I spent 11 days on a trip to Ecuador and Peru with one of my best friends Carson. We originally planned to spend the whole trip in Peru, but after doing some research and a lot of planning, we decided to add a few days in the Galápagos Islands onto the front end of our trip.
The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago of islands located about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. The islands are known for their vast number of species that were studied by Charles Darwin in the 1800s. The non-inhabited parts of the islands are part of the Galápagos National Park, which means both the land and water are protected. There are 19 islands in the archipelago, and only five are inhabited by people. To visit the other islands, you must take a tour or cruise with a designated tour company and be accompanied by a guide.
Getting to the Galápagos is quite a process (I’ll be writing about specifics later). We spent our entire time in the Galápagos on Santa Cruz Island, the archipelago’s second largest island. We landed in the Baltra airport on Friday morning and made the journey to our hostel on the other side of the island. The first thing I noticed that I didn’t really expect was the diverse climates. On the side of the island the airport is on, the land is very dry and cacti are everywhere. Santa Cruz is a dormant volcano and when you drive up through the hilly center part of the island, it becomes very green and lush. The side of the island that the main city (Puerto Ayora) is on is also pretty green, but still has cacti.
Lonesome George Hostal
We LOVED staying at the Lonesome George Hostal! We reserved the room ahead of time and got our own private room and bathroom. The bathroom was very tiny but it was fine for a few days. The hostel feels like a tree house, with several different levels, lots of plants and greenery and nice wooden architecture. It’s only about two blocks from the main street and they rent out bikes to guests for free! We had a long conversation with the guy at the front desk about what he recommended we do on the island. He also helped us book a boat tour around the island for the next day. Best of all, the room had air conditioning! The island is on the equator and it was very hot and humid when we got there. Air conditioning at night was a definite bonus.
Our first stop on the island after we checked in was the restaurant called El Chocolate. It is on the main street and you can eat outside and enjoy the view of the ocean. We had heard that the ceviche in this region is amazing, so that had to be our first meal. I ate the octopus ceviche and Carson had shrimp ceviche. They were both fantastic.
Playa de la Estacion
After spending almost 24 hours traveling to get here with next to no sleep, as lame as it sounds, we just wanted to go to the beach for awhile. This beach is really close to town (about a 15-20 min walk from the main street). It’s quite tiny, but most people were swimming so there was enough room for everyone. The water was beautiful and it was so refreshing to jump in and cool off.
This almost felt like an ordinary beach, until we noticed that there were several spots around the shrubbery where marine iguanas had nests! We would’ve missed them if it weren’t for the small signs telling you to watch out.
Charles Darwin Research Station
Next, we stopped at the Charles Darwin Research Station. It’s only a five minute walk from the beach. There is a little loop you can walk along that has several signs explaining the wildlife on the islands. Then you get to the best part: several different sections with tortoises of all ages. Tortoises here live up to around 200 years! They didn’t have any large tortoises, but we saw plenty of babies which were adorable.
The grand finale of the loop was Lonesome George. George was the last of his species (Pinta Island tortoise) and died in 2012. He was sent to New York to be preserved by taxidermists. He recently returned to Santa Cruz and is now on display at the research station.
Night #1 in Puerto Ayora
We ate dinner on the second floor of a restaurant overlooking the ocean. I wasn’t thrilled by my meal and it was clear that we were paying for the atmosphere. Carson and I were exhausted due to our lack of sleep the previous night, so we came back to our room and were asleep by 9.
Tour of Santa Cruz
The next morning, we walked down to the port (about 15 minutes from our hostel) to our tour company’s storefront. We were surprised that the lady checking us in spoke no English. Most people here speak at least a little, although it isn’t as common as we expected. She somehow communicated that we would be leaving in about ten minutes, so we wandered around the port and took pictures.
Our guide gathered us and took us to the boat, only for us to find out that no one else on our boat spoke English, including our guide! This would make for a very interesting day. The guide immediately started speaking about the port and homes around the bay and we were instantly lost. Carson and I took Spanish in high school and I had been brushing up on the basics on my Duolingo app, but we were not able to understand the guide. We could pick out a few words here and there to get the general idea of what would happen next. Better than nothing at this point!
Tip: Make sure your tour guide speaks English!
