A Beautiful Paradise: The Galapagos Islands
January 1, 1970
by Alessandra Cani
A few years ago I was lucky enough to spend two weeks in this beautiful place. I have always wanted to go to the Galapagos Islands, so I took the first chance I found and I am so glad I did! Even though I went on a short budget, I enjoyed every second. If you love being surrounded by nature and encounter wild animals all around, you should definitely go there!
The Galapagos Islands and their surrounding waters form the second largest Marine Reserve in the world and are also a whale sanctuary, which means that every marine habitat and the animals living there are protected, a very compelling fact for a marine biology student like me, but also for the hundreds of people visiting every day.
How to get there?
One thing you have to take into account is that this trip won’t be cheap but it will be worth it. The fastest way to travel is by plane, they fly every day from Guayaquil and Quito but only in the mornings. The Galapagos airport is in one of the smallest islands, it has only the airport and a very small town mainly for people working there. Once there, you need to pay a fee for the entrance to the National Park. After that, you have to take a bus to the port and then a boat that will take you to Santa Cruz Island, the most populated of the Archipelago, and finally, you take a bus that will take you to the town centre.
Now, from personal experience, I need to say that you shouldn’t get disappointed in the bus ride to the centre of Santa Cruz, the view at the beginning is not much but it gets better once you crossed to the other side of the island, so be patient! Because once you get there you will understand why everybody calls it a paradise.
Couchsurfing is a very popular choice in Santa Cruz. I had a not so nice experience with that, but I met people that had good experiences. Personally, I would recommend you to book a room in a hostel or in one of the many B&B and small hotels close to the centre and, if possible, make sure that it has an air conditioner in the room because it is hot in Galapagos!
The Beauty of Nature
I stayed mainly on Santa Cruz Island, were Puerto Ayora is (the main port of the islands), and just by walking close to the shore I got to see animals I have never seen in the wild before! The first to catch your eye is the seals, they are everywhere around the port, sleeping on the boats and platforms, under the chairs and even in the middle of the walking path; you can get very close to them and take pictures as long as you don’t touch them (it is forbidden to touch any wild animal unless you have a permit). If you look at the water during the day you might see a green turtle swimming around, or many colourful fishes and octopuses between the rocks, or even small sharks and golden rays. At night you might catch the seals in action. We were very lucky to witness a baby seal learning to fish! It was adorable.
If you take a taxi-boat from Puerto Ayora, it will take you to different places that you can only reach by seas such as Las Grietas, a crack that opened between two cliffs in the middle of a mountain that is filled with ocean water coming in from below the rocks and creating a unique sight ideal for snorkelling, and some sandy beaches full of turtles eating around the manglers. You can also find everywhere the Galapagos marine iguanas, sunbathing on the rocks or on the sand or swimming close to the shore, as well as many species of birds, including the famous Darwin’s finches, which played a very important role on the development of his Theory of Evolution. But I have to admit that, for me, the main attraction of the islands was underwater.
Scuba Diving in the Galapagos
The islands of the Archipelago are of volcanic origin, which means that they are mostly rocky islands and the home of a huge variety of organisms that use these environments as their home. I went scuba diving to 4 different sites, and the amount of life that we encountered was just amazing! I was also very lucky to be with my friend Paula, who happens to be a submarine photographer, so you can imagine the beautiful pictures we got from our dives.
There are hundreds of diving centres all over town. Even if you are not a certified diver you have the option of doing a practice session followed by scuba diving in the sea, and this option is also available for kids. If you are lucky, you will go on a good day with clear water and sunshine. In my case, the water was a bit turbid but the visibility was still quite good.
Once underwater, the guides took us around the rocks and reefs, and every time they spotted a peculiar animal they made a sign for us to go see it, otherwise, we just tried to stick together while exploring around. Between the incredible creatures we found, I could mention: a lot of fishes of all sizes and colours, including a giant flatfish that was so well camuflaged that we barely missed it; nudibranchs, which are little molluscs with extraordinary colours and shapes; sea stars and sea urchins of all sizes; whitetip sharks everywhere around the reefs; green turtles foraging and in their “cleaning stations”, that is when they let small fishes to clean them by eating the parasites and other microorganisms they might have on their shell and body; we even saw a few hammerhead sharks swimming by. We also spotted a whale from the boat before one of the dives, but sadly it was too far away and it disappeared quite fast.
Other Attractions in Santa Cruz
If you are travelling on a budget, I would recommend you to stay in Santa Cruz Island, walk around the shore and town, visit the Charles Darwin Research Centre and their giant Galapagos tortoises and iguanas. You can also take a taxi to take you to see the giant tortoises in the wild, since there is only one area left on the island where they are still living free.
Walking around town you will eventually find the fisherman’s market, and of course, where there is food there are always smart animals trying to steal it. In this case, it was a combination of pelicans and seals. One of the funniest memories I have of that trip is to watch a seal steal an entire fish from a fisherman’s table in the two seconds he turned around!
You can also find a variety of restaurants with typical Ecuadorian and local food and drinks, and bars all over the city with special Happy Hour offers for delicious tropical cocktails. If you want to eat something fast, good and not too expensive, there is this street called “Calle El Hambre” or “The Hunger Street”, there you will find almost everything.
If you have the time and the money, I would recommend visiting the other islands as well. I couldn’t do it but I met people who did and said that it was totally worth it!
Galapagos In Summary…
- Wonderful places with amazing views.
- Ideal for snorkelling and scuba diving.
- Wild animals all around.
- Perfect to relax and enjoy your vacations surrounded by nature on a tropical island.