Seven Days in the Galapagos
Going to the Galapagos was like going to another country in another country. We had to go through a special security check, pay a fee to enter, and have our passports stamped with a special stamp. There were a set of rules that had to be followed, mainly regarding respecting the Galapagos as a protected area and interacting with its wildlife. We were honored to be able to set foot in the Galapagos and experience its amazingness first hand.
The Galapagos was our main reason for visiting Ecuador. To some people it made no sense to go to the Galapagos with a 2-year old. We fully understood our limited activity options before choosing to go there. We knew that liveaboards and cruises were not our options due to safety issues (with a young child) and also price. Galapagos is expensive and like every other trip we had done, we wanted to try our best to do it on a budget. It was a nice surprise to find that there were still many things we could do without spending our days on a boat and without completely breaking the bank.
|Pelicans and sea lion at the fish market|
The cheapest way to do Galapagos is by far land-based. This means staying in one or more of the main islands (there are three: Santa Cruz, Isabela, and San Cristobal) and then doing daily excursions from these islands or opting to island hop. Island hopping is becoming a more and more preferred way to explore the Galapagos because boats go daily between the most populated islands and for very reasonable price. One just have to stomach the most-of-the-time bumpy 2-3 hours one-way ride.
What we did to stay on budget were: finding affordable but comfortable accommodation (preferably with a kitchen), cooking as often as possible, and choosing excursions/tours carefully. The most we spent our money was on these excursions. The good ones were expensive because they usually consisted of bus ride, boat ride (big boat), park-certified naturalist guide (bilingual), lunch, snack, and the use of snorkeling gear. Also, each tour was very specific on which part of the islands could be ventured. You could be on the land only or in the water only (not both) when it came to the uninhibited islands.
I also found out that since Galapagos was a protected area, tour companies, including dive operators, had different schedules every day to limit visitors to the uninhibited islands and in the waters. This made my trip planning rather tricky. I was lucky that our AirBnb host, Yogo from La K-Leta Guest House was extremely helpful and reliable in finding and booking tours for us. He knew which tours would fit our needs as a family with a young child.
We spent a week in the Galapagos and decided that we would do all the excursions from Santa Cruz. We wanted to go to Isabela and spent a night there, but after much consideration we thought it was best to stay in Santa Cruz instead. There was a bit of regret there but Lila's well-being came first. A week might seem like a long period of time, but traveling between islands in the Galapagos took time and stamina. An excursion usually takes a whole day from morning to afternoon, even early evening. In my opinion, the key to traveling with a young child is to slow down and allocate breaks in between major activities. In these breaks, focus on them and what they want to do. In our case, these breaks were meant for restful naps on our comfortable guest house bed.
This was our itinerary for the whole week:
- Quito to Baltra (Galapagos) - the direct flight was around 2 hours and we arrived around 3 PM
- Baltra Airport (took a free bus to the ferry crossing then took a 5-minutes ferry ride to Santa Cruz)
- Visited the El Chato Ranch and saw the Galapagos (giant turtles). Lila did not expect the turtles to be that big and she freaked out.
- 45 minutes taxi ride to Puerto Ayora and finally made ourselves at home at La K-Leta Guest House. Yogo the host gave us all the info about the town.
- Aris went scuba diving to Floreana Island and dove with sea lions. I stayed with Lila and we explored the areas around the guest house. We hung out at the fish market and saw sea lions, pelicans, and marine iguanas. Then we chilled at the guest house until Papao came back from his dive.
- Dinner at one of the kiosks at Los Kioskos (a street filled with food vendors during the night). We had 2 platters of langostinos (some kind of lobsters although not as buttery as lobsters) for $20. Lobsters (langostas) are only served in December to preserve the population. Los Kioskos is the place to enjoy affordable seafood in Puerto Ayora.
