Going To The Galapagos — A Perpetual Traveler’s Dream Trip

Have you ever dreamt of traveling to the Galapagos Islands? I have. 

It wasn’t enough for me to just dream of walking and snorkeling among exotic creatures of every sort in the volcanic equatorial islands that Charles Darwin visited on the HMS Beagle. I had to be there. 

Paying respects. My Beagle voyage awaits…

I don’t just travel to check boxes. Yes, I’m going to visit every country in the world. But travel, to me, is far more than crossing off countries and posting photos on Instagram — two things I do with great frequency.

I cherish exploration, and I love observing other humans and other species in their natural habitats. If you want to see some of the best animal and marine life the world has to offer, then the Galapagos Islands are a must go… even if you have already crossed off Ecuador, as I had.

Prior experience in Ecuador

Ecuadorian memories

My first trip to Ecuador was actually my first time ever in South America. Back then as just a poor backpacker, I chose Ecuador as my first destination on the continent. I didn’t have the funds at the time for a Galapagos excursion, or at least not a Galapagos cruise. Rather, I spent six weeks traveling Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. But the idea of cruising along the equator among iguanas, sharks, flamingos, rare birds and tortoises was already planted in my mind.

This time around, I still was not that well off. I gambled. I booked a flight in and out of the Galapagos Islands without booking a cruise. I then waited until nearly the last minute, hoping to snatch a half-off deal on an expensive Galapagos cruise. The gamble paid off. I ended up paying $2,600, excluding airfare, for an 8-day Galapagos cruise. That was still expensive for me at the time, but I managed to save $2,000, and there would be a luxury yacht awaiting me in the Galapagos… after I had some fun on the mainland. 

Mountain biking a volcano and partying on the mainland

I landed in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, having flown from Medellin, Colombia, where I was on a workation with a couple guys from the Medellin Staatenlos Community. I had visited Quito on my previous trip, so this time I used it as a home base and ventured out to places like Otovalo and Cotopaxi. Otovalo is a town up in the Andes that consists largely of Otovalo indigenous people. Cotopaxi is a 5,900-meter mountain and active volcano (though not erupting every few minutes like Mount Yasur in Vanuatu). My Cotopaxi adventure involved driving up to about 4,500 meters, then climbing about 500 meters by foot. At 5,000 meters the air was very thin… and my downhill mountain biking adventure began. I then biked down about 2,000 to 2,500 meters. You can watch the excitement here:

I did have one crazy night in Quito, which distracts a bit from the mystique of the Galapagos Islands. But I’ll tell you about it anyway. I was staying at a hostel, and one of the workers there invited me to a club. Actually, he got me a VIP ticket to a ladies’ night out event at the club. Cerveza in hand, I was sitting in a special seating area and surrounded by numerous women approaching me. That is not a typical night out for me. 😂

From Quito, I took a night bus to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second city and main port. Guayaquil has a nice viewpoint, Cerro Santa Ana, looking down on the Guayas River, as well as the Pacific Ocean and much of Ecuador. But the area is heavily guarded by police since the city apparently is not very safe.

The view from Guayaquil’s Cerro Santa Ana

The real story begins

The time had finally come to take a break from civilization and Internet use and embark on my dream trip. I flew from Guayaquil to the primary airport of the Galapagos Islands. The airport is located on Baltra Island, a small island that is located next to Santa Cruz Island, which is situated in the middle of the archipelago and is essentially the main island of the Galapagos chain.

Hello Galapagos

After landing and crossing over to Santa Cruz Island, I checked into a nice guest house. It had internet, so my digital detox was postponed slightly. On my own, I explored the island and quickly stumbled into some animals. The island has a nice beach for snorkeling and a hatching station for soon-to-be giant tortoises. 

A grown one – I will become as old as him someday.

Animals everywhere upon arrival

Puerto Ayora is the town on Santa Cruz Island and is the most populous town in the archipelago with a population of about 12,000. Despite its size, Puerto Ayora offers a bunch of activities. It even has a Latino Reggaeton nightclub, one that is up to par with Ecuadorian standards. I had fun there in the evening, though it wasn’t quite like the girls’ night out in Quito. 😉

Do you really need a cruise?

The Galapagos Islands are not so remote that it is impossible to visit them as a budget traveler. You can hop on a pretty cheap flight from Quito or Guayaquil and set up a home base on Santa Cruz Island. Then you can do several day tours, which are reasonably priced. 

But if you want to see the gems of the Galapagos, you need to travel several days by boat. So the budget traveler routine doesn’t work in that case. But the Galaxy Motor Yacht certainly does. 😊

Take a look at my cruise

My new and improved HMS Beagle

The Galaxy is a 4-star, 1st class, 16-passenger yacht that takes tourists on 4,5 and 8-day cruises. As you know, I opted for the 8-day cruise. 

