After an early morning and an easy flight, we finally stepped foot on Galapagos and met our guides, Danny and Jose Angel. Part of the park’s success is due to controlled access – our guides will be with us throughout the entirety of our time here and are a great resource for the students as they learn about life on the islands. We landed on Baltra Island, an old American military base that now is home to the busiest airport in the Galapagos, just off the coast of Santa Cruz Island. After having lunch in town in Puerto Ayora, we loaded up into a speed boat for a three-hour ride from Santa Cruz Island to Isabela Island. Isabela is the largest of the islands, making up about 60% of the Galapagos land mass.
The next morning we visited the Centro de Crianza Arnaldo Tupiza, a Galapagos tortoise breeding center, one of three in the Galapagos. The students had a chance to photograph, watch, and listen as hundreds of Galapagos tortoises in all different life stages, and ate a hearty lunch of otoi, or elephant ear. Leaving the tortoise center, we took a boardwalk path through a wetland – herons could be seen scanning the water for prey, and we watched as a marine iguana prehistorically swam through the water. We walked along the beach to lunch, iguanas at our feet and frigate birds above us.
Post lunch we split into two groups to do kayaking and snorkeling! The first group of snorkelers were accompanied by a curious sea lion who darted in and out of the students. The second group was jealous, until a green sea turtle swam up gracefully and allowed us to follow her for a couple minutes. Kayaking the bay was super fun. We saw penguins, blue footed boobies, pelicans, and lots of sea lions!
The next day on Isabela was mellow — we decided to have a bit of a beach day for some R&R. After breakfast we headed down to the front beach for a dip, then walked down the coast to a surfing beach called El Faro, where we all got the chance to surf! The students had a blast, some standing up on a board for the first time, others perfecting their skills.
Santa Cruz Island
Santa Cruz has the largest population of the 4 populated islands, and after a couple day on Isabela, seeing cars and paved streets made us all feel like we were in a city again. We landed around midday and headed to lunch at Cafe Hernán, a local hangout with great pizza and delicious pastas. Post lunch, we followed a paved trail through a jungle of native plants and chirping mockingbirds to a beautiful beach called Tortuga Bay.
Our toes were grateful to have a couple hours in the sand as we made our way down the bay to a small estuary called Playa Manzana. This protected bay is nothing short of picturesque – beautiful green mangroves provide much needed shade and the white sand beach flows into the shallow warm waters. The students enjoyed some relaxation time on the beach, playing frisbee and meeting other groups of students on expedition.
We also stopped by the famous Charles Darwin Research Station, where the students were able to see more tortoises and learn about land iguanas before heading to lunch at our FAVORITE spot – Galapagos Deli. We eat ice cream here every chance they get!
San Cristobal Island
Day one in San Cristobal was short as we arrived from Santa Cruz in the afternoon. We laid on the beach at Playa Mann, a small stretch of sand where locals, sea lions, and tourists all mingle against the backdrop of the Galapagos capital, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Students had the opportunity to just sit and watch juvenile sea lions as they suckled from their mothers.
San Cristobal is reportedly the first island that Charles Darwin set foot on, and we were lucky to visit the bay where he first approached land. Known as “Las Tijeretas” by locals, due to a large population of frigate birds (called Tijeretas) that nest there, Darwin Bay was beautiful. We swam with turtles, playful sea lions darted in and out of the group, and we were lucky to see a group of about 10 stingrays scurry along the sea floor. Everyone enjoyed the snorkel – the first of two on our second day in Cristobal. That afternoon, we ventured to a beach called “La Lobería”, where we saw tiger snake eels, a couple baby sea lions, and more turtles! The shallow clear waters made for an easy, enjoyable snorkel. Outside the bay, powerful waves pounded brave surfers, an entertaining sight for those who chose to stay on shore.
Our final day in Cristobal was a highlight for everyone. After breakfast, we split the group into two to load up onto two boats – both headed for Kicker Rock, or León Dormido, as they call it here in Galapagos. This famous open water snorkel spot is notorious for wildlife – schools of hammerheads, cruising Galapagos sharks, manta rays, the occasional whale shark, and an endless amount of fish, all feeding off the 450ft wall of volcanic rock. While the visibility wasn’t ideal, both groups were still able to see sharks, turtles, and large schools of reef fish. The water was a little chilly, yet the adrenaline from swimming with sharks at the foot of 150m cliffs that rise like cathedrals out of the deep blue water kept us all warm enough to enjoy.