Santa Cruz is the most popular island of all 3 that we visited. It is the island where most people fly into from the mainland and most often the main hub for the rest of their Galapagos explorations. We got extremely lucky in Santa Cruz, being that one of Piet’s high school friends Lisa actually lives and works there. She went above and beyond and offered up her place to stay for the entire time we were there. Having a place to stay and a local to show us around is a huge bonus for us when we are traveling, especially in a place where things are quite expensive.
The first day, as soon as we arrived we walked down to the main pier to take a look around. Lisa encouraged us to look around the water because there’s always new stuff popping up. Boy was she ever right! We both went right to the edge and popped our heads over the railing and low and behold there was a huge pod of golden rays just swimming back and forth. There had to have been at least 20 of them swimming directly underneath us. And then, as if we weren’t excited enough, there was numerous little sharks swimming amongst them as well.
Then as if we didn’t see enough there was this one sea lion walking his way up the ramp from the water who then lifted himself up onto the bench. I still can’t believe how their fins bend like that and enable them to walk on land!
At night, if you come back down to the pier you are be able to see dozens of sharks clustered around looking for the small schools of fish to eat. They’d circle around until they were able to get one little guy away from his school and then he was toast. Then we’d watch as the pelicans would sit and wait on top of the pier, waiting for the perfect moment to swoop right in and steal a fish that the shark worked so hard to separate. It’s amazing to watch how nature works.
One of my favourite things to do in town was to walk down to the fish market. We’ve seen our fair share of fish markets by now but this one was pretty awesome because of the visitors it attracted. More often than not you could walk by and see at least 1 sea lion waiting and begging for scraps right up beside the people cutting up the fish. Not only that but there are maybe 6-12 pelicans all flapping around waiting for someone to drop something. At times it can get a little chaotic with all the birds flapping their wings and fighting each other, the sea lions hustling around the pelicans and the frigate birds flying above trying to snatch the food from everyone else.
Piet and I spent a day sunning ourselves at one of the most beautiful beaches, Tortuga Bay. To get to the beach you are dropped off at the entry gate and then have to make a rather hot 2.5km walk through a forest of cacti (ok its a nicely paved walkway) to reach an incredible white sand beach that stretches out forever. We brought plenty of snacks, water and our snorkel gear and spent a lot of time exploring the water. Here we swam with tons of fish and a bunch of the small sharks! On occasion we were told you can find rays but we didn’t see any. One thing we did see tons of was marine Iguanas, literally scattered all over this one section of the beach. The most interesting part about the Iguanas was watching them come in and out of the water. They very slowly and leisurely walk down to the water and then when they start to get in, boy would they paddle their little arms as fast as they could go to get over the waves into calmer waters.
A short walk from town is the Charles Darwin Research Centre that focuses on the rehabilitation and repopulation of tortoises. It’s a really great centre to walk through to see the tortoises at different stages in their life. The tiny little baby ones are by far the cutest but it’s definitely pretty incredible to see a family of tortoises all together eating with their long necks outstretched grabbing the food. They’ve also got a great little beach right close by which requires a lot less work to get to than Tortuga. We spent a couple afternoons here snorkeling around where tons of mini sharks swam around with us (or around us...)
During our stay, Lisa arranged for us to come up to her school and volunteer for a couple of the English classes. This school certainly wasn’t like anything we’d experienced back in Canada. This school is located just 10 minutes by cab outside the city, literally in the middle of a forest. You can find kids running around outside, in the fresh air at all times. The classrooms are all open-air where you can often find birds zipping in and out. The learning environment is much more laid back, more social and much friendlier than anything we’ve ever seen. Kids treat their teacher like friends with a certain level of love and respect that is often lacking in North American schools. We spent the time with a group of grade 6’s just talking to them in English, having them practice their English by asking us questions or vice versa. It was definitely an incredible experience and one that we won’t forget anytime soon.
Some of the best parts about having a local in town is that they teach you all the cool spots that tourists don’t always know about. The hidden gems of restaurants or what to do or where to go. They also get you into exclusive parties at million dollar houses. One night we were told we were going out for a night on the town which meant we hopped in a water taxi to take us across the marina to a less explored side. From there we had to walk 15 minutes along a sandy pathway to this incredible house with an enormous deck overlooking the water. With the moonlight shinning and the stars twinkling and reflecting off the water it was definitely one of the most amazing nights out we’ve had since being away.
The Galapagos Islands by far exceeded every expectation we had. From snorkeling with turtles bigger than us, to playing with a family of sea lions to watching the sharks from afar it was truly an incredible experience. Although it was definitely an expensive item on our bucket list we are so happy that we got to cross this one off. I think we will both cherish these memories for a very long time and we encourage anyone who has the opportunity to go to visit the Galapagos to take it!!