Mere mention of the Galápagos Islands conjures up images of otherworldly giant reptiles, rare and colorful oddly named birds and a profusion of amazing undersea creatures. Few would not jump at the chance to go there and while it is remote and far from almost everywhere, not so when you are already in Ecuador. Having passed up that opportunity when we were time-restricted once before there was no such hesitation this time around. Once our Galapagos week was booked from Quito, both of us were like kids at the gates to a theme park while sitting in the airport lounge waiting to depart.

The Galápagos Islands – we flew to Santa Cruz, then took ferry’s, first to Isabela, then to San Cristobal. Returned to the mainland from San Cristobal

Straddling the equator, this province of Ecuador lies about 1,000 kms west of the South American continent. Because of its relative isolation, the archipelago contains an unusual abundance of plants, animals and marine life not found anywhere else in the world. Famed British naturalist Charles Darwin visited in 1835 on the HMS Beagle ( much reference to Darwin can still be seen all over the Galápagos) and what he observed here contributed significantly to his theory of evolution.

A bust of Darwin, near the dock in Santa Cruz
We had a beer in this bar named after Darwin
The main street in Santa Cruz is named after Darwin….as is the scientific research station
….and you can even shake hands with the man in San Cristobal

The islands truly are unlike any other place we have been and their impact is immediate. Just driving  in to town from the airport in Baltra – a 25 minute trip – we’d already seen 3 giant tortoises. Simply walking around the islands – before we even ventured underwater – we were constantly surrounded by unusual and exotic  ( to us anyway ) wildlife. In many cases you had to be careful not to tread upon, or trip over, them ! That, and the fact that almost no animal we saw exhibited the slightest fear of humans. Combine the uniqueness of the wildlife and it’s accessibility and you have a mecca for wildlife enthusiasts that deserves every bit of its reputation for being an experience like no other.

Lois took a break on San Cristobal – and then realized she had company
Same sea lion, up close !
Sea lions and marine iguanas could be found lounging around on almost every walkway
….and on every pier, sometimes by the dozen
Colorful crabs, Santa Cruz
We did not see many terrestrial iguanas, but loved the colors of them, one seen here on Santa Cruz
A typical marine iguana- on or near every beach- their face reminded us of Godzilla !
Up front view – they had no fear of tourists. They were everywhere…this one on the beach at Tortuga Bay, Santa Cruz…..
….and quick to claim your beach towel if you went swimming for too long !
Marine iguana, Tortuga Bay, Santa Cruz

We’d heard many warnings about the expense of the islands – and sure, the $10-20 “tax” paid to enter each island was annoying ( if not budget breaking ), and the $100 USD ( per person ) Galapagos National Park Fee was exhorbitant by any global measure but beyond that we did not find that living in, and travelling around, the Galápagos Islands to be much more expensive than anywhere else in Ecuador. Somewhat more, but not much. Considering it’s huge international appeal, its remoteness, its uniqueness and the fact that most people will only ever visit once, based on our own experience we’re glad we just bit the bullet – if you are thinking about going, our advice is just do it !

Typical inter-island “ferry”. Smaller water taxis seen here take passengers out to the ferries. Just $25 to transfer between the islands

Getting between the islands was easy with regular ferries taking just a couple of hours, and tours, where needed ( they weren’t always ) were easy to book. While all-inclusive, luxury (and thus expensive) Galapagos cruise boats could be seen visiting all islands and are popular for those wanting the 5 star treatment, “doing your own thing” ( as more and more do now ) is also very simple and takes much of the financial sting – and none of the pleasure – out of the Galapagos  experience.

Typical of boutique, 3 star hotels on the Galapagos, widely available at very reasonable prices. This one on Santa Cruz
Or one can spend many thousands of dollars living aboard cruisers like this – must admit they did look pretty nice ! Either way everyone sees the same sights

Like most, our trip was for a week and covered the three main islands. Each had its own distinct appeal, though our favorite was unquestionably Isabela. Miles of long white sand beaches, easy access to the sights, and a quaint main village with sandy streets gave it a very “South Pacific island” feel. Add to that wildlife that was easy to see and one of the best tours we have ever experienced made Isabela the most memorable for us. 

Typical street on Isabela, our favorite of the three main Galápagos Islands
Long white sandy beach, Isabela
Marine iguanas coming out of the surf, Tortuga Bay, Santa Cruz
At Playalita, Isla Isabela

Countless others who went before us had recommended the “tuneles tour” ( tunnels tour ) and it was unquestionably the highlight of our time in the Galapagos. On this 5 hour boat/land tour we swam with giant marine turtles, sharks, sea horses, penguins, countless tropical fish and saw several Blue Footed Boobies up close. Simply magical ! That’s not to say that giant land tortoises, countless marine iguanas and sea lions weren’t appealing ( they were ) but there were so many of them roaming wild ( the latter two at least ) that you almost stopped noticing them. The boobies, sea horses and penguins were harder to find.

On Isla Isabela, close up with an elusive Blue-Footed Booby. The blue color comes from the food they eat
Blue-Footed Booby, Isla Isabela
Close up, with a Blue-Footed Booby, Isla Isabela
A baby Blue-Footed Booby ( feet have not yet turned blue )
The “tunnels” area on Isla Isabela where we snorkeled and spotted the boobies. It all came from volcanic eruptions long ago
A rock outcrop near Isabela, favoured by the boobies and other marine birds
Snorkeling in the “tunnels”, Isla Isabela, shot with a Go-Pro by our guide while we snorkeled
More of the same
Up close with a sea horse – we saw several on the Tunnels tour
There was a penguin up on the rocks and a couple underwater
Got to swim alongside Giant Marine Tortoises…..amazing !
……and a pack of White Tip Sharks
Flamingos are often seen on Isabela…there were 4 feeding when we there. They have two legs, of course, but often stand on just one

San Cristobal had one of the nicest beaches on the Galapagos, Playa Chino. A little tougher to get to so we hired a taxi and took a tour there and on the way visited Junco lake ( home to many frigate birds ) and one of the better Giant Tortoise rehabilitation centres. There is one on each of the main islands where the species, which is endangered, are kept in a protected area to ensure the populations continue to recover.

Frigate bird in flight
Frigate bird in flight, this one an adult female ( white chest )
Chino beach, San Cristobal
Lois, Chino beach, San Cristobal
Lois, Chino beach, San Cristobal
Giant tortoise, San Cristobal
View from San Cristobal
Giant tortoise, Isla San Cristobal
Up close….they look so old, and move soooooo slowly !
Side view, Giant Tortoise, San Cristobal

However you want to see them, the Galápagos Islands offer an otherworldly natural experience – we’re certainly glad we carved a week out of our overland trip to make it possible and would highly recommend a visit to anyone considering it.

Check out our One Endless Road YouTube channel for some live video clips of our time on the Galapagos: