Galapagos: Santa Cruz Island

Arriving at the Galapagos Islands

For the second part of my Ecuador trip we had a morning flight from Quito to the Galapagos Islands. This was all included and organised as part of the Explore Volcanoes and Galapagos tour and Leo had checked us all into the flight the previous night ensuring we had window seats!

We had said goodbye to Wilson earlier the same morning as he had driven us for the last time to Quito International Airport. But it was not goodbye to Leo who had accompanied us on the flight and would be guiding us throughout our Galapagos adventures.

Basra Island

We arrived at Basra a tiny island mainly dedicated just for the airport. Our luggage was unloaded from the plane and we watched as a drugs dog sniffed around all of the cases. We had also had to pay an environmental fee of $100 each to enter the Galapagos. Customs have a strictly controlled policy of not allowing any agricultural or plant materials to the islands.

From the airport we had a short bus journey which took us to a jetty for a boat across the shimmering azure channel between Basra and Santa Cruz.

Luggage balanced on the roof of the boat

Above is one of the small taxi boats which take passengers and their luggage from the airport island of Basra to Santa Cruz island. We watched nervously hoping none of our cases would fall into the water!

Los Gemelos

As part of our Galapagos itinerary we would be spending our first night on Santa Cruz island, the next two nights on Isabela island and the final 3 nights back on Santa Cruz. This post will cover all Santa Cruz activities for both stays and the next post will cover Isabela.

From the airport and our boat to Santa Cruz island our large comfy bus took us to a cloud forest to see two volanic crators known as ‘Los Gemelos’ (the twins). These are both 30 m deep and were formed when empty caverns collapsed on themselves when left empty of flowing lava.

This was the first of many surprises of the Galapagos! I had no idea we would be visiting a somewhat chilly cloud forest shortly after arriving in the warm sunshine on Basra!

Scalesia Forest

While at Los Gemelos we did the short trail past both craters through the damp Scalesia forest. This time we had Jimmy as our local guide who spent a great deal of time explaining the geography of the Galapagos, complete with drawing us a map in the dirt using one of Sherry-Ann’s walking poles! He explained that while the Galapagos is located on the equator, currents from the south i.e. Chile and Antartica cause variations in temperature across the islands.

The trail at Scalesia Forest

Next up was lunch and a visit to a Giant Tortoise Reserve. As we were driven to the El Chato Ranch we had to stop in the road to let some giant tortoises cross! We thought we may be there for a while so we got out and watched tortoises roaming about in the fields and woodland where they are free to wander as they please.

Tuna for lunch

Unsurprisingly, tortoises were a thing throughout the Galapagos… they adorned tee shirts and socks, they were represented as huge tortoise statues and they even sat atop little ornamental sauce pots at the dinner table! At this place throughout lunch we enjoyed organic Galapagos coffee from which we could help ourselves at any time.

Inside a lava tunnel

After lunch Jimmy took us on a tour of the grounds of the El Chato Ranch where we saw giant tortoises in their natural habitat. Jimmy took us into one of the lava tunnels and explained the volcanic geology and formation of the islands.

Giant tortoises at El Chato Ranch
Hello!
Puerto Ayora

We stayed for the first night in Puerto Ayora the main town of Santa Cruz. Once we had checked into the Deja Vu hotel, Leo took us on a guided familiarisation walk around Puerto Ayora. We were all surprised at the size and touristy nature of the town as we walked past modern cafes, bars and restaurants and upmarket gift shops.

Mumma and baby sea lions

Leo showed us the marina and boardwalk area and during those first couple of hours we saw sea lions chilling on benches, pelicans nesting in trees and stingrays swimming in the sea at the marina. People are not allowed to go within 2 meters of any of the wildlife and had to ensure their flash was turned off if they wished to take photographs.

Looking for dinner!

For dinner tonight Leo took us to a street food market which was lined with informal eateries. This was our first taste of Galapagos cocktails which were being served at 3 for $10USD.

The next morning we set off for Isabela Island for 2 nights and this will be documented in the next blog post. However as we returned for a further 3 nights in Santa Cruz my next set of Galapagos adventures is covered below.

Back in Santa Cruz!

Following our two nights in Isabela we arrived back in Santa Cruz late in the afternoon and back to the Deja Vu hotel. Hmmmm… must be a joke in there somewhere…

And straight back to the fun, frolics and liveliness of Puerto Ayora!

For our first night back in Puerto Ayora we found a lively restaurant with live music!

Our yacht

This was followed the next day with a wonderful and relaxing sail in a yacht to Seymour Norte island for a full day of hiking, snorkelling and beach. We were driven to the north of Santa Cruz where we boarded and then balanced on the side of a small dinghy which took us to the yacht where we had to climb up the steps at the side to onboard!

Disembarking the dinghy

We were all in high spirits sitting in the sun on the deck of the yacht as it sailed towards Seymour Norte island. As we neared the island, the yacht anchored a distance from the shore and we had to disembark back onto the dinghy which took us to the small rocky island.

