The Galápagos Islands (On a Budget)
On September 15th, 2013 we headed off to The Galápagos Islands, to celebrate our upcoming 30th Anniversary. Now, we can’t say that these islands were anywhere on our “bucket list” before moving to Ecuador, but they quickly made that “list” after we arrived. And now — check!
The volcanic Galápagos Islands sit right on the equator, straddling both the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere, the North Pacific and the South Pacific, and are 575 miles west of mainland Ecuador.
We chose to stay on the Island of Santa Cruz in the town of Puerta Ayora. The town is located in central Galápagos and is on the southern shore of Santa Cruz Island with a population of about 12,000. Actually, we didn’t know anything about this town or island but when Lan Airlines offered us round trip tickets to Baltra for $182.00, we grabbed the deal.
Baltra Island (or South Seymour) is a small flat island not currently within the boundaries of the Galápagos National Park. On arriving into Baltra, all visitors are transported by bus to one of two docks–to where boats cruising the Galápagos await passengers, or to the ferry dock which connects Baltra to the island of Santa Cruz via the Itabaca Channel. With that said, we had a hostel booked and so took the ferry and based ourselves in Puerta Ayora, as cruises around the Galápagos Islands were not in our budget at this time. But as soon as the bus taking us to the dock made this one turn around a bend revealing beautiful turquoise waters, we knew this trip was gonna be a good one still.
Then once on the other side of Itabaca Channel on the Island of Santa Cruz, it’s about another hour, either by taxi or bus, across the island going from dry dessert to lush tropical, then into the town of Puerta Ayora.
In short, Puerta Ayora made me feel like I was back in Hawaii. The weather was perfect this time of year — not too hot, not too cold. It did rain some, but mostly drizzles, plus it rained mainly early in the mornings. Going in the off-season was also pleasant in that we didn’t have to deal with crowds, yet there were still plenty of visitors from literally all over the globe. And, believe it or not, there were no mosquitoes, not even a bug — just saw a fly now and then. Believe me, if there was a mosquito on that island, it would have found me!
The town itself also brought me back to the charming town of Kona, Hawaii with many good restaurants, shops to browse, a picturesque waterfront, very friendly people, and it felt very, very safe. In fact, our American hostel owner told us that there is virtually no crime there and they don’t mess with the tourists.
We do not recall seeing any street dogs in the town itself. There is a spade and nueter law on these islands, and by the apparent lack of canines, that law seems to be enforced.
We are quite surprised by how many, who live right here in Ecuador — especially Americans — don’t make an effort to visit the Galápagos Islands. Not because they do not want to come here for a vacation, but because of how expensive they believe a trip to these islands would cost. In fact, good friends of ours, who have lived in Ecuador for about 12 years or so, were very eager to learn just how much this vacation would cost us. After we got back, they were shocked. True, a cruise can be very costly – we saw them ranging from $2,000+ per person, up to even $10,000 per person! But an enjoyable vacation to these islands does not have to be expensive.
There are hostels and hotels in Puerta Ayora starting at $25.00 per night, per person. We stayed at the Galápagos Best Home Stay for $28.00 per night, per person. We had air, all the filtered water we needed, hot showers, private bath, comfortable beds and bedding, even a fully equipped kitchen, which I personally loved having. After all, I got to do the fun part — cooking just a few simple meals, while Fred did the dishes! I particularly liked having cold water always on hand–filling up our water bottles and sticking them in the fridge. And having fresh coffee as soon as we awoke each morning — well that’s always a good thing. There was beer available for purchase, and, a computer for use, but with painfully slow Wifi. We downloaded all of our photos onto Facebook at an Internet Cafe — fast download there! Also, if one happens to find a great deal on a cruise and thus decides to leave Galápagos Best Home Stay early, the hostel will refund.
We bought some Galápagos coffee, grown in the highlands of Santa Cruz. There was no coffee maker in our kitchen per say, so Fred made it cowboy style — good stuff! Another great thing about having the kitchen was buying fresh fish at the fish market at Pelican Bay, such as, fresh tuna steaks for $2.00 per pound, or having the delicious fish we were told is only found in the Galápagos and not off the mainland, called Brujo, fileted for us — we’re talking right-off-the-boat fresh and melt-in-your-mouth-yum! So, besides a few breakfasts, we got to have two delicious fish dinners, cooked my way. But if one doesn’t have a kitchen and wants to try Brujo, the fish market sets up a kitchen starting around 5 pm, along with tables and chairs and serves up delicious seafood dinners. They deep fry the Brujo but it is absolutely heavenly — not greasy.
Now for the restaurants themselves. You will see no chain restaurants on these islands, actually no chain anything–they are not permitted! (UPDATE JULY 2015: Sadly, this may all change, as the goverment is now looking to allow expensive resorts, spas and golf courses–In areas that were once protected). Anyway, we truly never thought that we would be able to say that we had a culinary experience in the Galápagos, but you know what, we did. Our American hostel owner made that very easy for us. He gives a free tour of the town shortly after guests arrive, pointing out not only the things to do and see, the tour company that won’t rip you off, etc., but also the best places to enjoy food. We followed all of Kevin’s suggestions and we were not disappointed, including the place where we had some of the best ice-cream that we have ever had out!
