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Early in the morning after our first night at sea, at about 4.00, the Angelito left the sheltered spot where she had been anchored and headed for Sombrero Chino or Chinese Hat, where we arrived at 6.20. After an early breakfast we landed on the island, after a short cruise in the dinghies along the shore of Santiago which it lies very near to.
Sombrero Chino takes its name from its appearance – the profile of the island when viewed from the sea is very like a hat. The landing is a wet one, on a small white sand beach, and the trail is short (around 400 metres) and easy, mainly following the coast of the island. The first sight that greeted us here was a mother sea lion and her newborn pup, which Fabian estimated was just a few hours old. There were quite a few other mothers and babies too. We watched one youngster as he struggled to reach his mother from his position on the rocks (see my little video, and had to resist the temptation to help him! The same mother then took exception to the newborn, who seemed to confuse her for his own mum (who was by now in the sea, washing herself clean after the birth) and got a bit too close for her liking. We were really concerned for his safety for a while, so Fabian made a bit of noise to try to distract her, but eventually she focused again on her own offspring and left the newcomer alone.
We then followed the trail past lots of Sally Lightfoot crabs, with their distinctive red and pale blue colouring, and then crossed some lava rocks to a point where the waves were crashing against it. Here there were more crabs and some lava lizards. We then returned the way we had come, and back to the boat, as it was time for our first snorkelling trip off nearby Santiago.
Next tip: ”Bartolomé”
Written Dec 6, 2012
Bartolomé was one of the islands I had most wanted to include in our itinerary, as it is generally recognised as having the best views in the archipelago. This view from the top of its peak is the must-have shot. However in the end it proved not to be one of my favourite islands, though that is not to say it isn’t well worth visiting – there are no bad destinations in the Galápagos ! But a combination of a relative lack of wildlife with which to interact, and relatively dull weather which failed to bring out the perspectives of this striking landscape, meant that Bartolomé didn’t make my “top five” list after all.
The landing here is a dry one, and as you can see in photo two, we had someone to meet us as we set foot on the island! The visitor trail is all on a boardwalk and wooden steps, 375 in total, that lead to the highest point and the classic Galápagos view. As you climb you will see lava lizards sunning themselves on the hot boards or on nearby outcrops of lava, but few other land animals are attracted to live in this barren landscape. The main interest for visitors is the story of the volcanic activity that shaped this and the other islands, as demonstrated vividly in the spatter cones and other formations around you.
The other main interest is the view, and it certainly rewards your climb. From this high point you can see Pinnacle Rock, Bartolomé’s “trademark”, immediately below you, and beyond it, Santiago and some other smaller islands. The contrast of white sand beach, green scrub-land behind it, volcanic island and blue sea is dramatic and memorable. It looked great even on a dull day, and photos I have seen show that on a bright one it is spectacular!
After our climb we returned to the Angelito and had a choice of snorkelling around Pinnacle Rock, swimming or spending time on the small beach. We chose the latter, along with two others of our group, and Fabian came along with us as tourists aren’t allowed here (or on most other visitor sites) other than in the company of a guide. We had an enjoyable and relaxing time spotting a number of bird species, including a Galápagos penguin that swam up and down, parallel to the beach, right opposite where we were sitting. Other sightings included a great blue heron, pelican, yellow warbler, and a booby diving repeatedly for fish in their distinctively direct fashion. The snorkelers enjoyed themselves too, though reported less clear water than we’d had that morning when snorkelling off Santiago.
So that was our Bartolomé – a small gem of lava edged with white sand.
Next tip: ”Genovesea”
Written Dec 6, 2012
The journey to Genovesa is a long one, and consequently it is less visited than some of the other islands. The small engines of some of the cheaper cruise boats cannot reach it in a comfortable amount of time, and the larger boats (over 40 passengers) are not able to enter the natural harbour formed by its caldera. But if you find an itinerary that includes this remote spot, go for it! This was one of my favourite islands and is a must for bird-lovers and keen photographers especially.
