Visiting the Galapagos Islands was truly an amazing experience! We couldn`t wait to get out of Quito so we booked our trip on a 4 day cruise aboard the Liberty, which is a 70 foot motor yacht classified as first class (also known as the Estrella Del Mar II). When booking, our main concern was obviously cost so we chose our boat based on it`s "super last minute special deal". We later learned that most of the boats have multiple names, so we were actually quoted several different prices for the same boat. Tricky but crafty! Thankfully, we chose the cheaper option not knowing that it was the same boat. Needless to say, we were very excited to be on a first class yacht while paying a budget price!
After a very early morning we arrived in Baltra on the main island of Santa Cruz (about an hour and a half plane ride from Guayaquil on Aerogal Airlines). The tour operator was at the airport waiting for us to take us over to our boat. The airport is quite far from where the boats are actually docked, in fact on the completely opposite side of the island. We took a 10 minute bus ride, followed by a 15 minute boat ride, followed by another bus for an hour to the main town of Puerto Ayora.
Upon arrival, we were immediately taken on a small zodiak to our yacht to get settled in our room and have a debrief on the coming adventure. We lucked out as we got a room on the top at the back of the boat, exactly what we wanted! After a short lunch we took the small zodiak back to the main island and onto a bus for 45 minutes to a giant tortoise farm where we saw dozens of the huge, 100 year old Galapagos tortoses within a meter (see our pictures in the photo album). Upon returning to the boat we had an excellent dinner and sailed off to our third island destination, North Seymour Island.
We traveled to North Seymour throughout the night so when we awoke the next morning we were already at our destination. While washing up I looked out the window and saw three sharks circling our boat, not something everyone gets to experience and something that will always stick in my mind! The days were jam packed with activities so after an early breakfast at 7:00am we were already on our first island by 8:00am. The animal and reptial life was spectacular. We saw blue footed boobies, frigate birds, land and marine iguanas, and many sea lions. The hike was a couple hours and then it was back to the boat to prepare for snorkeling the crystal clear waters. We we took the zodiak a small distance away and we went snorkeling. It´s ironic that our guide wouldn´t let us swim by the boat with the sharks, but 500 meters away was perfectly fine. The water was very calm and clear so we had an amazing view of all kinds of fish and a couple small sharks. Luckily the three big guys by the boat didn`t come over for a visit.
Our fourth island destination was Bartolomé Island. This island was uninhabited and was essentially a volcanic island with little to no vegitation or wildlife. We spent the afternoon snorkelling in underwater that was unlike anything we´ve ever seen before (and probably will not again). The islands were all formed by volcanic expansions and eruptions many millions of years ago, so the earth and underwater land is very unique. The highlight of this snorkel was definitely posing for pictures 2 feet away from a galapagos penguin who was not phased or frightened by our presence. We never would have been able to get that close by boat so it was quite a reward for our long swim! After the snorkel we hiked up to the highest point on Bartolomé Island were we had an amazing view and a sunset.
After another great dinner, overnight we headed to South Plaza Isle where we got to see opuntia cactus, Darwin finches, swallow tailed gulls, more blue footed boobies, and more frigate birds. Another great way to spend the morning. We left South Plaza after lunch and set sail for our next destination, Santa Fe Isle. En route while basking in the equator sun, we saw several large manta rays breach. It was mating season for the rays so we were able to see the males at their finest! Santa Fe was defintely the most impressive snorkeling adventure on the tour. The bay that we swam in was paradise with impressively clear warm. We saw schools of huge eagle rays (at least a dozen!), several giant sea turtles, two white tip sharks, stingrays, and several schools of fish (in some cases 100 plus fish in the school). On land, we saw galapagos falcons, Santa Fe land iguanas, and endemic cactus trees that were upwards of 15 feet tall. A truly amazing island.
After lunch it was time to head to the 7th and final destination, San Cristóbal Island. We arrived just after nightfall and spent the night in the harbor aboard the yacht. In the morning we disembarked and teamed up with our new friends to find accomodation on land. The trip was remarkable. A once in a lifetime experience! We were very happy that we spent the extra money to see the islands from aboard a boat, rather than take day trips from a main island.
We stayed on San Cristóbal for another three days where we did one more snorkel trip trying to see the infamous galapagos hammerhead. The highlight of this tour was swimming with dozens of baby sealions who were very playful and happy to put on a little show for the tourists! Unfortuantley we did not succeed in finding the elusive hammerhead shark, but we did see many more white tip sharks, Galapagos sharks, eagle rays and of course sea lions.
After our exciting, unforgetable trip to the Galapagos Islands it was time to say goodbye and head back to the mainland where the adventure continued...