One of the restaurants, called Pizza.eat, was truly exceptional. In fact, whether it was for just a snack or a meal, we ate there 6 or 7 times! Their thin crusts pizzas, including their white pizza with prosciutto, their thick crust pizzas, their calzones, and their focaccia sandwiches were all to die for! They even have micro-brew beer on tap. We were enjoying that beer very much when, low and behold, we come to see on the menu that it is brewed by Roches Brewing Company — owned by friends from Canoa, who of course, brew their own beer. For $5.00 you get a large mug.
It’s also very easy getting around Puerta Ayora as taxis (white pickup trucks) cost only $1.00 — and as we were informed — that is law. We never asked, negociated, nor were we ever charged more than $1.00 in town.
Santa Cruz is also a great place to base oneself because there are plenty of day tours to the other islands available. We even met one honeymooning couple visiting from Boston, who based themselves at a resort up in the highlands of Santa Cruz for two weeks. They enjoyed a number of day excursions to various islands. We met them on their last excursion–to the Island of San Cristóbal.
Because of the wildlife that we particularly wanted to see, we chose San Cristóbal, which is two solid hours away by boat. (Whereas, the Island of Santa Isabela has Penquins and Pink Flamingoes, for instance). I was very nervous about that trip because, as we read, if you are prone to sea sickness, you will get sick. And believe me, I know what that’s all about, especially since getting very seasick on a whale-watching excursion off the coast of Salinas, Ecuador, even after taking medicine. The seas are rough and the boats book it. The trip to San Cristóbal was quite rough as our boat plowed through the waves and did a lot of bouncing. Two passengers on our boat did get ill, including one woman who told me that she never gets seasick–oops, guess again. However, I am proud to say, I did not! Thanks to our hostel owner’s instructions I was just fine. I took one dramamine the night before, one an hour before the trip, one at lunch, and then another right before the return trip. Taking one pill just a half hour before doesn’t quite do the trick and many make that mistake.
Our goal was to see Blue-Footed Boobies and the tour promised snorkeling with sea lions, one of my favorite sea creatures. They delivered both. Our tour was all day which included an excellent fish lunch and a nature tour where Fred got to see what’s called the Tropical Bird and where he possibly saw an Albatross. The nature walk is over very rough lava rock and I was in no mood, especially with the shoes I was wearing. Not to mention, when trying to balance myself, I nearly put my hand on a large iguana basking on one of those rocks, before someone kindly shouted out a warning. So another guy and I stopped and waited once the trail got too rough. All in all, a good full day excursion for $90.00 each through Joybe Tours. The use of a wetsuit was included.
We almost forfeited the tour though, not only because of the fear of sea sickness, but because we were able to get up close and personal with a very adorable Blue-Footed Booby at the fish market in Puerta Ayora the day after we arrived. He shows up there most days, especially mornings, although he doesn’t stick around as long as the sea lions and pelicans. However, we actually got to see him there a few different days–right at our feet and fed him pieces of fish right out of our hand! That in itself was definitely a treat.
Now I must say, I never knew what a Blue-Footed Booby was before coming to Ecuador, in fact, I never even heard of them. The first time was actually in Cuenca where we saw T-shirts that read “I Love Boobies”. Needless to say, I had to inquire. Now I can honestly say that I too, love Boobies!
As for snorkeling with the sea lions. That was terrific for me personally, especially when I was out there in the middle of the bay, feeling all alone and then suddenly about 4 sea lions swim pass — right below and alongside me. And of course it’s always a treat when you can get within inches of a “talking” baby sea lion resting on the shore.
Santa Cruz Island itself has plently to do. For 60 cents water taxis take tourists to the trail head leading to Las Grietas. The taxis run 24/7, as there are homes and hotels to taxi people to and from. Las Grietas means The Cracks and if one can walk and climb over rough lava rocks and big boulders, Las Grietas should not be missed. There are tour companies that offer to take people there for $30.00. Don’t do it! It’s too easy to get there on one’s own. These cracks are actually deep salt-water swimming holes.
Then there’s a 45 minute walk to the ocean on a wooden trail and then about another 15 to 30 minute walk along the quiet white coastline where surfers hit the waves, to the very still turquoise blue waters of Tortuga Bay. You can watch iguanas go by, observe pelicans fish, enjoy the brave little birds that are willing to let you have a closer look at them, and behold the Blue-Footed Boobies do their missile dives, all while basking under the shade of a Mangrove Tree. A calm place to swim or just relax in the exceptionally soft, white sand. It is quite secluded and there’s absolutely nothing around but peace.
Laguna de las Ninfas is another silent place on the outskirts of Puerta Ayora where you can stroll on a boardwalk through the Mangrove Trees. Where salt water and fresh water meet; where you can observe both salt water creatures–especially when the tide comes in–and fresh water fish. You may even be able to see small sharks.
