Galápagos is a group of volcanic islands off the coast of Ecuador known for a variety of endemic species. Going to the Galápagos is an expensive proposition but at the same time it was my second time in Ecuador and I don’t know when I will have a chance to come back again. There are two options to explore the Galápagos, either take a cruise ship or island hop using public transport. I chose the latter for being more budget conscious as well as flexible departure time. One still has to fly into the islands from Quito or Guayaquil as the Galápagos is a thousand kilometers west of continental Ecuador.
Day 1 – I left my bike behind at a hostal in Quito and hopped on an early morning flight to San Cristóbal Island. It’s the easternmost island of the Galápagos archipelago and also resides the capital city of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The total flight time from Quito is about 3 hours which included half an hour layover in Guayaquil. I spent rest of the afternoon exploring the Interpretation Center, Tijeretas Hill, Charles Darwin Monument, Punta Carola and Playa Mann.
Day 2 – Another early start on a tour to visit the highlands and the west of the island. First stop was El Junco Lagoon which is the biggest fresh water lake of the archipelago. It was misty at higher elevation but I got lucky and caught a glimpse of the whole lake. Unfortunately I slipped on the wet staircase on the way down and had sore hip for rest of the week. I also visited Galapaguera giant tortoise breeding center as well as Puerto Chino on the way back. The rest of the day was spent hanging out with the sea lions on Carola beach and I splurged on a fried brujo for dinner.
Day 3 – I was supposed to be up early to catch a speedboat to Santa Cruz Island and almost slept through if it wasn’t for my homestay host banging on my door at 6. Santa Cruz the central island geographically and the hub for everything in Galápagos. It takes 2 hours on a jarring and nauseating speedboat to get from one island to another. They take conservation seriously and inspect & tag all luggages at the port prior to embarking. I made good use of the day by visiting the Charles Darwin Station immediately after disembarking and went on a Tortuga Bay tour to German Beach, Dog Beach, Shark Channel and Las Grietas. The landscape was otherworldly and varied every few minutes along the trail. I also had good fun snorkeling next to a giant sea turtle before returning to town completely exhausted and in search of a cheap and filling dinner.
Day 4 – I slept in past 7 for a change followed by a walk to Tortuga beach. They claim it’s the most beautiful beach in South America and I do not disagree. Vast span of flat white sand beach being washed by turquoise waves with plenty of endemic species minding their own business. What I didn’t enjoy was the 50-minute walk each way in the sun to get there along a narrow trail. Another speedboat ride was scheduled in the afternoon to Isabela Island. It’s the largest island of the archipelago and yet the least touristy. Most of the streets aren’t even paved and dining options are limited to a few restaurants on the main strip.
Day 5 – I went on a hiking tour to the Sierra Negra and Chico Volcanoes in the morning. It’s one of the most active volcanoes in the Galápagos that last erupted in 2005. The hike is 8 km in each direction through a dusty path along the caldera perimeter. The day started out chilly and foggy at the lower plains but ended in desert like terrain. Notwithstanding sore feet at the end of the hike, I continued to Concha de Perla and stumbled upon a parade back in the town square.
Day 6 – Saving the best for last that is the Tintoreras Islands. It comprises of several small islands and a shallow bay with excellent visibility for snorkeling. I lost count on the number of sea flora and fauna on this tour that even included the Galápagos penguins and whitetip reef sharks. Realizing the day is coming to an end and there is still much to see on the island, I rented a bicycle for 3 hours to visit the ‘Wall of Tears’ which is built by the slaves in the past century when Isabela was a prison island. There were many other interesting sights along the 7 km trail and I made a quick stop at the flamingo lagoon on the way back.
Day 7 – The last day was the ‘Amazing Race’ where I had to take 3 taxicabs, 2 water taxis, 1 speedboat, 1 channel ferry, 1 shuttle bus and 1 flight to get back to Quito. Only took about 12 hours in total but the day started at 4:30 AM and I was out cold after dinner. What a week!
Overall, I enjoyed my side trip to the Galápagos albeit it was more exhausting than a relaxing vacation from my vacation that I had hoped for. Being up close in person to the endemic species was a fascinating experience. However, the islands are heavily commercialized on tourism which takes away from the tranquility. Ok, check Galápagos off the bucket list and it’s time to get back on 2 wheels…