Penguins dash between the pier pylons, blue-footed boobies dive bomb for fish, sea lions sunbathe on the back of unmanned boats…and we haven’t even docked our boat. You’d think this was a Sea World show but it’s everyday life in the Galapagos and part two of our 10-day expedition with Active Adventures (read the first post here). From Isabela to Santa Cruz Island, our next five days would involve scaling active volcanoes, snorkeling with iguanas, hanging with baby giant tortoises, kayaking with sea lions, and enjoying island life in one of the wildest archipelagos on the planet.
We arrived at Isabela’s Puerto Villamil, a laid-back town with sandy roads, sweeping beaches, and an active volcano in the distance. Our very chic hotel was in a quiet cove and a short seaside stroll to cabana bars, cafes, and courts for ecua-volley (Ecuador’s version of volleyball with three player teams and a little bit of gambling).
Shortly after check in and a delicious ceviche lunch, we were off to the Arnaldo Tupiza Tortoise Breeding Center. Anything that can grow to 600 lbs and live for 150 years hardly seems fragile, but giant tortoises only have a 60% chance of making it in the wild and were nearing extinction in the Galapagos. The breeding center allows them to successfully mature and harden their shell until they are realeased into the wild at the age of five. It was amazing to witness the full life cycle of a tortoise from itty-bitty newborns to massive centenarians. (Tortoises can reproduce well into their 100s!) Fun Fact: The name Galapagos refers to these giant tortoises. Spanish explorers coined the name for the islands after seeing a slew of tortoises with shells the shape of “Galapagos-style” saddles.
Our next adventure was an 11-mile hike up the Sierra Negra Volcano and across the Volcan Chico lava fields. This volcano has been regularly erupting for the hundreds of thousands of years, with the most recent being a month prior to our arrival. Did this stop us from hiking there? Heck no! It made it all the more exciting. Watch this video to see our trek through a tropical forest to the rim of a massive crater and down to the lunar landscape of the parasitic volcanoes.
We had the next morning free to recoup from the hike and gear up for our next adventure…Kayaking the volcanic islets of Isabela Bay.
Paddling through the teal water, we had a cheeky sea lion swim alongside us and we spotted bird life galore. Pelicans, herons, blue-footed boobies, and Galapagos penguins (the only penguins in the northern hemisphere) were everywhere–fishing, preening, and shaking their tail feathers. Fun Fact: The socially awkward naming of the Blue-footed “Booby” comes from the Spanish word “Bobo,” meaning fool or, essentially, a clown that walks funny with big bright shoes.
Just when our day seemed like it couldn’t get wilder, we went snorkeling in the Calera Channel. The islands on either side are marine iguana colonies, making the water in between a veritable aquarium to watch these serpent-like beasts cut through the sea with their powerful tails and sharp claws. The Galapagos is the only place in the world iguanas can swim and with our mask and fins, we got to see them from every angle…not to mention, massive sea turtles and eagle rays along the way.
Sometimes you just have to pinch yourself in the Galapagos. Birds with neon blue feet, tropical penguins, and pink iguanas? We must be dreaming. To believe it ourselves, we made this video of our unreal wildlife encounters around Isabela Bay.
Continuing our island hopping through the Galapagos, we arrived at Santa Cruz—the commercial and geographical center of the archipelago. This island is essentially a massive dormant volcano, but you can see traces of its activity wherever you go. Pumice cliffs, craters, and lava tunnels–some extending 6,000-feet in length–are all around the island.
Even in the Galapagos’ largest town of Puerto Ayroa, we were just feet from the national park. We hiked from our hotel downtown to the pristine Tortuga Bay, following a lovely stone trail until it opened up to an expanse of sand and sea. The beach led to a grove of cartoon-like cacti and a favorite sunbathing spot for marine iguanas. We turned back just before dusk and our footprints seemed to turn three-dimensional in the equatorial sun.
The Galapagos has been near the top of our bucket list since the HoneyTrek began. Going to the veritable “origin of the species” and spotting a Darwin Finch, walking along-side a giant tortoise, and swimming with a pair of hammerhead sharks…these are HD dreams and they come with high expectations. Did this world-renowned archipelago live up to its name? You bet it did. We were completely dazzled by the wild nature of the Galapagos, and most of all, our access to it. Active Adventures itinerary was so thoughtfully planned and seamlessly executed. They gave us an all-access pass to the National Park and all the tools and toys to enjoy every moment. We consider ourselves very independent travelers and capable of just about anything, but there is no way we could have done even half of the activities or gained a fraction of the knowledge without their expert local guiding. Traveling to the Galapagos is a once-in-lifetime experience, and we’re thrilled did it right.
Active Adventures invited us to be their guest in the Galapagos, and we accepted because we believe in what they do. All opinions in the above blog are whole-heartedly our own.