Day 69 & 70: Galapagos on a “Budget” – Isla Santa Cruz

Ever since a child I was fascinated of the famous Galapagos Islands and was literally soaking in the colourful wildlife documentaries on TV like a patient on hypnosis. I did not even plan a visit but luckily my old friend Chris from high school times sent me 10 days ago a message, asking if I would be keen to join him on an adventure. Having had a quick look on the map I was approx. 2’500 km away from Guayaquil and after doing my math I confirmed my participation and booked immediately my flight (including insurance in case something came across which besides a food poisoning luckily was not the case).

Chris bought a whole banana plant which he intended to eat over the next days on the islands since food and especially fruits are a rather “scarce” source on Galapagos (most of them need to be imported from Ecuador and are therefore expensive). Surprisingly, the same evening he found out that food restrictions urge travellers to leave the same bananas on the mainland behind, lol. To my surprise he ate the whole thing before we even arrived at the airport and entitled him to his first nick name on our trip, “banana joe” or the “banana magician”! LOL!

Just before check-in I realised by surprise that the airline upgraded me to business class. Jackpot! While Chris had for sure no appetite anymore I enjoyed a nice lunch on board with a glass of Chardonnay. “What a start!”, I thought and remembered back the time while I was traveling business class for work. A luxury lifestyle I appreciated more than ever before… Maybe they would do the same on our way back to Europe 😀 Fingers crossed…

There are basically two possibilities to visit the island groups, either to book a) an expensive boat cruise for a couple of days or b) to travel the islands individually via day trips. The first option had the advantage to get most out of our Galapagos visit with possible stops at places which the average individual traveler would not reach. On the other hand side we were not bothered to spent the whole time on a boat with possibly a group of old retired standard tourists. Both, Chris and me developed a sort of intolerance towards “the average tourist” and we were planning to master our Galapagos time ourselves.

Having said, we decided to spent the first two days on Isla Santa Cruz and the rest of our time on the largest island of Galapagos, Isla Isabela. Regular speed boats were operating between the two islands for 30 USD one way and could be booked in one of the plenty traveling agencies in town. We booked our tickets one day in advance just to be sure to found a guaranteed place.

However, Arriving in the small town of Puerto Ayora at the very South of Island Santa Cruz, we were wandering through the streets to find a suitable accommodation. The first hostels were funnily closed and soon enough we realised it was not the best idea to arrive on a Sunday. Most of the places shut their doors until the early evening and we had to find alternative places. While Chris was checking out the next best hotel I tried my luck with the second one while the German efficiency paired with South American charm worked pretty well. We negotiated a room in hostal Espana for 30 dollars in total for the both of us. Sweet!

Since we arrived pretty early in town we had almost the whole afternoon left and decided to visit Tortuga beach, apparently one of South Americas most beautiful beaches. Walking along the long stretch of ultra fine white sand felt like walking on clouds and like a child I enjoyed to feel the magic powder under my barefoot feet. It gave me a spectacular feeling of freedom!

Just before arriving at the end of the beach we discovered some dark shades in the sand not very far away from us. Not thinking about it any further we almost stepped on our first encounter with Galapagos wildlife: The famous Iguana. The animals are coming astonishingly close to dinosaurs which are in contrary since million of years distinct. Chris and me were totally enthusiastic about the enchantingly beautiful creatures, taking plenty of pictures and even selfies of the “dinosaurs” like Chinese stereotype tourists. When any other animal would have been running away far before even a sighting would be possible, those creatures were extremely relaxed and only snored from time to time funnily their noses. Interestingly, Iguanas are excreting thereby salt in order to regulate their natural inner balance.

When we saved money for the hotel room we compensated again our savings for food, lol. While walking for just one block we discovered a street full of local restaurants next to each other offering huge lobsters for relatively cheap prices compared to European standards. We did not hesitate very long and shared one of the delicious monsters paired with happy hour cocktails 😀

The next day we started early and got surprised by a really bad weather front which did not want to find an end. Of course I forgot my motorbike rain jacket in Guayaquil and had to buy spontaneously a replacement. Well invested money… GRRRR… Since the rain did not stop we could at least bargain a bit with the bike dealer and saved some money for our next lobster, lol.

Somehow, we (or I at least) significantly underestimated the distance to be bridged between our planned stops and the town itself (for me 50 km and for Chris 70 km). Well, You have to understand that Chris is a triathlete and is exercising regularly every day at least an hour. Me on the other hand side, I did not exercise for around a year, lol.  While Chris understood the cycling excursion as a training day I was almost throwing up after 2 hours non stop climbing up the hills. Luckily the last part of our first destination was downhill (I forgot we had to cycle up again the same way, lol) and I enjoyed the wind in my face while Chris suddenly stopped his bike without warning. “Dom, look there!”, pointing his finger at the side of the road. A huge giant tortoise just woke up and left her nest to say “buenos dias” 🙂 It was simply amazing to discover this huge animal out of nowhere and we took the chance to observe the turtle from very close by.

After a couple of minutes we moved on again and shortly after arrived at the lava tunnels, our first planned stop. The Galapagos islands are a result of volcanic activity and were created through so-called hotspots – lava eruptions through single holes from deep down the bottom of the Pacific ocean. One bizarre and highly interesting result of the volcanic activities are the lava tunnels a couple of meter under the surface. What seemed to be the entrance of a cave revealed an approximately 1 km long tunnel. Simply impressive to walk and sometimes even crawl through the natural construct of black to red lava stone.

Thereafter, we continued our way to visit the home of plenty of giant tortoise which was basically simply next door. Approximately 10 large turtles were walking along an area the size of a football field, eating everything they could find on their way. Magical!!!!!

While I had certainly enough of cycling Chris decided to reach the next best volcano on the map besides miserable foggy weather. Once a goal is set, Chris goes for it no matter what, lol. His second nickname during our trip did not wait very long and “Tickbox-Chris” continued his training day while I made my way to the famous Charles Darwin Research Station to get some background information on the Galapagos. Besides an interesting exhibition and a tortoise breeding facility I also enjoyed walking along a beautifully secluded beach which was very close by.

In the evening the both of us came together again and our second lobster dinner was already waiting for us 😀 It could continue like that…

The next day we had to get up early in order to catch the first ferry towards Isla Isabela and we were already excited to see more of this green paradise!

Galapagos - Isla Santa Cruz