Friday, September 6, 2013

Is the Galapagos Worth It?

Sally Lightfoot Crab -- Santa Cruz
It's been a couple of weeks since we returned from the Galapagos and it seems that everyone has an opinion of the place. We've heard some say it was the best vacation of their life and others say it was just "okay."  I think it has to do with two things: expectations and cost. I can tell you right now, if we paid more than $25 per person for lodging a night we would have been disappointed. I only say that because we saw just as many -- if not more -- creatures at Isla de la Plata than we did in the Galapagos, except marine iguanas and tortoises. Of course, we went to Isla de la Plata (Poor Man's Galapagos) in July when the blue footed boobies and frigate birds were mating and the humpback whales were breaching. Our snorkeling experience was excellent as well -- enjoying a variety of tropical fish, sea turtles, dolphins and sea lions.

The Galapagos is a different kind of experience; it's a mixture of Jurassic Park meets Marine World! And it's definitely not a lay in your hammock vacation, although I'm sure there are some who take it easy while in the Galapagos; we just weren't one of them. We literally dropped into bed every night -- going, going, going all day until we couldn't take another step.

We saw more than our share of creatures on the island, but they weren't all at the same place at the same time. You may be disappointed if you go to a particular island and only want to see flamingos, but you end up taking pictures of yellow finches because that's all there is to see. 

Taking the ferry from Baltra to Santa Cruz

Blue Footed Boobie

Santa Cruz Island -- Baltra to Puerto Ayora

That being said, we had a wonderful time in the Galapagos and want to go back! We flew into Baltra Airport and took the ferry to Santa Cruz Island (Puerto Ayora), which is the most populated island of the Galapagos with a variety of restaurants and hotels. We stayed in a small hostel that was right across the street from the Ninfa Lagoon and on the way to Tortuga Bay. It was a 5-minute walk into town which made it convenient, yet we were far enough away from the noise that we had a peaceful night's sleep. Breakfast was served at Hospedaje Germania from 7:00 - 8:00 a.m., but sadly I never got up that early. I ended up enjoying my veggie omelet across the street at Casa del Lago around 9:00 a.m. on their lovely veranda.

Breakfast spot!
We were on a mission to stay within a budget of $1,200 total for the entire trip, including airfare, two nights' stay in Guayaquil, meals and taxis (a total of seven days).  I'm pleased to say we did it! The average person spends anywhere between two to ten thousand dollars. You can find cheap airfare at for $279 per person on TAME and lodging for as low as $10 per night. Since August is considered low season, you can bargain with hostels. If you're a planner, you may not feel comfortable with that, so making reservations is a reasonable option.

The weather was perfect: 64 at night and 74 during the day with sun-filled days and no humidity. The water temperatures were fairly cool due to the Humboldt current, but we found it refreshing and in shallow water it was warm.

One of the biggest decisions you will need to make before booking a trip is to decide whether you are going to be land based or cruise the Galapagos. The cruise ships can handle anywhere from 16 to 100 people -- traveling at night and arriving in the morning for island exploration. Cruises can range from two days to ten days and each island has its own unique experience, so if time and money aren't a consideration then I'd probably vote for a cruise! Since we were "Galapagosing" on a budget, we opted to stay on Santa Cruz and do day trips.

Galapagos Sea Lion sunbathing with Sally Lightfoot Crabs

Yep, he's favorite little guy on the island!

Marine Iguana at Puerto Ayora

Tortuga -- 100 plus years old
There were two big surprises: The famous Tortuga Bay was not my favorite beach (Garrapatero Beach won my heart) and the tortoises -- I couldn't wait to meet -- were definitely not that great. But the marine iguanas, Sally Lightfoot Crabs and Galapagos Sea Lions were mesmerizing and definitely ate up most of my "film."

Tortuga Bay with a "few" visitors! 
Panorama of Tortuga Bay
Marine Iguana
Sally Lightfoot Crabs at Tortuga Bay

Marine Iguana slithering around at Tortuga Bay
Darwin  Finch in the white sand of Tortuga Bay

Trail to Tortuga Bay --  2.5 km
Our favorite day was a trip across the island (14 miles) to Garrapatero Beach which can only be described as beautiful and exotic. For half the day, we had the entire place to ourselves which was amazing after fighting the crowds at Tortuga Bay. Overnight camping is allowed at Garrapatero and kayaks are available to rent for exploring the coves and inlets. We actually went there to see the flamingos, but ended up finding so many varieties of birds that we couldn't name them all. I would have gladly traded a few more days at Garrapatero and it will definitely be the first place we go when we return. They are in the process of making a bike trail from Puerto Ayora to Garrapatero and it should be completed by next year. However, we took a taxi (ida y vuelta) which was $25 and arranged a time for our taxista to pick us back up. The taxis are not yellow cabs like we're used to in Cuenca, but rather four-seater white Toyota trucks!

Santa Cruz in relationship to the other islands of the Galapagos

Garrapaterro Beach -- my favorite!

The waters of Garrapatero Beach
Kayaking at Garrapatero

Garrapatero's white sand beach

Marine iguana hanging around the lava rocks

Emerald and Turquoise Waters of Garrapatero
Crabby Rock

Opuntias (cacti) found everywhere on the island
Wear water shoes -- the lava rocks can sneak up on you!
The most memorable evening was my birthday which we spent at Angermeyer Waterfront Inn.  We took a water taxi (panga) from Puerto Ayora to the other side of the bay where Finch Bay Hotel and Angermeyer Inn reside. We had reserved seating right by the water and admired the colorful lights of Puerto Ayora and listened to the vibrant music coming from the yachts in the bay. The other nights we ate at Hernan's Cafe, Galapagos Deli or Il Giardino, but a special occasion called for one night's splurge. The staff of the Angermeyer is a class act and sang "Happy Birthday" in English along with complimentary dessert.

Sea lion lounging on the deck!
Puerto Ayora
Angermeyer Inn Restaurant

Yachts and Pangas
Pier at Puerto Ayora
There's more to tell about our trip, but I'll save that for next time. In my estimation, the Galapagos was an adventure of a lifetime and totally worth it. We did a lot of walking, hiking, trekking, swimming and snorkeling -- not much laying around in a hammock. We would fall into bed at night and not remember hitting the pillow -- only to wake up the next morning for more of the same.

Was it worth it?  Absolutely!

Until next time...hasta luego,


Connie Pombo said...

If you're toying between a cruise or land-based tour of the Galapagos, this article might help you make up your mind.

Patty Grimm said...

Thank you Connie for a great blog post and doing the "research" for us so we'll just take some of your advice in planning for our trip next month!

Connie Pombo said...

Thanks, Patty! We had a great time and next time we would love to explore Isabela and Fernandina. We loved snorkeling and would like to do more of it -- now that I've got the hang of it! ;-)

Sue said...

Great description and photos! Glad to see you had such a great time. We'll be in Cuenca in 3 weeks for a 2-month stay...hope to connect with you guys. We so enjoyed meeting you in Sausalito!

Sue (and Jim) Goodman

Sue said...

Great description and photos! Glad you had a great time. We'll be in Cuenca in 3 weeks for a 2-month stay, and would love to see you guys. We so enjoyed meeting you in Sausalito!
Sue Goodman

Connie Pombo said...

Thanks so much, Sue! Mark and I were thinking about you guys the other day and wondered when you were coming to Cuenca. Please give us a call when you get into town and we'd love to meet up with you guys for dinner. I have your e-mail, so I'll send you our number. Abrazos desde Ecuador!

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