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Galapagos Island Hopping – Isabela

Our last stop in our Galapagos Islands hopping tour was the very large island of Isabela. There are a number of 2 – 3 day tours that you can take to Isabela, but we opted instead to see the place ourselves, as we had done with Santa Cruz.

There are 2 ways to get to Isabela, by ferry or via a tour boat. The only differences between the 2 options are price ($25 for ferry and $30 for tour boat) and times (am or pm). As we didn’t want to travel early morning we opted for a tour boat. These go daily so there is no problem in terms of having to plan your trip, and tickets can be bought almost anywhere. The only additional charge is a dock tax of $5 per person when you arrive, but you do not need to pay this again when you leave.

In total we spent 3 days on Isabela and stayed at the Posada del Caminante in Puerto Villamil, which offered cheap and basic rooms but with our own kitchen. The one perk of the place was they had an all you can eat oranges and bananas policy, very good for replenishing your vitamin count!

The first day we spent the afternoon walking around the town and took a stroll down to the snorkelling area of Concha y Perla, located next to the port. As with Santa Cruz, you can hire snorkelling gear and wet suits in the town, but we had done enough snorkelling and so just went for a quick swim.

Isabela, Galapagos - Concha y Perla bay

Day two we went on a tour of the Sierra Negra, the second widest volcano crater in the world at 10km diameter, and Volcan Chico, a viewing area for the amazing volcanic landscape of the island. The tour is a 2 hour walk up with stops along the way and a lunch break, followed by a 2 hour walk back.

Isabela, Galapagos - landscape near Sierra Negra and Chico volcanos

Isabela, Galapagos Volcan Chico landscape

Isabela, Galapagos - Sierra Negra volcano crater, second largest in the world at 10km diameter

The tour itself was fairly intense and some people struggled, but not due to the walk itself but rather the midday sun, which was far too hot for a 2 hour return walk to the bus. Apparently, the weather is not usually that clear so I am not sure if we were lucky or not in that respective. It did give us amazing views of the crater, but on the other hand we all burned to some degree and felt a bit dehydrated afterwards.

On our last day we only had the morning available as the boat was going back at 2.30pm, so we went to the nearby wetlands and saw the resident flamingos, which is a free activity.

Isabela, Galapagos - the great flamingos in the wetlands

There are plenty of other options for Isabela including tours to the tunnels, snorkelling trips to the nearby Tintoreras islands, and free activities such as the Mango viewpoint, the wall of tears and the breeding centre.

Isabela, Galapagos - sandy beaches of Puerto Villamil

All-in-all Isabela is a nice and relaxed place to be with plenty of nearby beaches, snorkelling options and better weather! The only thing to note is that shop prices are even higher here!

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Galapagos Island Hopping – South Plaza

As we had enjoyed our tour of North Seymour so much we decided to do another island day-trip tour. After deciding on what animals we wanted to see next we opted for a tour of South Plazas, again located just off the coast of Santa Cruz.

We found ourselves having to really negotiate to get the price down as we couldn’t afford to spend another $130 per person. As such, and because we opted for our hotel agency, we managed to get the tour down to $120 each plus a discount on the room, meaning we paid $115 each.

As with North Seymour the tour started with a pick-up at 8am and a bus ride back up to the north of Santa Cruz. Once on the boat we immediately headed out to our snorkelling spot, Punta Carrion, located on the north-east of Santa Cruz. This time round the snorkelling was much better than our other experiences.

During our time in the water we saw hundreds of fish of all different sizes, sharks, seals and even a marine turtle! We had a really good guide with us in the water too and we felt for the first time that we weren’t too rushed. The only downside was the very cold water, if you stopped moving you would get very cold, very quickly.

South Plaza, Galapagos - playful sea lion in water

After the snorkelling we continued onwards to South Plazas. This actually consists of 2 islands, North and South Plazas, but only the south one is open to tourism. We had lunch on the boat and then headed off for another island tour.

What really struck us this time was the landscape, nowhere else in the world had we seen such strange landscapes and so full of colour!

South Plaza, Galapagos - view of the landscape

South Plaza, Galapagos - view of the landscape and the channel

The animals here are not scared of humans and its amazing just how close you can get. You always have to look where you are going in case you are about to step on a bird or iguana! Among the animals we had close encounters with were; numerous sea lions, including a very territorial male who would not let us pass on the jetty and a very curious young sea lion, land iguanas, night gulls, frigates and many other types of birds living in the cliffs of South Plazas.

