The Galapagos Islands has been on our list of places to visit since we started vacationing in South America in 2004. We hadn't made it to the islands till now because we'd been deterred by the cost of a Galapagos trip, and there were still many (cheaper) places on our to-visit list for South America. After 3 years of travelling to South America, the Galapagos islands became the most appealing item left on our list; particularly since I had graduated and am working a real job now. Serene and I went on this trip with Ray and his sister, Eileen (her photos).
After visiting, I must say that the Galapagos lives up to its reputation. We were constantly thrilled by all the stunningly colored wildlife, and that the wildlife are unafraid of us humans getting really close. We visited the various islands over 8 days on the Monserrat II with Williams as our naturalist guide and had a great time; 8 days seems about the right length of time to visit, a trip shorter than that would mean missing out on some spectacular sights.
After returning from the Galapagos, we had 4 days left in Quito during which we did some high altitude hiking up Rucu Pinchincha (4698m / 15,413ft), Guagua Pinchincha (4794m / 15,728 ft), and finally Cotopaxi (5897 m / 19,347 ft). I don't think I'll ever rush my acclimitization again, 4 days was a somewhat short time for reaching 5897 m and although I reached the summit, it wasn't too pleasant compared to my climbs in the Cordillera Blanca just 6 months earlier (although our previous trip up El Misti was certainly the worst in terms of acclimitization).
These photos are our favourites from the Galapagos and Cotopaxi.
Our flight to the Galapagos was delayed by a few hours and we landed on Baltra in the early afternoon. Our naturalist guide, Williams, met us at the airport and bundled us to the Monserrat II and our 8 day trip began. We met our fellow members of the Monserrat II and everyone was really nice. The itinerary for this section of the trip was:
We had time to only visit Black Turtle Cove on the first day, where we saw turtles and sharks underwater from the rubber dinghies. Genovesa was devoid of other boats when we arrived, and it was our first encounter with birds that did not fly away when we got close. Red-footed boobies (which we didn't see anywhere else) perched on the railings on the Monserrat's top deck and looked at us curiously when we got close. There was a short dinghy ride to see the birds and fur seals along the lava cliffs before landing at Prince Philip's Steps. Prince Philip's Steps was full of Nazca and Red-footed boobies, some guarding their chicks or eggs; we also saw juvenile frigatebirds learning to fly. There was a curious marine iguana that followed us for a good part of our time on Prince Philip's Steps --- we could tell that it was the same iguana because its tail had been bitten at the end. Sea lions swam out to greet the dinghies when we landed at Darwin Bay. We also snorkeled at Darwin Bay, which was a little murky, but we got to see black-tip reef sharks, some rays, and a few sea lions dived into the water to swim with us. The wetsuits, which we purchased the week before the trip, turned out to be an excellent idea --- the water was cold enough that most people without wetsuits did not stay in the water for long.
After Genovesa, we sailed overnight to Santiago and it was a rough night; not many people slept well. The itinerary for this section was:
We anchored in Sullivan Bay and did a short boat ride to see the Galapagos penguins before landing on Santiago for a short walk on the lava fields. We also snorkeled in Sullivan Bay along the lava fields where the visibility was quite good. While snorkeling, we saw a Pacific Green Turtle swimming leisurely near us, as well as larged marbled rays and other colorful fish. After lunch, we landed on Bartolome for a short walk up to the summit to get the classic Galapagos landscape view. After Bartolome, we sailed on to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz the same day.
Half the tourists on the boat got off at Puerto Ayora because they had signed up for the shorter 4 day trip and were replaced by new 5-day tour members. We visited the Tortoise Reserve on Santa Cruz and it was our first encounter with the amazing giant land tortoises. The land tortoises were slightly more afraid of humans than the other species but you could still get very close to them. In the afternoon, we visited the Charles Darwin Station to see more land tortoises; we thought it was a little disappointing after having earlier visited the tortoise reserve where there were more tortoises and hardly any other tourists.
Espanola is our favourite island in the Galapagos for its wildlife and setting. The itinerary for this section was:
Espanola was spectacular --- at Punta Suarez, we saw marine iguanas with shades of blue, red, and green, as well as lots of blue-footed boobies doing their mating dance. We also saw a Galapagos hawk, as well as a few flying waved albatrosses and a juvenile near the sea cliffs. We had lunch anchored in Gardner Bay, and then snorkeled off Gardner Island where a family of sea lions spent the better part of an hour swimming with us. Next was a short dinghy ride to a pretty beach littered with sea lions, and we snorkeled out to a small islet just off the beach where we saw lots of marbled rays on the swim out, and a white-tip reef shark as well as large schools of colorful fishes near the islet. Isla Lobos and San Cristobal was somewhat unmemorable after all that we'd already seen, although we saw a rare Galapagos snake on Isla Lobos.
The next day, we landed on Santa Fe hoping to see land iguanas but it was a cold morning (iguanas are cold blooded and need to warm up in the sun) and we only saw a solitary land iguana in the distance among some trees. We also snorkeled off Santa Fe where the visibility was quite good and we saw lots of flounders hiding in the sand. Snorkeling back to the boat, I noticed that there was a large school of pufferfish hiding in the shade under the boat staring back at me as I stared at them.
On South Plaza, we got our fill of watching land iguanas, including an iguana that leapt up on its hind legs to feed on low hanging cacti. We also saw lots of red-billed tropicbirds on South Plaza. We also saw dominant male sea lions guarding their territory where they even chased some unsuspecting tourists that landed onshore without paying attention. While sailing back to Santa Cruz that day, a flock of frigatebirds followed the boat at sunset and it was really spectacular to see them soaring overhead at sunset with the moon in the background. We spent our final day on Bachas Beach where we watched blue-footed boobies doing synchronized dives into the water.
Before the Galapagos, we spent a few days in Quito where we walked around the old town, visited a few museums, and also visited the Mitad del Mundo (equator) as well as the "real" equator exhibit a few hundred feet from the official equator. I don't think visiting either is worth the bus ride out there. When we returned to Quito from the Galapagos, we had 4 days left in Quito during which we did some high altitude hiking up Rucu Pinchincha (4698m / 15,413ft), Guagua Pinchincha (4794m / 15,728 ft), and finally Cotopaxi (5897 m / 19,347 ft).