This round of our “do it” series is a little different because we actually signed up for a tour of the Galapagos Islands! I’m going to break it down over 4 parts because there was SO MUCH to see and do on the islands.
Because it’s a national park, there are some pretty significant restrictions on how and what you can visit on the islands. We decided to make our lives easier and just book a tour package.
Boat or land? This was the main debate on taking a trip to the Galapagos Islands. You have your choice, either spend your nights on a small-to-medium boat, or book a hotel on land. When we were booking this tour, I hadn’t ever spent more than one night on a boat (until our BVI sailing adventure!) so I was reluctant to go all-in on a Galapagos trip. Would I be seasick? Would I enjoy the “close quarters”? To play it safe and pretty much guarantee a fun time, we ended up booking a land tour. I’m glad we did, as it was the right move for us.
We booked through an adventure lodge called Red Mangrove and signed up for a 5 day “Darwin’s Footprints” itinerary. We were responsible for our flights to the Galapagos, and once there, everything else was pretty much taken care of. One caveat, the tour shifts depending on “what’s good” for the day, park regulations on number of visitors, and honestly, the whims of the guides. We had multiple guides for the different activities and it gave us a nice sampling of different perspectives.
We arrived at Baltra airport mid-day and were surprised instantly by the rocky, desert landscape that the airport is on. You have to clear customs and pay the island tax ($100 per person, in addition to paying a $20 tax at the airport in Quito, the Galapagos isn’t a very budget-friendly destination).
A driver met us at the airport after customs formalities and packed us on a very crowded bus. We were doing some heavy duty “bus surfing” for the short ride to the Itabaca channel, where you hop off the bus and hop onto a ferry. We were escorted by our driver through the chaos and crowd. It was a short 5 minute ride on the bus across the channel to a waiting pickup truck and the 45 minute drive down to the south of the island, which was striking how many ecosystems you cross in a short period of time.
We arrived at the Adventura Lodge and checked in and had lunch. The Red Mangrove lodge definitely takes you into “rainforest” territory, crowded with mangroves and located on the waterfront. We splurged for a waterfront room, and had to climb 2 sets of treehouse-like stairs to get to the top floor of the lodge and the view was well worth it.
Rooms are large and created from natural wood. Definitely some unique architecture to give it the treehouse effect. A/C runs well and the beds are comfortable. Overall, the rooms are charming and eclectic.
We had lunch at the restaurant (since it was all inclusive) and it was a surprise to note that half the menu was sushi! I was both delighted and confused. Service in the restaurant was slow (island time?) and food was a bit hit-or-miss. Breakfasts were lacking, but coffee was good. Lunches and dinners were mixed—and the sushi turned out quite good, but on an all inclusive, there are weird rules on what you can order that were a little lost in translation on us. Generally the staff was helpful despite a few language challenges.
Not to waste too much time staring out at the water, it was time to start adventuring. Day 1 started strong with an afternoon of kayaking, hiking, canyon swimming and snorkeling! We met our guide, Rafael, at lunch and got our swimming and snorkeling gear. The tour provides you with all of your snorkeling equipment, but I brought my own mask with me because there’s nothing worse than crappy snorkel equipment. I’m glad I did.
We embarked on a water taxi to “German Beach,” a quick 5 minute ride across the port, and then started a brief walk to right outside the Finch Bay Hotel (which looked amazing…note for a return trip!). We were kitted up with double open kayaks, easy to get in and out of, paddles, and vests and were on our way through the mangrove. We paddled through Franklin Bay, spotting turtles and a variety of birds, including pelicans and frigates. We rounded the corner and found the Love Tunnel, which were amazing cliff faces on which we spotted our first blue footed boobies nesting in the rock wall. They were so cool! There were marine iguanas (the only species of iguana that swims) and more frigates. The tunnel was an excellent secret getaway spot and we had it to ourselves.
After about an hour of kayaking, we returned to shore and started a walk to Las Grietas, through the cactus and scrub and up a few hills. Las Grietas is a cold water canyon for swimming and snorkeling and was both beautiful and crowded. We arrived late, so only had about 30 minutes to swim out to the end of the deep canyon. We spotted a few schools of large fish, but the snorkeling was a bit of a bust (and our guide jumped in and swam quickly away before we knew what we were looking for!). Despite it feeling rushed and very crowded, it was a cool spot.
Lastly, we returned to the German Beach area for a bit of snorkeling. The water was much warmer, although murky, and the snorkeling was good. We spotted a black tipped reef shark almost immediately offshore. The fish were plentiful on a small reef, and we even spotted a few small eels and a puffer fish. A good “ease in” to the wildlife we’d encounter on this trip, for sure.
We returned back to the lodge to rinse off the saltwater and have some dinner. A great first day and a fantastic start to the tour!