South Plaza, Galapagos - male sea lion blocking the jetty

South Plaza, Galapagos - camera shy sea lion

South Plaza, Galapagos - inquisitive sea lion close up

South Plaza, Galapagos - lonely bird

South Plaza, Galapagos - view of the birds flying from cliffs

South Plaza, Galapagos - land iguana

Our boat trip then continued down to the south of Santa Cruz and we arrived at Puerto Ayora dock for around 4.30pm. As a note, if you go on this tour ensure you take a very high factor sunscreen as the tour is at peak sun time and there is no shade on the island.

This was by far the best tour we did, and very much worth the money. If you can only afford one day-trip we would definitely suggest this one. Plus, as it’s close to Santa Cruz you don’t spend hours on end going backwards and forwards.

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Galapagos – North Seymour

After our day trip to Floreana island in Galapagos, we decided to look for a non inhabited island to visit next. We knew we had a fair choice of islands to choose from for our island hopping in Galapagos, but didn’t have a lot of information as to what each island offered. As such, we decided to use our hotel’s agency, Land, Sea and Air, for information. They were nice enough to provide us with a full print-out of all the tours they offered along with details of what each island would offer.

After some thought we decided to try a day tour to North Seymour, located just above Baltra. After some hard negotiations we managed to get the tour for $130 each, this would include pick-up from the hotel, all equipment and lunch on board the boat. The supposed reason this was so much more expensive than Floreana was because larger yachts had to be used, after checking with other agencies we found that the price was indeed above the $130 mark for the tour.

The trip started at 8am with a drive back to the Itabaca Channel to board the boat. We headed straight out to North Seymour and spent the morning taking a nature tour of the island’s birds and iguanas including; night-time gulls, Frigate birds during their nesting season, marine iguanas sunbathing on the rocks, and Blue Footed Boobies, which we were lucky enough to watch during a courtship dance. The really amazing thing about the island was how close you get to all the animals, you never had to zoom in for any of the photos.

North Seymour, Galapagos - gulls

North Seymour, Galapagos - male frigate during mating season

North Seymour, Galapagos - blue-footed booby courtship dance

North Seymour, Galapagos - blue-footed booby with young

North Seymour, Galapagos - young blue-footed booby learning to fly

After lunch we headed out to the north of Santa Cruz for a short snorkelling trip. At this point of the tour you got 30 – 40 minutes where you could choose to either go see the couple of flamingos in the nearby lake, relax on the beach or go snorkelling. We opted for the latter, hoping for a better experience than that in Floreana.

North Seymour, Galapagos - beach off Santa Cruz for snorkeling

There were more fish in the water than in Floreana but I can’t say it was great in terms of variety and quantity, plus the wet suit I had hired out this time was a short version, which meant I got cold very quickly in the water. Following our snorkelling we headed back to catch our bus back to the hotel.

All-in-all the day trip was better than Floreana as we managed to see more wildlife and finally felt like we were seeing the native Galapagos; the only complaint was that the snorkelling was not very good for us during that trip.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Galapagos Island Hopping – Floreana

From Santa Cruz we decided to take a day trip to one of the lesser inhabited islands, Floreana. We had heard good things about this small island with only 150 people and knew it was also quite a commonly visited place. The tour ran from 8am until 4pm, and cost us $75 pp. This is a price we negotiated down and it included rental of wet suits, fins and masks, as well as lunch on the island.

We met our guide on Puerto Ayora and headed off on our 2 hr boat ride to Floreana. If you are not good on boats, like myself, make sure you get yourself some Mareol tablets from the pharmacy before heading out, as the waters can get quite choppy. Also, despite the temperature not being very high, you can easily burn when sat on the back of the boat in the sun.

Floreana, Galapagos - marine iguana and sea lion greeting visitors at the dock

Upon arrival to the island we headed off on a chiva bus to Cerro Allieri, a 300m high crater’s edge. We climbed up to the top and enjoyed views of the surrounding scenery. Following our little walk we headed off to the tortoise centre, where we could observe the giant Floreana tortoises.

