Updated: Oct 19, 2018
1st - 8th October 2018
I don't know where to begin… The Galapagos was everything and nothing I could ever have imagined it could possibly be. It was a surprise from the moment we stepped off the plane on the island of Baltra: an arid, desert-like place with (what seemed) little more than the Darwin Finches… imagine sparrows but chunkier, even chunkier beaks. Imagine 'For the Birds’. Yeah, those blue fellas.
Sarah and I booked the Galapagos trip through GAdventures. Our group was super; an excellent mix of nationalities with 3 GEMS of northerners thrown in for good measure. Lienke, our ethereal, Dutch tour guide was #lifegoals and so enthusiastic and informative when it came to all things flora and fauna. She met us at the airport, and we bussed/boated to the first campsite on the island of Santa Cruz.
The change of landscape was truly extraordinary. It went from desert to rainforest in the blink of an eye, due to the perimeter of the volcano (all the islands are born of volcanoes). We saw plenty of Giant Tortoises en route, and even more humans - something I was not as prepared for. Santa Cruz, population: 12,000 (largest in the archipelago). I was definitely expecting fewer homo sapiens.
Once we'd settled in, we headed out and visited old farmland that was overrun with Giant Tortoises. They were extraordinary, and I wasn't prepared for just how slow they move... So... Slow. Their skin and appearance is fascinating. Whilst visiting these chaps, we saw more flora and fauna you could shake a stick at which you could probably do very successfully because everything is so close. A tiny, Yellow Warbler almost got trodden on because it so fearlessly went about its business. This was heaven.
We headed to the Lava Tunnels. Another 'wow’ moment (there are so many of these). Unchanged for millions of years, the walls drip with the cooled magma and the colours in the dim light are amazing. On leaving the tunnels, we stopped off at a collapsed secondary crater. It was vast, and covered in forest.
After an already intense first day, we headed back to camp for dinner. We had extra guests: an Owl, some noisy Ghekkos and of course, more Darwin Finches. The sound of insects lulled me to sleep as the solid mattress realigned my bones.
On day 2, we headed to the main town, Peurto Ayora, and visited the Darwin Centre; a beautifully laid out, informative masterpiece. The work that goes on there is inspiring (I'm going back to volunteer fyi). It's not just Tortoise Conservation that goes on… the islands are crying out for all the help they can get e.g. there's a fly, brought over by ship as a stowaway, that is seriously harming the Finch population. It lays its eggs within the Finch's eggs and the fly larvae eat into the chick's beaks. How do you even start going about fixing that?! One success story is that a grub was being pesky so a ladybird was introduced to see it off. The work is amazing.
On leaving the centre, we explored the town and made a beeline for the fish market; a popular spot for the locals: Herons, Pelicans and Sea Lions.
Then, a 2 hour boat ride to the island of Floreana. Sarah and I were quick to volunteer for the 2 top deck seats… fresh air, 360 degree viewing and regular waves in the face. It was BUMPY.
Floreana was a totally different island. Population: 150 (149 in the town, 1 in the Highlands). We had 2 nights here, staying in beautiful homestays and our meals were shared among the different restaurants across the town in order to benefit the community. It was lovely.
We went to the Highlands and Lienke told us tales of Pirate Caves, ghosts and mad, German dentists with gold teeth. We visited the black beach, and beyond, we swam with Turtles, Sea Lions, Rays and a Penguin. The plants were red and sea was azure.
One evening, we went back to the black beach to see the Hermit Crabs and their tracks in the sand. We saw Turtles’ nests too. The stars blew our minds and the Marine Iguanas had a sleepover on the dock whilst sneezing salt at each other. Classic. Floreana was magical.
On day 4, we had another boat trip to another island. Isabela, the largest in the archipelago, population: 1,748. We were sad to leave Floreana, but it gave us a spectacular goodbye. During the crossing, we saw a pod of 200+ Dolphins and an array of seabirds. They jumped and twisted through the air. A few of us were out of it with sea sickness (northerners) but gathered the super-human strength to STAND UP for the Dolphins. Emma felt like she was on Blue Planet Diaries. It was bloody brilliant… until I vommed. MOVINGGG ONNN.
When I opened my eyes, the tropical paradise of Isabela greeted me. It was extraordinary, and so different again! The islands all have their own personalities. We stopped off at the delightful bakery and 'supermarket’ before heading to our stunning campsite. We napped, a warm embrace of Zs after our exhilarating, traumatic morning. We visited another Tortoise Conservation Centre and learned a ton more about the different species across the islands.
We headed to Sierra Negra, another RIDICULOUS 'wow’ moment. The views of the islands were amazing, but the volcano itself was unreal. Spanning 7.2 x 9.3 km, it has the largest caldera of all the Galapagos volcanoes. Seriously, it took my breath away (it also erupted in June this year, so…..).
We headed to the beach and watched the sun set with a passion fruit mojito, while the iguanas caught the last of the sun's heat. The sky was ablaze as if Sierra Negra was erupting before us.
We headed back to the
We headed back to the campsite for dinner, marshmallows round the campfire and babe Joel got his guitar out while the stars shone.
The following day was our Los Tuneles Tour. We took an hour boat ride to a bay of lava bridges and tunnels (formed like boiled milk… y'know, the skin on top?) We saw Blue-Footed Boobies, Tortugas and my favourite Brown Noddy.
The snorkelling was extraordinary. We saw Seahorses, a Spotted-Eagle Ray, baby Black-Tipped Sharks, sleeping White-Tipped Sharks, huge Tortugas and fish all the colours of the rainbow. This was magnificent, but by far the purest and most magical thing happened on the boat journey back. We were surrounded by enormous Manta Rays, all performing their mating rituals; they were dancing and flying with their bellies to the surface like giant, white magic carpets. I've never experienced anything like it. I was hysterical.
Back on land, we visited lagoons with glorious flamingos and FINALLY saw some Iguanas SWIMMING! I was on cloud nine for the rest of the day, and was even happier when I saw another Spotted-Eagle Ray whilst snorkelling near the port. We headed back to the beach for another beautiful sunset and passion fruit caipirinha, before heading to a top restaurant for lobster and beer. Probably the best day of my life.
The following day saw us leaving Isabela (NOOOOOOO) and heading back to Santa Cruz. We checked into our hostel then walked to Tortuga Bay (I know, best name ever). It was an exquisitely unspoilt beach, aptly named because it's the Turtles’ fave nesting site… My heart. We saw more birds, an almost stranded baby shark, and ANOTHER SWIMMING IGUANA.
We had a gorgeous souvenir shop round the town, and stopped off for a slab of chocolate cake in our favourite deli. Santa Cruz just kept the love flowing. Our final meal in the Galapagos (NOOOOOO) was down a street that becomes closed to cars in the evening, and all the restaurants spill into the road. Sarah and I shared a lobster (2 nights running… who do I think I am?!). After, we all headed to the port to see the Shark Nursery by the light of the pier and watched the Sea Lions sleep on the benches.
I was SO SAD TO LEAVE. On the bus back, we spotted a Land Iguana in the wild and said goodbye to this otherworldly place.
Not forever though… for I am destined to go back to collect my heart and soul which I left with Isabela.