We flew with AeroGal from Guayaquil to Baltra on the main island of Santa Cruz in the Galápagos for 8 days. To get from Baltra to Puerto Ayora, which is the main town on Santa Cruz, you get a free bus from the airport to the ferry, then hop on the ferry for $1 across a short stretch of water and then you hop on a bus for $1.50 for the 45 minute trip to the bottom of the island (or a taxi costs $18). We hadn’t booked accommodation before arriving so found a place by just wandering around – we stayed at the Hotel Espana just parallel to the main thoroughfare for $35 a night. We stayed in Puerto Ayora for a few nights to suss out prices for cruises and eventually went with a 4 day cruise on the Estrella del Mar, stopping at Isla Bartolome, Isla Genovesa, Las Bachas (on Isla Santa Cruz) and finally Isla Santa Fe. It’s best to bring enough cash to pay for this trip as most agencies don’t accept credit cards and if they do they have whoppers of fees attached. We also tried to get a cash advance which didn’t work and our card was put on hold in Australia and it’s really difficult to find wifi good enough to Skype call the bank – let that be a lesson learned!
Puerto Ayora and Isla Santa Cruz
The main thoroughfare in Puerto Ayora is Avenida Charles Darwin and this is where most of the shops, restaurants and bars are situated. The walk along the port at night is pretty nice; we saw lots of small Galápagos sharks here and a even a cheeky sea lion chilling on a bench. There’s plenty to keep you occupied on Santa Cruz island. One afternoon we rented bicycles from the little shop just next to the Isla Grill restaurant for $7.50 for 4 hours and took in the whole town. The Charles Darwin Research Centre (free entry) at one end of town has a number of giant tortoises and some iguanas – not amazing by any stretch of the imagination but it’s free. A lot of cruises actually bring you here on your last day too. There’s a little rocky beach next to the station called Playa de la Estacion which was nice for sunset.
Tortuga Bay, reached by a good 40 minutes walk out of town, is absolutely stunning. The first time we visited we made the mistake of cycling but you can only get to the entrance of the 40 minute walk! We had no locks for our bikes but lots of people seemed to just leave them for the day so we thought when in Rome…happy ending too – they were still there when we returned. You need to sign in and out at the entrance station so you need your passport number. Tortuga Bay is where sea turtles come to lay eggs but we saw none of this – just lava gulls, pelicans, little sharks (some of the guys saw a hammerhead shark one evening) and the motherload of iguanas. The huge beach just before Tortuga Bay is stunning and you could easily while away a few days chillaxing on these beaches.
We rented a taxi dude another day for $30 who took us to the Bellavista Lava Tunnels ($3 entrance) and El Rancho Mariposa ($3 again). You get a flash-lamp to guide you through the lava tunnels – it’s pitch black in places with some lovely puddles thrown in for good measure for you to dunk your converse. El Rancho Mariposa is a tortoise ranch which was pretty cool – we got stuck in a tortoise jam on the way in 🙂 The tortoises have acres of space to roam around here and they are everywhere you look. Not sure I’d recommend this to be honest – $30 is a bit saucy for the distance you travel and we had a tortoise ranch and some lava tunnels included on the cruise we took.
Our favourite food haunt in a Puerto Ayora was the Galápagos Deli which has delicious thin crust pizzas, good (for the Galapagos) wifi and lovely chocolate cake. The ice-cream at Il Giardino down at the end of town is hands down the best in town. We must have had at least 10 scoops each in our time in Puerto Ayora! The main supermarket up the top of the town is definitely worth a visit. It’s so old-school; definitely like something out of an olde time film, plus they have organic chocolate.
Isla San Cristobal
We took a day trip to Isla San Cristobal to see La Loberia where the sea lions hang out and we weren’t disappointed – so many baby sea-lions – too cute! The 7am speedboat trip over there ($60 per person return – absolute robbery but we were hardly going to swim!) was horrible – 2.5 hours of nausea. After breakfast (don’t eat before that boat trip) we got a taxi to La Loberia for $1 and decided to walk back, alongside the tiny airport which takes about 45 minutes. Unfortunately that’s really all we had time to do on San Cristobal as the speedboat back leaves at 3pm.
