Isabela, Galapagos Islands
Days Saturday and Sunday were on Santa Cruz.
Days Monday and Tuesday were on San Cristobal.
Our arrival to Isabela displayed a different landscape then we become accustomed too- it was dark and brown, resembling Mars. Isabela is the youngest island and has the most volcanic activity- the closest proximity of activity volcanoes in the world, one of which is category yellow for risk of eruption. As we approached the Islabela airport, green came back into the landscape and the small town of Puerto Villamil was visible before we landed.
We met our Sharksky member Jess who fitted us for our snorkel gear and escorted us to our next hotel, Hotel Cally. This hotel was close to the pier and our room was spacious. The best hot shower water was here and the water jug had a chilled option- fancy! WIfi here was no different than the rest- only worked in the lobby.
With all day ahead of us, we decided to put the snorkel gear to use and explore Concha de Perlas. The pier is only a fifteen minute walk from our hotel and this bay is located to the left with a boardwalk over the mangrove.
A short walk on the boardwalk led us to a tranquil lagoon with crisp, clear water- perfect snorkel conditions!
When we got to the dock, several people were snorkeling and observing the massive seal lions overtaking the small area. There is no place to put your belongings other than a pole with rods as hangers (do not bring anything valuable!) so we picked a rod for our bag and sat on the stairs prepping our snorkel gear (“watch out, they spit”). As we were almost ready to enter the water, two adult sea lions decided to make their way to the water down our staircase. There was not enough room for us and the sea lions and in my opinion, they totally win. Kevin remained calm and moved to one side while I climbed the railing to make room for the sea lions bulldozing down the stairs before transforming into a graceful dance beneath the water. I do not know if we would ever get used to them!
Not wanting to miss the chance to swim with the sea lions, we quickly entered the water to watch.
Their swim session did not last very long so we turned our attention to the coral and fish below.
Struggling with our goggles, we sat back on the stairs to defog (more spit) and just then, no more than two feet in front us of, a small black head floated by- our first marine iguana actually swimming!
By the time we got back in the water, his speed surprisingly surpassed our flippers. We did not have to wait very long to spot another marine iguana making its way across the bay and we watched fascinated by the long tail propelling the iguana through the water.
The next encounter was with a sea turtle grazing the ocean floor. With a private and uninterrupted view, the sea turtle elegantly move from the bottom floor to the surface, repeating the motion twice as we watched it disappear into the distance.
This snorkel spot was so satisfying filled with great wildlife, calm waters, and few people. We packed up to make our way back to the hotel but not before a bit of a dilemma on our walk back. The narrow boardwalk was first sprawled with several large marine iguanas. Knowing they would not move for us, we delicately maneuvered around them. Several feet later we encountered at least six sea lions lying horizontally in close proximity to each other (as sea lions do) completely blocking our walkway. Knowing (once again) they would not move for us, the difficulty level elevated. Marine iguanas, while long, do not have a big head full of teeth. While there was never mention of sea lion attacks, it was one of those things you did not want to test. But at the same time, in every instance we observed sea lions, they are indifferent to people.
So, like walking through hot coal, we hopped over the sea lions one at a time. At the opposite side of the seal lion formation, we saw a lady struggling to make the decision to go over them. While watching us gave her proof of success, her confidence was still low so Kevin helped her get around the sea lions. It really was hard to believe they have no interest and were not bothered by people stepping over them.
Taking only validated recommendations for food, Jess mentioned Coco Surf as a local favorite. Loving the exterior and the smells emitting around, we were excited for lunch.
Kevin ordered the fish fajitas and I ordered (wait for it) white rice (BRAT diet all the way)! The fajitas looked incredible when they arrived to the table- I even stole a small piece of octopus- beautiful presentation and equally awesome flavor.
For our next activity, we rented bikes from Galapagos Bike and Surf to complete the 5 km trail to the Wall of Tears. This wall is built from hundreds of stacked rocks by prisoners banished to the Galapagos. While the ride started off enjoyable, it took a quick turn as we departed the paved roads of Puerto Villamil as we hit sand- lots of sand- followed by intense hills. While I consider myself to be in good shape, I think my inability to consume a proper amount of water and calories to compensate for all the physical activity biased my opinion of the difficulty level. Kevin did not struggle as much but still considered the trail challenging. Biking took too long in my opinion- I cannot image walking this, especially in the middle of the day with the hot sun.
Though the ride was rough, we bumped into several tortoises out and about, many of which were more active than we ones we saw at the reserve on Santa Cruz.
After what felt like an eternity of pedalling (excuse the drama), we made it to the wall. It was an impressive structure and the view from the top was expansive. I think the most interesting observation was since the rock is actually lava, the contents are very nutritious and we observed so many little plants sprouting from in between the cracks.
We spent a little over two hours round trip on this trail, not spending a ton of time at the Wall of Tears. It was a three hour trip from start to finish and we didn’t even see everything. There were several trails along the way to explore and I was not interested in any of them. I just wanted to get off the bike.
