Trip Date – June 2018
| 🇪🇨| Ecuador’s exclusive biodiversity takes center stage in the world-renowned Galápagos Islands. The volcanic archipelago is famed for an extensive catalog of endemic species and the source of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Situated nearly 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) west of mainland Ecuador, the islands routinely attract seasoned adventurers from all corners of the globe. When planning this trip and speaking with several others who had visited, the feedback was unanimously exceptional. Upon landing at Baltra airport on a summer day in June 2018, it didn’t take long to understand why.
In lieu of the well-known ‘liveaboard’ experience, my mother, sister and I opted to spend our evenings on land and booked three nights at The Royal Palm Galápagos, a secluded hideaway consisting of 21 casitas and villas in the highland forest of Santa Cruz Island. Arriving the hotel from the airport required a bus-ferry-car combo, an arrangement we made via the Royal Palm. It’s worth noting that if you visit the Galápagos individually (ie: not with a tour group), you may be charged a US$100/person ‘conservation’ fee by airport immigration. Guided tours often include this in the price of their packages.
We hit the ground running and visited the Twin Craters and Rancho Primicias that day, both of which were a short drive from the hotel. The Twin Craters, or los Gemelos, are actually not craters but holes formed by magma domes that hardened externally but continued to flow internally, a phenomenon that led to massive empty chambers. Hiking around the edge of the two pits can be done in roughly 20 minutes.
Rancho Primicias is a privately-owned ranch and arguably the best place in the Galápagos to see the iconic Giant Tortoises. Today, these creatures only exist in two areas in the world – the Galápagos and Aldabra. The Galápagos Tortoises are slightly larger, often weighing up to 400 kilos (900 pounds). Both of which have lifespans that can sometimes top 150 years. At Rancho Primicias, the tortoises roam freely and couldn’t care less about all the digital activity happening around them. I captured a video of one tortoise seemingly trying to mate with another. I’m sure Barstool would have a witty caption for the footage.
The following morning we set out on a full-day trip to Bartolomé Island. The small ‘islet’ sits off the eastern shore of Santiago and is home to Pinnacle Rock, often the postcard image of the Galápagos. Our yacht, the Altamar, departed from the Santa Cruz Ferry Terminal and took roughly two hours (each way) to Bartolomé. Hiking the 374 steps to the summit is an easy climb and provides panoramic views of some of the most unique landscape I’ve seen anywhere in the world. I couldn’t help but think of it as a taste of Mars or another distant planet. Following the trek, we cruised around Pinnacle Rock to Santiago Island’s Sullivan Bay for snorkeling. The water was like an aquarium – countless fish, turtles and sea lions. Nearby the beach was a 170-year old lava field that I explored barefoot. Despite the bumpy ride back to Santa Cruz, a visit to Bartolomé is a must when in the Galápagos.
With the bar set high by both Rancho Primicias and Bartolomé, the next day we sailed to Santa Fe for another adventure. It is slightly closer to Santa Cruz than Bartolomé – only about 90 minutes. Santa Fe is known for its endemic land iguana and a large number of sea lions, both of which we experienced in spades. The harbor was flooded with sea lions, on the rocks and on the beach. Like the tortoises, getting up close to them was easy and made for fantastic encounters. We took a short hike around the eastern part of the island and saw the prickly pear cactus and various other forms of unique wildlife. We caught a glimpse of one iguana chowing down on a fallen cactus leaf. The finale of the Santa Fe visit was snorkeling. We docked off the northern shore of the island, a spot suggested to us by our guide. The water was filled with dozens of energetic and playful sea lions. One even nibbled on my fin! If you’re snorkeling here, be sure to bring an underwater camera. Although I screwed up by not having one, this was among the most unforgettable experiences of my travel career.
We arrived back to Santa Cruz in time to visit Tortuga Bay and Las Grietas. Tortuga is on the outskirts of Puerto Ayora and lies at the end of a 2.5-kilometer (1.5-mile), well-developed footpath. On the beach near the base of the Playa Peninsula are hundreds of black marine iguanas, a species found only in this location. Las Grietas also requires walking from the town. ‘Grietas’ means ‘crack’ and describes the attraction’s large crevasse and steep rock walls. It is a unique place to swim, relax and absorb an impressive setting.
Despite arriving into Baltra, we got a better deal on departing flights from San Cristóbal which led to us taking an early morning public ferry from Puerto Ayora to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Tickets cost US$30/person and the ride takes two hours. Although not big, the boats are triple-engine cruisers and built for open-ocean crossings. After arriving, we posted up at the Golden Bay Hotel for a couple hours ahead of our flight to Guayaquil. While walking on the surrounding beach, I came across the world’s most well-behaved dog. Who knows a dog that would go absolutely bat shit crazy on a beach full of sea lions?
The Galápagos is easily one of the most memorable places in the world I have visited. I found planning the trip to be more involved than most others, mostly due to the archipelago’s remote location and the high cost of many activities. If you have questions or think I can help, don’t hesitate to get in touch. I would love to help you create a similar experience. I hope you can make it work!
Have you been to the Galápagos? What is your best memory?