USFQ operates on a semester system as opposed to OSU’s quarter system, so we had a mid-semester break of one week. This presented a perfect opportunity to travel around Ecuador or to nearby countries. I chose to go on a 7-day tour of the Galapagos with a group of my friends from Oregon. It was an incredible (albeit tiring) trip!
We started by flying to the island of Baltra, a small desert island with the airport and the remains of a military base from WWII. This meant that we had to take a small ferry across the channel to Santa Cruz, the most populated island in the Galapagos. We met our guide Mauricio and then had a 45 minute ride across the island to the town of Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the Galapagos. I was surprised to see that there was agriculture in the highlands of the island (which receive more rain and look more tropical). However, you’ll be glad to know that 97% of the land in the Galapagos is national park and only 3% populated.
Our first day consisted of a trip back to the highlands of the island to see Los Gemelos (two giant volcanic craters) and a tortoise reserve. The tortoises were gigantic! They just moved slowly and ate the grasses. We also saw how they walked in a pool of mud because of the minerals. The same place also had a small lava tube that we visited.
The next day was our trip to Bartolome. We took a large boat on a two hour ride and sat out front, where we could see turtle swimming by, birds, and manta rays jumping. We arrived to a beautiful uninhabited island with perfectly colored light blue water. There was an aggressive male sea lion on the steps that had to be shooed away by the guide before we could get off. Iguanas were basking in the sun on the steps along with crabs. We hiked up the small volcano to see the most iconic panorama of the Galapagos. Afterwards we went snorkeling off of a beach on Santiago (just across the channel). Unfortunately my mask was leaking into my nose, but I was still able to see a giant turtle, some fish and some sea lions.
We stayed on Santa Cruz for the third day. The first place we went was Tortuga Bay, which has one of the biggest and most beautiful beaches on the Galapagos Islands. It was a long walk to get there, but the beach was big and sandy with super fine, white sand, and beautiful water. We walked along the beach until we reached the end of the sandy beach, where there were tons of iguanas waking up and moving down the beach to feed. We saw three blue-footed boobies on the rocks and then went to a beach on a small inlet. Since I can’t swim well, I opted to rent a kayak and go out on the inlet. I’m glad I did, because I was able to see tons of sharks along with some fish and corals. The second portion of the day was a bay tour close to Puerto Ayora, where we went snorkeling and did a short hike. There wasn’t a whole lot new to see there.
We spent the next two days (and one night) on Isabela, the largest of the islands. After a long and bumpy boat ride, we arrived at the most beautiful harbor I have ever seen. Puerto Villamil is the largest (and perhaps the only) town on Isabela, but is still very small in comparison to Puerto Ayora. We started seeing wildlife as soon as we arrived at the dock. There were tons of sea lions, birds (including penguins), fish, and even rays. Our first stop was the tortoise breeding facility, where we got to see all different sizes of tortoises. Next we passed by white sand beaches as we went to Muro de Lagrimas, a wall built by Ecuadorian prisoners during the 1940s and 1950s. Nearby there was viewpoint with an expansive view of that side of the island. The second half of the day, after lunch, was our boat tour in the bay where we snorkeled and hiked. This may have been the highlight of my entire trip. We went in a small sheltered bay and saw whole families of sea turtles, golden rays, tons of fish, and even corals. The hike afterwards also didn’t disappoint as we walked over lava rocks to see penguins, iguanas huddled together, sea lions, and a small channel with at least a dozen sharks. We went to an eco lodge, where we slept in tents, for the night. It was situated in a beautiful garden with fruit trees, palm trees, and a small tortoise reserve. The area was lush and reminded me a lot of Hawaii.
Our next day on Isabela consisted of a tour of Volcan Sierra Negra, an active volcanic crater that filled with lava in 2005. The crater was very expansive. It took quite a while to hike only a quarter to a third of the way around it. We finished the hike by walking on recent lava flows until we had a view of the north side of the island. The afternoon consisted of our boat ride back to Santa Cruz.
The final full day was spent going to Floreana, another island. This island has hardly any people on it now but a rich history in the past. We went to the highlands where there is a freshwater spring that has sustained the population on the island and still does today. Floreana served as a safe haven for pirates throughout the centuries, because it was remote, there were caves to hide in, and fresh water. There were also many mysterious haunted stories of disappearances, etc. The highlands of Floreana were also lush and green, mostly with native plants, unlike Isabela which had many nonnative plants. Afterwards we went snorkeling and had some time to just relax on a beautiful black sand beach before returning to Santa Cruz. The final evening was very relaxing. We saw the sunset and then went to the dock where we saw a few sharks and rays.
Despite being tired, I decided to wake up early to see the sunrise on my last day. The Hinkles and I saw it from the harbor and then decided to walk quickly to Tortuga Bay for one last time to see the beach and the animals there. Afterwards, our whole group packed up and went to the Charles Darwin Center to see the tortoise breeding program and view land iguanas in captivity (difficult to find in the wild). The last free time was spent on a small beach at the station before heading to the airport.