After visiting the beach at Gardner Bay we went back to Cachalote for a quick change and then went to the panga again to go snorkelling at a small rocky island just off the coast. As we were all eager to see sharks, especially Hammer Head Sharks we first tried to snorkel on the rougher side of the island, but we soon had to abandon that side to go to calmer waters on the other side of the island (without seeing any sharks). It was an excellent snorkelling site with many colourful reef fishes. For a long time we had around 8-10 very playful Sea Lions swimming around us. It was fantastic! We also swam into a cave. When looking under the water towards the opening we were rewarded with a beautiful blue light.
The snorkeling along the edge of the lava flow at Sullivan Bay was excellent and we stayed in the water for 1.5 hours. We visited several great snorkeling locations during the cruise with M/S Cachalote, but I think this was my favourite. The sky was clear this day and the visibility in the water was good as well.
As in other places there were many playful sea lions in the water and they followed us as we snorkelled along the coast. I saw a Marin Iguana at the bottom starting to swim up to the surface. When it came to the surface a sea lion got hold of his tail and played with him. It was funny for us to see, but I don’t think the Marine Iguana appreciated it that much. A penguin swam past my shouting through the water at a very high speed, and at one point a Blue-footed Booby dived into the water just in front of me. We also saw a lobster.
The water was full of colourful fishes and among other we saw mullets, wrasses, Lizardfish, King Angelfish, Yellow tailed Surgeonfish, Black Striped Salema, Blue Striped Snapper, Sergeant Mayor, Flag Cabrilla, Blue-chin Parrotfish, Mexican Hogfish, Cardinal fish, Triggerfish, Spotted Porcupine fish and blue porcupine fish which I think was Pacific Burrfish.
Devil’s Crown is said to be one of the best sites for snorkelling around the Galapagos Islands. Here the cone of a small submerged volcano has been eroded to look like a crown. The rocks of Devil’s Crown are situated just a few hundred metres of the coast from Punta Cormorant. So after visiting Punta Cormorant, we went back to M/S Cachalote to quickly change to swimwear and wetsuit and to grab out snorkelling equipment.
The current at Devil’s Crown is quite strong so we drifted with it while snorkelling. And as always when we snorkelled Roberto followed with the panga (dinghy).
Here are some of the species we saw: King Angelfish, Yellow Tailed Surgeonfish, Moorish Idol, Mexican Hogfish, Blue-chin Parrotfish, Cornet Fish, Guinea fowl Puffer, cardinal fish, triggerfish, wrasses, an Eagle Ray, a Sting Ray and a White Tipped Reef Shark. Two persons saw a Galapagos Shark, but I didn’t, I wish had though as I have never seen one before. We were looking for Hammerhead Sharks which can be seen here, but unfortunately we didn’t see any. To see a Hammerhead Shark is still high on my wish list!
When we were in the panga going back to Cachalote to have lunch, one of the tourists said that he had dropped one of his fins, so we went back to the place where he thought he had dropped it. Our guide Darwin threw the other fin into the water to see how it moved with the current. He dived in after it and it took quite long until he came up to the surface again with the fin. Then he went back down to look for the other fin and after a long time he came to the surface with the lost fin in his hand. Very impressive!
We went to the Galapagos in May 2010. So I understand the dilemma and the uncertainties involved in air ticket and tour purchase. We purchased economy boat tour tickets for $1599 and airfare from Guayaqil to Santa Cruz and then back to Quito for something less than $400 including taxes. (Visitor and park fees extra.) prior to our trip. It turned out that the earlier purchase did get us the better above deck cabins on our small boat. We loved the trip. We did have some airline difficulty, so let me remind you to be sure to schedule enough connection time in Guayaquil or Quito.
One thing about the air ticket prices -- When we traveled there was a three tiered pricing. Islanders paid half the price of tourists and mainlanders paid 67%. Another VT member found tickets for 2011 for $199 including taxes, this is a great deal.
In May 2010, I saw last minute boat tour tickets for sale in Guayaquil for $200-$300 less on the same tour we were taking. By the time of sailing our boat was full for the tour. Of course, the problem you face if you buy your air tickets prior to knowing the date of your tour is the uncertainty of finding a ticket that reasonably matches your flights to the islands or even your whole visit to Ecuador. You might find that the discounted tours available are of a significantly higher price than the economy tickets you found ahead of your trip. (The higher price you pay might or might not be worth the expected higher level of service.)
I think flying to Santa Cruz without reserved berths on a tour is problematic. Although you can make your visit to the sights of Santa Cruz and there are some local island "ferries", I feel that in the Galapagos one really wants to island hop to where there are no resident people. You could spend a lot of time waiting for an open place on a tour; time better spent exploring the mainland. I say this even though I am not a cruise or tour type of person.