For a $30.00 round trip taxi ride, there are the highlands, to Rancho Primicias to see giant turtles and then there is a very large lava tunnel — in one end, then out the other. We had an informative driver who pointed out various features of the landscape, including coffee trees.
And then of course there is the Darwin Center where we saw lots of turtles and a different type of Iguana. If you go early, you may be able to see the animals being fed.
So not only were The Galápagos Islands a memorable trip for us here in Ecuador, our vacation turned out to be pretty affordable. One really good advantage for us folks who have a Residency Visa, is that we get into the park for only $6.00 each, whereas everyone else must pay $100 per person. This fee must be paid right after visitors disembark and before they can pass through the airports on either Baltra or San Cristóbal. (FYI: We left our passports at home and only traveled with our original cedulars).
(There was also a $10.00/person fee that had to be paid at the Quito Airport for anyone flying to the Galápagos, and everyone had to pay that fee).
Anyway, one should really make the effort and go to this enchanted archipelago, called The Galápagos, especially if one has residency. Really, where else in Ecuador are you going to meet such unshy creatures — where a tiny bird will land on your knee while laying on the softest sand you’ll ever feel, all while an iguana casually strolls by your head; or kneel right in front of a baby sea lion on a rocky shore, or see a Blue-Footed Booby directly at your feet, willing to take a morsel of fish right from your hand; or where you try to have a seat on a park bench only to discover that it’s occupied by a sea lion who is not willing to relinquish it.
So here it is, a breakdown of how affordable this vacation to The Galápagos was for us, or can be for two people:
Airfare – total for 2, round trip tickets from Quito/$364.00
Hostel for 8 nights/$448.00
All the rest, including a day tour & all food/$768.00
Total//$1,580 for two
So while Darwin may have been more convinced about the theory of evolution because of all the creatures he saw on these islands, we have become ever more convinced, that “You are worthy, Jehovah, even our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power, because you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created”. Revelation 4:11.
How empty is theory in the presence of fact. Mark Twain
Monday, February 23
The nations . . . are in darkness mentally, and alienated from the life that belongs to God.—Eph. 4:17, 18.
“Many who champion the theory of evolution declare that life came about without any intelligent direction. They claim that there is no Creator. Some have even said that a human is just another animal, so it should come as no surprise when a person acts in an animalistic fashion. They argue that the strong who cruelly dominate the weak are just following so-called laws of nature. So it is not surprising that many believe that injustice will always be with us. Therefore, those who put faith in evolution are robbed of true hope. Without doubt, the theory of evolution and false doctrines have contributed to the misery that mankind has experienced during the last days. (Rom. 1:28-31; 2 Tim. 3:1-5) These human teachings have brought no real and lasting good news. Instead, they have hindered people from accepting the good news originating with God.”—Eph. 2:11-13. w13 5/15 1:5, 6
From: Examining the Scriptures Daily—2015
A Blue-Footed Booby Mating Dance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgNPaZ5Qdq0
Sea Lion Wants Seat On Bench:
Still be careful not to come too close to any animal. Fred petted a sea lion at the fish market and almost got bit. And I saw one woman approach a sea lion while snorkeling, getting a little too close, and the sea lion went after her. The owner of our hostel even told us of a woman who lost her leg after a sea lion bit it.
Cash is king on Santa Cruz Island, but there are plenty of ATMs. Bus fare to the dock on Baltra cost us .80 cents each. Bus from dock to Puerta Ayora are $2.00 each, the taxis are $18.00.
The airplane cabins are sprayed with an insecticide shortly before landing. An announcement is made before the crew sprays. They claim it is not harmful, but if you have a problem with chemicals, you may want to have a mask or something on hand.
Meals out pretty much started at around $10.00 each and they go up from there. We saw a lobster soup for $25.00.
Pizza.eat –Their pizzas, their calzones, and their Foccacia sandwiches were all to die for. They have excellent micro-brew on tap. We ate there at least 6 times.
The Galápagos Deli — Between 6:30 am and 10:30 am they served a breakfast special for $5.00, consisting of scrambled eggs with ham, a basket of hot fresh French-style bread, jam, real butter, glass of juice and your choice of an espresso drink or coffee. Their cappuccinos are good. May be closed Mondays.
Tintorera Restaurant for really good burgers. The burger meat itself comes out sizzling on top of a hot lava rock. They also have sushi.
Hermans has an extensive menu and the food is good. The place stayed pretty busy. We really enjoyed the seafood pastas. Does not come with a salad, but it was filling enough.
Fruto Del Mar Cevicheria for really good tasting ceviche.
Giardina — We didn’t try their food, only their excellent ice cream. Unfortunately, they had a problem with their cooling system one day and the ice cream wasn’t fit to be served for one day only. So hopefully that doesn’t occur if you happen to go because their ice cream was wonderful. The electricity did go out the night before, in fact, twice during our visit, so that could very well have been the reason.
The Fish Market — Don’t leave Santa Cruz without trying at least the Brujo fish dinner. Starting around 5:00 pm they start setting up. That was $8.00 each.