Island Hopping the Galapagos: Part 1

Galapagos Marine IguanasExploring the Galapagos is like safari at sea. But unlike an elusive cheetah or lioness in the tall grasses of the savanna, the Galapagos wildlife don’t shy away…they are equally curious about you. Playful sea lions swim up to snorkelers, penguins do laps around kayakers, and iguanas sunbathe alongside you. Many of the animals you see can only be found in this 20-island archipelago and the species differences from isle to isle served as the groundwork for Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Since the islands are 97% National Park and highly regulated by UNESCO, the Ecuadorian government, and the global scientific community, it’s not a place you can roam about on your own. To maximize our time and increase our access to this one-of-a-kind habitat we called on Active Adventures, a leader in Galapagos sustainable tourism and an outfitter that lives up to its adventurous name. With their help, we packed dozens of unforgettable activities into 10 days—from biking to scuba diving to kayaking to hiking to snorkeling to volcano trekking to island hopping–with incredible wildlife sightings the whole way through. Get ready for Part #1 of our epic Galapagos adventure…

 

In the weeks before our departure, the Active Adventures team was so helpful providing packing lists, information about the required trip insurance, and all the ways to prepare for such a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Then the day came to meet our fellow Active Adventurers at Hotel Sebastian in Quito for a debriefing and a fun team dinner. Bright and early the next day we flew 563 miles from the mainland to San Cristóbal Island, the first of four Galapagos islands on the trip. (This is also where Darwin started his trip to the Galapagos in 1835.)

 

Biking the GalapagosOur incredible local guide, Jessica, picked us up at the airport and took us straight to our beachfront hotel and within the hour we were on our first excursion. We set off into the highlands with our bicycles and coasted seven miles passed coffee plantations and groves of tropical fruits with a midway stop at the Casa del Ceibo, Jessica’s family tree house. It was her dad’s childhood dream to have a tree house, so for his own kids he decided to go big…like the biggest kapok tree in South America at 25-feet in diameter with a suspension bridge, spiral staircase, bedroom, bathroom, basement in the roots and, of course, arope swing.

 

Sea Lions Rule The GalapagosThe bike ride ended at La Loberia, aka sea lion beach. We were in awe of the dozens of sea lions napping and waddling around, little did we know this was the “pequeno loberia.” An even bigger colony hangs out at the beach in the center of town, including the pier, park benches, and really anywhere they please. Seeing the way the Galapagueño locals and the sea lions cohabitate is beyond impressive. Just imagine a Sunday picnic at the beach, and the family that sets up next to you are furry and flippered…strange but normal in the Galapagos.

 

Scuba Diving Kicker RockGalapagos scuba diving is said to be among the best in the world. Not only are their seas teeming with the ever-fabulous sharks, rays, sea lions and turtles but over 2,900 other marine organisms were discovered in the Galapagos. We rounded the coast of San Cristóbal, and the foreboding Kicker Rock or León Dormido appears (FYI nearly every location in the Galapagos has two or three names due to the Brits and Spaniards early mapping). The canyon through the middle of this underwater volcano is a veritable fish highway and we were about to take a ride in the fast lane.

 

Marine life of countless varieties — hammerhead sharks, scorpion fish, Pacific green sea turtles, white tip sharks, sea lions blew our mind on this dive. Words can not describe the volume and beauty of marine life we saw on our two dives at Kicker Rock. Watch for yourselves

 

Darwin Statue GalapagosBack on land, we had a date at the Interpretation Center to learn more about the geology, biology, history, and current affairs in the Galapagos. The museum is excellent, only enhanced by Jessica’s extensive knowledge of the islands. From the museum the path diverges towards Frigate Hill, a lookout point to see these pterodactyl-like birds soar over the coastline and Charles Darwin immortalized in statue form.

 

Galapagos Dolphins from boatWe said farewell to San Cristóbal and boarded Active Adventures’ private speed boat to Floreana Island. Let’s just say if you think of this three-hour ride as an ocean roller coaster, you’ll really enjoy it…especially if you see dolphins along the way. Lucky for us this Flipper pod was one heck of a diversion.

 

Galapagos VegitationAll the islands have fascinating biological and geological tales, but Floreana takes the cake for human interest. Pirates, whalers, and marooned sailors marauded the island for centuries…then a “baroness,” her three lovers, and the Wittmer family arrived in the 1930s. The story of this love triangle didn’t end well (shipwrecks, shootings, and poison all had a role) but the Wittmers have carried on five generations later. We even had the Wittmer great grandson on our boat from San Cristóbal and spent the night at the family’s fabulous hotel on the beach.

 

Galapagos TourtiseThe Galapagos Giant Tortoises had been extinct on Floreana until the Wittmers received a pair of tortoises as a gift from a sea captain. Eighty years later there is a population of 40+ living in the highlands. We took a stroll around the tortoise sanctuary and learned these amazing creatures that can live to 150 years old, and never stop growing…some over 600 pounds! You can tell this guy is “middle aged” by his relatively small size and the distance of the rings on his shell (the smoother the center, the older the tortoise).

 

Galapagos Pirate CavesJust beyond the sanctuary and the island’s only a water source (a trickle from a cliff-side, which explains why Floreana only has population of 100 people), are the Pirate Caves. English swashbucklers loved this highland area as a hideaway from the Spanish galleons and as a lookout point for incoming ships. We wandered this rocky swath of jungle, finding caves carved with beds and shelves for storing their booty.