Floreana, Galapagos - giant tortoises at Asilo de la Paz

Floreana, Galapagos - giant tortoise yawn at Asilo de la Paz

One of the most interesting parts of the walk were the famous pirate caves, known as Asilo de la Paz. Apparently, back in the day the pirates would use Floreana as a “rest and re-fuel” area, stocking up on supplies but also depositing their treasures. Due to the lava eruptions that first formed the island, Floreana now has a very strange set of mini canyons and coves.

Floreana, Galapagos - naturally formed passages at Asilo de la Paz pirate caves

These formations proved excellent for literally allowing the pirates to have safety deposit boxes by creating holes in the walls and then cordoning off each area with stone walls. Whereas the coves provided an ideal area to sleep allowing them to be kept out of the elements but still have a view of their docks and boats. As demonstrated by our guide.

Floreana, Galapagos - one of the bedrooms at Asilo de la Paz pirate caves

Floreana, Galapagos - pirate warning at Asilo de la Paz pirate caves

After our walk around the island we were taken back for lunch at a restaurant near the port and enjoyed a good lunch of fish and rice. We were then ready to return on the boat for a short snorkelling trip from off the coast. There wasn’t a huge variety in terms of fish in the water and we were not overly impressed, until we looked down again and came face-to-face with a sea lion!

It was an amazing experience to have this beautiful animal swim around us as we desperately tried to take photos with a disposable camera! The sea lion seemed as curious of us as we were of it, and it spent a good 5 minutes roaming around staring at us. One of the best moments was when it seemed to sit at the bottom and just gaze at us, seemingly thinking what strange creatures these are!

This was our first trip off Santa Cruz and the tour itself did not leave us in awe, the caves were interesting, but if it hadn’t been for the sea lion at the end we would have been fairly disappointed. Luckily, the rest of our day trips proved to be more what we had in mind.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Galapagos Island Hopping – Santa Cruz

As mentioned in the Galapagos Island hopping article, Santa Cruz is considered the main island within the archipelago. It has the largest population of the islands with over 20,000 people and Puerto Ayora is the main tourist area located in the south.

We arrived into Puerto Ayora following the 40 minute bus ride from the airport and had great difficulty in finding our pre-booked accommodation. The streets are not all clearly marked and after walking around for some time a 4×4 approached us offering rooms at a nearby hotel. Finding out that the place was cheaper, but with similar facilities, we took a leap of faith and jumped in.

Galapagos Dreams was both a small hotel and travel agency located just 10 minutes’ walk from the port and main centre, where you can find restaurants, hotels, hostels, banks with cash points, pharmacies and small supermarkets. We were given a large room with air con, private bathroom, king size bed, breakfast and offered full use of their small kitchen, and all for just $40 a night. A good price by Galapagos standards.

We soon learned that Santa Cruz offered tours to most of the nearby islands, including: Floreana, Isabela, San Cristobal, Santa Fe, North Seymour, South Plaza, and Bartolome.

Over the course of the following days we took day trips to:

We also did a half day trip on Santa Cruz for $25 each to go and see the highlands known as Punta Alta. The tour included a visit to the lava tunnels; a beautiful underground series of caves created by the lava. However, the tour was an experience in itself and as a note be prepared to get dirty!

The tour then continued onwards to observe the giant tortoises in the wild at Rancho Primicias. There is an additional entrance fee to the property of $3 each. A fun thing to note is that at this centre there is a giant tortoise-shell which you can get inside of. Needless to say watching people scrambling in and out is amusement in itself!

Santa Cruz, Galapagos - wild giant tortoise at Rancho Primicias

You can also choose to do a half day tour of Tortuga Bay and Garrapatero which are the 2 main beaches, for around $35 each. However, as you can also get to Tortuga Bay by yourself we opted to skip this “tour” and just visit the bay by ourselves. To get there ask for directions from anywhere near the port, a taxi should cost $1. From the town it’s about a 10 minutes’ walk to the entrance and from there you will need to walk 45 minutes to reach the first beach.

Santa Cruz, Galapagos - Tortuga Bay surf beach

Here you come across amazing stretches of white sands and this beach is definitely more for the views than anything else, however, if you like to surf then this is also the beach for you. If you want to swim or snorkel you will have to continue onwards for another 20 minutes to Tortuga Bay. On your way you have the option to walk around the point which is full of marine iguanas sunbathing, they are not aggressive but do keep your distance as you never know with wild animals.

