A lot of this page could unfortunately be considered off the beaten path since the tourist industry of the Galapagos Islands caters strictly to selling cruises. You are all but shunned if you ask about anything other than a three, four or seven day cruise as if that is all that exists. Sure, once you buy that they'll be happy to tack on anything else like a few days on Santa Cruz but if you ask about what you can do on the island you'll invariably be met with blank stares. You must be crazy after all to come all this way and not spend every penny you own to do a cruise. It's "once in a lifetime, " right? By their logic Isabella is off the beaten path despite being the biggest of the archipelago's land masses. So, prove them wrong and make sure to check out some of these great "off the beaten path" destinations. They are just as good as their more famous counterparts. They just happen to be free and the tourist industry can't sell you that, can they?
Most of all, wherever you are, keep your eyes open. There is wildlife all around you. You don't have to buy a tour to see many of the great sights of the Galapagos if you are willing to do a little of the work yourselves. Look and ye shall see.
It may seem strange to recommend Puerto Ayora and vicinity as "off the beaten path" since it is by far the largest town in the islands, with over 10,000 residents!
However, most visitors just pass through Puerto Ayora on the way to or from a boat tour. And generally they only stop for a look at Lonesome George at the Darwin Station, or maybe to buy a couple of tee shirts or check email at the internet cafe.
But if you can manage an extra day or a few days, try to spend them in this town, observing the rhythm of island life and enjoying the island. There is really quite a lot to do!
For example, you can head down to Pelican Bay right in town, where the fishermen come in with the daily catch. You can pick up a fish that looks good to you and then take it to a restaurant and ask that it be prepared for you.
Or you can catch a "panga" water taxi and head across the bay to Playa de los Alemanes to relax on the beach, Or maybe even go a bit further and spend some time on the lovely Tortuga Bay beach. It's a two-mile/ three kilometer walk.
The photo shows a shot of the town from the pier. The website below is from a commercial venture, but it has great info on things to do on the island of Santa Cruz. You can do any of these things based out of Puerto Ayora.
There are carefully designated pathways on most of the islands, and no one is allowed to visit the uninhabited islands without licensed guides to take them around.
This is obviously to preserve the delicate environment, as well as the animals.
Take it seriously - you don't want to pay a small fortune in fines, or worse, end up in an Ecuadoran jail. But most importantly, be considerate of future visitors and help to preserve this special site for the heritage of the world.
Let’s face it; the whole trip is off the beaten path!! Only a certain amount of tourists are allowed on any island at one time so it’s most likely you will have the whole place to yourself (and of course the sea lions).
You do need to stay on the designated paths in order to protect the wildlife and plants, but trust me, everything will come to you!!
The best thing you will do while you are there is to snorkel and swim. Apart from swimming with the Sea Lions, we swam with penguins, sharks (safe ones), sting rays and an abundance of colourful fish surrounded by the most amazing coral. The waters are the clearest I’ve ever seen. Don’t forget to bring an underwater camera!!
If on Santa Cruz Island and have the time, take a taxi (about 30 min) to one of the most beautiful beaches, the "Garrapatero".........its a little ride, and not a surfing beach like "tortuga bay", but if you have time you will likely have this gorgeous beach all to yourself.
I decided to make a coke commercial!!
It is just unique to visit those "Vulcanous Islands" and there inhabitants. Discovered only 500 years ago by the Bishop of Panama. The first "landing" on one of the Islands was impressive. Birds and Sea-lions were laying down asking -"Do i know your kind of specie?"
There are afraidless and have only natural enemies. Follow 100% of the local guide instructions and paths (no leaving of food or Cola Cans). Every Island has its specific fauna or flora. Watch and picture the birds like "Jan Van Gent", "Cormorants", "Albatross" and "Frigate Birds". Visit the giant tortoises. In the program you can visit different places- each unique - and last but not least - relax in the evening on the boat "Ambassador". You'll feel like you're in Paradise - literally.
If you find yourself on Santa Cruz Island, having seen the Darwin station and Puerto Ayora, and have some time I would suggest a nice walk to the beach. It is about a 30 min walk on a nice stone path (it seems really long the first time, so have patience). The beach is called "Tortuga Bay" and is found by taking a small road off of the main "Darwin Avenue", if you ask anyone they can tell you how to get there. The nice thing is that at times you may be the only one there. It has pretty good surfing (can rent boards for about $6 a day, but do so before leaving town since there is nothing out there at the beach), as well as a small bay if you walk around the tip where there are no waves and kids can swim. Take some water and food and maybe some shade or sunblock and enjoy a relaxing time.
This is a small island near San Cristobal that has split in two. If you're travelling on a smaller boat, you can navigate through the narrow passage which is quite fun. We also explored a "crack" in a dinghy - beautiful!
If you have done any research on the Galapagos Islands, you have probably seen this picture. It was taken at the top of Bartolome. When we went snorkeling, we went in the cove on the right (see picture). On the left cove, we were not allowed to snorkel. We were able to walk over there and evidently sharks like to frequent this area. They were right, I saw two Galapagos sharks trolling left and right (they seemed to be moving in a pattern). They got very close to shore (only about 10 feet from shore). You might ask how I know what type of shark it was? the naturalist was able to identify the shark by the fins. You could watch these two for hours. Really! I walked back to the right cove to grab some people...walked back to the left cove...and yes, they were still there! I believe those waters are protected for the sharks though. Just need to look at for those of us that like to look while staying out of the water.
I had to come back and edit this after a friend told me this story. So, I told my friend about the sharks in this particular area. She had been there in November and saw sharks mating in this same location!