One last suggestion, if you plan to snorkle and the tour you are taking does not include free mask, breathing tube and fins, you can probably buy new ones at your local discount store for the price of rental on the boat. We just took the mask and tube, and exchanged them at the end of the trip for use of the fins. This was a good deal for both us and the boat owner. (The price of mask and fins on the islands was 5 times the price at our local store in Florida.)
Good luck, bob
On our trip we got to snorkel twice a day. We swam with sea lions, sea turtles, marine iguanas and saw lots of fish, starfish, and beautiful coral. One day we even got to swim off of the boat. Definitely don't miss out on the snorkeling! If you have a shortie wetsuit, you'll be more comfortable as the water is on the cold side.
WOW, this was SUCH a cool place to snorkel, especially on a sunny day when the rays come streaming down into the cool, clear, blue water. It was like being in a tropical aquarium. Here you will see lots of beautiful fish and possibly sharks and sea turtles. The current can be very strong so for the most part, this is a snorkel site for people with good swimming skills that are in good shape. However, our zodiac followed us the whole way so people that got tired could go back into the boat.
Almost all islands offer great beaches, crystal clear water and sea animals to play with while swimming. The bottom of the sea is full of interesting creatures as colourful starfishes, octopuses or corals. The exotic fishes, turtles, rays, sea lions, seals are swimming around you. It's a pity to leave Galapagos without getting wet.
Except for two things! The water is usually brbrbrbr...freezing! so you need a wet suit, and it is usually too murky. Of course murkiness means a lot of food for the fish and a richer marine life. Well..ok ...But I missed a lot ...
Best diving for me was in Floreana with sea lions dancing with me, although there were very strong currents which kept us swimming together sometimes getting each other's flippers ...on our face...! And Urbina Bay, on Isabela, where the water was quite clear and I saw many turtles, an orange puffer fish bloated, a blue spotted octopus and myriads of very exotic fish as Moorish idols.
The water was really cold and if we didn't wear wet suits we would freeze to death, I am sure!
Isabella is a huge island and you could do a week tour just circumnavigating it but you'd have to charter your own boat to do it as no tours are run to the more remote parts of the island. That said, there are a few relatively close and quite inexpensive tours you can do and you are pretty much guaranteed of seeing lots of wildlife if you do.
The one just about everyone does is the Bay Tour. This cheap tour basically takes you back out into the bay from which you first entered to reach Isabella in the first place. For $10 a person I didn't expect much more but along with the scenic views you get from the bay of the island which you are generally too excited (and crammed into the boat!) to take any photos the first time you make two very worthwhile stops. The first is Las Tintoreras which are lava islands just off the coast of Isabella. There is a National Park trail that leads around one which brings you to a sea lion colony and the prime attraction, a narrow waterway in which white tipped sharks breed. The latter is easily observed from a wooden deck above. The sharks are quite small but you do get a great view of them. It's pretty much guaranteed. Of course, these are lava rocks and there are heaps of marine iguanas scurrying all over. We also saw a hawk eying them up and his catching one would have made it the value trip of a lifetime!
On the way back to port the driver stops in a shallow part of the bay and lets you snorkel. Most of the equipment is included but they do charge an extra $5 for a wet suit which at the time of year we were there (October) is a very wise investment. Our driver was quite excited as we approached as he saw a school of manta rays circling. We had hoped to see one but I must say the sight of six or seven of these huge aquatic “bats” was a bit daunting. I nonetheless quickly suited up and entered the water as my wife more slowly followed. It was an amazing feeling when my mask first went under water and I could see just how big these creatures are. We swam around and they paid no attention to us as they circled around endlessly. This would have been more than enough but just then we saw a school of golden rays, nine in all making a similar circling path. We followed them for ten minutes, careful to maintain our distance even though they were relatively close to the water's surface themselves. My wife never saw it but I also saw a small white tipped shark just below her. She said when back at the boat she was happy to have missed it. Too much excitement for one day I guess. And a great $15 spent I'd say.
The Bay Tour is easy to set up. In fact, it's hard to avoid doing one. Everyone will try and sell one to you. Basically, a water taxi driver is assigned to you for the round trip. He takes you on the small walk and drops you off to snorkel. It's nice when things can work so simply.