Santa Cruz, Galapagos - marine iguanas near Tortuga Bay

Santa Cruz, Galapagos - marine iguanas resting on rocks

Tortuga Bay is a small bay with still waters where you can swim, snorkel or hire a kayak. It is worth noting that the beaches close at 6pm and the park guards start moving you out by 5pm.

Santa Cruz, Galapagos - Tortuga Bay

Another area worth seeing is Las Grietas, an unusual rock formation with a narrow pool at the bottom. The water here is crystal clear but also cold, so ensure that if visiting during the winter months you bring a wet suit for the snorkelling. To get there simply take a water taxi for $0.60 each at the always chaotic port of Ayora and ask for Las Grietas.

You will be literally taken across the port to a set of stairs, from here follow the signs all the way until you reach a guard by the gorge. The signs seem to stop once you reach a swamp like area but there is a path going around and onwards through some amazing landscapes. The half hour’s walk takes you first through a beautiful beach area and then around the back of the hotel.

Santa Cruz Galapagos route to Las Grietas

Santa Cruz, Galapagos - Las Grietas gorge

The other place we visited in Puerto Ayora was the Darwin Research Centre, where you can see different species of giant tortoises as well as a couple of land iguanas, whilst learning about the efforts made by the foundation to conserve the islands. The entrance is free and is again within easy walking distance of the main area.

Santa Cruz, Galapagos - giant tortoises at Charles Darwin Research Centre

There are of course plenty of other areas to explore in Santa Cruz and depending on your time and budget you can spend a few days exploring the island alone.

The best eating area in Puerto Ayora is located a few blocks away from the port, heading left along the main road, towards the Sir Francis Drake hotel. From about 7pm you will find numerous stalls and tables in the street offering all manner of foods, mainly of course fresh fish. The prices here are also the best in the area, with the exception of Mar y Cris, located halfway between the street foods and the port.

Santa Cruz, Galapagos - Puerto Ayora dock

In total we spent 7 nights in Santa Cruz including our arrival and departure night, taking in 3 day trips to islands and exploring the island itself.

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Galapagos Island Hopping and Travel

The one thing we could never find information about was island hopping in Galapagos. Unless you want to do a cruise or tour of Galapagos Islands there isn’t a website that I could find which would categorically list out what can and can’t be done if you choose to island hop Galapagos instead. As such, I have created a series of posts dedicated to explaining how we spent 10 days island hopping, what tours we did, which are on the menu and most importantly what to expect!

This first post covers getting there and a rough guide as to what to expect, I will then be publishing posts per each island that we visited, with outlines of what we did but also what else there is to do. I hope this provides anyone looking to island hop with enough information to make you feel like you’ll know what to expect.

Arriving in Galapagos

You can fly from either Quito or Guayaquil into Galapagos and there are several airlines that offer flights including, AeroGal and LAN. Your first entry point into the Galapagos Islands will probably be the small island of Baltra whose main purpose is to serve as an international airport base. The other entry point is the airport on San Cristobal Island.

Before leaving Guayaquil you will be asked to fill in a form and pay $10 tax. Your bags will also be scanned before check-in and then tagged. The reason for this being that no vegetables, fruits, seeds or animal products can be taken into the Galapagos. Your bags will be constantly searched at each entry and exit point when you travel between inhabited islands. You can however take products such as cereal, pasta, biscuits etc, and if you do bring a small supply you will save yourself a few dollars as shops are very expensive in the Galapagos, due to everything needing to be imported.

Upon arrival in Baltra you will be requested to pay the national park entrance fee of $100 per person. At this point you will also be asked for the form given to you at the time of departures. You will be given a receipt which you will need for your departure so ensure you keep it safe.

The airport of Baltra itself is very small and services are very limited. Be prepared for a rather long wait to reclaim your bags as each bag needs to not only be manually disembarked from the flight, but also needs to be checked over and sniffed by a police dog. Only after this process is over you can collect your bags, and you will need your bag receipt to do so.

Note that there is currently a new terminal being built.

Getting from Baltra to Santa Cruz Island

Free shuttles run from the airport to the ferry dock. Once at the dock which is located about 10 minutes away you will have to board a ferry for $0.60 each to literally cross the small channel that seperates Baltra from Santa Cruz.

Once across the channel you have the option of taking a taxi for $25 or a bus for $1.80. There is only one route to Puerto Ayora so unless you really want to splash out I would recommend taking the bus which is direct anyway and takes about 45mins.

