Our journey down the Pan American Highway has already been an amazing adventure, and holds promise for even more incredible places as we continue south. Thus, the unexpected opportunity to visit the Galápagos Islands was not just like icing on the cake, it was like the sparkly candles stuck into the icing, which keep sparking back to life to spread more cheer even after you blow them out. As nature lovers, animal enthusiasts, and self-acknowledged science nerds, being able to explore the famous islands that gave Charles Darwin so much inspiration was a wonderful and unique experience.
We had read that the most affordable way to visit the Galápagos is to book everything last minute, so we did just that. We flew from Guayaquil to the small island of San Cristobal without a single tour or hotel booked in advance. It turns out that it was easy to arrange everything as you go, especially during the low tourist season, and we were able to find great deals. We spent our first two days on San Cristobal, taking a great snorkeling tour to the towering rock island of Leon Dormido (Sleeping Lion), as it’s known to the Spanish-speakers, or Kicker Rock to the Englishickly-inclined.
On our second morning we took the ferry speed boat over to Santa Cruz island, where we walked out to gorgeous Tortuga Bay.
The next morning we crossed Santa Cruz island via taxi, bus, and ferry and boarded a small yacht. Our vessel was the King of the Seas which, despite its elegant name, was a budget class boat. This meant cramped, tiny little cabins with bunk beds. But for us, after living in a van for seven months, the cabin was cozy, and we even had our own bathroom with a shower! Overall the yacht was quite comfortable with three excellent meals cooked daily by Chef Cesar, and a very kind and helpful captain and crew.
Every tour must be accompanied by a National Park guide, so we were lead by Leo, who was very friendly and knowledgeable. Only once did our overeducated scientific minds get offended by Leo’s facts, and that was when he was discussing the ages of the volcanic flows on the islands and then offhandedly claimed that the Earth was around 300 million years old. Emily practically scoffed out loud when she heard that and just couldn’t hold her tongue, so she politely informed the group that in fact the Earth is approximately 4.54 billion years old, and when pressed further by the scientifically-curious members of the group, went into nerdy detail about meteorites, lunar rocks, and zircon crystals. Despite that minor (ok, very major!) error, Leo was a great guide, always able to identify and offer interesting facts about the flora and fauna, both on land and in the sea.
We spent four days aboard the King of Seas and enjoyed every minute of it, despite the rough passages. Our days consisted of walking on one or two different islands, one or two snorkels along the rocks and reefs, then cruising at night. As duly noted by Darwin, each island varies in its plant and animal species, even if only slightly. We were overwhelmed by the abundance and beauty of the animals and couldn’t help snapping hundreds of photos, at least on land. We didn’t have an underwater camera with us, so you’ll just have to imagine all of the incredible colorful fish, different types of sharks, dolphins, sea turtles, rays, and sea lions that we saw during our snorkeling expeditions.
One of the many incredible experiences we had on the journey was when we were again approaching Leon Dormido and suddenly the sea exploded with dolphins. There were hundreds of them swimming along with the boat, playing in the waves, and showing off by jumping and twisting more than ten feet in the air. We immediately grabbed our wetsuits and snorkeling gear and jumped in to the dinghy, but it seemed that the dolphins only wanted to show off for us, not play with us, and scattered as soon as we got into the water. We did get a few close passes by the braver ones and got to hear their cheerful clicking conversations in the water. This was one of those experiences better enjoyed in the moment than behind the lens, so again you’ll have to just imagine the huge pod of happy dolphins.
Here’s a short movie of a blue-footed booby mating display:
We spent our last afternoon in the islands walking out to Darwin’s Bay, where the Beagle first set anchor. As a biologist and geologist, Emily has a strong appreciation for Darwin and his work, she also happens to share his birthday.
We owe a huge thanks to Josh and Shannon for making our Galápagos trip possible. They’re the ones that contacted us and proposed a dog exchange while we took turns going to the islands, and they took such great care of Hobie while we were gone that we didn’t have to worry about him for a second. We are very grateful and feel so lucky that we got the chance to visit such a special place.