The downside of a visit here is that long voyage. The Angelito sailed here overnight from Bartolomé, a journey of around seven hours, and the return trip to St James’ Bay, Santiago, was eight hours. The sea between the southerly islands and Genovesa is more open and exposed, and therefore can be rougher. We had been warned to expect this and to take seasickness precautions. I did take a pill before going to bed on both these nights, and whether because of this, or because it was not as choppy as it can get, had no problems at all – indeed, I rather enjoyed the rocking of the little boat when I woke in the night. Others in our group did suffer a bit however, so if you are prone to seasickness (I am not, thankfully), you will need to decide if the attraction of Genovesa outweighs the risk. I believe even the queasiest of our party felt that it was!
There are two visitor sites here so we spent most of the day, apart from lunch, on the island. In the morning we had a wet landing on the white sand of Darwin Bay, at the heart of the caldera. The 1.5 km trail here is at first sandy and later over rocky lava. The first part was especially awesome – lined with red mangrove trees, in every one of which (or so it seemed to me) several Red-footed Boobies were nesting, and (again, so it seemed) posing for our cameras. We also saw some Nazca Boobies, mockingbirds, various finches, swallow-tailed gulls, yellow-crowned night herons and some Great Frigatebirds (mainly juveniles).
Our afternoon landing was at Prince Philip Steps or El Barranco, where a steep but short climb leads to a trail of a little under 2km across the cliffs. Here it was the Nazca Boobies that most engaged my photographic efforts, as many of them had chicks of different ages, from scrawny new-borns to larger balls of fluff. Other pairs were yet to produce their young, and were either guarding eggs or even still in the courtship stage, building their nests. We also saw more Red-footed Boobies and juvenile Great Frigatebirds here, but perhaps most notable were the short-eared owls. Owls on the Galápagos Islands are not nocturnal so it is not unusual to see them in broad daylight like this, but for us it was amazing to watch them not just sitting on the ground but even hunting in the middle of the afternoon! Truly Genovesa is a birdwatcher’s paradise, but also a paradise for us all!
Next tip: ”Santiago”
Written Dec 6, 2012
We saw quite a lot of Santiago (or St James) as in addition to a landing here on the fourth morning of our cruise, we also snorkelled and had a dinghy ride along its south east shore when moored between here and Sombrero Chino on the second morning. But it was our wet landing on the black volcanic sands of James Bay (Puerto Egas) that was to be one of my favourite island visits. The easy 2km trail through the Opuntia and scrubby plants (such colourful beach morning glory and the bright red twigs of the altenantera) gave us our first sighting of a Galápagos hawk and our only one of a Galápagos scorpion, which Fabian found under a rock by the path.
The trail then emerged onto an area of black lava, much of it twisted into weird shapes the formation known as “pahoehoe”. This has an undulating, or ropy surface, caused by the movement of very fluid lava under a congealing surface crust. Unlike the “a’a” lava found elsewhere on the islands, which is loose and broken, pahoehoe makes for interesting photos and a relatively smooth walking surface. We spent some time here, exploring the rock pools and the larger crevices, in one of which three sea lions were playfully enjoying the in-rushing sea water. There were lots of marine iguanas posing for our cameras too, as well as a pretty yellow warbler and plenty of colourful Sally lightfoot crabs. I would happily have stayed here even longer than we did, but snorkelling was on our agenda that morning too, so it was back to the boat to prepare for that. That snorkelling session was to be the first on which I would see a sea lion under water – a super end to our time here!
Next tip: ”Rabida”
Written Dec 6, 2012
We had seen white coral beaches, yellow sand and black lava ones, and now on Rabida we had a landing on a dramatically red one, surrounded by equally red cliffs. The colour is the result of a lot of ferric oxide in the lava that has been emitted from the spatter cones that form much of the island.
