Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands provide an unprecedented opportunity to experience a kind of nature that is reminiscent of another era. Here, you can relive Darwin’s first encounter with the islands’ endemic species which, thanks to dedicated local conservation efforts, have remained largely intact. You can explore volcanic landscapes and interact with the distinctive, unchanged wildlife and vegetation that played crucial roles in Darwin’s theory of natural selection outlined in the seminal The Origin of Species.
Conscious Connection returned to the Galapagos to experience the island from a local’s perspective, choosing smaller tour groups that led us off the beaten path. With the wonderful resources and organizations in the Galapagos, we were able to find just that. Our land tours were provided by Galapagos AlterNATIVE, which directly supports the local fishing co-op and helps the local community move away from extraction and into tourism.
Their network of certified Galapagos naturalists ensure that you can experience the islands and their wildlife without leaving any negative impact on the native species or their ecological systems. With the Galapagos SCUBA diving experts at Albatross Galapagos Dive Tours, we were able to experience incomparable underwater landscapes and marine life. We pursued our advanced underwater diver certification with the help of Albatross Dive Resort, and then we once again found respite and comfortable hospitality at Hotel Solymar.
Arrive: Getting to the Galapagos
Our flight from the United States had a connection in the mainland of Ecuador. Once we arrived to Guayaquil (GYE) via LATAM (formally LAN) Airlines we obtained our luggage and went through customs for visitors to the Galapagos Islands. Here you will pay $100/per person for a park entrance fee. We then flew into Seymour Airport, which is located on Isla Baltra.
Once landed, we boarded a bus that brought us down a winding road to a ferry. During this ten-minute boat ride (at $1 USD/per person), the photo opportunities began. Bountiful island vistas and diverse oceanic wildlife encapsulated our senses as we passed through the very straight traveled by Charles Darwin himself.
Once we reached Isla Santa Cruz, we had two options: to rent a taxi for approximately $18 USD, or to travel by bus for just a few dollars per person. Either option, however, will give the traveller glimpses of the lava tunnels and tortoise farms of the highlands on the road to Puerto Ayora.
Stay: Hotel Solymar at Puerto Ayora
At Puerto Ayora’s beautiful Hotel Solymar, we enjoyed a unique hospitality experience. The hotel is situated on Pelican Bay, where the sea lion and marine iguana population outweigh its human occupants. Hotel Solymar boasts a fine dining experience for every meal. In the morning they serve a full breakfast buffet with made-to-order hot plates like fried eggs and omelets as well as cereals, fresh fruit, and yogurt. We made sure to stop by every morning, even if only to enjoy the scenery over a glass of fresh juice and a cup of coffee.
The guest rooms are warm and inviting with all the comforts of home. Amenities include daily maid service, cable TV, wifi, a full bathroom and complimentary reusable water bottles which can be filled at their spring water stations throughout the hallways. The hotel restaurant really picks up around nightfall. Locals and tourists alike mingle in the moonlight while enjoying dishes of fresh seafood. But for those seeking a dining excursion outside the hotel, the town of Puerto Ayora is full of eateries (not to mention dive shops, shopping destinations, and the Charles Darwin Research Station).
Eat: Galapagos Island Eateries & Cuisine
For us, there were two Galapagos eatery experiences that stood out as incredible. LO & LO is a family-owned restaurant with delectable cuisine including ceviche, grilled fish, and empanadas. The smell of spices and fresh fish enticed us from a hundred yards away. The prices are fair and the food is outstanding! We tried several of their “must try” dishes, which didn’t disappoint.
The other, one of our favorite places to eat when visiting Puerto Ayora, was the locally suggested Calle de los Kioscos, a street of restaurants and kiosks with seating arranged down the centre of the road to become an open-air food market. Here, local vendors offer an array of delectable options. We visited the K.F. Williams location several times during our stay and highly recommended you to do the same.
Dive: Albatross Tours
It was largely our passion for SCUBA diving that instilled our desire to travel to the Galapagos Islands. On this excursion, Conscious Connection dove with Albatross Tours & Dive Resort Galapagos, a PADI dive resort with attentive, Spanish/English speaking, professional divers that created and captured (pictures and videos were included) two amazing days of diving.
Albatros Tours provides lunch, juice, and water throughout the day and, at the end of the dive, cleans your gear. And their dive sites are remarkable. Gordon Rocks is a deep dive (approx. 120 ft.) with a potentially strong current accompanied by the occasional thermocline. Here you may find schools of hammerheads, black/white tip reef sharks, Galapagos sharks, sea turtles, rays, fur seals and sea lions along the rocks.
We explored Gordon Rocks on our first day, where we saw hammerhead sharks and the elusive Mola Mola fish. If you’re on a mission to find hammerheads (like we were) they usually cruise over rocky reefs, boulder strewn slopes and along walls. They may be solitary like the one below or in small groups, occasionally seen in much larger schools here.