Seymour Norte Island Trek

Transferring from the dinghy to the rocky landing platform was a mission as waves rocked the dinghy about and you had to try and time your leap onto dry land before a wave took the boat away and you would end up in the water! Thankfully all of us were transported safely and with no mishaps.

Swallow-tailed gull

Immediately we were greeted by thousands of birds of different species. Seymour Norte Island is also home to around 2500 land iguanas.

Blue footed booby

It wasn’t long before we spotted Blue Footed Boobies and Swallow Tail Gulls along the low level cliffs of the island.

Great Frigate bird
Land iguana
Land iguana
Walking through the scrubby vegetation of Seymour Norte island

As well as our Explore group of 8 there we shared the day with other passengers so I would say there was about 16-18 of us. We were taken on a tour of the island, following the guide and taking care to stick to the footpaths.

Nesting Magnificent Frigate birds

It was quite fascinating to witness nesting Magnificent Frigate birds and to hear the ‘knocking’ noise they make during courtship.

Male Magnificent Frigate bird

Male Magnificent Frigate birds inflate their throat pouches to attract females.

Sea lion and pup

We walked past a blue footed booby in its nest on the ground and reached a beach at the other side of the island where we saw some sea lions.

Sea lion

What an incredible concentration of wildlife! The excitement continues… we returned via a less precarious dinghy transfer to the to the yacht to change into wet suites ready for the second part of the trip…

Snorkeling

Next was fantastic snorkelling near to the cliffs of Seymour where we saw amazing colourful fish.

We followed our guide as he swam alongside the cliff edge and he pointed out stingrays and other marine life.

King Angelfish
Yellow-tailed Surgeon Fish
Getting a rinsing!

The dinghy returned us safely to the yacht and we were asked to make our way to the front deck. Here one of the crew unexpectedly rinsed our hair with a cold hose pipe!

Looking more refreshed!

Once we had changed from our wetsuites, a surprisingly delicious lunch of tuna, vegetables and mashed potato was served downstairs in the lower desk of the boat.

Arriving at the beautiful beach

Beach

The third and final section of the day was an hour spent at Playa Las Bachas a beautiful white sand deserted beach.

The dinghy took us again and this time pulled up close to the beach so we just had to wade through the sea for a couple of steps.

Just at the back of the beach was a wetland area with a flamingo.

Crabs dotted on the volcanic rocks

And scampering on the black volcanic rocks were bright colourful Sally Lightfoot crabs (also known as red rock crabs) which are found in the Galapagos and also along the west coast of Central and South America.

Sally Lightfoot crabs

Sadly it was time to leave the paradise beach and return on the yacht and then the bus back to the hotel. We enjoyed dinner and more cocktails in Puerto Ayora before another paradise beach the following day!

Tortuga Bay

Path towards Tortuga Bay

This was our final day on the Galapagos and in the morning Jimmy lead us along the 5 km paved pathway from Puerto Ayora to Tortuga Bay.

As we walked we saw some geckos and giant cacti and Jimmy explained that when he was a boy, he and his friends had to walk through the harsh volcanic terrain in order to reach the beach. He also explained that ‘tortuga’ means both ‘tortoise’ and ‘turtle’ in Spanish, i.e. land tortugas and marine tortugas.

Arriving at Tortuga Bay

Tortuga Bay is a wide stretch of white sand and it was odd but at the same time pretty cool to see marine iguanas strolling along the beach and also swimming in the sea!

Pelican

We saw several pelicans nesting in the mangroves surrounding the beaches.

The initial stretch of Tortuga Bay is wild and rugged with choppy waves. However if you continue along the beach and turn right at the end you reach a calm lagoon with no waves. The 8 of us laid out our towels and ventured into the sea. With sharks. A group of at least 30 sharks were swimming around the shallow waters at the end of the beach near the mangroves and having been told they were vegetarians we stood thigh deep in the sea while they circled around our legs.

Walking back along Tortuga Bay

Charles Darwin Research Station

Baby giant tortoise

After lunch we re-grouped and met Jimmy for the final time when he took us to the Charles Darwin Research Station, a 15 minute walk from our hotel Deja Vu. Much of the centre is outdoors and interspersed with educational points and wooden boardwalks. As well as many research scientists the centre is home to a giant tortoise breeding programme.

Lonesome George model

We learned about Lonesome George, the last survivor of the Pinta Island giant tortoise species. In his final years, George was the only giant tortoise of his kind and when he died in June 2012 at the Charles Darwin Research Station, the species became extinct. George is a symbol of the importance of conservation.

We had our final evening in the Galapagos before our flight to Guayaquil on the Ecuador mainland the following morning and reflected over dinner on the magical experiences we were lucky to have had. (Although the next post will cover our two days on Isabela island so more Galapagos adventures to come…)

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