Arriving at the airport on Baltra island, the landscape was very dry and arid, with a few thorny shrubs and cacti, as I’d expected. To my surprise, as we moved south on Santa Cruz towards Puerto Ayora, the landscape changed and suddenly there was lush tropical rainforest. First thing in Puerto Ayora, I went for lunch and was impressed by the Darwin finches hopping around and picking food scraps off the tables. My first Galapagos wildlife experience! Later I was to nearly trip over marine iguanas basking on the pavement along the waterfront. Galapagos was holding up to it’s reputation, not only for the wildlife, also as far as prices go.
Puerto Ayora is a nice small town and I quite enjoyed it. The Darwin Station proved to be an excellent place to photograph Lava lizards and the adjoining beach housed plenty of Marine iguanas. On my second day I joined an aussie couple on a trip to see Giant tortoises in their natural habitat and it was absolutely amazing! I felt thrown back to the dinosaur age, watching fully grown tortoises ploughing through the undergrowth. They’re huge!
As I was about to set off for Isabela, something was wrong with my card because I couldn’t get enough cash (there are no banks on Isabela). I had some but maybe not enough… It also meant I had to go for a different accommodation, since I didn’t want to spend my cash on that and I ended up in a somewhat crappy place. The nice thing about Isabela is that one can do more exploring without a guide or having to book a tour: the trail to the Wall of tears has plenty to see on it’s 6 km stretch, including Giant tortoises wondering around freely and places where one can watch Boobies and Pelicans dive for fish. The walking is quite tough though, as this close to the Equator, the heat is brutal and the sun quickly burns fair european skin to a crisp. I did go on a tour as well – hiking up to the caldera of the Sierra Negra volcano. I booked the tour, paid and was given a ticket but the next day no one came pick me up, the girl had sold me a ticket but didn’t actually book me in. At the office they apologised and offered me to go the following day with a $10 discount, to which I agreed. This killed my intention of taking another tour to snorkel at Les Tuneles, which was probably just as well, as I found out talking to a couple of Portuguese fellas(!!!), the tour is not that great and way overpriced. The hike up the volcano was nice, although quite cloudy and rainy. The weather cleared up on the north side of the caldera, the Volcan Chico area, and made for some astonishing views. Unfortunately the hike was a bit rushed because we had to be back at a certain time (no idea why) and it’s 17 km return, so there wasn’t much time to sit down and enjoy the scenery. Back on Santa Cruz, I went out with the Portuguese guys and a great time talking, eating and drinking. And I was ready to go back to Cuenca.
I flew into Guayaquil and stayed for the night, to be woken up the next morning by my bed shaking and things falling off the shelves, pretty scary experience! I found out that southern Ecuador had been hit by a 5.8 magnitude (Richter scale) earthquake, but nobody was hurt and I think no buildings were damaged either.
The impression that remains of the Galapagos is that it is an amazing unique place, of which I found the Lava lizards most interesting (I wasn’t aware of their existence until shortly before I arrived). The other side of the coin is, it’s a tourist hotspot like so many others around the world, overpriced in my opinion, like so many other tourist hotspots around the world: one pays $20 to get one’s pass, $100 to enter the Galapagos, $5 to enter another Island, plus the boat rides and the boat that takes to the boat and so on, so on. I understand things being more expensive due to it’s isolation, I understand tourist prices and I agree with tourism funding conservation, but at times it just felt like one was being ripped-off. I just hope that the revenue does go into the right channels… Something that puzzles me, is the fact that all locals have cats and dogs as pets, plus all the stray ones which are major threats to the wildlife, so much so that tortoises cannot breed in the wild, they only survive because they’re bred and raised in captivity. There are other pests like rats, donkeys and goats, but it does seem somewhat counter-productive…
So, is it worth going to the Galapagos? Definitely!
Is it good value for money? Not really, considering there are other unique, amazing places much more reasonably priced around the world.