Tell the driver where you want to be dropped off and they will tell you when to get off and where to go. If you have nowhere booked then head all the way to the centre as most places are located within a block or two from the port. There are enough lodging options in Puerto Ayora if you want to try and bargain for your stay in person. We had pre-booked but found a cheaper place whilst walking around despite it supposedly being high season.

Travelling in Galapagos

As mentioned before, airports are also located on both San Cristobal and Isabella mainly for internal flights between the 3 islands. The prices for these short flights can range from $100 upwards and are operated by www.emetebe.com.ec

Alternatively, you can travel between Santa Cruz, Isabella and San Cristobal by daily boats. You can either take the ferry for $25 per person or ask to go on a tour boat for $30 each. The only real difference is the time, the ferry for example will leave Isabella at 5.30am to return to Santa Cruz, whereas the tour boat will return at 2.30pm. You can book tickets either via your hotel or at any agency and can book as late as the evening before, however they are all dependant on space so try to plan ahead if possible.

The other way to see Galapagos outside of the cruises is to do day trips. The vast majority of these leave from Santa Cruz and prices vary greatly depending on where you are going, and to some extent with whom you book. Be prepared to bargain for every tour as saving even $5 on each tour can add up to a free night’s accommodation!

The islands you can visit from Santa Cruz include:

  • Floreana (as a tour)
  • San Cristobal (independent or as a tour)
  • Santa Fe (with or without San Cristobal as a tour)
  • North Seymour (as a tour)
  • South Plazas (as a tour)
  • Isabela (2 – 3 nights on the island as a tour or independently)
  • Bartolome (as a tour)

Accommodation in Galapagos

Santa Cruz has the largest selection of accommodation in Galapagos from budget hostels to upmarket lodges and there should be something to suit most budgets. However, this is the Galapagos and as such you have to be realistic in both your budget and your expectations. You can find a good hotel room from $35 – $40 per night and as most people only stop for a couple of nights you can usually get a good deal if you stay more than 3 nights.

Isabella is a fraction of Santa Cruz and accommodation is more scarce, however as most people stay in Santa Cruz the prices in Isabella are lower and we paid $20 per night in a posada.

We didn’t visit San Cristobal but met a couple who had and it would seem that it is similar to Isabella in terms of size of inhabitants and prices.

Eating in Galapagos

Regardless, if you are vegetarian or not you will find something to eat in the Galapagos. Despite being small in size the inhabited islands have a fair selection of food, although not very cheap. Meal prices will set you back from around $8 per person if you eat in local eateries and around $20 – 25 for a pizza.

If you can bring food to the island and cook for yourself at least once a day like we did you could save yourself up to $60+ each per week. For example we spent $20 on pasta and tomato sauces in Guayaquil and with that catered for 8 meals for the 2 of us, saving us an around $150 during our stay. It’s worth considering…

Safety

Galapagos is a relatively small community and as such there is no real crime or sense of danger when walking around any of the islands. However, having said that, a certain level of vigilance should always be observed when travelling.

The Islands

There is an obvious difference between the uninhabited and inhabited islands and that is mainly people and rubbish. Despite it being a National Park with controlled tourism and population levels, the inhabited islands did disappoint us a bit as there was rubbish on the roads in the towns, and I don’t just mean the odd can of coke but small mounts of rubbish here and there. It is a shame that despite priding themselves on recycling so much they don’t keep the islands as clean as they should. On the other hand the uninhabited islands were spotless and luckily the animals had their original living conditions with no human additions around them.

Other points

Depending on when you go you could find that the water temperature varies a great deal. If visiting during the winter months – July to September, you will need to rent a wet suit for snorkelling as the water is very cold. Wet suits can be hired from most tour operators or dive centres and prices range from $5-8 for the day.

Snorkelling gear can also be hired at a cost of $5-10 depending on which island you are on. Ensure that you always check your equipment beforehand as the masks can sometimes be old and leak. Also, if going on a day trip, take fins with you from your tour agency which are free as most boat trips we went on didn’t have any available.

If you plan to island hop and would like to see a few of the islands then you will need a minimum of a week, as there are plenty of free activities to do on each of the islands.

The following posts will cover the islands that we visited with what we did, what there is to do and tips for your time in Galapagos, enjoy!

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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