Most of the Galapagos might still be considered off the beaten path, but some tours skip this lovely island. Tower is a very low lying island and difficult to see until you are very close. At times the sea mist may completely obscure any view of the island and, unless your boat is equipped with radar, it may make it extremely difficult to find
The story of the tortoises on Pinta Island is a prime and lamentable example of the man-inflicted irreparable damage to the Galápagos. By the late 19th century, ships no longer found it worthwhile to travel to the Galápagos since the tortoise populations had been heavily depleted. Small islands such as Pinta were the first and most easily hit by whalers. After 1848, no more than six tortoises were reported to have been removed and the status of the tortoises on Pinta Island became uncertain. After the illegal introduction of three goats to Pinta Island, it was believed that a fifth tortoise subspecies was extinct.
During a 1972 expedition to hunt goats in order to study the preferred plants of the introduced species of pigs and goats, 'Lonesome George' was almost mistaken for a goat. At that time, it was believed that a fifth giant tortoise subspecies was extinct. Their rifles aimed at the creature, the two-man team of Manuel Cruz and Francisco Castanada instead realized they had discovered a tortoise. 'Lonesome George' is believed to be the last of his subspecies, (Geochelone elephantopus abingdoni) and the oldest resident of the archipelagNo one is quite sure where 'Lonesome George' got his name. The 'Lonesome' most likely due to the fact that he is the only surviving member of the Pinta tortoise. According to Gayle Davis-Merlin, a employee of the Charles Darwin Research Station, 'George' was named after the U.S. actor George Gobel, who during a television program, called himself 'Lonesome George.' All attempts to find him a mate have to date failed, even though he is believed to be in his prime with a long life still ahead of him. There is currently a $10,000 reward for a Pinta female, but so far all searches of zoos have turned up negative. There are roughly 300 Galapagos tortoises in various zoos, however most zoos do not know which subspecies of tortoise they have.
There are many debates of what should happen to Lonesome George. Some believe he should be repatriated to Pinta where he can die in peace and not be confined to the Darwin Station. Others want to mate George with females from a similar race, such as from Volcan Wolf. However if this happens, George's race (abingdoni) would be lost. Another suggestion deals with cloning. In today's society where a cow and sheep have already been cloned, why not George? However cloning does not solve the problem since the cloned individuals would be exact replicas of George who would be as lonely for female companionship as George is today. Excitingly however, in 1981, a tortoise dropping was discovered on Pinta indicating a possibility of another individual on the island. So far searches have turned up nothing.
It is impossible to know how many were exploited after 3 decades of plunder, but, fortunately, this trend has been reversing and conservation efforts have been initiated to preserve and replenish the giant tortoises of the Galápagos.
It is impossible to be precise about the number of giant tortoises currently in the Galápagos archipelago. The current estimated total of the giant tortoise population is between 15-18,000. Despite conservation efforts, the Galápagos tortoises are still far from recovered from the past two centuries of decimation but the future looks brighter for the tortoises. Scientists are optimistic about the future of most of the archipelago's tortoises, except Lonesome George. With no potential mate in sight, George seems destined to suffer the fate of his predecessors.
'Lonesome George' who now resides at the Charles Darwin Reseach Station and has become not only a celebrity but also an enduring emblem of conservation in the Galapagos. GO VISIT HIM
Tortuga Bay is a bit of a walk (you can take a cab to the bottom of the hill leading to the guard house) but well worth it to see a beautiful, pristine beach. If you surf, there are some great waves, but it is not a place for swimming. We ended up chasing all of the crabs on the beach. There are signs marking the way--not very accessible for those with any health problems. It is about 2.5km from the guard house to the beach. Bring plenty of water and snacks if needed, because there is nothing out there.
THE GALAPAGOS HAWK -- Few species of land birds inhabit the Galapagos and 22 of the 29 resident species are endemic to the Islands. Their presence in Galapagos is difficult to explain. They may have arrived by strong winds, although luck must have played a big part. For the most part, land birds are not exciting by appearance, they are rather dull in color. However, their 'tameness' is unsurpassed, which make them a pleasure to watch.
Tower Island, which isn't on all itineraries, is the northern most island in the archipelago. Here, one can see Red Footed and Masked Boobies and the Galapogos sub-species of Fur Seal. It is an experience you wont soon forget. Before booking a trip, see if they go here. As mentioned, not all trips include this island. It is highly recommended though.
When I went, I chose not to go as it was an option. It was because there was wading in waste deep water, or deeper. Now, many years later facilities have been made as this is no longer necessary.
You should be fine in February as long as you are flexible and have a little bit of flux time. Most of the time there is spots for 1-2 on boats with the local tourists. I have never booked anything ahead of time and typically just see whats available and if I dont like it I just travel on my own via the lanchas to San Cristobal and Isabela. I dont particularly care for Floreana. There is a small hotel there I know but I have never stayed at it. Boats leave daily and cost $25 or $30. I like staying at La Jungla on Isabela, Sir Francis Drake or Espana in Puerto Ayora. I volunteer at Hacienda Esperanza when I am in San Cristobal, so I dont stay at a hotel. I prefer this to touring. I think Mar Azul and Casa Blanca are nice. I dont know what your budget is. I dont recommend doing cruises to these place as it would be rushed and its easy to go on your own.
Puerto Villamil, Isabela Galapagos Islands, , Ecuador
Good for: Solo
Puerto Ayora, Galapagos Islands, Puerto Ayora, Ecuador
Good for: Business
Isla Isabela, , Puerto Villamil, Galapagos
Good for: Business