Jess had given us a voucher for drinks at Bar de Beto nestled on our way back to return the bikes. It was crowded when we walked in but found a small table for the two of us. We each got a drink and savored this relaxing view. Music playing, hammock hanging, multiple pelicans repeatedly diving, waves crashing into the rocks- it was perfect. And we also got a bowl of freshly popped popcorn.
After we returned the bikes, we swung by the hotel to rinse off (sweaty ride) before heading out for dinner. Another of Jess’ recommendations was located right down the block from our hotel, Maestro de Casa. Kevin ordered the fish tacos that came with a side of fries and I ordered (you guessed it) white rice and (wait for it) plantain fries! I felt like my body could handle it. Everything here was also very good and I was especially happy that fries were not unsetting my stomach- “now that’s progress!”
With an early morning scheduled for tomorrow, we made our way to bed.
One of the prominent things about the Galapagos Islands is high dense of volcanoes. The excursion for this first half of today was up to Sierra Negra volcano. Typically, the excursion extends to the neighboring volcano, Chico, but since Sierra Negra was on yellow alert for potential volcanic eruption (last one in 2005), the hike is cut short.
Our naturalistic guide picked us up at the hotel for an hour drive to the start of our hike. Saying it was a foggy out was an understatement- it was difficult to see even a few feet in front of us. It was very chilly and there was a constant mist (rain jackets handy here!). Not optimistic about our odds of seeing the massive caldera, we started the 5km hike. The scenery here was quite different than the landscape we had become familiar with.
We learned about how the different plant life thrives and survives, which had become a particular problem with the infestation of guava trees and blackberry bushes.
After hiking up on a gradual incline, we made it to the caldera. Holding our breath as we approached the clearing, we stared into a massive cloud obstructing the view. We waited about twenty minutes for a friendly wind to pickup and clear the view just for us. No such luck. Can’t win them all!
Top photo- what we should have seen; Bottom photo- what we saw
We descended the mountain (quite a muddy mess) and settled in at the base for lunch before driving us back into town.
With a few hours to spare before our next activity, we walked to the flamingo lagoons. The boardwalk over the water lead us through several areas where flamingos and other birds could be spotted. We were only able to spot a few in the distance but their color stood out drastically among the brown landscape. We even saw a few flying!
The walkway had many moments where we could have been in a movie set as the trees displayed a magical or haunting passage.
At the end of the thirty minute trail was the tortoise breeding center for the island. After seeing many tortoises up close while biking the Wall of Tears, we got a kick out of seeing all the babies!
There were also (of course) several males trying repopulate the species.
Our walk back granted us a wonderful view of a flamingo up close alternating plunging its head to the bottom of the water and then making the “S” curve typical for flamingos.
Jess met us at the hotel for our afternoon activity- paddle boarding with Galapagos Bike and Surf. We arrived at the pier and met our instructor, Junior, who gave us a quick pep talk and one rule- person that falls first buys the drinks. Neither of us had paddle boarding before so we figured this was fair- game on!
We started kneeling on the paddle boards getting used to the feel of the boat and the mechanics of rowing. A few minutes passed as we were encouraged to stand and I knew this would be the time we would fall… until we noticed sharks swimming underneath us. I cannot image the sharks would be so blazzee if we fell on them unexpectedly. Steaks elevated- no falling.
Junior repeated several times to not focus on the board when standing but easier said than done. I began questioning why we didn’t just kayak… then Kevin could have paddled for us with no balance required. Noticing my hesitation (again, sharks), Junior told me to look at him and stand up. I did as he instructed and I was up before I realized it and with an incredible view of the water below. It was easy to be distracted by all the wildlife to forget the balancing act.
While I certainly lagged behind the boys, I took my time and did not fall. Out first stop was a penguin colony where we got a distant view of the small (second smallest in the world) Galapagos penguins.
We crossed the bay and paddled through a few waters before making it to our snorkel spot around the Tintoreras. Our snorkel session was just shy of an hour where we got to see multiple sea turtles, a wide variety of fish, and rays.
Back up on the paddle board, we paddled back to just before where the waves started that created the wake at the shore line. Junior had us get on our knees to ride one of the waves into the beach. Just as he finished his instructions, three sea lions began to play all around the paddle boards, constantly going under and popping up inches away from our boards. I thought at one point they were going to jump up onto the boards! It was an incredible several minutes with this group of sea lions.
Once the sea lions swam along, we rode a wave to make it back to the sand. No one fell- paddle boarding success! We had so much fun paddle boarding and with Junior- so happy we did not kayak as the vantage point standing on the paddle board was priceless.
Another very physically active day, we showered at the hotel before grabbing drinks to unwind at Bar de Beto to watch the sun set over crashing waves and the pelicans diving for dinner.
We could not believe it was our last night in Isabela! I was not feeling like white rice (stomach was improving!) and having had a great experience at Coco Surf, we returned for dinner. Before our meals, house chips and dip were brought to the table- it was so delicious. The chips reminded me of wontons but thicker and while we do not know what the dip was, it was delicious. For our meals, Kevin ordered crab fried rice and I got french fries of which my stomach was quite satisfied.