Rabida (English name Jervis (after an 18th century British admiral, John Jervis, the Earl of St. Vincent) is one of the smaller islands, at just 4.9 sq km. The one relatively easy trail is just 1km in length, but very varied. After spending a little time on the beach, photographing the sea lions against the strikingly coloured backdrop, we followed the path through the pale palo santo trees and climbed to a point above the beach from where we has a good view of the lagoon that lies just behind it, the red sands, the bay and the Angelito moored just off shore. From here the trail forms a loop, and led us to another even more dramatic viewpoint on the cliffs where the contrasting colours of red rock, green Opuntia , blue sky and turquoise sea made for great photo opportunities. But the highlight of our walk came when we spotted a huge manta ray in the sea directly beneath us. He stayed for a long while, turning languidly in the waves. It was hard to tear ourselves away (not for the first time on this trip) but eventually he left, and so did we.
We returned to the beach with a detour past the lagoon we had looked down on earlier. In the past this has been home to flamingos, but none were to be seen on our visit, and Fabian explained that it was likely that they’d been driven away by the groups of bachelor sea lions who have chosen this spot as a place to chill out, undisturbed by the alpha male who throws his weight around on the beach.
Disappointingly we had no time for swimming or snorkelling here, as the Angelito had to sail that afternoon for Santa Cruz, so we said goodbye to the red cliffs of Rabida and headed for our next island.
Next tip: ”Santa Cruz”
Written Dec 6, 2012
Santa Cruz, also known as Indefatigable, sits right in the centre of the archipelago. It is has largest human population of any of the islands, and is home to the largest town in the Galápagos , Puerto Ayora, on its southern shore, and to the Charles Darwin Research Station. Unlike the barren volcanic landscapes we had seen elsewhere, its interior is lush and green, with plantations growing all sorts of crops. After five days at sea without seeing a single human habitation, passing these cultivated hillsides, and even more so, walking the streets of the small town, seemed like a return to a different world.
We spent a day here altogether. In the morning we visited the research station, which offers an opportunity to get close to the giant tortoises that they breed here, and to Land iguanas (those these latter are no longer part of a breeding programme as they are no longer considered under any threat in the wild). Although, given the tameness of the wildlife throughout the archipelago, getting close is much less of a bonus here than it would be anywhere else in the world. Nevertheless it was interesting to learn about the important work carried out here, and to see the young tortoises being gradually adapted for release into the wild. But we were sadly too late to see the centre’s former most famous resident, Lonesome George, who had died about five months before our visit.
After our visit to the centre we walked into town and enjoyed the novelties of drinking coffee in a café and shopping for souvenirs. In the afternoon we boarded a small bus, driven by one of the Angelito’s owners, for our journey into the highlands. Here we had the opportunity to learn more about the giant tortoises and to see them in the wild, on one of the reserves where they are protected. Sharing a narrow path with one of these enormous reptiles really does give you a sense of their size and strength!
At the end of our cruise we saw another side of Santa Cruz, with an early morning panga ride in Black Turtle Cove before leaving for Baltra and our flight home. We were lucky enough to see White-tipped Reef Shark and Spotted Eagle rays here, as well as enjoying the beautiful and peaceful backwaters here.
Next tip: ”Española”
Written Dec 6, 2012
Española (English name Hood) lies in the far south east of the Galápagos Islands group and is fairly small, at just 61 sq km. There are two very contrasting visitor sites, both of which we were lucky enough to enjoy. In the morning of our visit we made a wet landing on the beach of Gardner Bay. This is one of the few places where it is permitted for visitors to wander without the close attendance of a guide, so Fabian left us largely to our own devices. We walked along the beach near the water’s edge, where a large number of sea lions had congregated. Several of the females had babies, mostly fairly young. One little pup in particular took an especial interest in us. He came right up to me and tickled my toes with his whiskers! He then gave my trekking pole a curious nibble, and proceeded to follow me along the beach. Lest I get big-headed with all this attention, he switched to another member of our group, Mele, and seemed to adopt her - as you can see in my short video. It wasn’t difficult to see why some tourists are tempted to get over-familiar with these young creatures and I had to resist the temptation to pat him on the head like a puppy!
