The Origin Of Species

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

At the age of 22, a young fellow named Charles Darwin enlisted in the ‘Beagle’ as a naturalist without pay. He was not an expert scientist but captain FitzRoy accepted him on board as he needed an Englishman to whom he could talk. Charles had two guides on this trip: his curiosity & his reading of modern science treatises.  By these means he discovered an exhuberant nature with infinite forms of animals, ants & fossils. He was fasinated by each stage of a five year journey around the globe and from then on the variabilty of the species never abandoned his thoughts. It laid at the base of his revolutionary book ‘The Origin of Species’ who made the man a legend !

Curious to explore this fascinating archipel

Curious to explore this fascinating archipel

Fascinated by this mysterious & unique place, I changed my plans and flew to Santa Cruz to explore the incredible archipel for a few days. Santa Cruz is the main island in Galapagos and hub for all ferries & cruises. Galapagos has strict rules in order to conserve its bio-diversity & is only connected by flights from Ecuador. Either from Quito or Guayaquil to Santa Cruz or San Cristobal. Flights from Quito will always pass through Guayaquil first and that’s where I met Audrey. Audrey was from Paris and was already travelling for 5 months in South America. She was on a wordtrip as well but in the opposite direction. Audrey contacted me when she saw my online post on CS because she was going to Galapagos on the exact same dates and with the exact same flights! That was so unreal and we decided to take this journey in Galapagos together. We had to complete an entry form (10$) first to be able to enter Galapagos and pay an additional 100$ National Park fee at arrival. We landed in fact on the island of Baltra, north of Santa Cruz where we had to catch one of the free shuttles to the ferry, waiting right outside the terminal.

The ferry of the Itabaca channel

The ferry of the Itabaca channel

We needed to head into Puerto Ayora now because we didn’t have a direct connection to a cruise.  The connectivity to Puerto Ayora included various steps:
1- The free shuttle bus took only 5 minutes and dropped us off at the Itabaca Channel which flows between Santa Cruz and Baltra.
2- The ferry (80 cents) crossed the Itabaca Channel in 5 minutes and offered us a great opportunity for some first pictures.
3- A local bus (2$) drove us in a little less than an hour into town. The busride itself was already fascinatig! Hot, sunny & dry on one side of the island was with surrealistic, desolate landscapes of desert, rocks & thousands of dead trees while the other side of the island was the complete opposite! Tropical rain & humidity gave us beautiful rainforests, lush green vegetation, … I never saw such a huge diversity in such a small island! After passing through some small authentic villages, we finally arrived in Puerto Ayero, a small touristic, coastal town getaway to the beautiful Galapagos archipel.

Guesthouse Los Amigos

Guesthouse Los Amigos

The first thing we had to do was find a place to stay. Some people recommended us ‘Los Amigos’ (12.5$/pp – double room), a neat place on mainstreet (aka Charles Darwin street), right in front of the Tourist Information Center & close to the harbour.

The big question now was… Do we take a cruise or do we hop the islands on or own? We shuffled to some agencies around the port and we found cruises for 500$/4 days. The advantage of the cruise was first of all that we would do small islets full of unique species where regular boats or daytrips would never go. Another advantage was that everything would be taken care of (trips, food, accomodation, fee’s,…) and we didn’t need to worry about organising and shuffling down with our luggage. But the disadvantage was that none of the cruises combined the three islands of Santa Cruz, Isabela & San Cristobal in such a small period of time. Apparently all cruises do the eastern island one week and the western islands the other week to spare their wildlife from conitinuous exposure to massa tourism. The cruise we were intrested in, didn’t do all the places that we really wanted to see so we decided to do it all on our own.

Iguanas in Tortuga Bay

Iguanas in Tortuga Bay

Our original plan was to do all the main islands but the only thing we would do on San Cristobal is visit the highlands to see the giant turtles & do some snorkeling in Kicker Rock.  But we could those things in Santa Cruz as well.  Furthermore, there were so much things to do on Santa Cruz that we decided to skip San Cristobal and only explore Santa Cruz, Isabela & Bartolome. We started with Santa Cruz in Tortuga Bay, a beautiful white sand beach on a 45 minutes walk right outside town! The beach was filled with marine iguanas, unique to the Galapagos islands. Their habitat is the sub-tidal & inter-tidal zone where they find their food, green & red algae. Above the tide line they rested, basking in the sun to build up their energy and find appropriate substrate to dig their nests & lay their eggs.

Audrey @ Tintoretas

Audrey @ Tintoretas

We also did the ‘Bay tour’, a half day snorkeling trip in the bay of Puerto Ayero. We started at the island of Los Lobos where I swam with playful sea lions & several fish. I didn’t see Audrey around and when I climbed back on the boat, she told me she had to save a American man who was on the trip with his daughter. He waved to Audrey making her clear that he was in trouble. Audrey swam to him as fast as she could and dragged the man to the boat. She was slightly upset as nobody of the three surrounding daytrip boats helped her at any time! When I hear this story, it did remind me at the sad deathly snorkeling drama I experienced in Fiji.

Las Grietas

Las Grietas

Luckily this man survived but his young daughter was crying once we left knowing she almost lost her daddy. It learned me that it all may seem harmless, but we always have to be cautious as the sea can be tricky and as I realized once again that we can’t rely on the help of the locals as they are often not certified rescuers.   Slightly shocked by those events, we continued our tour.  Next stops were Tintoretas, a resting ground for white tip reef sharks, Playa de los Perros, a place to spot sea marine Iguanas and finally Las Grietas. The landscape is made of fissures of lava, creating giant walls featuring giant cacti, crossed by an arm of clear blue water. Huge fishes and a clear view into the deep crevasses were beautiful to see.

Unhappy giant turtle @ Charles' Darwin conservation center

Unhappy giant turtle @ Charles’ Darwin conservation center

Keen to see the giant turtles, we booked a tour at the Sierra Negra agency in the harbour of Puerto Ayora. Ricardo was our guide & Fabian our driver in a typical pick-up truck. Great fun to cruise the island in the back of the truck… First stop, Rancho Primicias (El Chato was an  alternative). A place where we saw wild giant turtles in their natural habitat.  Amazing!  On our way to Los Gemelos, many people were on the street in Santa Rosa, a small village in the highlands of the island.  We asked to stop to check out what was going on.

With Audrey & our driver Fabian @ Los Gemelos

With Audrey & our driver Fabian @ Los Gemelos

Unfortunaly the festivities just came to an end but we attended a indoor football match between man & woman and mingled ourselves among the Ecuadorian crowd. Unbelievable to see how the women overran the men! Right before sunset, we drove to the collapsed craters of Los Gemelos. After volcanic events of great magnitude, magma chambers are left empty creating huge lava tunnels as we saw earlier that day. Over time, tectonic processes and erosion caused the volcanic roof to collapse, opening up gaping craters to the outside world.

Galapagos… An archipel that speaks to the imagination of many!  Those islands are so fascinating, mysterious & a well-preserved secret to the outside world.  Neverthless more & more people tend to visit it although the practical information is often difficult to find.  Many of us also seem to have the false idea that visiting the Galapagos is an extremely expensive thing to do.  That’s why I would like to conclude this post by giving some more general info to organize your upcoming trip to the fullest!

Taxi boat @ Santa Cruz

Taxi boat @ Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is as I said earlier the main hub for the ferries. Each ferry costs 30$/one way + 0,5$ for the watertaxi’s to get on/off the ferry. There are ferries from Santa Cruz to Isabela, San Cristobal & Floreana, twice a day and it takes about 2 1/2 hours. One leaves early in the morning around 6-7am and one in the afternoon around 14-15pm. There are no direct ferries between Isabela, Floreana & San Cristobal. On the islands, taxi’s cost 1$ to move around town. In the famous street Kiosko, near the harbour, several food kiosk will open in the evening offer an large array of food, especially seafood at very democrative prices (3$ for a menu with soup, main dish & a limonade), 5-10$ for meat, 15-25$ for fish, crab, …

Main costs

Entrance tax (at departure): 10$
National park fee (at arrival): 100$
Ferry between islands: 30$
Daytrips around island: 30$
Daytrips to snorkeling spots: 80$
Daytrips to other islands: 150 $
Watertaxi: 0,5$ – 1$
Taxi around town: 1$
Taxi from/to airport (S Cruz): 15$
Bus from/to airport: 1.8$
At arrival & from Puerto Ayero to the Itabaca channel at 7.00, 7.30 & 8.30 am (in weekdays the 7.00 am bus is not suppose to run but when full it apparently does. We arrived at 6.50am on a monday and the the bus left at 7.00am)

Info about San Cristobal (12000 souls)

Ferry: 30$
Watertaxi: 1$

Accomodation

Casa De Nelly 35$
Hotel San Fransisco: 10$ cold water
Hostal Leon Dormido: 20$ wifi hot water

Things to do

Kicker Rock:  80$ (Snorkeling with Sharks, water turtles, sea lions, bluefeet boobie,… Book with Roberto’s agency in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno in front of Leon Dormido hostel on the 1st floor)
Giant Turtles Private farms in high part: taxi 30$

Info about Santa Cruz (16000 souls)

Ferry: 30$
Watertaxi: 0,5$

Accomodation

Galapagos Dreams: 20 $
Los Amigos hostel: 12.5$-15$/pp (in main Charles Darwin street in front of tourist info & TAME office)

Food

Kiosko street near harbour

Things to do

Popular free sites

Tortuga Bay (Iguanas & turtles)
Charles Darwin center (Iguanas & giant turtles)

Popular day trips

Highland farms (El Chato, Rancho Primicias,…) with giant turtles:  By bike (12$/half day), by taxi (30$) or by daytrip (30$/pp including Los Gemelos craters & lava tunnels.

Bay Tour: 30$ (snorkeling tour including Los Lobos island, Tintoreras, Playa de los Perros & Las Grietas)

Daytrip to Bartolome – 160 $

Isabela (3000 souls)

Ferry: 30$
Watertaxi: 1$
Entrance Tax: 5$

Accommodation

Casa Rosada: 17$/pp (on beach)
Casa Blanco: 20$/pp
Hotel Volcano: 25$/pp

Things to do

Popular free sites

Bahia Concha Perla (snorkeling spot0, Muro de Lágrimas & Laguna Salinas (Flamingos)

Popular day trips

Los Tuneles:  80$ (Volcanic landscapes & snorkeling)
Sierra Negra: 80$

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