The ride back managed to not be too anticlimactic and with an outing like this that takes some doing. Sometimes not all of it good. Our good captain was determined to show us a penguin, the one truly different form of wildlife that Bartolome is noted for. Unfortunately, it was not the time of year when they congregate there and to be honest, with global warming their populations have plummeted in recent years. Still, we were hopeful. We had actually swam around the Pinnacle in hopes of snorkeling with one and little did we know how close we came to that reality. One of our non-snorkeling tour mates had persuaded the dingy driver to give them a ride around the Pinnacle and had spotted one while over there and hence our captain's determination to show us all the same. We did get lucky and saw one on the rocks not far from where we were in fact snorkeling with out sea lion. It was pretty far away and the Galapagos version of penguins are quite small but it was exciting nonetheless. With a penguin finally “under our belt,” it was time to head back to Santa Cruz.
There was a gorgeous sunset staring back at us as our boat make the long trip back. It was one spot we wished we could be camping overnight and it was with a sense of melancholy that we looked back not only physically but also emotionally on the whole Galapagos Islands trip. It was the last day of our adventure. We'd be going back to Quito and reality the next day. Reality has a way of sometimes coming sooner than planned. The rough seas made the ride back a cruel reminder of what one has to sometimes endure to gain access to one's dreams. Some of the less fortunate felt truly sea sick and I think everyone felt at least a tinge but I set with my eyes on the horizon as any good captain will tell his crew. And that horizon was filled with a big setting sun. Somewhere in the distance was Bartolome and all the memories that flood through me even now.
The beautiful cove to your right in the panorama is perhaps the most photographed non-animal sight in the whole archipelago. This half moon white beach in contrast to its turquoise waters would be scenic enough without the huge rocky tower next to it but Pinnacle Rock adds to its already prominent luster. The rock has an interesting story to to boot as it seems to be a result of US target bombing practice during WWII.
Once back from the walk to the island's peak, you are ferried over to this beach where you can relax, explore, or do some snorkeling. We opted for the later and headed out to look for turtles which are known to breed in the clear tranquil waters of the secluded bay. Though we didn't see any turtles that day we had an amazing experience just the same. The current was pretty strong but we managed to swim all the way around Pinnacle Rock to an adjoining little cove. Once on the other side we ran into another couple that had done the same. As soon as we stopped to say hello the woman started yelling when something swam towards her. Having already had a sea lion encounter we quickly deduced what it was. This was a good sized one though and we'd only really seen a small pup up close. We put our masks back on and got under water immediately. It was big but surely just an adolescent and a playful one at that. It swam powerfully at us and would veer away at the last minute. It was quite exhilarating to say the least. The other couple had started swimming to get back around Pinnacle right away and we couldn't believe they'd let an opportunity like this slip away. Eventually, the sea lion tired of us and we figured we better get back to the boat and started swimming back.
It was a lot easier going in this direction and the current just took us. On our way, we could relax and have a look at what was beneath us. On the way over we had been too busy fighting the current to notice but there it was: hundreds of different colored starfish. Orange, blue, yellow. It was like an inverted galaxy; as if we were floating on our backs, looking up at the sky.
Once back at the beach, it was already time to get in the dingy back to the boat. Everyone told their stories as travelers always do. Many had seen turtles, having stayed in the bay. We talked about our sea lion but what could we say about the starfish? Some things you just can't share and your own private galaxy is one of them.
On first encounter the island of Floreana was a bit disappointing. Since we were not on a cruise, we were not allowed to visit the old Post Office nor the flamingo nesting areas that are very restricted. Where we did land was certainly scenic but not so much as Las Plazas had been a few days prior. Still, the walk along a half moon bay towards a dormant volcano was pretty and I'd run into the cutest bird when I lagged behind the group and stopped to take a pee on my way.
The area where we were to snorkel was indeed lovely and the presence of some sea lions was certainly more than the excitement I'd have felt looking at a post office or a flamingo for that matter. Everyone into the pool as they say and we were off. We swam and saw our first marine turtles under water. On our way back we were soon approached by a very playful sea lion pup. It swam circles around us and we soon realized just how futile our “fake” fins were when confronted with mother nature's creations. After a fair amount of time with the little one when our guide yelled for us to get out of the water. It seemed a big male bull who had been bellowing loudly since our arrival was heading towards to the water and our guide didn't want us in the water with him. I must say I didn't particularly want to be in the water with him either!
We booked the Floreana day tour with Charles Darwin and it was $75 per person including wet suit and snorkel gear as well as a nice lunch. A bus comes to pick you up right at your hotel for the trip across the island where the day tour boats go out.
The surreal landscape of Los Tunneles would have been enough in itself but then we saw what seemed a non-top tour of passing marine turtles. Some were huge and it seemed all different colors including one particularly beautiful red one. The water was so clear it made taking photos of them an easy task. It almost looks like I took them while snorkeling! This was all so amazing we almost forgot this was in fact a snorkel tour and soon our captain said it was time to get in the water. Unfortunately, he also explained we were not allowed in this particular area as it was a big breeding area but he said we'd see turtles if we looked hard enough. So, we got into out wet suits which was a good thing as the water was surprisingly cold. The visibility was amazing and we all soon went our own ways, there was a labyrinth of waterways and I soon forgot about the turtles and started to worry more about getting lost! It was amazing swimming through the arches and if one was quite adept you could go through a tunnel.