We also saw a pair of Galápagos hawks here, and one of our number managed to get shots and video footage of them mating. There were yellow warblers, swallows swooping past, and various finches, among other species. Later in the morning we snorkelled here, jumping off a panga near a rock a little off-shore and swimming from there either to the boat or to the beach. I chose the latter, thinking I would encounter sea lions there, but they were mostly very close to the edge where it was both too murky and too shallow to snorkel. But I did enjoy the sight of a sea turtle at the start of my swim, though I missed seeing the stingrays that some of the others spotted.
In the afternoon we landed on the other side of the island, at Punta Suarez. Here we did one of the longest, and certainly the hardest, of the week’s trails. At 3 km and very rocky, this tested my dodgy knee and was tiring for several of us, but we all agreed it was more than worth the effort. There were a number of highlights, including a species of marine iguana endemic to this island, with red and at times green colouring – leading to the nickname of “Christmas” marine iguana. But the stars of Española, if you visit at the right time of the year as we did (late March to December) are the awe-inspiring waved albatross. My first sight of an albatross chick, five months old and already enormous, was one of the most memorable of the week.
It was here that Fabian’s relaxed approach to these excursions really paid off, as he gave us plenty of time to appreciate all that we saw. We sat and watched this chick for some time (as he sat there watching us too!) We then moved on to an open area of jumbled lava rocks, on the far side of which there were a large number of albatross, and spent considerable time here too, watching all the activity. We also had a lengthy pause when we reached the cliffs at the far point of the trail, sitting and watching the albatross and frigates flying past us and the waves crashing on the rocks below. A short walk along the cliffs brought us to another viewing point with a dramatic blow-hole beneath us.
All this meant that as we neared the end of the path back to the landing point (stopping for more albatross photos on the way, and some Blue-footed Boobies), Fabian realised that we were at risk of being still on the island after 18.15, when no one is permitted to be on shore in the Galápagos (other than the populated areas, naturally). He urged us on, and the last of our group boarded the panga with five minutes to spare after a truly thrilling afternoon!
Next tip: ”Santa Fe”
Updated Dec 6, 2012
It was here at Santa Fe that I had two of my most memorable Galápagos experiences. Known also by the English name of Barrington, this is one of the smaller islands at just 24 km sq, and has a single visitor site with a wet landing. Unlike many of the other islands, it is relatively flat, having been formed by an uplift of land rather than a volcanic eruption.
It is known for its own species of land iguana, which is larger than the others and only found here, although we only saw a few of these on our walk. But by that time we had already had our (first) special moment of the morning! Landing early (at 7.00 am, well before those from either of the other two boats moored in the bay), we had been greeted by the sight of a newborn sea lion pup, the mother still blooded and the placenta lying on the sand nearby. As we looked, we saw a couple of juvenile Galápagos hawks in the trees around the site, and more soon arrived. Eventually one dived in to grab this “treat” and they were soon all fighting over it, devouring it with gusto. Watching this from such close range really was just like seeing a wildlife TV documentary, but (literally) in the flesh! After this, our short walk through the Opuntia forest, though pleasant and interesting, was perhaps always going to be something of an anticlimax.
The second part of our morning here was devoted to snorkelling. I had been in two minds whether to join the group, as I was finding getting into the panga afterwards a bit of a challenge, and there was no option here to swim to the beach. But I decided to join the party, and it proved to be a great decision! We were joined in our swim by a group of sea lions, the females happy to play with us while the watchful alpha male who patrolled among them tolerated our intrusion but disdained to join the fun. I was also really pleased to be able to capture some of their antics on my waterproof camera – just before its battery ran out! This was to be our last snorkelling session, and it was a fantastic one to end with.
Next tip: ”Plaza Sur”
Written Dec 6, 2012
TRAVEL TO THE ENCHANTED ISLANDS, THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
Hello I am new to this forum, and the truth is that I'm too excited to tell my experiences in the Galápagos Islands, as you know what is the point of passing the best time of your life if you don´t share it with your friends, families and people who are interested in the subject.
