Before our arrival in the Galapagos, our hotel provided us with a list of suggested activities and excursions from which to choose. Everything looked amazing and once we agreed on an itinerary, our hotel made it all happen. We had a dedicated guide for the week who would pick us up at the appointed time every morning, take us around all day, and then return us to the hotel in the evening – only to do it all again the next day!
Our hotel was quite small and there were only 2-3 other families staying there on any given night. Usually one of the other families would be with us on our island excursion which was great because the kids were all similar ages and they loved hanging out and making new friends. When we’d arrive back at the hotel at night they’d all head down to the pool and swim together. Most nights they had someone on staff to watch the kids at the pool and trampoline. They also had art projects and games set up in the Game Room right next to the pool. We would drop off the kids and enjoy a kid-free cocktail before dinner.
Day 3 – Garrapatero Beach (Santa Cruz Island)
After spending the prior day on an all day trip to North Seymour Island (read about Day 1 & 2 here) we were happy to have a mellow day on Santa Cruz Island. We went to Garrapatero Beach which is on the east side of Santa Cruz. There were only a couple of other people at the beach so we basically had it entirely to ourselves. We had planned to take kayaks out, but the water was quite choppy and it made us all a little nervous. The kids loved having a chance to just play in the water and dig in the sand. Many of the beaches we went to in the Galapagos had horseflies or other biting insects (bring repellant!), but this one did not so the kids really enjoyed their bug-free beach time.
Charles Darwin Research Center
After a quick lunch in Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz, we continued on to the Charles Darwin Research Center. The Research Center works in conjunction with the Galapagos National Park Service to manage the islands and implement conservation programs. The Research Center conducts and facilitates scientific research in the Galapagos and provides that information to the Park Service and the government. The Station is run by over 200 scientists, educators, research students and volunteers. In addition to conducting research, they also provide education to the local schools, island communities and visitors.
Before we headed into the Center our guide took us down to the nearby docks where marine iguanas like to hang out. They are ugly, but oh so fascinating! We had read about these creatures and their amazing ecological adaptation (more on that in my next post about our trip to Tortuga Bay) and this was the first time we saw them in person.
This map of all the islands was fun to look at and see just how spread out the islands really are. We were staying on Santa Cruz Island (to the left of my daughter). To get to Santa Fe Island (to the right of her head) was a 2 hour boat ride. North Seymour (from my previous post) which was a 90 minute boat ride is the tiny unmarked island above Baltra Island at the top of Santa Cruz. So it’s easy to see how doing a cruise through the islands would provide the opportunity to see many more islands than a land based stay like ours.
The most powerful exhibit at the Research Center was that of Lonesome George. Lonesome George, who was a giant tortoise from the island of Pinta, has become an icon of the Galapagos and his story is a reminder of the importance of the preservation of species. The tortoise population on Pinta was thought to be extinct in the early 20th century due to excessive slaughtering by whalers and seamen in the 1800s. However, in 1971 a Hungarian scientist saw this one tortoise on Pinta and he became known as Lonesome George. He was brought to the Research Center the following year for his protection and for further studying. Meanwhile, scientists hoped that a female would be found on the island, in a zoo, or somewhere in the world in hopes of mating and keeping the species alive. Unfortunately, that never happened.
The tortoise population played an important part in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Darwin observed that the populations on the different islands began developing adaptations to eating and walking around based on the different environments. Some tortoises had rounded shells, others flatter and some tortoises had longer necks to assist with eating.
Lonesome George died in 2012. His body was frozen and preserved and is now on display at the Center.
Worth noting is a chocolate store, Chocolapagos, we found just outside the Research Center. The owner hand makes all the chocolate in his store and it is delicious! He infuses it with different flavors and then shapes them into little sea turtles. We sampled a few and then bought a bunch of boxes to take back home – not many of the boxes actually made it home though!
Day 4 – Santa Fe Island
Yes, that is a real sea lion and they made themselves comfortable all over the dock area! This is the main dock in Puerto Ayora where we caught our boat to Santa Fe Island. Santa Fe is geologically, one of the oldest volcanoes with rock formations under the water dating back 3.9 million years.
Here, we landed on a beach inhabited by sea lions. A few sea lions were mildly interested in us, but mostly we were able to walk around among them (doing our best to keep at least 6 feet away). We were warned that some of the adult males can get territorial of their beachfront, but we didn’t encounter any problems. Typically, one adult male “owns” a certain beachfront and protects all the females and babies that inhabit there, even if they aren’t his babies. After awhile another male will approach and challenge him for the beachfront; the loser must leave while the winner takes control of the area. On a later trip to South Plaza Island we saw many adult males basically living in exile. These males were either too old to fight anymore or just too tired from all the fighting.
After we got our sea lion fix, we took a walk around the rest of the island which was fairly rugged. My 7-year-old was fascinated by the Opuntia cacti which he called “cactus on a tree”. As the cactus grows, the base becomes hardened to help protect it from being eaten and it essentially does look like a cactus growing on a tree.
The Santa Fe land iguana is endemic to the island. These guys were everywhere and we loved to watch them eat. They blended in to the environment so well that we wouldn’t notice some until we were right next to them. This species of land iguana was a lot more “yellow” than the ones we saw on North Seymour Island.
Our hike ended on a different part of the beach with even more sea lions. I just don’t think I can adequately explain how truly amazing it is to be up so close to all these animals.
This sea lion was very interested in the boys. It almost seemed like he wanted to play with them. He sat there watching them and then slowly started moving towards them and they began backing away. It made them a little bit nervous and we wanted to be respectful of his space.
Read about Day 1 & Day 2 here
Next up: Galapagos: Days 5-7