Our first stop on the tour was to the Las Grietas swimming hole. We arrived at 9:30 am and it was already scorching out, so it felt amazing to jump into the cold water. The swimming area is situated between two tall cliffs. Locals used to jump off the top of the cliffs, but jumping is now banned except for off the dock that is a few feet above the water.
On the walk to Las Grietas from the boat is a salt evaporation pond. Ocean water naturally comes in at high tide and somehow gets trapped. When the water evaporates, locals go in and harvest the salt. We noticed several restaurants we ate at had plates of the sea salt. We got all of this information from a sign, by the way, not our guide.
On our next stop, a sea lion was waiting for us on the dock by the boat. I have no idea how it got up there, since the dock was probably at least 10 feet above the water. The guide yelled at it to get off the dock and we pulled up. The guide kept saying “los perros” (dogs) before we arrived. Turns out the beach we were walking to was called Dog Beach. We walked for about 15 minutes through an arid climate and got to the other side of the island where the beach is located. There are a ton of rocks, so it’s not ideal for laying on the beach. However, there were a lot of marine iguanas basking in the sun on the rocks! We took some pictures and were on our way.
Our next activity was snorkeling. I was really hoping to swim with sea lions but once again couldn’t understand the tour guide so it was a total mystery what we’d be seeing. As we were in the water I heard the driver yell “tortuga!” from the boat, which I know means turtle. He pointed and there was a sea turtle heading our way! The rest of the snorkeling trip was pretty uneventful. We saw several schools of fish, but the visibility wasn’t great so we couldn’t see far. When I heard “vamos” we swam back to the boat.
I had my GoPro strapped around my wrist with a floating strap. Somehow while I was getting into the boat, the GoPro came unclipped from the strap. I guess it’s only made to hold the weight in the water, not air. I didn’t notice until I got in the boat that my GoPro was gone. A few people tried to dive down to find it but had no luck. I literally felt sick to my stomach. Not only had I just lost a valuable camera costing several hundred dollars, but also all of my pictures from the day. I was so glad I’d saved my pictures the day before on my computer and also that I had my other camera with me to document the rest of the trip.
Sea Lions at the Port
I wasn’t feeling too cheerful when we got off the boat until we saw several sea lions lounging on the dock. Our whole tour group surrounded them to take selfies. It’s so crazy to me how they aren’t at all afraid of humans!
We passed a restaurant with a 2 for 1 drink menu at lunch and I decided it was time for a drink. I ordered a margarita and some shrimp and Carson got a daiquiri. Once again, our language barrier “hurt” us because the drink special was only if you got two of the same drink. Since our second drinks were free, we told the waitress to bring them out. Nothing like a tasty margarita to kill the pain of losing something valuable!
Tortuga Bay is the prettiest beach on Santa Cruz, according to the locals we talked to. It is located outside of town and is quite the hike to get there. We took the bikes from our hostel to get to the entrance, which saved about 20 minutes. The walk to the beach from the entrance is another 30 minutes. We didn’t realize this and the heat and tipsiness from our lunch drinks didn’t help with how long the walk felt. All I could think about the whole walk was how I was going to immediately jump in the water when we got there.
The entrance to the beach had a no swim flag, since the water was so rough that day. We decided to go for a little walk on the beach instead. Dipping our feet in the water helped. We lied down for a bit next to some rocks, where several marine iguanas joined us. When the tide decided to come up and almost wash us away, we called it a day and walked back to our bikes.
Every day, fishermen from the island bring in their catches of the day and chop them up to serve and sell on the main street. We were told they also had a fish fry, but didn’t see that happening either night. Pelicans surrounded the fishermen hoping they would make a mistake and drop some extra fish their way. It was so entertaining to watch.
Last Night in Galápagos
That night, we ate a really cute restaurant on the corner nearest to where we were staying. They had a happy hour and we got the best mojitos we’d ever had. After dinner, we walked around to do some souvenir shopping and went on the hunt for aloe (the sun here is no joke). We walked down Los Kioscos, a street full of street-food restaurants. There were tables and chairs in the middle of the street and it kind of reminded me of a food court. Wish we would’ve had time to eat here!
The next morning we left the Galápagos and flew to Lima, Peru. Stay tuned for my next post!
See my video below on our trip in the Galápagos, Cusco, and Lima!