We got pretty far from the boat and actually into the area we first entered from the sea. The water was even colder so we quickly turned back. On our way back and with no warning we were right next to a huge marine turtle. We tried to swim with it and it toyed with us momentarily before a few flips of his legs put him not only out of reach but even sight. We saw a few smaller ones that let us get closer, not yet having the experience to fear public enemy #1, man. The next thing we knew our captain was calling us back in. We swam back as quickly as we could. We were surprised we could find our way and I had imagined having to climb up on the lava arches and yelling to be rescued. But we did manage to make it back with stories to tell. Not everyone was as lucky as we were but this was no time to gloat and everyone was ecstatic about the tour.
I'd have to say it was the best $35 I spent in all of Ecuador. These tours more or less go out when they have enough people to make it worth their while unless you want to charter the whole boat. One good thing about staying in a hostel is you meet other people interested in doing the same kind of stuff you want to do and that's pretty much how this all worked. We got a group together and it just happened. Some people had been waiting some time to do it but I guess we just lucked out when it fell during our three days there. We used Isabella Dive Center which had very good equipment. Since we booked both Los Tunneles and the Bay Tour with them we talked them into letting us keep our gear to snorkel on our own at Concha Perla too.
One tour that is a bit harder to arrange, at least in the off season, is Los Tunneles. This is a trip to the lava tunnels that the island is most noted for. The island's particular volcanic origin led to their formation which would be spectacular in their own right but what makes them more so is they are breeding grounds for marine turtles. Though the tunnels are less than an hour from town via boat we were taken on a rough detour out to a small and eerily beautiful rock island well out to sea. Well, it seemed like that as the seas were swelling and the boat crashed repeatedly en route. It seemed like a price to pay for going to an amazing place so everyone was perplexed when we turned right around (after a quick photo) and headed back towards the island. As it turns out, Los Tunneles are actually part of the mainland. With the rough seas, our captain approached the narrow opening to the tunnels slowly but very confidently. It was amazing how he basically surfed the boat in on a wave. Once in the protected tunnels, the water was flat a glass and if possible clearer. We meandered around admiring the lava arches, some perched with blue footed boobies until we came to a place we could dock and take a walk on the amazing natural formations. Once on top, it was like being in the desert with huge cacti everywhere. The black lava rock combined with the aquamarine water was surreal.
Another beautiful spot and a place to snorkel for free providing you have gear is Concha Perla. This majestic little semicircular bay is reached by a boardwalk path at the end of town close to the docks from which you'll emerge on a wooden deck. So, don't go expecting a beach as there isn't one but there is some very clear water which is teaming with marine life from schools of colorful fish, to marine turtles and if you're lucky sea lions. You can head down a few rocky tributaries if you're adventurous and even head right into the bay. I went out briefly as I hadn't seen any turtles or sea lions and I knew there was a sea lion out that way as I'd seen him from the path on the way into the snorkeling area. I didn't stay out long as the water was quite a bit colder and I didn't want to get hit by a boat since I didn't have a dive flag!
For most, Bartolome is the highlight of their Galapagos Islands tour and for good reason. Though lacking in the profuse wildlife of some other islands in the archipelago, Bartolome does not lack in physical beauty. In fact, the classic panoramic view of the islands is taken from its highest peak looking back on an assortment of volcanoes and turquoise bays lined with snow white beaches. Its volcanic origin and relative youth lends the landscape to a quite barren and lunar one. Even smaller ships cannot dock so you have to enter from Sullivan Bay on a dingy and the short trip into the cove next to Pinnacle Rock comes about as close to Galapagos expectations as you can get. Once on shore, you do a half hour walk up to a 114 m peak for the requisite photos. The walk is a dry and hot one and the only plant life are very odd small cacti with a few lava lizards thrown in for good measure.
We booked our Bartolome trip through the Charles Darwin agency and it was $85 per person including wet suit and all snorkeling gear. It also included not only a good and filling lunch but also a small breakfast which was dolled out on the bus on our way to catch the boat along with a bottle of water and some juice. It was a long day and made longer by rough seas on our return journey. The trip there was beautiful and we saw numerous sea birds including the magnificent frigate birds that followed our ship. These relatives to the pelican are quite large with males over two meters. The male has a red throat which they blow up like a balloon during mating season to attract females.