There’s nowhere in the world like the Galapagos Islands. I’m not kidding; it’s on the Equator in a place where marine life from all different parts of the world collides due to the three different currents flowing underneath the islands. There is no place like it.
As I did some research before visiting the Galápagos, I tossed the idea around before I committed to it. In the end, I justified it because, really, when would I be back to Ecuador? Maybe never. I had to go.
In my normal “flying by the seat of my pants (or jean shorts)” type of way, I didn’t have much of a plan. How was I going to do the Galápagos? Other travelers told me about different tours: boat cruises, land excursions, 8-day trips, 5-day trips, DIY trips – I had no idea where to start. After doing some research I learned that I had to book a tour online or just show up to Puerto Ayora, one of the main islands, and sign up for a tour there. My unpreparedness worried me; I didn’t want to waste a day organizing a tour for when I only had a few days on the islands.
Luckily, I managed to convince a new friend I met in Baños (where I went biking and went on the Swing at the End of the World) to join me in the Galápagos since he was splitting off from his friends for a few days. Even luckier was that he had a connection to a tour operator offering tours to the Galápagos. We’d be going on a 5-day tour in which my friend would be diving and I would be snorkeling in different parts of the islands. It even included a first-time “Discover Scuba Diving” experience in which I could try scuba diving for the first time. I was sold. Too easy.
Day 1: Twin Craters, Giant Tortoises, and Lava Tunnels
I was beyond excited to begin this adventure when we landed on Baltra Island. A short ferry ride and drive later, we were in the “highlands” on Santa Cruz Island, standing in front of the twin craters. Similar to the landscape at Volcán Masaya in Nicaragua, I felt like I’d stepped back in time to when dinosaurs ruled the earth.
The highlight for me on Day 1 was getting to see the giant tortoises. They were so cute! And badass; the giant tortoises found in the Galápagos can live to be over 100 years old! We watched from a safe distance as the tortoises grazed on grass and moved at snail (no, tortoise) speed around the sanctuary.
Day 2: Snorkeling around Santa Fe
I split off from the divers on our second day in the Galápagos and went snorkeling around Santa Fe Island. We marveled at the blue-footed booby birds found mostly in the Galápagos on the rocks before stopping at our snorkel spot.
The water was crystal clear and for the first time, I was swimming among sea lions, schools of colorful fish, and stingrays. Whenever I thought a sea lion was close enough to touch me, it would gracefully sidestep me and swim away. I’ve snorkeled before in a few places, including the cenotes in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, but swimming with so many beautiful creatures was truly mind-blowing.
After some snorkel time and enjoying a delicious ceviche lunch on the boat, we circled around the island to the area where sea lions basked on the rocks, soaking up the rays. The water was the brightest shade of blue in this part of the archipelago. This part of the islands was one of the most beautiful and special because humans are not allowed on land. This sea lion haven was just for them.
Day 3: My first time diving around North Seymour!
Although I’d never done it, diving sounded great to me in theory. The only thing scaring me away was that I might feel claustrophobic with the mask and there are so many things to think about while underwater: oxygen levels, equalizing pressure – it all made me a nervous.
I didn’t realize it was possible to partake in a Discover Scuba Diving experience before taking the PADI course. This was my chance to test the waters (or my diving capabilities in water, rather) and see if it was something I liked. Did I enjoy my first diving experience despite my slight fear of being so far underwater? Read all about it in this journal entry-like account of my first dive!
Day 4: Isabela Island Exploring
With a free day on Isabela Island, we grabbed snorkel gear and headed to the dock. There are so many things to do on land on Isabela Island like visiting flamingos at Laguna Salinas or the Wall of Tears memorial, but we wanted to spend as much time in the water as possible.
The current was surprisingly strong in the small inlet we were in, bringing along massive manta rays and sea turtles that seemed to appear undersea out of nowhere. A few people claimed to see a shark – I am so glad it wasn’t me because I think I probably would have peed myself in the water. As much as I love the water, sharks terrify me!
Day 5: Los Tuneles
The water was choppy in the morning skies were overcast. I was apprehensive about how our day would turn out, but it was one of my favorite days of the entire tour.
I was all too excited to leave our accommodation on Isabela Island and explore Los Tuneles on our last day in the Galápagos. We followed our guide as he showed us spots to dive down and find seahorses, sleeping reef sharks, and turtles!
We even spotted a few little penguins and sea lions perched on the rocks. I’d never seen a seahorse or reef shark in real life! Diving down to see the reef sharks sleeping was particularly scary because the guide had to help hold my head underwater deep enough in a cave to see them. Talk about claustrophobia. Eek.
We also docked on top of some of the tunnels and surveyed the terrain full of cacti and sharp rocks; yet another part of South America that looks otherworldly.
The boat ride back to Santa Cruz was long and rough. Having to sit in the very back of the boat in the choppy sea, I popped a Dramamine and had to consciously keep myself from getting seasick. I once again thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t opt for a cruise instead of land tour.
I was exhausted every evening and night after the action packed days full of sun and swimming, but exploring the Galápagos this way was completely worth it. When you know you may never make it back one of the most unique set of islands in the world, you have to do it the right way, right? I may not have seen everything to see, but I saw just about everything I dreamt of undersea in the Galápagos.
Here’s a video of some of my favorite moments underwater in the Galápagos:
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