Isabela Island

We spent the next few days of our time on the Galapagos on Isabela Island. It’s such a lovely, quiet little place with not a lot going on but lots of character and a relaxed atmosphere. We stayed again in a hostel – Hostel Jeniffer – that was much nicer and cleaner than the first. Everything is within walking distance on Isabela and it offers quite a bit to do at no cost. I think Robin and I both wished we’d spent a least one more day on Isabela.

The only downside to visiting Isabela is the requirement to take a ferry to get there and back. We had to take 2 ferries to get to Isabela – a 2 hour ferry ride from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz at 7:00 in the morning followed by a second ferry trip in the afternoon from Santa Cruz to Isabela. It’s the rainy, warm season right now so the seas were not too rough for our journeys but the boats are small, uncomfortable and even when the water is relatively calm, the ride is still pretty rough. On the trip from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz, our boat broke down briefly in the middle of the ocean, leaving us bobbing around for quite some time while the captain and assistant worked to repair it. In the end, they were successful so certainly not a worse case scenario and I was thankful when we arrived safely on the dock. The second trip from Santa Cruz to Isabela was better – the seats were forward facing and more spacious than on the first boat and I was relieved to be able to relax a little more. I insisted that when booking our return trip to Santa Cruz that Robin ask specifically to be placed on a boat with forward facing seats again. Clever me! Thinking ahead like that and ensuring that we got placed on the “best” boat rather than randomly. Oh boy, did I ever have a chance to eat crow over this little assertion later.

Over the course of the two and a half days we spent on Isabela, we used our time as wisely as possible to try to experience as much as possible of what the island has to offer. There is a little town square where all the action is and where you go to eat or book tours. All the restaurants line the “main road” (a path of sand, really) and offer more or less the same thing at any given time of the day. There is a green space (featuring astro turf) across from the line of restaurants and little park where the boys enjoyed running around and playing while we waited for food or Robin and I just sat relaxing.

On the first full day on Isabela we opted to split up and try 2 different tours – Robin and Caleb went on a kayaking tour to Tintoreras (more on that from Robin in another post) while Kieran and I did a half day trip to Los Tuneles. Both turned out to be very fun and worthwhile trips and each was the perfect choice for the boys respectively.

Robin and Caleb’s kayak tour was in the morning, so while Kieran and I waited to start our afternoon tour, we did a little exploring around on Isabela on foot. We hiked the wetlands path up to the giant tortoise breeding centre and were rewarded with lots of close up iguana and sea lion encounters (not hard to come by!!), wild flamingo sightings and of course, getting to see the giant tortoises.

One of the only checklist items I had for our time on the Galapagos was for Kieran to be able to see a penguin. The kids LOVES penguins and knows everything there is to know about them and can identify different types of penguins instantly. Kieran is always sensitive about not putting pressure on other people and not wanting to create disappointing situations so he wasn’t saying much about it but he knew that there was a chance that he might be able to see a penguin on this trip. Thankfully, he was not disappointed!

We snorkeled around for a while and Kieran had a much better experience than at Kicker Rock. The water was shallow so we were able to see lots of sea life – sharks, sea horses, tons of colourful fish and huge sea turtles. Kieran got so comfortable with snorkeling that after a short time in the water, he was free diving to be able to get a closer look at some of the animals! After an hour and a half we climbed back into the boat and went a short distance to Los Tuneles, which are tunnels that were formed by cooling lava. There is little sea life to see in the tunnels (except for a few turtles here and there) but it’s really cool to be able to snorkel through the tunnels. Diving them would have been even more exciting 😉 After the snorkeling, we did a little hike on top of the tunnels and got to see some blue footed boobies up close.

On our last morning on Isabela, while Robin did a volcano hike, the boys and I rented snorkel gear and visited Concha de Perla. Despite hearing that this was a must-see, we were all a little disappointed. The lagoon was crowded, there wasn’t as much to see as our other snorkeling experiences and I worried the whole time about our stuff, which was just hanging on a hook on the little dock (with tourists and locals alike just hanging around).