Dining on the Galaxy was quite memorable. Breakfast and lunch would always be a buffet. Dinner was high-end — 5 stars every night. The chef was clearly very talented. The food was amazing.

Filet mignon – just another night of Galapagos dining 😊

There were only 12 passengers aboard my cruise, but I needed to share a room with an American guy. For that matter, I needed to share the boat with Americans. All of the other passengers were Americans, and that got quite annoying over the course of the trip because Americans can be quite artificial. They get excited about everything, especially in the Galapagos Islands. Every time we would see some new animal, even a week into the cruise, they would say, “Oh, that’s so amazing!” or “We are so happy!” Other than that, they were nice people. Most of the Americans onboard the Galaxy Yacht were couples in their 40s or 50s. I was the youngest passenger.

The crew aboard the Galaxy was very friendly. There was one crew member for every passenger. And the captain would let us inside the bridge whenever we wanted to see how he navigates the ship.

Our guide was a woman, who was a bit older than most of the passengers and was very competent. While still on Santa Cruz Island, she gave us an introduction and took us on a bus to see giant tortoises that live in a reserve. We went for a small hike at the El Chato Tortoise Reserve with these little giants roaming around us.

Little big tortoise friends

It was then time to return to the ship and set sail.

Departing civilization

Beginning the journey lost at sea

Where am I?

The next morning we arrived at Isabela Island, the largest island in the Galapagos chain. Our first destination was Las Tintoreras, a group of islets close to Isabela’s town, Puerto Villamil. This was a great spot to kick off my Galapagos snorkeling adventures, or at least I though it would be.

Back then, I didn’t have the extensive snorkeling experience that I have now. I hadn’t snorkeled World War II shipwrecks in the Pacific etc. 

For the first time in my life, I saw a big ray. I became excited and decided to follow the ray. As I was following this ray, I didn’t notice I was veering away from the other snorkelers. I continued to follow the ray and continued to veer farther and farther away from the rest of my group. Then it hit me. I had entered a rip tide. The tide took control of me. It was far too strong to swim against. 

Chasing a ray

The tide pulled me for 300 or 400 meters. I was swept out of the lagoon we were snorkeling in and into an open water harbor. I suddenly noticed the water had become very deep. The visibility was not so good and I was worried about sharks arriving. I had to swim about 100 meters to reach the dock at the marina. I reached the marina quite exhausted and then walked about 300 meters back to the point where our snorkeling began.

Nonetheless, it was a great experience. Having survived this ordeal, I felt prepared for whatever snorkeling experiences were left to come. And prior to getting swept away, I saw a lot of fish and was amazed by the sea creatures swimming around me. The sea creatures swimming in this turquoise, crystalline water include sea lions, marine turtles and white-tipped reef sharks.

Marine life up close and personal

The cruise routine

While sailing to and from four of the main islands in the Galapagos chain, as well as some smaller islands, we would often disembark the Galaxy for excursions both by land and water. We would regularly hop in a dinghy or some other type of small boat and sail waterways that cut through the various islands. Sometimes we would go ashore, hike and explore by foot. Sometimes we would do our exploring strictly from the smaller boat. Then we’d return to the Galaxy and continue on with the cruise. Oh, and course, there was lots of exploration via snorkeling. 

Our views of marine life were not limited to when we were snorkeling or sailing hidden passageways. After dinner, we would typically go to the back of the Galaxy and sit on the deck, where just 10 centimeters below, there would be sea creatures, such as rays, turtles, sea lions and small sharks. Some nights the sea lions would come play with use; the turtles, too. 

Sea turtle

Sea lions like to play

Also, there was plenty of opportunity for gazing at sunsets and stars. The sunsets out at sea in the Galapagos chain are truly amazing. Here are a couple:

And the night sky in the Galapagos chain is equally amazing. Out at sea along the equator, there is no light pollution, and the skies are very clear. Our guide was a very competent stargazer, who taught us all about the constellations. I learned a lot from her. 

Visiting Volcano Darwin

The lovely Isabela coast

The ship looped around the southern part of Isabela and headed up the west side of the island. We stopped at a couple bays, then made our way to Tagus Cove. 

Tagus Cove was an exciting part of the Galapagos journey. The cove has been used by sailors to anchor their ships dating back to the 1800s. The location is downhill from the site of an ancient volcano, now known as Volcano Darwin. And just above the cove is a crater that holds a body of water, known as Lake Darwin. 

Tagus Cove and Lake Darwin

We went on a very nice walking tour, hiking through areas where there had been lava flows and enjoying beautiful views of the lake and cove below. This was where I took my most memorable selfie of my Galapagos adventure:

A product of evolution 😊

Seeing sunbathing iguanas

Tagus Cove is located across a channel from Fernandina Island, another highlight of the trip. We took a break from sailing around Isabela and crossed the channel to Fernandina. Fernandina is the westernmost island in the archipelago and the most remote of the main islands in the Galapagos chain. The island has had recent volcanic activity, with a volcano erupting in 2009 and again in 2018 (a year after I visited).