Our second day held a more relaxing dive at Floreana, a prime location for dive training because of its calm current and high visibility. Here where we swam with sea turtles, white tips, and of course the Galapagos sea lions, dogs of the sea. While it may have been the diving that sparked the idea of a Galapagos adventure, it was the abundance of Galapagos sea lions that set it in motion.
Sea lions are gorgeous creatures. They are amazingly smart and have many loveable dog-like characteristics. When we learned that the Galapagos Islands is home to over 50,000 sea lions, we had to make the trip. We lounged on the beach alongside, dined near, and swam with these animals for our entire trip. It was everything we’d hoped for and more.
Explore: Galapagos AlterNATIVE
To experience the Galapagos by land, we enlisted the expertise of Galapagos AlterNATIVE, a full service tour company that specializes in helping you experience the Galapagos like a local while helping to support island conservation efforts. We spent our first day travelling by boat to the island of Bartolomè, a rocky island formed within the last 1.5 million years by volcanic activity.
Our captain passed alongside Isla Daphne Menor and slowed so that we could view the nesting blue- and red-footed boobies, hoping to catch them in their famous courtship dance. The blue-footed booby, found along the Galapagos Islands’ shores, stands out with its bright blue feet, which it stamps proudly during its courtship dance to win its lifelong mate. Even more elusive is the endemic Galapagos penguin, who we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of while snorkeling.
The boat ride itself was an experience; there was plenty of room to relax on the roof deck, inside the luxurious cabin, or on the floor cushions at the bow. As we looked out onto the scenery and wildlife, we enjoyed two fully catered meals, including a delicious breakfast of huevos con carne and a lunch of fresh chicken and vegetables. Once we reached the island, we climbed to the summit, where we managed to glimpse the Galapagos hawk along with beautiful panoramic views.
Our second tour with Galapagos AlterNATIVE took place on Isla Santa Cruz. Our guides transported us to the highlands for a day of tours on a large piece of property that has been owned and operated by the Moreno family for years. In the 1950s, when there was an international interest in the Galapagos, the Ecuadorian government granted Javier Moreno’s father approximately 100 hectares in these highlands.
The property, now called Las Primicias, was eventually divided amongst the Moreno siblings. Though Javier’s brother wished to purchase his portion of the inheritance, 13-year-old Javier, on his first visit from the mainland, was awed by Isla Santa Cruz’s rolling hills, the sprawling ocean horizon dotted with islands, and the giant tortoises that roamed freely. For him, the land was a gift and the decision not to sell it was an obvious one.
The eldest of the Moreno brothers’ many attempts at cultivating the land were thwarted by the giant Galapagos tortoises that roamed between the national park and the farm, eating everything within reach. Meanwhile, for a high school tourism project, Javier considered the tortoises an asset and an attraction. This school project would lead to one of the most popular visitor sites of the highlands.
Hundreds of people visit daily to observe the Galapagos tortoises in their natural habitat. And these tortoises, with their aversion to coffee plants, have granted Javier permission to fulfill his lifelong dream of growing coffee on his family farm.
After painstakingly removing many of the invasive plant species, Javier then reforested the area with a species of coffee that has adapted to the island since being introduced over 100 years ago. From its first seedling, Javier’s conservation coffee has been a labor of love. He and his family delight in sharing the story – and the coffee itself – with visitors and friends.
Do: Ecuador Day Tour
As with most flights departing the enchanted islands for the States, we had a lengthy layover. We were concerned that we would have a hard time finding something to do that would rival the level of adventure we had experienced all week. We needn’t have worried. We were lucky enough to spend our layover with Mario and his company, My Trip To Ecuador.
Mario personally greeted us at the gate on our arrival to the GYE airport and led us to his nearby vehicle. Out of the several options Mario’s company offers, we chose a visit to a cocoa farm and a downtown tour. After a 45-minute ride, we arrived at a family-owned cocoa farm where they showed us how their cocoa is produced, told us about the history of Ecuador’s exports, and allowed us to help them in the preparations of a genuine cocoa experience. It was amazing! Afterwards, we toured downtown Guayaquil and climbed Cerro Santa Ana’s 444 stairs, where we enjoyed some refreshments and local cuisine from the historic hilltop. This truly felt like the perfect end to an extraordinary week.
Discover the Galapagos Islands
During our visit to the Galapagos Islands, we at Conscious Connection found what we had been searching for: an experience that took us off the beaten path and allowed us to learn from local tour guides, divers, and farmers. Darwin’s famed visit to these islands have marked them as a place of discovery, and they certainly live up to the claim. While we may not have returned with theories of evolution and natural selection, we did discover delicious seafood at local eateries, unforgettable locally-operated tours, flora and fauna both on land and underwater, lava caves, and (of course) the Galapagos sea lion. We encourage you, with the help of Albatross Dive Resort, Galapagos AlterNATIVE, and Hotel Solymar, to charter your own expedition to the Galapagos.
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