With another early morning for an all day adventure, we made our way to bed. Our hotel balcony view always left us with a beautiful sunset to close out another amazing day.
Our final morning on Isabela started with our routine 6:30 AM breakfast in the lobby of our hotel before our pick up to grab snorkel gear and then drop off at the pier. Today was our excursion to Cabo Rosa, also known as Los Tunnels, where lava that once covered the area over millions of years formed an intricate labyrinth of beautiful tunnels.
A 45 minute boat ride docked us against the lava tunnels and we disembarked ontop to find several blue footed boobies nesting and waddling around.
And a great photo opt- thanks to our naturalist guide, Fernando!
We transferred to the snorkel location and immediately met with a penguin perched on a rock close to the boat.
Excited to get into the water, we jumped in quickly and started exploring. Our first sighting the the water was a Galapagas shark!
Fernando led the group around the area knowing in which locations we would be able to spot different wildlife. He promised many sightings of sea turtles since this area is common for nesting and he did not disappoint. Not only did we spot multiple sea turtles but we also saw the largest ones yet- they were enormous!
While the group was fixed on one of the sea turtles below, we stumbled upon a penguin just contently floating on the surface of the water- just hanging out.
The fish in this area were completely different than other areas in shape, color, and number. The density of fish was higher and there were more schools of fish as well. Kevin even found the tiniest plankton that he followed around for awhile.
We swam around the tunnels until we reached a cave with an entry just barely above the water and Fernando dived under to explore. When we came out, he instructed us to approach one by one, he would hold our flipper and guide us into the cave to observe several sleeping Galapagos sharks. While the shark factor was definitely atop Kevin’s fear list, his proximity to Fernando sent him in first. According to his account, as he entered the cave the sharks became alert and curiosity, lurking from their sleeping position of the ground floor towards him. Too big to eat and not a threat, the sharks then ignored Kevin and went back to resting. Fernando educated us that they typically do not hunt for food until 6PM, which is also when the Cabo Rosa park closes for visitors. The sharks seemed pretty relaxed when I had my turn next with several resting on the bottom and one pacing.
The next area we snorkeled was around the mangrove in search for seahorses where even a light tap on the flipper caused mud to cloud the water. The seahorses stay on the bottom attached to the roots to they are difficult to find. Luckily, Fernando was able to spot a few that we dived to see.
With over an hour of snorkeling in this amazing place, the group slowly began boarding the boat. Just as I made my way up the ladder, a five foot manta ray passed right under our boat!
The water here was a bit colder than the other snorkel areas on this trip, so when the crew offered to lay out on top of the boat I happily accepted. I think this was the first and only time we officially sun bathed and it felt incredible to feel the sun dry us off. Kevin joined me just as we were handed our lunches- a simple sandwich of ham, tomato and cheese. This was the first time my body actively wanted to eat and was excited about it- I devoured this sandwich as if it was the best thing I ever ate. I savored this moment- we were in the beautiful lava tunnels of Cabo Rosa, sunbathing on a boat, surrounded by more wildlife than we could name, and I was eating a sandwich- it was the perfect way to end our excursions on Isabela.
A 45 minute boat ride took us to the pier and quick shower, we said our goodbye to Isabela as we boarded a tiny boat to take us back to Santa Cruz. Make sure when transferring islands to leave at least a half hour before your scheduled departure as a bag check is performed and typically a water taxi is needed to get to your boat.
I was not going to make the same mistake with another two hours boat ride ahead of us. About an hour before our departure in the afternoon, we took meclizine 25mg (and it was chewable!) in hopes we would have a more pleasant experience. Thankfully, the medication did its job and worked well for us as we enjoyed an easy ride back to Santa Cruz.
Continue reading for Santa Cruz.
Days Friday and Saturday were on Santa Cruz.
|Wednesday||Morning||Flight from San Cristobal to Isabela Island|
|Afternoon||Concha de Perla snorkel||Coco Surf|
|Evening||Wall of Tears bike ride
Bar de Beto
|Maestro de Casa|
|Thursday||Morning||Sierra Negra hike||Breakfast with Hotel Cally
Lunch provided on excursion
|Afternoon||Tintoreras paddle board and snorkel|
|Evening||Explored Puerto Villamil||Coco Surf|
|Friday||Morning||Cabo Rosa Lava Tunnels||Breakfast with Hotel Cally|
|Afternoon||Boat ride from Isabela to Santa Cruz||Lunch provided on excursion|
What we missed on Isabela:
- Tintoreras (with an official tour)- There are official tours to take out to other areas of the tintoreras where more prevalent wildlife can be found such as marine iguanas, sea lions, penguins, manta rays, and sharks.
- Trails along the Wall of Tears path– there were so many offshoots on the trail to the Wall of Tears and we unfortunately did not have time to stop to explore any of them. There are several, included Los Humedales, that give various views of the ocean or high above.
- Volcano Chico (and Sierra Negra in a way!)- Since the volcanoes were on yellow alert, the second half of the hike to the neighboring volcano was unavailable.
Make sure to read what to expect, what to pack (including this packing video), and our full itinerary. Video clips can be found here!
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