Arriving in Puerto Ayora, on the main island of Santa Cruz, was a bit of a shock to our system. We had just left the sleepy island of Isabela and its sandy streets, and now we were surrounded by the hustle and bussle of the “big” city. Puerto Ayora is by far the most populated city on the islands (10,000 people), and it is the starting point for most Galapagos cruises. The population of this town probably doubles with all the tourists in big floppy hats who seemed to be everywhere! We only had two shorts days to explore this island, so we slipped on our flip-flops and hit it.
We first checked out the Charles Darwin Research Station, but we were somewhat disappointed with what we found. We couldn’t get as close to the tortoises as we would have liked. It turns out that you used to be able to walk among them, but after several people were caught riding them, a blatant violation of the 2 meter rule, they closed all the pens. You were able to check them out from afar, but it didn’t nearly have the same impact as being up close like we were in San Cristobal.
We did get to see the famous “Lonesome George,” the last tortoise of his species. They are currently trying to breed him with others so his species won’t totally die out, but so far, they haven’t been successful. I guess he’s just a picky guy.
We took at water taxi and walked about 10 minutes to get to Las Grietas, two lava fissures that have formed a canyon. The canyon is filled with clear, deep water, and the cliffs made it the ideal place for jumping. Once again we realized the benefit of traveling minus a tour group… we had the place to ourselves!
We heard that some loco locals would jump from the top, but we were only brave enough to climb up about 10 feet up before jumping. The clear, warm water made it the perfect place to hang out and swim, and if we would have had more time on the island we could have easily made a day of it.
Next on the agenda was a trip to Tortuga Bay. We wanted to rest our toes in the soft sand, watch the surfers, gaze at the wildlife, and take in a sunset. The 30 minute walk to the bay took us through a strange cactus forest. These cacti are endemic (only found here) to the islands and they look very tree-like once fully grown. We had never seen anything quite like it. The insides of these “cactus trees” look very similar to a sponge, which must make it easy for them to hold a lot of water.
Upon reaching the beach we had just enough time to watch a few marine iguanas wander up the shore before we had to head back to town. The sand, water, and scenery were so inviting we decided we had to come back the next day.
The next day, after almost being convinced to take a last-minute 4 day cruise (too expensive), we decided instead to rent some gear and try out snorkeling in Tortuga Bay.
We arrived at the beach just as the marine iguanas were heading out for a swim. Even with all the iguanas we had seen on the other islands, this was the first island where we actually saw them swimming. Quite a sight!
They like to swim in the morning to eat and then spend the rest of the day sunning to warm back up. Doesn’t sound like too bad of a life to us.
We meandered down the beach to a protected cove for some snorkeling. Unfortunately the swell seemed to be churning up the sand in the bay, making the visibility only around five feet. This did not deter us adventurous travelers from getting in and taking a look, after all, we did pay for the gear.
We swam hand in hand, not only because we are madly in love, but also because we didn’t want to lose each other, and it was a little scary not being able to see too well. Despite our hand-holding and amazing snorkeling abilities, it didn’t seem like there was much to see in this bay.
At one point the visibility got pretty bad and we could barely see our hands in front of our faces. This made us hold on a little tighter to each other, kick a little faster, and strain our eyes to see what was ahead of us.
The second the water cleared, we saw two fins and two tails of TWO white tip reef sharks, not more than six feet away. Joe heard the most colorful words come out of Kristen’s snorkel that cannot be repeated in this blog. They swam away pretty quickly and we missed the photo-op of this brief encounter. After that, we also swam pretty quickly to the shore, not because we were scared, but simply because we were “cold.”
We rented a kayak to see if we could spot one of these sharks from a safer vantage point. We didn’t see anymore sharks on our paddle, but the views were great.
After our beach time we made a quick trip into the highlands to visit a lava tube and view some giant tortoises in the wild.
The lava tube was fun to walk through, and it was so large, that it could have easily been confused as a tunnel for cars.
This particular one ran for about a quarter of a mile. As we walked through it, we imagined the insane amount of lava that must have passed through this tube at one point.
After exiting the tunnel, we journeyed to a farm which has become a fun playground for the wild tortoises. It is conveniently located next to the national park and the tortoises are free to come and go as they please.
We took far too many pictures of these guys, but had a great time watching them.
This farm had the biggest tortoises we had seen during our entire time in the Galapagos, and they were wild too.
Joe bet Kristen he could make it across the pond without getting wet (Mario Brothers style), but Kristen didn’t want to take that bet. She’s such a rule follower!
This was probably the biggest guy we saw.
The farm had a few shells with you could “try on” to see what the tortoises go through each day carrying that heavy shell around. Let’s just say it was not easy to get this off the ground.
The next day we boarded a flight and headed back to Quito. It was a little sad to leave such a unique and wonderful place, but we hope to return one day. Despite not taking a cruise, we were very impressed with all that we were able to see and do, especially for such a (relatively) small amount of money.
A special shout out goes to all the wildlife we encountered while in the Galapagos. Thanks for showing up, posing for all the pictures, not biting us, and not pooping on us. You made our trip extra special.