We made good use of the free internet in the airport during that time!
First impressions of Santa Cruz were on the bus to Puerto Ayora. The windows were open blowing in a wet earthy smell, sweetened with a jasmine like scent. We went past scrubby land where more recent volcanic eruptions had been and then into the highlands where the soil was richer and verdant plantations abounded.
We saw sea lions, crabs and pelicans just around the town!
A quick visit to the Charles Darwin centre, a short walk out of Puerto Ayora, let us see Giant Tortoises and land iguanas, but unfortunately they were refurbishing so the information was a little lacking.
We had decided to do the islands independently - I.e. Not book a cruise, however when we got there we ended up booking day trips and one over night stay on Isabela island to make the most of our time (only 5 full days!). We could have easily spent more time - I would recommend 8-10 days especially if you are doing it independently - boats between the islands only go twice a day!
I spent about £780 which included, flights at £250, souvenirs for me and the family and a couple of splash out dinners - you could get away with a bit less if you keep to the $4 menu del dia, avoid drinking and manage to stay in the cheapest places (we paid $17 each for a private room in Lirios del Mar hotel, before we managed to get into the Los Amigos hostel for $12.5 a night). Booking all the tours with the same company ensured a 5% discount off the total (we started at 10%, they started at $5 off!). We also got cheaper flights by flying from Guayaquil rather than Quito - the bus journeys are way cheaper than the flights at around $1 an hour for the journey.
All in all it was definitely worth it - we managed to see most of the animals we wanted to see and had lots of variety in our program - it was great travelling with Cat as we both screamed in delight to see sea lions and sharks whilst snorkelling!
So after visiting the Charles Darwin centre and arranging our tours we hired a taxi to take us to the lava tunnels you can walk through and another tortoise reserve - in this one they were free to roam and our taxi driver acted as guide taking us around. If you get too close or surprise the tortoises they hiss at you - so we didn't get that close!
We were up early almost every morning - our first trip was a 2 day 1 night one to Isabela island. We caught the ferry at 7am and when we got to the harbour the first thing we saw were sea lions sleeping on people's boats
The next thing we saw were penguins zooming around under the water!
We were off one boat and straight on the next for our snorkelling trip. This was the first time I'd swam with turtles! The boat captain also took us to see white tip reef sharks sleeping in a cave - you had to dive down to be able to see beyond the first few - there were around 20 in there having a snooze! White tipped reef sharks are one of two types of sharks to actually sleep - so this was a real privilege to see.
After the snorkelling we got off on Tintoeras island to walk around and see the animals on the island. We saw marine iguanas - on the shore and in the seaweed eating
We also saw more sea lions - having a snooze under the shade of the trees on the beach, penguins swimming around, a school of golden cow rays and a lone blue footed boobie
After the snorkelling we got a chance to dry out on the beach by the town.
Then it was over to see the flamingos and tortoise conservation centre - there are several on each island as they all have their own types of tortoise and on Isabela each volcano has a different sub species.
After this we had an hour to spare for sunset beers by the beach, then dinner and an early night before the next mornings early start to walk up the Sierra Negra volcano caldera.
The total walk we did was 5 hours round trip to take in the caldera and then see one of the parasite cones on the side of the main volcano. The caldera last had an eruption in 2005 and you could see this from the darker colour of the lava inside the caldera. The cone we visited last errupted in 1979 and so the lava around was more red where the iron had oxidised.
The landscape had turned from very green with lots of guava trees (apparently a pest as they aren't indigenous) to the Martian look as we got closer to the more recent eruption sites - such a contrast!
After hot footing it down to make our ferry back to Santa Cruz we had another night in Puerto Ayoro with the $4 menu del dia (a steal - you get soup, fish with carbs and some kinda salad and a juice!) we were again early to bed in preparation for the early start to San Cristobel.
On arrival in San Cristobel we were met by more sea lions!
We were in San Cristobel to join a snorkelling tour of Kicker rock. On the way to the rock we stopped off to see some boobies and do some 'practice' snorkelling.
The best thing was the hour and a half snorkel around Kicker Rock though. This place is teeming with marine life - we saw shoals of fish in the hundreds/thousands and where there is food there are predators!
We saw black tipped reef sharks under the shoals picking them off and a sea lion came to play - diving right through the fish and swimming next to us! One of our group saw a hammer head shark too - but we missed it. We also had turtles swimming with us around the rock - one seemed to accompany us most the way around.
Kicker Rock is also know to be a good dive site - the rock is a vertical wall that descends into the depths - where at 30m you can find more hammerheads etc we saw some large fish - possibly tuna? And some dangerous ones - lots of very large pufferfish that you don't want to get too close to in the swell.
The actual snorkelling was a good work out - the swell and the currents make you work to get around the rock and the passages between the rocks are tight - so being a confident swimmer helped us. Some of our boat mates had to get towed around the worse current by the boat!
We left San Christobel exhilarated on the journey back to Santa Cruz for our final day trip to North Seymour island. This time we got a lie in - yay!
North Seymour island is just beyond Baltra where the airport is situated to the north of Santa Cruz - so we were picked up in a bus and taken up to the north of the island to join the boat. The main focus if that trip was to see the birds and we saw lots!
We saw 2 different types of frigate - the Great Frigate and the Magnificent Frigate:
The male frigates make the nests which the females inspect before settling with them - the red pouches attract the females down the nest. Frigates are known a pirate birds - they will sooner steal fish off boobies or other frigates than try and catch some themselves - hence the babies needing protection whilst small.
The other main attraction was the Blue Footed Boobies. Unfortunately we didn't get to see them that close up - I'd heard that with my blue shoes there was a chance they would come sit on my feet, but we weren't allowed off the path to try this out :(
Let's look at your blue feet! This bird was vogueing for the cameras lol!
There were also loads of sea lions frolicking around the coast including this mum and baby
For our final night in the Galapagos we treated ourselves to seared tuna salad and cocktails - our animal spotting didn't end there - we saw spotted eagle rays in the harbour whilst walking back to the hostel!
For anyone undecided, visiting is definitely worth it - dig out the credit card! I will be back some point later in my life - to see more boobies and to dive with hammerheads.