 

Iguana Collage GalapagosAfter hiking, snorkeling, stargazing, and eating three delicious meals, we headed back to the pier…but our nature expedition wasn’t over. Upwards of 100 marine iguanas were sunbathing on the rocks. These reptiles are endemic and are the only iguana species on the planet that swims. They look ferocious with their claws and spikes, but they’re basically lazy bums and the worst they’d do is sneeze on you (this is how they dispel salt from their oceanic diet).

 

Hike on Floreana GalapagosWhen you think about how many activities we did in just a handful of days, Active Adventures is an understatement. GALAPAGOS PART 2: See what we get up to next on the shores of Santa Cruz and the lava fields of Isabela Island!

 

Galapagos Collage
SEE MORE PHOTOS IN OUR
GALAPAGOS SLIDESHOW

 

Active Adventures invited us to be their guest and we accepted because we believe in what they do. All opinions in the above blog are whole-heartedly our own.

28 thoughts on “Island Hopping the Galapagos: Part 1

  • July 14, 2015 at 3:11 pm
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    Wow – incredibly awesome (in the truest sense of the word) and cool. Can you pet the sea lions or iquanas?

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    • July 14, 2015 at 9:50 pm
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      The Galapagos are crazy awesome indeed. The rule is to be three meters away, but often the animals come right up to you!

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      • July 15, 2015 at 8:50 am
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        (This is Wynne, by the way.) Glad you guys had a great time!

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        • July 16, 2015 at 8:49 am
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          We had the best time…thanks so much! (WEG, middle name Elizabeth by chance?That’s mine:)

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          • July 16, 2015 at 8:55 am
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            Ellen. Funny, my mom almost named me Elizabeth!

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  • July 14, 2015 at 8:55 pm
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    Fantastic post! Reminds me of our own trip. I think that’s the bigegst thing which stood out to me about the Galapagos – just how curious the animals really were! LOVED La Loberia – we went back 3 days in a row just because of how awesome the snorkelling is. Lol I loved that we couldn’t legally touch or annoy the wildlife, though the sea lions had no problem coming up and giving us a playful slap!!

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    • July 14, 2015 at 9:48 pm
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      Thanks, Megan! That’s too funny on the sea lions. It’s a one way street there but loved when they sea lions would get in our business lol. They’re the cutest! Very cool you had some quality time at the Loberia and the Galapagos.

      Reply
  • July 21, 2015 at 12:08 pm
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    I loved your pirate faces in the pirate caves 😀 I miss the Galapagos!

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    • August 29, 2015 at 12:32 am
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      Arrghhhh thanks, Anna 😉 Your trip to the Galapagos definitely brought it back on our radar, so thank YOU for that!

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  • July 30, 2015 at 2:58 pm
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    I have always wanted to go to the Galapagos. It looks beautiful!

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  • August 6, 2015 at 8:30 am
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    What a wonderful post! I have only see the same photos over and over again of iguanas and had not idea all the other stuff was even there! now adding this to the list of places I must see!!

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  • August 6, 2015 at 9:39 am
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    Hi Mike and Anne – what a fantastic post! You bought the trip to life (love your use of videos!)… LOVE the film of the sea turtles, they are so graceful. Visiting the Galapagos has always been high on my list, but it just bumped up a few notches after reading this!

    Gabby

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  • August 6, 2015 at 10:41 am
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    I am just dying to get to the Galapagos. What an inspiring posts. Active Adventures looks like a great option.

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  • August 7, 2015 at 12:57 pm
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    Looks amazing! Is the tree house still a family residence? What a dream home!

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  • August 7, 2015 at 8:21 pm
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    I loved my time on the Galapagos, but so jealous you got a) what seems like an awesome tour guide and b) to go diving. Diving there would be just such a new world to be in.

    ps. The Galapagos had the biggest dolphins I have ever seen

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  • August 8, 2015 at 12:21 pm
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    This is an amazing post. I would love to do it and was very jealous of anyone we met in South America who had the chance.

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  • August 9, 2015 at 7:25 am
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    I’d love to take my kids there when they are a little older so they can appreciate it!

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    • August 29, 2015 at 12:22 am
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      It would be absolutely amazing for kids, though agree it’s good to wait until they are old enough.

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  • August 9, 2015 at 2:05 pm
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    I’m glad that you broke up this into more posts. It sounds like you did so much! I’ve always been intrigued by the Galapagos, so I’m eating this up with a spoon! 🙂

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    • August 29, 2015 at 12:23 am
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      We could have broken it up into 5 posts there was so much to see and do! Glad you are enjoying the posts!

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  • August 10, 2015 at 1:20 am
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    These are things I love doing. Thanks for sharing. This is definitely a place I would consider going. The pictures of the iguanas.. and those claws… haha

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  • August 10, 2015 at 7:14 pm
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    Definitely on my bucket list! Loved the pictures and the videos. They just confirmed my wanting and needing to go!

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  • August 14, 2015 at 10:42 am
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    I would love to go there one day. Love the photos–wow! I have seen a lot of pictures from the Galapagos, but was so intrigued by the photo of the animal on the park bench. How strange and wonderful that they are so comfortable around people.

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  • August 27, 2015 at 3:47 pm
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    Wow. Great photos, videos and write up. Thanks for sharing! We just got back from Galapagos and loved it so much. After 103 countries, it is now definitely at the top of the list. I love love loved the wildlife, scuba diving is amazing, as you showed in this post.

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    • August 29, 2015 at 12:26 am
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      That’s awesome you were just there AND that after all the insane amount of places you’ve been, the Galapagos made the top of list. That says something. Thanks for stopping by, Savannah!

      Reply
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  • August 19, 2016 at 6:10 pm
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    I am going there in September, have booked the flights only so far. Any advice where to stay and how to book hotels?

    Reply

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