- Morning pick-up for a tour to Santa Fe ($75 per person). We left from Puerto Ayora dock with 7 other people on a 35-foot fishing boat. Later I realized that fishing was part of the tour although we did not catch any.
|This sea lion pup was just born minutes before this picture was taken|
|Sea lions lounging on rocks|
- The ride to Santa Fe was around 45-50 minutes. We then snorkeled and saw sea lions and plenty of fish and rays. The water was too cold for my liking.
|Sea lion colony at Santa Fe Island|
- Lunch was served on the boat. We did not have permit to step foot on Santa Fe Island so we just marveled at the sea lions basking in the sun from a distance.
- The tour initially targeted two locations for snorkeling, but the water was just too dang cold and nobody wanted to jump in the water for the second time. So we went back to Santa Cruz and stopped at Playa Escondida, a secluded beach that was only accessible by boat. The sand was white and soft, the water was clear and calm, and our child had the best of time wading in the cool water.
- Aris went scuba diving at Gordon Rocks. It was a long day for him giving the trip to get to the dive spot consisted of a 45 minute car ride and almost 2 hours boat ride. He did not see much, BUT he did see the hammerhead sharks. Seeing these guys is still in my bucket list. So hopefully there is another Galapagos trip in the future for us. Preferably a liveaboard/cruise one.
- Lila and I stayed in town for a relaxing day. Lila napped for almost 3.5 hours and I got to write, read, and cook.
- When Aris came back from his dive we used the guest house bikes to go to Charles Darwin Research Station to learn more about the Galapagos. Then we had ice cream for dinner. We are wild that way.
- We left the guest house at around 9.30 - 10 AM to go to Tortuga Bay. Tortuga Bay is located on the southern coast of Santa Cruz. It was an easy 10-15 minutes walk from the guest house to the entrance where we had to sign in (no entrance fee). Then from the entrance we hiked a 1.5 miles (2.5 km) paved trail surrounded by cacti, matasarno trees, and palo santo trees. I wished I had worn shoes instead of flip flops and I wished I had not forgotten my hat because the sun was brutal! I was lucky my flimsy flip flop did not deteriorate before we reached the beach. Tortuga Bay itself was gorgeous!
- We walked along the shore for another 15-20 minutes to get to the lagoons where we could swim and kayak. We rented a kayak and explored the mangroves and the lagoons. We saw so many animals! We saw a school of eagle rays, sea turtles, marine iguanas, sharks, crabs of various sizes, and many birds. Lila fell asleep right there in the kayak.
|I tried to smile for the camera, but I was not enjoying the boat ride|
- We took water taxi to go back to town. The ride was super bumpy, but Lila seemed to enjoy it just fine. It was I who was terrified.
|Tourists came from every where!|
- Dinner of grilled fish and rice at Los Kioskos. Yumm!
- We left the guest house early in the morning, probably around 5.30 AM to head out to Bartolome. We met with the other tour participants at a meeting point in town then a bus took us to Ithabaca Channel (45 minutes). A catamaran was waiting for us there. We took a dinghy to get to the catamaran.
- The Bartolome tour was the most expensive we spent. We paid $175 per adult and $145 for Lila. It was worth the price though. The catamaran was spacious and the food was good. The chef and crew were always quick to serve tasty food (meal and snacks) and beverages, and made sure we had everything we needed. There were rooms inside the boat so Lila could comfortably nursed and took a nap.
- The boat ride to Bartolome took almost 2.5 hours. Catamaran is a big boat and it goes half the speed of a smaller boat. Bartolome itself is an uninhibited island and is the most visited and most photographed place in the Galapagos. The Pinnacle Rock which is none other than a lava formation that towers high way above the water, is the most recognized landmark in the whole archipelago. Isla Bartolome was named after Sir Bartholomew James Sulivan, a friend of Charles Darwin.