6 months ago I was in a dilemma, I needed urgently some vacations, I was really really stressed because my work, I am in charge of the accounting department of a local distribution company, the urban life and routine were some of the reasons why I needed vacations. At the beginning I was not 100% sure of which destination i should choose, but one day I went through to a local travel agency, where they recommended me to visit the Galápagos Islands, a place different than any destination in the world. At first I was not sure but over time I began to investigate a little more about these islands. I talked to my wife, and we agreed to take this exciting new destination.
When we started looking for the best way to visit the Galápagos Islands, we found that there were many choices, but of course, and trust me that the best option is to take a cruise and visit the a lot places that the Galápagos islands can offer. In the search of the perfect cruise option we found the Queen of Galápagos, a catamaran yacht with very comfortable rooms and a very good itinerary. I believe that the ideal Itinerary is to take at least 8 days tour, because you would know many places!. We can say that the Queen of Galápagos was the ideal yacht for us!, Since the relationship between price and comfort was more than excellent. We found nice deals in the internet.
The first day we arrived in San Cristobal, a town called Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, a very nice place, where we found the largest concentration of people and businesses. It was full of sea lions everywhere. We got into a dinghy and we were taken to the yacht, believe me!, we were surprised how big it was. We unloaded all our equipment and a member of the crew gave us our cabin, a King size bed cabin. In the next hours they called us to give us a really nice welcome speech, everything was excellent. In the afternoon we went to the Galapaguera, where we took a nice walk, knowing the GIANT turtles, very interesting!.
The second day we visited Santa Fe island in the morning, we left the small town to connect with nature, and I can say it was indescribably beautiful! We found many types of animals, including the strange land iguana, then we did snorkeling! It was spectacular and I have to admit that the best of the Galapagos trip was the snorkeling.
The third day, we traveled to Santiago Island. In the morning we visited the beautiful beaches of Santiago, called Espumilla beach, a great place to relax and enjoy a sunny day at the beach!, We swam and did a little walk on the beach , where the sand was brown to red. In the afternoon we went to visit the Puerto Egas, great place to know the famous Galapagos pigeons and boobies, I have to say I was surprised how you can get very closet o the animals and they don't run away from us, an excellent opportunity for taking some pictures.
The fourth day, we traveled on the night to one of the most stunning and beautiful islands in the Galapagos Islands, Genovesa Island, I have to say that it was the best point of interest, and the one that most surprised me, because such beauty of the island is amazing and a lot of animals that you can know, is greater than anywhere else, starting with bird watching!. We did snorkeling in the morning and I found a Galapagos shark, my wife was very scared but the guide explained to us that Galapagos sharks are harmless, and there was nothing to worry about. The marine life is beautiful, you see animals of all kinds of colors!. In the afternoon we went to a place known as "el Barranco", the best place to see birds of all kinds, watching all the birds, you will love it!. I have to repeat it was the best experience of the whole trip.
The fifth day, we sailed to Bartolome Island, which is famous for the Pinnacle Rock, a very very nice landscape, climbing to the top of the island where we could see this beautiful landscape! On our way I discovered the Galapagos hawk, a large and interesting animal. When we snorkeling, we found the famous Galapagos penguin, we try to swam closer to reach the penguin. but they are really fast under water, at least I took a small blurry picture. In the afternoon we went back to Santiago Island to meet Sullivan bay.
The sixth day we sailed to the Rabida Island, near Santiago Island, the most surprising about this island was its beautiful red sand beach!, I had never seen anything like that, the sand was red colored!. After visiting the beach they took us to snorkel, I have to admit that I love snorkeling and on this tour there was plenty snorkeling!. Again we were surprised by the marine life you can see here. In the distance we found a sea turtle and a Ray with their peculiar swim!. In the afternoon we traveled to Santa Cruz, to a place called Dragon Hill, the home of the yellow land iguanas, I am not lying, They were yellow!, the place was full of this type of iguanas. Many photos were taken in this place.