Approaching Fernandina

We visited Espinoza Point on the northern edge of the island. The spot was crowded with dozens or hundreds of marine iguanas.

Marine iguanas

The iguanas live in the water, but they love to find a place in the sun during the day. It was very memorable to see all of these lazy iguanas lounging on the beach and sunbathing.

Iguanas galore

Our stay on Fernandina was brief. We did also manage to spot some pilot whales off the coast of the island, but before long we were heading back to Isabela. First, however, we needed to cross the equator.

Pilot whales off Fernandina Island

A champagne toast to the equator

The equator runs just north of Fernandina. The evening after departing Fernandina, we crossed the equator. Upon crossing, we broke out the champagne for a little celebration. 

We headed for the far north of Isabela Island. Isabela actually straddles the equator, with the northern tip of the of the island in the Northern Hemisphere and the rest of the island in the Southern Hemisphere. We sailed around the north of Isabela, then headed back south off the east coast of the island. This meant we were crossing back into the Southern Hemisphere. The second time crossing the equator didn’t call for quite the celebration that the first time did, but the Americans got excited anyway. 😉

While we didn’t really explore the part of the Galapagos chain that is north of the equator, there is something very notable up there. That is… the Galapagos Penguin.

The Galapagos Islands are the only place in the world where penguins roam in the wild north of the equator. The penguins manage to survive so far north of their typical habitat due to the Humboldt Current, which flows north along the west coast of South America and brings cool temperatures into the Galapagos. The Galapagos climate is also influenced by the warm Panama current, which comes in from the north, and the Cromwell Current, which comes from the west and brings nutrient rich water up to the surface of the ocean.

Most of the Galapagos penguins actually live on the west coast of Isabela or on Fernandina, so we got to see some on our voyage. You can swim with the penguins and catch them waddling around onshore. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what happened to my penguin photos. 😞

More wildlife

But I do have photos of other wildlife from the area. In addition to having penguins, this popular part of the archipelago is home to… 

Flamingos

Land iguanas

And a bunch more species coming up…

Santiago Island

After crossing back into the Southern Hemisphere and sailing southeast a bit, we reached Santiago Island. Located east of Isabela and northwest of Santa Cruz, Santiago Island has two overlapping volcanoes. 

We visited Egas Port, where we refueled with two days left two go on the cruise. Once the site of a salt mine, Egas Port has a bay, a black sand beach and some hiking trails. The location is home to the rare Galapagos fur sea lion.

Egas Port – hitting the home stretch of the journey

Following our stop at Egas Port, we visited the crabs at Espumilla Beach and checked out a former refuge for British pirates known as Buccaneer Cove. Buccaneer Cove has a dark red sand beach.

Crabs

The Chinese sombrero and birdwatching

With the Galaxy voyage drawing to a close, we made a return trip to Santa Cruz Island, where we saw Black Turtle Cove. Then we moved on to the small Rabida Island, which despite its size, is one of the most colorful and volcanic islands in the archipelago. It’s hard to miss Rabida’s red sand beaches.

Rabida Island

From Rabida, we sailed to the Sombrero Chino (Chinese Hat). That is an island, or islet, FYI. It’s located off the southeast coast of Santiago. So, what do you think? Does the island look like a hat? A Chinese hat?

The sombrero

Lastly, we rounded things out with North Seymour Island, where there are lots of blue-footed boobies (yes, that’s what they’re called) and frigate birds. 

A pair of blue-footed boobies

frigate birds

Actually, we saw plenty of exotic birds over the course of the trip. Here are some of the other birds we saw during our excursion:

Cormorants? I think that’s what they are

To see a mockingbird 😊

A pelican peering down with a shark below

Don’t remember

Galapagos landscapes

The diversity of the Galapagos Islands is not just apparent in the many types of exotic species that roam the land and swim in the waters of the archipelago, but also in the wildly varying types of landscapes in the island chain. Here are some more shots of different types of Galapagos landscape: 

Lava flows have noticeably impacted landscape all over the archipelago.

Ditto

Sometimes equatorial island paradise looks more like a desert.

A combination of everything

Complete greenery

Looking back at my Galapagos trip

All in all, my Galapagos excursion was one of my favorite experiences ever. The cruise was amazing. It provided me access to incredible species and natural beauty like I never had before. And it made me want more! Now I really want to return to the Galapagos and set sail to San Cristobal Island and the neighboring smaller islands in the eastern part of the archipelago. It’s time for the second voyage of the HMS Galaxy. 😉

Itching to return…

And then came crazy the Cuenca-Mancora adventure…

I flew back from Baltra to Guayaquil, where I met a friend of mine. We moved on to Cuenca, Ecuador, which set the stage for that crazy bus ride on the drug trafficking route to Peru. And, oh yeah, and we had some fun in the Peruvian beach town of Mancora. 😊