Galapagos Islands: Santa Cruz

This is part of a three part series.

After a shaky start to the day (horrendous wine induced hangover), we got off to a flying start (quite literally!) to our Galapagos adventure, when we arrived crazy early at airport check-in and were subsequently upgraded to Business Class for the 2 hour flight! We were so overjoyed (probably more than we should have been!) and spent the flight banging on about how much room we had/how comfy our seats were/how cool it was that you get a free fancy sandwich, even on such a short flight.

Touching down on the Galapagos, the excitement was palpable, as we moved with hoards of grinning chattery tourists, from airport, to bus, to ferry, to the main tourist hub of Santa Cruz island. We made friends with backpackers from Canada and Holland on the bus, as we garbed on about our independent travel plans and found out it’s pretty damn common to do the islands without a cruise. Some people had booked a crazy short stay there (like 5 days… WTF?!) and we felt pretty smug with our 2 weeks.

So we’d originally bought our tent with the idea of camping on the Galapagos, to cut costs, but after a chat with a super friendly National Park ranger, it became clear that the camping beach on Santa Cruz was a) 11km (or a $30 dollar round-trip taxi) away from town, b) $10 a night to camp, thus making it more expensive than a hostel! and c) lacking in any facilities (e.g. toilets or showers!)… so reluctantly we traipsed the streets of Puerto Ayora (the most populated town on the archipelago) looking for budget lodgings. We happened across a cool hostel (Brattle Hostel) with a British volunteer, and after some ‘good cop/bad cop’ bargaining skills (me and Sam have this down to a fine art… I’m bad cop!) we struck a deal on a sweet, huge 4-bed room with private shower, where we even had room to air our tent out, for only $25 a night! Pretty much the same as the mainland. Plus there was free water, which saves a LOT on the Galapagos as water’s super spenny (it has to be shipped around from the one island with a freshwater lake)

After checking in, we visited the Charles Darwin Research Centre where we saw giant tortoises being bred (from babies to 200 years+), crazy yellow land iguanas, and read up about the heartbreaking tale of Solitario Jorge (or lonesome George) who failed to mate throughout his life, as was the last of his species to exist (there are 14 species of giant tortoise already extinct… So sad!)

We met a nice British couple at the Research Centre and got chatting, then we strolled back through town via a rocky beach with huge pelicans fishing, and the MOST exciting, we saw our first SEA LION!! Walking past a local fish market, we saw a sealion full-on fighting pelicans and marine iguanas for the off-cuts of the huge fish being diced up. Along with a gaggle of excited tourists, we all huddled round taking pictures and trying to not get pushed into the sea by the pelicans!

That evening we found a cheap, buzzy street (Charles Bingford) with plastic tables and chairs sat outside, and grills of meats and fish as far as they eye could see. With a fun, festive atmosphere, this is pretty much the only place we ate on the island (including on our last night!) and we feasted ourselves on delicious meat skewers and ‘patacones’ (fried plantain) for just $10 total.

On our first full day on the island, we divided our time between Tortuga Bay beach and Las Grietas Lake. Tortuga Bay is a stunning white sand beach with warm, clear turqouise water and mad pre-historic looking marine iguanas lazing on the sands. When we saw our first one we thought he was dead, they’re so still! They basically move twice a day, to go into the water, and to go back to sunbathing. They’re one of many endemic Galapagos species and they look truly insane, like some kind of heavy-metal inspired iguana cartoon character. We watched them for a while on first sighting, and some people were even swimming with them in the bay!

The walk to/from Tortuga Bay is also really scenic – a windy paved 45 minute path that cuts through giant cacti, with brightly coloured lava lizards darting everywhere as you walk.

After a few hours of snorkelling with tropical fish in mangroves and sunbathing, we headed back to town for a tasty cheap lunch on Charles B (Sam had coca cola chicken which was as delicious as it sounds!) then got a quick water taxi from the port to Las Grietas Lake, which is a really cool enclave between volcanic rocks, where freshwater and seawater meet, and the snorkelling is crystal clear. Shunning the tour groups of families cannonballing into the water, we chose to stay underwater for pretty much a full hour, snorkelling with huge brightly coloured fish and marvelling at the beauty of the underwater rock formations. So peaceful!

And en route back to the water taxi, there’s a fancy beach attached to a hotel where we lazed on the sand with the beautiful Sally Lightfoot crabs (multi-coloured with a galaxy-pattern on the shell) shimmying over nearby rocks and pelicans in mangroves overhead. We also saw our first few species of little bright yellow and brown Darwin Finches – so cute!

We spent the evening planning out our top experiences for the 3 islands you can easily visit independently, cross referencing blogs, Lonely Planets, WikiTravel, and stuff we’d heard. We celebrated with a dinner of bread and jam in front of New Girl which happened to be showing in English on our TV!

The next day, keen to experience more islands, we left for San Cristobal on our first (HORRIFIC) water taxi. More on the next post…!

And we briefly returned to Santa Cruz in transit between other islands, and also for a few days at the end. We’d hoped to do a Robinson Crusoe-style few days’ camping on the far away Garrapatero Beach, but after an infuriating conversation with the Park Ranger, we discovered they can only issue permits Monday-Friday so the timing didn’t work for us and we spent the last few days just sunbathing on Tortuga Bay instead.

By this point we’d chilled out a lot and spent time in the hostel (back at Brattle) cooking pancakes, doing souvenir shopping on the main drag and eating lots of ice-cream on the pier! We did have one TERRIFYING incident on the Sunday we got back to Santa Cruz, when after eating a local lunch on Charles B, Sam suffered an allergic reaction and his face swelled up really badly! Luckily there was a hospital literally at the end of our road, so we visited A&E where a lovely team of nurses administered an injection and tablets, which it turns out are always free for allergies! Pretty lucky we weren’t on our isolated beach! So if you suffer from allergies, ‘Caldo de Bolla’ is one to be missed – a soup made of both peanuts and fish! Argh.

Anyway! Onto our second island, San Cristobal!…

This is part of a three part series.