The seventh day, I was very sad because we knew that we had only this day and the morning of the another day to enjoy the Galapagos,. in the morning we visit the famous Charles Darwin station in the Santa Cruz Island, it has the largest reserve of Galapagos tortoises. Here we explain a little bit about the evolution of these turtles and their behaviors, we were surprised how this people care them since this tortoise are eggs, a very interesting place. In the afternoon we took a bus to the highlands of Santa Cruz,
The last day early in morning we had a long trip back to San Cristobal, when we arrived they called us and tell us that we had to have all our things ready, we would go to last place, El Junco, a beautiful lagoon filled with Galapagos Ducks and frigatebirds, we found one with inflated red bag!.
I have to say, that was one of the best vacation I have ever had in my entire life, the itinerary was excellent, we met a lot of Galapagos, and I believe the the highlight was snorkeling around the trip, we loved!. The Queen of Galapagos was very good, excellent food and of course what we most liked was the accommodation and service! Excellent!. I hope you have enjoyed reading my experiences and very happy to share those and I recommend to choose the Galapagos islands as your next holiday destination if you have any questions or any comments you want to share with me, please write me an answer, Greetings! And a have enjoyable day!.
I have to thanks to Antonio to make this adventure a oncelife experience!. I contact him by visiting http://www.galapagoscruises.com/
Written Oct 4, 2012
Several months before going to Ecuador I wrote to some travel agencies to ask for ”budget” cruises. The most expensive of the cruises presented to me was an 8days/7 nights-cruise with Daphne Yacht. For June/July 2011 it was $2390, and that included the flight between Quito/Guayaquil and Galapagos Islands. Even if it was more expensive than some other boats it had the best itinerary and seemed to be the best value for the money. I decided to book the cruise with Daphne at once, the dollar rate was good at the moment and I wanted to be sure to get a cabin on the upper deck, and most important of all, a cabin which was not next to the engine room. I didn’t pay for a single supplement, so it was possible that I had to share the cabin with someone.
A few weeks before my trip I was told the cruise with Daphne had been cancelled, so I was instead offered a cruise with M/S Cachalote. First I was very disappointed, but it turned out to be very good. Cachalote is a more expensive boat so it was an update for me and the boat was very nice. Before accepting the offer I confirmed that I would not get a cabin next to the engine room.
M/S Cachalote is a 26m long motor sailor (unfortunately we never navigated with the sails up). It was built in 1971 and remodelled in 2002. Besides the crew Cachalote can accommodate 16 passengers in seven twin cabins and one double cabin. All cabins have their own bathroom and air-condition.
The first two days we were only 6 passengers, and two more joined when we came to Isla San Cristobal. Because the boat was not fully booked I could get my own cabin (cabin 5), which of course was very nice. In the shower there was hot water, soap and shampoo. The towels were changed every day. Being alone in the cabin I had plenty of space, even though the cabins are small.
There is a bar and dinning room where we ate all meals. For breakfast we always got fresh fruits, juice, yoghurt, granola, eggs and bread. Coffee and tea was available throughout the day, as well as drinking water. For lunch and dinner we got lots of food and it was good. Coming back from a visit to an island we were always offered juice and some snacks. Breakfast was served at 7, lunch at 12 and dinner at 19.
The first day of the cruise we visited Santa Cruz Highlands and Charles Darwin Research Station, and the last day we went on a tour in the panga (dinghy) at Black Turtle Cove. Besides that we visited two different visitor sites each day and we also went snorkelling. On this page I have written separate tips about the different visitor sites we went to and in my travelogue I have got the itinerary for the week.
We had an excellent naturalist guide who was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the Galapagos Islands. Besides the guide there were six members in the crew, the captain, a cook, an engineer, a bar man and two sailors.
Not included in the price of the cruise are alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, wet suit ($30 for one week), snorkel equipment ($10, but as it had been included in my package for the Daphne Cruise I didn’t have to pay that) and tip for the staff (a recommended average per person and week was $40 for the naturalist guide and $100 for the rest of the staff to share).
I can absolutely recommend M/S Cachalote and wish I could go again to do the Fernandina itinerary.
Updated Jun 16, 2012