Alright here we go! The Galapagos Islands. It’s an almost mythical location that I had been dreaming of visiting ever since I learned about its wonders in high school. Several decades ago (in 1835 to be nerdy) Charles Darwin came to these islands, and started reflecting about the evolution of life and its species. And as we all know he explored the Galapagos Islands with great success.
But especially the harmonious life between fauna and flora had me intrigued, so I was thrilled to finally visit the islands while I was living in Ecuador.
Unlike most tourists, who visit the islands on (small) cruise ships, we booked a couple of nights on Santa Cruz island. This is a lot cheaper, and you really get to experience the Galapagos way of life. Santa Cruz is the second largest island, located conveniently in the center of the archipelago. Because of this, it’s also the main tourism hub, close to the airport on Baltra Island.
The main city on Santa Cruz is Puerto Ayora, a bubbly little harbour town crowded with locals, tourists and animals of all sorts. There are several local tour operators where you can book boat trips to the surrounding islands. I definitely recommend booking a trip to Isabela Island, where you can visit the second largest volcanic caldera in the world (the first being Yellowstone National Park).
I was very surprised by how big the town of Puerto Ayora is! More than 25.000 people call the Galapagos Islands their home, and a little over 12.000 of them live in Puerto Ayora. All around town there are boats arriving and sailing off, children splashing in the water together with the seals, tour guides hunting for customers, birds flying about, tourists clicking away, Darwin merchandising being oversold, and fishermen cleaning their fresh harvest with the welcome assistance of a dozen eager pelicans. A happy mix of species!
We stayed on Santa Cruz Island for almost a week, and there are a lot of cool places to discover (see checklist below). Also, make sure you visit the small fishermen’s dock in Puerto Ayora. After spending only a few minutes there you really understand what the Galapagos Islands are all about. In a single glance you can see fishermen, seals, herons, pelicans and the signature blue footed boobies. Like almost all fauna and flora on the islands, they are all harmoniously living together.
Checklist on what to see/do on Santa Cruz Island:
> Snorkeling with sea lions – quite a kick!
> Tortuga Bay – spot plenty of wildlife on this jawdroppingly perfect paradise beach
> Charles Darwin Research Station – refresh your history lessons, and visit the tortoise breeding centre (prepare for cuteness!)
> Giant Tortoise Preserves – close encounters with the signature Galapagos animal
> Las Grietas – snorkel through volcanic fissures in crystal clear water
> Los Gemelos – twin craters in the midst of a beautiful forest
> Lava tunnels – need I say more?
> El Garrapatero – paradise beach + flamingo-filled mangrove