Ecuador and the Galapagos 11 to 12

2023 expedition to the Galapagos Islands & Ecuador

Galapagos – Santa Cruz from Isabela via Baltra

13/11/23 : Isabela Island to Baltra, then boat trip  across to Santa Cruz and the trip across the island to our hotel, stopping at a Tortoise sanctuary, Lava tunnels and Collapsed lava chamber on the way.

 We left Isabela early in the morning, traveling to the third of our Islands of Santa Cruz. We flew in a small twin prop plane, seating six people,  to the island of Baltra which is an small island just off the coast of Santa Cruz, and the site of an old American airforce base which now serves as the main airport for Santa Cruz.  The flight took about 40 minutes and the plane so small Tracey sat in the co pilots seat while I was squeezed into the back!  The views were amazing and we landed safely without incident, grabbed our bags, met our guid and headed off for our ferry to Santa Cruz

This is the most populated island on the Galapagos with a population of 18,000 people 90% of which are in the main town of Puerto Ayora. The majority of the island like all of the islands is set to National Park and heavliy restricted, in order to protect the wildlife and environment, we were staying at the Finch Bay hotel which is just outside of Puerto Ayora and reached only by the hotels water taxi from the town. In order to get there however we got  a ferry from Baltra to Santa Cruz ( a 5 minute trip) then drove across the island for an hour, but along the way we stopped at Los Gemelos, some lava tube tunnels and a Tortoise sanctuary.

Los Gemelos was our first stop, this is the site of the twin collapsed lava chambers which have left behind enormous caverns, filled with rain forest and Scalesia trees. The wildlife here was mainly birds, Darwin Finches, Galapagos Doves, Flycatchers and Warblers. The walk took about 40 minutes and was like being in some prehistric landscape.

Leaving here we stopped for lunch at a Tortoise Sanctuary and large estate with grounds were the Tortoises roamed free, the road into the centre was a few miles long and everywhere you look these enormous creatures were roaming free, we stopped counting at a 100 but it was easily double that. Cattle Egrets were roaming with the Tortoises, along with the Warblers, Darwin Finches, Mocking birds and flycatchers.

After lunch we headed off to the hotel, but we stopped briefly to explore some lava tunnels hoping to see the Barn Owls that lived in them, sadly they were not to be found , so we left for Puerto Ayora counting more Tortoises as we went !

Once at the town, it had a different feel to the other islands we had been too, although only a small town in real terms it felt more commercial and busier than the others, but once we got our water taxi to the hotel the normal Galapagos returned and the walk to the hotel was through volcnic mangroves, with Marine Iguanas, Lava lizards and Lava Herons alnog the way. Great White Egrets were flying overhead and by the pool were six Lava Gulls ( one of the rarest birds on Earth). 

The hotels is right on the beach and in true Galapagos style was teaming in wildlife which was welcomed. The pool had Lava Gulls, Pintails and Herons in it and an American Oyster catcher sat by the bar next to a few Lava lizards. We settled into the total luxury that the hotel provided, had a superb meal and went to bed early to be ready for our expedition the next day which was to be a trip to the Darwin Reseach Centre followed by a trip around the coast, finishing with a snorkle trip in the Lava tunnels. 

Galapagos – Santa Cruz  Puerto Ayora, Darwin Research Centre & Las Grietas lava tunnels

14/11/23 : Water taxi to Puerto Ayora , the Darwin Research Centre and then an afternoon trip along the coast to Las Grietas lava tunnels for snorkling and a beach walk

Water taxi to Puerto Ayora from Finch Bay Hotel to  the Darwin Research Centre and then an afternoon trip along the coast to Las Grietas lava tunnels for snorkelling and a beach walk.

We started the day with breakfast looking over the hotel swimming pool, watching the Pintail ducks, Lava Gulls and a Blue Heron relaxing around the pool edges! then it was a ten minute walk to the water taxi and a five minute boat ride to Peurto Ayora. Here we took a taxi to the Darwin Research Centre. The centre does great work on protecting the Galapagos endemic species and righting the wrongs done by past island visitors, who decimated the Tortoise population and brought disease and pests that threaten so many other species like the Vermillion Flycatcher we saw on Isabela island. Its mani work though is breeding and releasing Giant Tortoises.

Its most famous Tortoise was Lonesome George, a single male Pinta Island Giant Tortoise, who when found was the only remaining one of his species, all the rest having been driven to extinction by sailors hunting them for their meat. They spent nearly 40 years looking after George and trying to find him a mate to breed with. Sadly this proved impossible and George died without ever finding a mate, and with him the Pinta Tortoise breed died forever. Such was his story, that on his death his body was taken to the USA to be preserved, and it was then returned to Santa Cruz to serve as a reminder of just how stupid and destructive the human race can be without even thinking about it. We visited George in his climate controlled tomb and it was a very sombre moment, but we also felt honoured to have met him, all be it after his death.

From here we walked back along the harbour front, stopping off at the local fish market where Brown Pelicans, Blue Herons, Lava Gulls and Sea lions all wait to be fed by the fishermen ( see the videos below). This was an amazing place to see so many rare endemic breeds happily coexisting with the humans on the islands.

We then got the water taxi to the hotel before setting off for a boat trip around the coast , finishing at Las Grietas which are lava tunnels, filled with the tide and home to a vast array of fish. Along the way we watched the Red Billed Tropicbirds and Blue footed boobies on the coast line.
A great short island day, with fantastic wildlife and a little rest before a full day boat trip tomorrow to South Plaza island.

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