No, this is not a real iguana!!
The excitement was pretty unbearable when I woke up early on Sunday morning - I was going to the Galapagos Islands, oh my god. When I planned my South American trip, I had kind of written it out of the plan as too expensive. However, whenever I bumped into anyone who had been there, I kept hearing that it was the best thing they'd done on their entire trip....so decided to take the plunge and go for it. Not cheap, no, but certainly one of the more unique parts of our world, so hopefully it would be worth it!
Our flight with Aerogal was at 8.40am, so we got to Guayaquil airport two hours before, eager to check in. There's a bit of a process to go through, registering with Ingala and having bags searched for any number of things they are trying to keep off the islands (to protect its fragile ecosystems), but we still had to wait for the Aerogal check-in staff to turn up (they looked they had been on an all night bender) and they casually took their positions and eventually we got our bags sorted.
Puerto Ayora harbour
The flight itself was pretty uneventful (crap food, like airplane meals of 20 years ago), but an hour and a half later we touched down on the islands' main runway at Baltra
airport. More procedures of checks, registrations and questions before we could grab our bags from the non-existent bag carousel (the airport is amazing really, being little more than a wooden hut, but with giant Boeing 737s sitting outside). We decided to have a couple of days on Santa Cruz island before starting our cruise, so it meant getting from the airport to the main town, Puerto Ayora
. It involved getting a free bus from the airport to the 'Canal' (which separates Baltra island from Santa Cruz), a shuttle ferry (80c) and another local bus ($1.
Pelican just resting up!
60) for 45 minutes across Santa Cruz. The weather didn't look promising as it was cloudy and there seemed to be a lot of mist (this turns out to be almost permanent in the highland areas of Santa Cruz), but we already had smiles on our faces when we got off as we saw the perfectly turquoise water of the harbour in Puerto Ayora - wow! And not just that, sea lions!! Sea lions which looked like they were on an equal footing with humans as they lazed on stairs and tables on the waterfront (we later realised that in fact the sea lions clearly are the superior race here as they really do just what they want!). They were joined by huge pelicans swooping down and plucking fish from the water....it was just one of the eye-opening, 'I can't believe I'm actually here' moments....that first hour will stick long in the memory.
We went and found somewhere to stay for a couple of nights - word of mouth had led Amanda to find out about Che-Che's Refugio - basically one of the guides has a couple of appartments built onto his house and rents them out to tourists. It was perfect for us, a short walk to town, plenty of room (a two bed appartment to ourselves), all for only $15 (£10) each a night....things were working out nicely, happy days! Our lazy first day was complete with dinner in The Rock, a cracking bar/restaurant on the main strip with a cool atmosphere and a place where you can see everything going on in town.
Our first day and I was already wondering....'could I live here??!'...ha ha.
We took in the Charles Darwin centre (free), which was a pretty good introduction to the history of the islands, the species and the efforts now being made to try and preserve this unique paradise.
Lonesome George on the prowl (for food, not women I think)
We also got to see Lonesome George, a giant tortoise from Pinta island, who due to previous overhunting is now the only remaining tortoise of his species anywhere in the world. He seems to have trouble getting it up as they tried finding him a partner, but he doesn't seem tooo interested - 'you're right George, women are only trouble!!' I thought as I walked by!
In the afternoon, we ventured out to Bahia Tortuga (Turtle Bay) - a stunning beach about 2.5km from town. Perfect white powder sand, crashing waves, lava rocks and....hundreds of cute little marine iguanas! These guys are so cool its untrue. They lope around at their own pace, or just simply soak up the rays, completely unfazed by us walking a foot away from them. There's also a lovely sheltered bay a bit further on, which was great to swim in (snorkels would have been handy).
It was just a great chilled out afternoon in the sun...quality! We met up with Catherine (who we met at Nucapacha in Guayaquil and who is volunteering out here) and some of her school teacher chums for dinner and a few drinks, chatting about our imminent cruise tomorrow...how would the boat turn out??!
CRUISES, COSTS & INFO
Thanks to the recommendations of Isabelle at Dreamkapture (www.dreamkapture.com), Amanda and I plumped for a 4 day cruise to see the magic and mysteries that are the Galapagos Islands. Its not cheap to get here I can tell you and foreigners get right royally stung. Flights cost $325 (£225) return with Aerogal, then you need to have $100 in cash to pay the national park entrance fee when you arrive on the islands.
Amanda running off down Turtle Bay beach!!
Then there's the $10 plastic card that registers you and acts as your ID card for your stay. We booked a 4 day cruise on a budget boat called Flamingo, costing $550 each. So basically, we had spent $1000 (£600) each before we'd even left....hey ho!! In hindsight, in low season you could easily wait until you get out to Galapagos and book a cruise here, there are loads of agencies selling tours (both cruises, day tours, diving, snorkelling etc etc) and you may get a slightly better price, but don't expect to get an absolute knock down price - all boats have their minimum prices and will leave spaces empty rather than offer ridiculous fares.
Definitely recommended is spending some time independently outside of a package cruise though - you get a different experience and get a better feel for the islands and the people by walking around the towns.
Hello Mr Iguana
Its easy to book flights that go into Baltra and out of San Cristobal
for no extra cost and it gives plenty of flexibility - all tickets are changeable at no cost (as no doubt you'll extend your stay like we did!!).