Galápagos has been on our bucket list for a long time so to be able to cross this one off has been absolutely unbelievable. It truly exceeded every expectation we had and we feel so incredibly lucky to have been able to experience it all. It was definitely a huge splurge on our budget, but one that we wouldn’t change for the world.
We took an early morning plane from Guayaquil to Baltra on the Island of Santa Cruz and then from there we had to take a 2.5 hour boat to get to the island of Isabela. Let me just say that this boat ride was one of the worst either of us have ever been on. It’s essentially a large speed boat that sits about 25 people. Piet and I, thinking we were being smart, choose to sit in the middle covered section of the boat in order to stay out of the sun. Do not- I repeat do not sit here!! It took less than 15 minutes for people to start feeling a little shaky and queasy and then the girl across from us got sick, and then the girl next to me got sick. All the while I’m trying to hold it together because the rocking of the boat wasn’t making me feel well either (and keep in mind I took a motion sickness pill just in case before we left). Well minutes later another girl rushes to the bathroom and then it was my turn. There was 4 of us that got sick, and all 4 of us were sitting in the shaded area that had no airflow at all. They ended up having people move around so that the ones who were sick could sit near the back with fresh air which helped immensely. I definitely wasn’t off to the best start on this trip but luckily once we finally got to shore it made it all better. One boat ride down... 3 more to go.
When we arrived there was 2 sea lions just hanging out in the sun waiting for us, how cool is that? Then we were taken to our hotel, Hotel Albemarle and let me tell you it is AMAZING!! We have this huge King size bed and gorgeous shower but our favourite feature by far- the balcony on our deck that opens up to a beautiful view of the sand and ocean. Imagine waking up to this view every morning. It reminded me of where Piet proposed on the balcony of our place in Italy last October.
Our hotel manager Carlos has been beyond amazing for us and the rest of the guests. He’s the type of manager you want to run your hotel and the reason people keep coming back! He’s so friendly and he helped us sort out the best tour with the most reputable company on the island as well as gave us recommendations for free activities and the best places to eat around the island. He even went above and beyond by organizing our boat transfer back to Santa Cruz so that we didn’t have to do it.
On our first day we got up early and spent the morning snorkeling for free at Pearl Beach where we were lucky enough to spot our first turtle swimming around in the water. They are such amazing creatures that Piet and I found ourselves watching him for over 20 minutes. He’d find a spot at the bottom of the water where he could eat for a while and then he’d slowly come to the surface for air and then go back down. We were so lucky to have spotted him before anyone else because we were able to swim alongside him and just watch how he moved through the water. We can’t wait to see more of them.
After our snorkel we rented bikes and decided to explore a little bit more of the island by heading towards the “Wall Of Tears”. This wall is famous in Galapagos history because it was built by criminals from 1945-1959 and it's where many tears and numerous deaths happened. For us it wasn’t the wall that was exciting, it was the 7km bike ride that was a highlight. After passing through town, you pass beautiful white sand beaches with crystal clear blue waters before coming upon the pathway to the wall. Lucky for us this pathway is famous for seeing tortoises in the wild and we got extra lucky by spotting 4 of them! Their shells are so incredibly large (like the size of my body all rolled up) and to watch them slowly walk places is such a neat experience. They shoot their necks out but then when someone gets too close they freeze up and start to watch you and often just escape back inside their shell until the predator is gone. We tried very hard to observe without disrupting too much. Once you arrive at the wall, which is literally just a wall made of lava rocks, you climb to an amazing view point where you can see a 360 view of the island. That itself is worth the hike up!
There were a few different snorkel tours, all ranging in price but we chose to do the most highly recommended tour, Los Tunnels and it was absolutely AMAZING!! From the second we left on the boat it was nonstop wildlife! On our way out to the snorkel spot our guide spotted two Galapagos penguins perched atop some volcanic rock. They are so small, no larger than 1-1.5 feet, so they were extra cute to watch.
Then when we got all our snorkel gear on we spotted these huge 100 year old turtles that were truly amazing to watch and swim alongside with. Their bodies are bigger than a grown adult but they were so gentle to watch just feeding from algae at the bottom of the water and then they’d gracefully come up to the surface to get air and then swim back down. We were so close that we were able to swim along next to them which was a huge highlight for both of us.
We saw almost 30 turtles and the excitement never dwindled when we came across another one. While we were swimming and exploring Piet and I were off to the side a little bit when a white-tip reef shark started swimming below us. We couldn’t believe how lucky (I know- odd choice of words in this situation) to have spotted him swimming around and so close to us. Well little did we realize that our guide was taking us to the underwater caves where sharks like to hang out. Hang out is an understatement!! In each cave there was around 10 sharks, some just laying on the bottom while others were swimming around. It was such a surreal experience to watch them in their habitat. It’s definitely a little frightening to get so close to so many of them at once because there’s always that voice in the back of your head that says “what if....”.
After snorkeling for nearly 2 hours we hopped back on the boat to go to another spot to explore. This next spot had some of the clearest water we’ve ever seen. It’s a different place to go snorkel because there are lava rocks everywhere and they’ve made these cool tunnels all around that you get to explore. While we were going through a tunnel a sea lion playfully swam all around our group. They are pretty speedy in the water considering how much we see them lounging about on land. Our last stop of the day brought us to the famous Blue Footed Booby birds.
We lucked out as there was about 15 of them scattered all around. It’s so interesting to see how bright blue their feet really are, we even noticed that there seemed to be a couple of different shades of blue. We later learned that the brighter the blue colour, the healthier (and often younger) the bird is. We lucked out and they put on quite a show for us by doing their famous mating dances. The male parades around, strutting his blue feet in front of the female before spreading his wings and making a whistling noise. It was a pretty funny sight to watch over and over. We even spotted a couple of them sitting on top of their eggs, protecting them from all of us looky-loos. When we were heading back to Isabela we spotted this massive black thing jumping out of water near our boat which turned out to be a huge manta ray.
Overall, Isabela is the quietest of all 3 islands that we visited. It’s a slower pace than the other 2 islands and we loved that. You’d find people walking down the middle of the dirt roads without a care in the world. We ate at "The Booby Trap”, the yummiest restaurant on the island (or at least we think it is). I ended up having the Tuna Tataki two nights in a row because it was that good! We’d definitely recommend a visit to Isabela should you ever come to the Galápagos Islands.
Next Stop: Santa Cruz - Galápagos