Galapagos Island Tour 1

Galapagos Tortoise in the park of San CristobalWe arrived to the Galapagos at San Cristobal Island on Saturday morning. We spent the first day getting our clearance done, getting caught up on sleep, and cleaning up a bit after the long passage. We also arranged for an all-day taxi tour for the next day. We went ashore a little after 9AM (we had to wait for a rain shower to pass) to meet our tour/taxi driver. As with many tour drivers in the islands, ours used a four-wheel drive pickup truck with a large cab. All four of us fit in the cab. You can view the large slideshow of photos from the trip near the bottom of this post. And, here is a map showing our GPS tracks with reference points to our stops:

View San Cristobal, Galapagos Tour in a larger map

The tour consisted of a drive up into the higher altitudes of San Cristobal, where the locals grow many vegetables and fruits. We saw orange trees, banana trees, tomatoes, water melon, blackberry bushes, and many other common varieties. Our driver also pointed out more unusual fruits and even stopped and let us taste some of them.

He took us to a mountain town which was mostly quiet since it was a Sunday. But, we saw many locals gathering to eat or playing sports. Since it is cooler in the mountains, some of the locals who live on the beaches go up into the mountains to relax for the weekend.

We stopped at a large treehouse built within what looked like a banyan tree. It had a swinging walking bridge to the house. Kind of like a Swiss Family Robinson establishment. But, the sign out front revealed it to be a small “hotel” and tourist spot.

Next he took us to an observation deck on the northern part which let you see a large part of the northern coastline and a great view of León Domido (aka as Kickers Rocks). This is the two rocks we sailed past on our way in near dawn on Saturday. It’s not only a unique sight, but we hoped to go diving there the next day. I took a 360 panorama there, and hope to process that soon.

We then drove around the highest point on the island (nearly 1000 meters) and went past the island wind generators. They produce a reported 50% of the power for the island – the other half is from diesel generators. Maybe they’ll build some other green power sources in the future (they can’t count on wind all the time). The next stop was El Junco – a crater lake on the top of a nearby volcanic mountain. The volcano is covered with vegetation now, and has a stairway built to the top and a trail allowing you to walk around the crater top. It has stupendous views of the tropical vegetation-covered hillsides, views of the waves crashing against the rocky coastlines, and (when there are fewer clouds) you can see far out into the sea. The first thing we saw at the top were a flock of giant (2 meter wide) frigate birds swooping down into the crater lake. They were fishing and/or getting a drink of fresh water. Quite an impressive sight. Which you can see in the 360 panorama which I posted yesterday. We enjoyed walking around the lake and seeing the views. One thing we noticed on the entire tour is that the local government is doing an excellent job of adding consistent signage with explanations in spanish and english. They also have made improvements to the roads and walkways. Obviously they are investing some of the tourist dollars towards improvements for the tourists.

We were then driven down to another town on the hillside half way down towards the southern coastline. This agricultural town was currently pre-occupied with weekend relaxation. Kids were playing ball at the school and some of the locals were talking at a local restaurant. Our driver took us to a new restaurant, but they weren’t ready yet for visitors. So, he took us back to the local establishment. We were glad because we had a really nice meal with the locals, and the food was excellent and inexpensive.

Next we went to the land tortoise conservation park where they are attempting to help insure the survival of a rare species by breeding them. From what we saw, they are doing an excellent job of providing a good environment for the tortoises, and we even saw a pair of them working on the breeding part! We also saw their first successful pairing in the form of one tortoise called “Genesis” who is now 5 years old. During our walk through the park, we also saw lots of local birds, spiders, lizards, and many different kinds of trees. The predominant trees were the poisonous (to man) manchineel trees – which are often found in the Caribbean as well. So, we kept from touching those.

Our next stop was the beach on the southern coast. We were told we could snorkel there, so we lugged our gear, towels, water, and sun screen. They had recently put in place a nice walkway to the beach, which was handy since it was over a kilometer to the beach. Of course, I realized at the bottom I needed fresh batteries for the underwater camera and I left them at the car. So, I ran all the way back up to the taxi to get them. Everyone else was already in the water when I got back. The beach was beautiful with gorgeous rocks, white sand, and nice waves. It turns out the waves were too big though and would not enable us to snorkel. There was another problem as well which I found out when I walked out over the beach. There were hundreds of large vicious horseflies all over the beach. They even swarmed your head while you were swimming! When we got back to our towels after our swim, the flies started attacking. We briefly discussed walking around the rocks, but the flies discouraged us. Not only that, the flies chased us up the walkway several hundred feet away from the beach! We re-named the beach “horsefly” beach.

We had a nice long drive back over the island to the main port town. We took a left to the west coast to a beach which has many sea lions and iguanas. The tour guide found us several iguanas hiding in the lava rocks lining the shore. The iguanas are mostly black which provides excellent camouflage in these rocks. We then walked down to another beach and saw a few sea lions lounging about. There were also a few locals swimming at the beach. We tried snorkeling, but the visibility was really poor. There were big waves crashing along the shore from some distant storm, and it stirred up the sand causing the poor visibility.

Here is the slideshow of many of the photos we took. You should definitely check out the full-sized slideshow:

View full-sized with descriptions

This was the end of the tour and we were driven back to the docks in town. There we caught a water taxi back to the boat – after gladly paying our tour guide his very reasonable fee ($10 per hour) and a tip for the excellent service!

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