- We visited two sites in the tour. The first was a small bay opposite pinnacle rock. We climbed a 600 m wooden staircase trail to reach the summit. The trail was built by the park service to protect the integrity of the island. The island was like nothing that I had ever seen. It was so barren and dry, filled with lava rocks and various volcanic formations. Only the strongest could survive there, such as the Tequila plant. It looked like dead brush because it was covered in small gray hairs that served as barriers from the strong sunlight and to prevent moisture evaporation.
- From the summit we got a panoramic view of the Pinnacle Rock with Santiago Island as the background. It was breathtaking! We also saw a manta ray swimming and jumping in the water by the dock where we landed. Imagine the size of that manta because we saw it from a height of 114 meters (374 ft)!
- The second site was the north beach adjacent to Pinnacle Rock. Swimming and snorkeling were allowed here. Lila and I played on the beach and saw a sleeping sea lion while Aris snorkeled and met sting rays, turtles, sharks, and plenty of fish. On the dinghy ride back to the catamaran we saw a family of Galapagos penguins in the crevices of Pinnacle Rock.
- The ride back to Ithabaca Channel was rough! I was ready with a plastic bag in case Lila threw up, but she actually found the nerve-racking boat ride to be so much fun and could not stop laughing at me for being terrified. Then she fell asleep on my lap. What a day!
- Las Grietas is becoming a more and more popular site in Santa Cruz. The natural swimming hole is actually a stretch of inland clear water at the bottom of an earth fracture. The water comes from a river on one end and ocean water from the other. The emerald green water was undoubtedly very inviting, especially after the hike to get to it.
- To get to Las Grietas we took a water taxi from town. The boat ride was less than 5 minutes from Academy Bay to Angermeyer Point. After landing we started the easy hike to get to the swimming spot. We went past the German Beach (Playa de Los Alemanes) then down a path that took us to a pink salt lake. It was quite a peculiar sight. The path then continued on and we came across some lava rocks and cacti. Before getting to the staircase to reach Las Grietas, we had to walk past some wooded area. It was a good idea to wear sturdy walking shoes instead of flip flops. We carried Lila in our Osprey and thad to carefully walked down the stairs because it was slippery.
- After Las Grietas we spent some time wading and playing with sand at the German Beach. The water was calm and shallow so it was perfect for animal watching. Juvenile sharks and marine iguanas were spotted by the mangroves. Lila wanted nothing to do with the water after Aris took her to see the sharks and iguanas.
- Our direct flight back to mainland Ecuador was actually at 2 PM, but then we received a notification from the airline that our flight was rescheduled to an earlier one (10 AM) with one stop at Guayaquil. We arrived at the airport around 9 AM just to learn that that we were being moved again to a 5 PM flight. The land crew at the check-in desk received an earful from Aris, me, and even Lila. Lila somehow started to scream "NO!" when she heard about the news. And then she started bawling. I think she saw me looking upset and then took matters in her own hands. I believe the little girl helped us in getting back on our 10 AM flight because of her acting ability.
- Upon arriving in Quito we spent a few hours at Wyndham Hotel by the airport because our flight was at 1 AM on November 28. This way we got to take showers and Lila could have some shut-eye before leaving for the airport. This was a splurge indeed, but it was worth it.
Galapagos was a super fun trip for us as a family. Lila still talks about seeing all the animals. She even remembered falling asleep in the kayak while Ibu and Papao row, row, row your boat. Yes, we speak in songs in this family.
We still used our carriers a lot. Lila liked to walk but she also liked being carried around. I brought my Ergo because it was easier to use and store than my Beco Gemini, especially at airports and in planes. For hikes we used our Osprey because it was more comfortable for Lila and she could see everything from where she sat compared to being carried in the Ergo.
|Juvenile shark at Academy Bay Harbor|
We met other families who traveled with their children in Galapagos. Some with their babies and toddlers. People in Galapagos are very friendly toward kids and we did not find any difficulties traveling with Lila in terms of food or activities. This Galapagos trip allowed me to expose Lila to wildlife and teach her how to interact and respect it. I will forever treasure the memories we made together in this trip.