next, we took another bus to Puerto Ayora which charged around $2 and took 40 minutes to reach the town.
After we got off the bus, we searched for our hostel which we had pre-booked from Quito. We stayed at Hostel Espana and it was not a good experience. The staff didn’t really care plus their super slow wifi was only in the main lobby area. We got a room on the 4th floor so it was less noisy but a long stair walk. We just felt that we paid a high price for the very basic services they provided.
Santa Cruz island is the main tourist hub of Galapagos because of its proximity to Baltra airport which makes everything expensive here. We preferred to shop from the big superstore near the dock which was more reasonable price-wise. There are umpteen number of restaurants on Charles Darwin avenue with a lot of options to eat. We ate a lot of pizzas over there — we loved the restaurant named Pizzas (a very convenient name) on the main street.
Next day, we visited Charles Darwin center which was a bit of a disappointment. Most of the shops in the area were closed and the place appeared to be run down. However, we did see a land Iguana and some tortoises. On our way back, we saw a few marine iguanas outside of Charles Darwin center. We passed through the fish market where we saw some birds and seals waiting for the fresh fish. It was amazing to see how comfortable these animals were around human beings.
Next day, we went to see Charles Darwin center again. It was same as the previous day with a few more open shops. We took more pictures there and then headed for Tortuga Bay. In order to go to Tortuga beach, you have to first signup at the gate and then hike for about 1.5 miles. Here we saw a lot of marine iguanas basking in the beautiful white sand beach. The beach itself is really pretty. After soaking in the sun for a few hours with the Iguanas, we headed back to our hostel. A light drizzle on our way back was a respite from the hot sun.
Next, we went to see Lava Tunnels and El Chato Reserve. El Chato Reserve houses lots of giant tortoises. Here we saw hundreds of tortoise in their natural habitat immersing themselves in water and mud. Tortoises are pretty shy creatures and they hiss like a snake if you try to come too close as a preventive measure.
Giant tortoise Pee ka boo... Next morning we left for Isabela Island. It was a rough 2-hour ferry ride — we felt like we were on a roller coaster which made us nauseous. As a result, we spent the rest of our day sleeping in the hostel. Here we stayed in Hostel Insula which was clean and had very helpful staff. Isabela is a beautiful island that is less inhabited than Santa Cruz. Most places here serve really good sea food, coffee and rice with chicken and vegetables. Isabela island is full of marine iguanas, crabs, blue-footed boobies, seals, and penguins.
Next day we decided to visit Las Tintoreras — it’s an islet about 30 min boat ride from Isabela. We did a small tour where they took us to see sharks as well as more marine iguanas. We saw penguins and blue-footed boobies along the way plus lots of crabs.
After seeing Tintoreras, we headed for snorkeling. I did some snorkeling but later returned back to my boat because I saw a sting ray very close to me. There were lots of turtles and black fishes in the water. Later Saurabh and I did some snorkeling near the shore. It was fun! The water around the shore had penguins as well as sea lions. You can look under the water and see them moving with you. The sea lions are very calm and float next to you.
After Tintoreras next day we planned to hike Volcano Negra and Chico. It was an amazing but strenuous hike - the vegetation around volcano area changed really fast. We started from a wet cold climate then moved to a nice sunny green vegetation and finally to a hot and rocky landscape. Our first stop was Volcano Negra. This volcano is one of the most active volcanoes of Galapagos and had the last eruption in 2005.
We then continued our journey to Volcano Chico. On our way we saw lots of Guava trees - our guide told us that guava trees are kind of weed here as each guava has more than 5000 seeds which spread across the island easily via birds. As a result, the whole area is covered with Guava trees. It got really hot as we approached the crater. There were ash and rock everywhere but the sight was very beautiful. We had a quick lunch and then headed back to our starting point. It was tougher on the way back as most of the trek was uphill.
Start of 16km hike Volcano Negro - last eruption in 2005 Hiking Volcano Chico Volcano Chico The next day we took ferry back to Santa Cruz island. This time we were prepared and decided to sit at the back of the boat instead of front which helped us with sea sickness. After coming back to Santa Cruz, we stayed for another night in a hostel. Next day early morning we took cab back to Itabaca channel, then a ferry and bus ride back to aiport. Galapagos islands was an amazing and very unique experience for us which was well beyond our imagination. Overall, we had wonderful time - it’s a beautiful place full of exotic wildlife and plants surrounded by majestic blue water.