Ahhh the Galápagos Islands....a dream destination of unique animals and landscapes.
To be honest, I really didn't know much about the Galapagos but I've wanted to visit for a long time and when one of my favorite photo tour companies - Aaron's Tours - posted it as a trip, I had to sign up. According to Google "The Galápagos Islands is a volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. It's considered one of the world's foremost destinations for wildlife-viewing."
My trip was planned for 2020 and got delayed due to covid. I finally got to experience the Galapagos last week.... some come with me on my journey to these remote islands of Ecuador.
My understanding is that you can visit the islands in multiple ways - you can stay on one of the islands in a lodge and do a land tour or you can do a boat tour. They even have some cruise ships that do stops in the Galapagos. The boat tours are divided... there are so many islands and stops at each island that it is impossible (well probably not) to see everything in one trip.
On my trip, we stayed on a fairly small Catamaran. There were 8 cabins. We visited 6 of the 13 main islands. We stopped at multiple places on most of the islands.
Getting to the islands and to our catamaran was an adventure all in its own right!
Getting to Ecuador
I flew from Chicago to Miami and then Miami to Quito Ecuador. I flew in a day early as I usually do - to make sure I'm there if there are any delays with flights or luggage. I spent my free day just relaxing at the hotel and catching up on some internet classes I'm taking.
That night, I met with the group that would be my buddies for the next 10 days. A group dinner and then off to bed because of a early morning the next day.
Quito to Baltra Galapagos
5:00 am alarm on my phone and a quick shower and meet in the lobby by 5:40. A quick transport to the airport. We had to go thru a special screening for the Galapagos. You aren't allowed to bring in any animals, meat, or plant life.
Going thru check in with camera equipment is always nerve wrecking. My bags are usually too heavy and my carryons with my camera gear is ALWAYS too heavy...so it's a cross your fingers and be super nice to the check in people and hope for the best. We all go thru with no problems! Yea - a great start to the trip.
Since the restaurant wasn't open yet at the hotel, we found a little coffee stand at the airport. Waited a bit and then got on the plane. It was a 3.5 hour total plane ride with a 40 minute stop for refueling and loading / unloading passengers. We were not allowed to exit the plane.
The Airport on Baltra
We landed on the island of Baltra. it is a very very small island. The airport is carbon neutral and is the first in the region. There were a lot of signs talking about how the airport can operate that way. One of which is solar - they don't operate at night either.
We had to go thru a line to show our papers and that we paid the entrance fee for Galapagos. Carry-on bags thru another screening and then all the checked bags were laid out and a sniffer dog came to check every bag. After the dog was done, we were allowed to collect our belongings.
There was a cute little shop where several us purchased some water while we waited for our naturalist - his flight got hung up and he actually landed after us.
Getting to Our Boat - the adventure starts now
Here is where the adventure really begins. The naturalist took us outside the airport (where so many people from the last 2 planes were) and we boarded a public bus with all our belongings. They took the big checked bags and put them in the back of the bus and some underneath.
It was a short ride to the water. We offloaded the bus, claimed our luggage and then took a public boat... our luggage went ON TOP OF another boat -- so glad it wasn't raining and then the water was calm so the luggage hopefully wouldn't fall off the top of the boat. We kept our cameras and computers with us. The boat was full to capacity.
It was a super short few minute ride across the channel to Isla Santa Cruz. When we landed at the island, we offloaded the boat and walked up the pier - and we found a SLEEPING SEA LION! He was totally oblivious to all of us tourists stepping around him. Welcome to the Galapagos - yes indeed!
Time to claim our bags again and then they went onto a private air conditioned bus with us and our carry ons.
We took the bus across the island for about a 45 minute drive and then the bus stopped at another pier. They collected our bags and we just had our carry-ons and we loaded onto 2 pangas.
There were multiple more sea lions on the pier too...including this baby nursing on mama without carrying about us at all.
These are like zodiac boats. It was a bit crowded with all of us and all our gear but we managed. A little bit of spray as I was in the front and I was happy to have my rain coat to throw over my laptop bag.
The ride to the catamaran through the marina was only a few minutes. Then the crew on board our cat(amaran) took our bags and helped us onto the boat. We had a quick briefing and then assigned our cabins. Since I was the only female traveling alone, I had my own cabin.
Each cabin had either twin beds or a king and a small bathroom with shower, toilet, and sink. The water from the sink was not drinkable so we had to remember to brush our teeth with the bottled water from our water bottles. There was a cooler with the purified water in the lounge area.
We had a few minutes to get settled then had a lunch and then back on the pangas to the island for an outing. This time we just had our camera bags. Back on the bus and we drove thru the little harbor town and by all the shops to the Charles Darwin Research Station.
Santa Cruz Island and the Charles Darwin Research Station
As we walked the rest of the way, we spotted our first marine iguanas lounging on a boat ramp. I didn't really take any portraits because I figured we see them in a more natural setting then just on the concrete.
We walked the rest of the way up to the tortoise research and breeding center stopping for some small insects along the way.
At the tortoise breeding center we saw many different tortoises and some baby ones as well.
After having the tour we had about 1.5 hours on our own to walk back to town.
I stopped at a beach - there was more lava rock then sand but it was the first glimpse at the Sally Light-Foot Crab and more marine iguanas.
I kept walking and made it to the area where the locals clean their fish. There were pelicans and sea lions hoping to get a handout.
Fish cleaning station and adorable sea lions - or are they?
(I LOVE sea lions). I was so excited to see them...until one of the sea lions had diarrhea like poop and it flowed down to the other one and he just laid in it -- ICK. I could not stay and hang with them any longer.
The marine iguanas were just hanging on the sidewalk. I went into multiple shops because I realized I forgot to pack my sun glasses strap... I did find one and I was so happy.
Back to the pier and onto the pangas. A little bit of time to organize, then our briefing and dinner. They mentioned it would get quite rocky during the night - and it did. No editing for me. Just laying flat on my back in bed counting all my blessings with the help of a tiny little motion sickness pill.
Day 1 of Galapagos and what an amazing start to a dream photo trip.