Galapagos Island-Hopping Adventure
The Galapagos, with its unique eco-system and abundance of wildlife is a frequent entry onto travel bucket lists, and it’s not hard to see why, as Rainbow Tours’ Seema Kapur discovered on a recent tour of the islands…
Lots of people choose to explore the islands on a cruise: trips can vary from 16 - 100 passengers on board and the ships range in luxuriousness. The Galapagos National Park is very involved with the conservation of the islands, and the cruise itineraries can be quite regimented. Cruise ships are the best option if you want to travel to the outermost islands, but another option to get a more varied experience combining wildlife and culture is a land-based island-hopping trip, which is what I chose. I spent six nights in total on three different islands, which I felt gave me a real overview of the Galapagos.
First glimpse of the islands from the plane on the way from Mainland Ecuador
Santa Cruz has the islands’ largest human population, but it’s also home to some of the most beautiful highlands in the Galapagos. Make sure to see the huge rock tunnels formed by ancient volcanic activity, and of course you can’t miss spotting giant tortoises in their natural habitat. This is where ‘Lonesome George’, the most famous tortoise in the world, lived until his recent death. I stayed at Magic Galapagos Tented Camp
, an eco-lodge in the heart of a giant tortoise sanctuary. With the only background noise provided by birdsong in the tall trees, Magic is the perfect spot for an idyllic getaway and is of course an excellent spot for some tortoise-watching.
There is a public ferry that crosses the Itabaca Channel, but I chose to kayak across, spotting blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, pelicans and finches along the way. The inviting turquoise water provides the perfect opportunity to cool off and catch a glimpse of the sealife around Santa Cruz: I managed to spot parrot fish, sting rays, reef sharks, barracudas and yellowtail surgeonfish (more commonly known as Dory from ‘Finding Nemo’!)
Getting ready to kayak across the Itabaca Channel
Early the next morning I headed for Bartolomé Island, home to one of the most iconic views in all the Galapagos - Pinnacle Rock. The hike through black and red volcanic rock formations and climb of over 300 steps to reach the summit is well worth the stunning view of Pinnacle Rock and Sullivan Bay. An afternoon snorkel was the perfect chance for a bit more wildlife-spotting, and I was lucky enough to see a whole host of amazing creatures up close, including lava lizards, a manta ray, trumpet fish and a Galapagos shark to list just a few!
Iconic view of Pinnacle Rock
The following morning after a fascinating guided tour of the Charles Darwin Research Station we hopped on a speedboat and headed to our next island. Floreana is an island rich with history and charm and home to a small population of fewer than 150 people who have worked hard to keep the special character of their island intact. The island feels like a place from another age: quiet, undisturbed, undeveloped and utterly peaceful. Floreana is stunningly unique and there’s simply no other place like it in the archipelago or perhaps anywhere else in the world.
I was lucky enough to stay at the Floreana Lava Lodge
, which is situated on a wonderfully secluded spot right on the water, but still only 15 minutes’ walk from the main town. The cabins here are built on black lava sands and are in the ideal location to watch the gorgeous sunsets.
Majestic sunset from Floreana Lava Lodge
The lodge is the perfect place to slow down and soak in the magic of your surroundings away from any crowds that might gather on the more inhabited islands. Upon arrival I was greeted by Claudio Cruz, one of the longest-standing residents of the island. Claudio was a great host and took my group to a local family restaurant to sample a traditional lunch.
There is a huge amount of activities available on Floreana, from a hike up the spectacular highlands to a spot of stand-up paddling or sea snorkelling. If you’re a history buff, make time for a visit to Wittmers’ Cave to learn more about Floreana’s first settlers. For an activity-packed afternoon set against a unique backdrop, make sure to visit La Loberia. Home to a sea lion colony, the beach is an ideal location for a dip in the crashing waves and another snorkelling adventure; swimming amongst green sea turtles and diamond rays was a highlight and something I’ll never forget.
Inside the Wittmer Cave with Claudio
The next morning I boarded my boat bound for Isabela alongside a colony of penguins playing on Floreana’s shore. Isabela is the largest and most volcanically-active island in the archipelago. The five active volcanos and the Sierra Negra (the world’s second largest2 volcanic crater) are an exciting opportunity for exploration, while the waters around Las Tintoreras are perfect for snorkelling and are bursting with fascinating wildlife.
I stayed at IsaMar,
which is right on the beachfront with spectacular views out across the ocean. The hotel is also within walking distance of a lot of the main attractions such as the tortoise breeding centre, flamingo lagoon, snorkelling excursions and the main streets of the town, full of charming bakeries and restaurants. I rounded off my stay here with a cooking class where I was taught how to make delicious ceviche.
Each and every island in the Galapagos offers a unique and exciting opportunity to explore vibrant landscapes and see some of the most stunning wildlife. My visit was unforgettable and I can’t wait to come back to the islands to discover even more.