Leaving Isabela was by far the most challenging part of our trip to the Galapagos. As I alluded to above, despite the forward facing seats, our ferry was far from “the best”. It as a little like crossing the ocean in a sardine tin and I maintained a white knuckle grip on the seat in front of me throughout the entire 2+ hour journey as the boat heaved and rocked and tossed around on the sea. I know some have had far worse experiences (Lori and Kyle!!) but this one was as bad as I could handle. While I didn’t feel seasick at all, I did fear a little for our lives for the entire trip. Between being violently tossed around on the water and the suffocation of the carbon-monoxide filled cabin (because none of the windows could be open without water pouring in), that was the last ferry ride I want to be on for the foreseeable future.

Galapagos – San Cristobal

We’ve spent 10 days in the Galapagos Islands and the experience did not disappoint. I didn’t have very many expectations coming` in to this part of the trip, although Robin did remind me that coming here was something that I insisted on early in the planning. So much time and energy has gone into planning the whole trip that I had forgotten all about my enthusiasm for including the Galapagos. That’s not to say that I didn’t want to include it or that I regret making that assertion so long ago! When we would tell people about the bigger trip, almost everyone asked if we were coming to the Galapagos and it’s clear after being here for 9 days now and visiting all of the 3 major islands, that most people come here with very high expectations. Rightfully so; it’s an incredible place.

We started on San Cristobal Island for just 2 nights and stayed, for the first time on this trip, in a hostel. All 4 of us in one slightly smelly room. They were not the best accommodations but we managed for the couple of nights we were there and really, we didn’t spend much time in our room anyway with so much to see and do. On the first day we walked to the Interpretation Center at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and did some learning about the history of the Galapagos. Right near the Interpretation Center there is a small beach called Playa Punta Carola where we had our first real encounter with sea lions. They were lying all over the beach, letting tourists get quite close to take pictures and selfies with them. The sea lions swim in the water near people as well and they can be dangerous but are kind of playful too. One sea lion tried to steal Kieran’s water shoe! Kieran freaked out a little and moved to where the water was more shallow and we sent Caleb out to retrieve the shoe that had been forcefully removed from Kieran’s foot. The boys stayed quite close to the sand after that, not wanting to interact that closely with the wildlife anymore. We stayed into the evening to watch the spectacular sunset from the beach before heading back to grab some supper.

The strip along the waterfront near the pier at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is a fun little spot in the evening. The sea lions and iguanas provide abundant entertainment and it’s not nearly as expensive as one might think to sit and have a simple meal on the waterfront.

The main attraction while visiting San Cristobal is to take a tour to Kicker Rock, also known as Leon Dormido depending on your interpretation of the shape of the formation, and we did so on a lovely sailboat. It was a nice day and we had mostly good weather, the other people on our trip were very nice and we enjoyed a relaxing day and some good conversation together. The most amazing thing about this trip was the dolphins we saw on the way to Kicker Rock. They were very close to the boat and almost wanting to play with the boat! They put quite a show on for us, jumping up out of the water and swimming right up close beside the boat. They stayed with us for quite a while and it was just incredible. Shortly after the dolphins moved on, Anne Marie (one of our fellow tour goers) and I were sitting on the bow of the boat, enjoying the sun and she noticed an eagle ray jumping out of the water. She explained that she had heard this could happen but neither of us had seen it before (and I missed it!). A few minutes later it happened again and I saw it this time. It was breathtaking!!! The eagle ray was about 2m across and just majestic! It came so far out of the water that it looked like a huge bird. Unfortunately I was not in any way prepared to capture a photo of this remarkable sight but I will not soon forget the image.

Upon arriving at Kicker Rock, we snorkeled between the 2 rock formations, which some of us enjoyed more than others, and saw some turtles and fish. The water was pretty deep so the sea life was not abundant but we did see some frigates, nazca boobies and blue footed boobies on the rock itself. We stopped at a beach for a little while but the water was pretty choppy, preventing us from actually reaching the beach, and the boys and I only got off the boat into the water long enough to cool off a little. It rained the entire way back to port so everyone was huddled either in the cabin of the boat or on the back under a less than adequate tonneau cover.

I’m glad we only opted to stay a couple days on San Cristobal; while it was a lovely little town with interesting things to see and do, it was definitely our least favourite of the 3 islands that we visited and we left feeling satisfied with our experience there.

We keep things real by vegging out from time to time with TV shows and movies (both Robin and I as well as the kids); my friend Daryl has been awesome at supplying us with all the media we can ask for and it really helps bring an aspect of normalcy to our busy and constantly new stream of experiences.