The Galápagos Islands
The Galápagos are a group of islands, made famous by both Darwin’s theory of evolution as well as the spectacular fauna and plant life. They lie approximately 1000 kilometres off the coast of Ecuador, the country to which they belong. We flew in from Quito and were greeted by Maria Antonieta from Galapagos à la Carte. Together we made our way to Puerto (or Port) Ayora, the hub and commercial centre of Santa Cruz, Galapagos’ most commercial island and with the biggest population. Once she ensured that we were safely settled into our accommodation at the Santa Fe Hotel, we were left to relax and plan our next few days of island hopping with Galápagos á la Carte
Santa Cruz Island à la Carte Style
Too many things to see and do, so little time! We had a week on Santa Cruz. How do you pack it all in when you could spend years exploring the infamous Galápagos Islands? You choose a few day trips with an operator that knows their stuff and will ensure that your experience is unforgettable. We chose to visit Santa Fe and South Plaza Islands. From the boat to the crystalline turquoise waters, sea lions, land iguanas, water iguanas and huge cacti, absolutely everything was memorable.
The yachts that Galápagos a la Carte use are excellent and safety is always a priority. The guides were professional and fluent in English and the food was top notch. There were a number of us who had different dietary requirements and they were all met with both ease and a smile. I would definitely recommend taking anti-nausea pills or wearing an anti-nausea wrist band (I can categorically confirm that they work) if you suffer from sea sickness as the seas can get pretty choppy.
Exploring on Your Own
Everything you experience in the Galápagos leaves you with your mouth agape. We visited Tortuga or Turtle Bay, a comfortable walk from Puerto Ayora. It is, without a doubt, one of THE most beautiful beaches in all of the Galápagos Islands. This you can do alone and it’s worth bringing a snack and some water as there isn’t a place to do so once you get there. Don’t forget to bring back all of your rubbish with you. Go on … take a walk on the wild side!
Another easy walk and very short boat ride from Puerto Ayora is to Las Grietas, or the crevices. This is another activity you can do yourself. The deep crevasses and stunning azure waters along with sweeping views of the surrounding island are well worth it. As always, a plethora of diverse plant and animal life is there to greet you at every turn.
Do Your Galápagos Islands Research
No trip to the Galápagos would be complete without visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station, again, only a short walk from the centre of Puerto Ayora. Here you can see some of the infamous huge Galápagos tortoises. Unbeknownst to many, the species vary from island to island. This centre is also a great place in helping you to understand how the islands were formed and what actually makes them so unique and special. It’s a great place to start any tour in the Galápagos.
The spectacular sunrises are not the only reason to wake up early in Puerto Ayora. If you walk to the port, you can see throngs of sea lions just hanging out and laying around. When they start to wake up and there are more people around, back to the sea they go. It’s the same at night, and you can see many laying around on the decks of the port or even on the benches.
Sunsets and Good Food
Nighttime is also a time to walk, watch the sunset or the locals hanging out with their families or grab a bite to eat. Puerto Ayora has everything from grocery stores to street food to restaurants to upmarket restaurants. One of the newest kids on the block is El Muelle de Darwin, or Darwin’s Dock. If you want something that little bit more special in a really lovely open space, this is your place. From salads to dips to fresh seafood, El Muelle has it all. The staff are friendly and helpful, and assisting us with some vegan options was effortless. Their coffee, made from coffee beans grown in the Galápagos, is also pretty special. To be honest, it was excellent.
Where to Stay
We stayed in a couple of places, from hotels, to hostels and Airbnb’s, but our favourite was the Hotel Santa Fe. It is very centrally located, clean, comfortable, friendly and has a pool too. It’s a stone’s throw from the centre and Tortuga Bay. They also made a killer breakfast which was filling and delicious. Do you know what patacones are? They are fried green plantains, a personal favourite of mine. Traditional Ecuadorian fare, you have to give them a try. Trust me, they’re yummy!
Mix it up … à la Carte and DIY
We could not possibly have had a better time! Well, that’s not true … another two weeks here most certainly would not have gone astray. We do feel, however, that we got to see, do and experience a little bit of everything. From planned day trips with Galápagos à la Carte to doing it ourselves, chilling on beaches, exploring the island to varying our accommodation and hanging out with and chatting to the locals, we feel we got the best of both worlds.
Alex and I did a cruise here in 2007 and we both felt that this time around we most definitely got more bang for our experience buck.
Thanks to Galápagos à la Carte and Hotel Santa Fe once again for some incredible experiences. Check out their website and contact them for some more information or that personalised touch. Whether it’s for one day, two weeks or two months, they will ensure that you see the very best of the Galápagos Islands. Check out key information from the Galapagos à la Carte team, before your trip.
Virtual Tours & Covid Safety
Galápagos à la Carte is also committed to the safety of all of its passengers, by not only following all protocols pertaining to a Covid safe environment on all of their tours but by also providing virtual tours. For those that are unable to travel or currently prefer armchair travel, the company has live virtual tours available from the comfort of your own chair. These may change but currently include the Fishermen Pier and Bayside Virtual Tours. Take a look.
FACTS ‘N’ OTHER USEFUL STUFF
- Who do the Galápagos Islands belong to: Ecuador
- How do you get to the Galápagos Islands: You can only reach the islands from Ecuador. Flights leave from both Quito and Guayaquil.
- How many islands in the Galápagos are populated: Only five of the archipelago’s thirteen major islands are inhabited: Baltra, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela and Floreana.
- Population of the Galápagos Islands: Approximately 30, 000.
- Official Language: Spanish. Ecuador also recognises, encourages and protects 14 indigenous languages, nationalities and peoples in its Constitution.
- Currency: USD
- Transport: Apart from cruises and day tours on boats, transport includes water taxis, speedboats, buses and taxis. A limited number of inter-island flights are available using light aircraft.
- Accommodation: The Galápagos Islands have everything from budget and family-run hostels and hotels to Airbnb’s and more top-end hotels including 5-star hotels.
DID YOU KNOW?
- The Galápagos Archipelago is made up of 18 main islands along with countless islets and large rocks scattered around the area.
- The islands were formed by volcanic activity within the earth’s crust, deep underneath the ocean.
- Due to their extreme isolation, the majority of the animal species in the Galápagos cannot be found anywhere else on Earth.
- The Galápagos Islands famously inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
- The islands were named for their most famous occupants, the Galápagos tortoises and not the other way around!
- Galápagos tortoises have a lifespan of over 100 years, making them one of the longest-living creatures on the planet.
- Several different groups have called the islands home over the course of their history, including a period where they served as a refuge to English pirates.
- More than 150,000 people visit the Galápagos Islands every year.
- The sinking of a ship by a sperm whale in the Galápagos was the inspiration for Herman Melville’s famous novel Moby Dick.
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