Cruise aboard Estrella del Mar
We booked our cruise with Jenny at Moonrise Travel 3 days before we travelled. She was fantastic and called everyone on her contact list to get us on the most suitable cruise. We ended up on the Estrella del Mar for a 3 night/4 day cruise with 9 others – a relatively small number for a Galápagos cruise which was perfect for us – the others were really lovely so we had a wonderful time. Our guide, Alfredo, was über passionate about his profession and very happy to field a bazillion questions from John. Our itinerary started with a visit on day one to Isla Bartolome, overnight cruise north to Isla Genovesa, back overnight to Las Bachas on Isla Santa Cruz and Isla Santa Fe and the last night at the port of Puerto Ayora.
Isla Bartolome was our first stop and here we just took a little wander up some steps to see one of the most iconic images of the Galápagos – Sullivan Bay and Pinnacle Rock. We didn’t see any wildlife here but on the little dinghy on the way back to the boat we saw some darling little Galápagos Penguins taking in the evening sun. We anchored for a while to have some dinner and did some fantastic star-gazing from atop the boat. We cruised through the night to awake in the far north, at Isla Genovesa. This island is great for bird lovers as it’s the only place you can see red-footed boobies, which are birds lads and believe me there were plenty of boobie jokes on the whole trip so enough already! We started our day in Genovesa at Darwin Bay, taking in lots of Nazca boobies, frigatebirds (massive black birds with fork-like tails – the males have a red pouch under their necks which inflates to attract a female) and some sea-lions on the walk up to a look out point over the bay. It was wicked hot here so you definitely need a hat and at least SPF 50. Sadly, there’s a little plaque up the top in dedication to two women who were lost at sea whilst scuba diving here. After our little walk we did some snorkelling just off the beach and saw plenty of brightly coloured fish, some sea-lions, and some of the guys saw some Galápagos sharks. Back to the boat for a spot of lunch and then later on in the afternoon we climbed up the Prince Phillip steps to see the huge red-footed booby population. It’s quite baron up where this population lives so I don’t believe they have any predators. We then cruised overnight back to Isla Santa Cruz to Las Bachas on the north coast. This was my absolute favourite part of the entire trip! I had been dying to see blue-footed boobies and we finally saw them here – and not just some, probably hundreds. They are hands-down my new favourite! After only 15 minutes on Las Bachas we’d already seen the boobies, some flying flamingos (apparently quite rare), a nesting sea-turtle (extremely rare), and the ubiquitous crabs and iguanas. Amazing! In the afternoon we went to Isla Santa Fe where we spotted some endemic iguanas, a nice sized population of sea-lions, a couple of hawks and loads more blue-footed boobies. The blue-footed boobies have an amazing fishing technique; they dive from about 40m to 2m underwater to catch their dinner. It’s an awesome sight. Las Bachas ticks all boxes!
On our last morning, back on dry land in a Puerto Ayora, we took a bus to see the twin craters, Los Gemelos, which are basically two massive holes in the ground with trees growing inside them. We then went to another tortoise ranch, Rancho Primicias which was pretty cool. They had a really good set up here, with Some food options and a really well stocked souvenir store where I picked up a nice Galápagos tote/beach bag for $15. After this, we went to some more lava tunnels just next door. These ones had lights and were pretty big but even though the others were more expensive to get to, I think they were better.
I cannot wait to go back to the Galápagos! Although we saw loads there’s still so much more to see. Isla Espanola down south sounds awesome and our guide raved about Isla Isabela so it seems like there’s a lot to see there too. I think the islands would be a great place to bring kiddies too.
Side note: The Galápagos Islands are honestly a money pit – I actually think currency evaporates here. Bring your life savings 🙂
Next stop: Havana, Cuba.