The Galapagos archipelago is known worldwide for its unique and fearless wildlife and is a World Heritage site. Strict control on tourist access is maintained in an effort to protect the natural inhabitants. Sadly, a lot of cruisers on a tight budget do not stop for a visit, as the costs are extremely expensive. You can either stay on one Island: either San Cristobal or Santa Cruz for 21 days; or three islands including Isabela, for 60 days. You are, however, unable to check into Isabela, but thankfully can still check out. For us, arriving with family and having more coming to visit, we opted for 60-day autograph. It was the perfect decision and certainly worth the extra payment incurred.
Checking-in in San Cristobal
We arrived in San Cristobal after a perfect five and a half day sail from Panama. The last day we crossed the equator and celebrated in style, with one of our young crew dressing up and acting as King Neptune. Two months in advance, as required, we had organized an Autografo Vista with Bolivar Pesantes: firstname.lastname@example.org. To check into the Galapagos, one has to employ an agent. Bolivar had been recommended and was very efficient. Payment is in cash only, so we arrived with a huge envelope full of US dollars.
Please note that rules change every year for entry, what tourists can do and costs. So it is important to make sure any information researched is current.
We arrived at midday on Easter Sunday. Having been charged $100 overtime in the Cayman Islands, we had checked before our departure to see if we would be charged overtime and were advised there would be none. We were delighted. Bolivar was in the anchorage as we motored in, and we soon had eight guys climbing on board for our check in and hull inspection. We had stopped 100 miles out for a swim and to wipe down the hull, so we were as clean as a whistle. However, one friend arrived with white anti-fouling that was not totally white. They were fined $100 and told to go back out to sea to clean the hull. They employed a diver and were amazed when he jumped over the side into the harbour when it was dark, to do the job. Afterwards they were told to go for a sail. Getting back the next day, they got a clean bill of health. Crazy.
Our check in went very smoothly, no problems with anything. Friends on other boats had made up signs for garbage, etc., as per instructions, but all we had to do was sign forms and answer lots of questions. Fumigation on the other hand was unexpected. The certificate we were given in Panama was a waste of money, as none are now valid on arrival into the Galapagos. We were asked to close the hatches and leave for fours hours so they could smoke out our boat. On our return, everything was covered with a fine layer of oil. We had friends arriving and suggested covering everything with sheets and towels; just wish we had also been warned beforehand.
San Cristobal, the Island of Sea Lions. Gotta love them, but they drove us crazy the first day. They also smell awful. We thought we had protected our boat from boarding, but they still managed to climb up the scopes at the back of Ta-b within minutes of our anchoring and even tried to get into our cockpit. We were constantly on alert; especially at night, which seemed to be their favourite time to try boarding. One of our crew had fallen asleep in the cockpit the first night and nearly had a sea lion climb on top of him! Gave him a hell of a fright. All we could do is laugh. The noise they make is incredible, but we got used to it; especially when they stopped clambering up onto our boat. In the end, some tarpaulins did the trick. A friend was not so lucky. They had come back to their boat to find sea lions in their cockpit, with vomit and poo everywhere. It took weeks to get rid of the smell. We even heard of a boat where the sea lions got into the saloon, lovely mammals, but boy they can make a mess.
We loved San Cristobal; it has lots of character and trips to enjoy. The highlight of our stay was a trip that Manuel of Starsky tours put on for us; to Punta Pitt and Kicker Rock, the two main sights of the Island. We were a group of eight with five guys looking after us, including a very knowledgeable National Parks guide. Kicker Rock is an incredible rock; in three pieces, rising 500′ up above the water, which is 400′ deep all around. A great place to snorkel and dive.
At Punta Pitt, we went for a terrific hike where we observed, amongst other wildlife, nesting red and blue-footed boobies. The view was stunning. We also snorkeled off Pitt Island, where we saw more shoals of fish then we have ever seen before, in crystal clear water. Manuel was a mine of information; with excellent English, who helped us with many boat issues, including organizing water delivery for us at no extra cost. He was delightful and certainly worth getting to know.
While at San Cristobal, we also hiked to Punta Carola, onto the beautiful beach of Cao de Horno and out to Las Tijeretas to swim with the turtles and sea lions, visiting the Interpretative Center on the way. We took a day cab tour for $60, and visited the tortoise conservation center, hiked El Junco Lake crater rim and swam Chinos Bay; while also enjoying our best meal on the Island at a hill side restaurant overlooking the Island and water below. Not to be missed is the incredible bakery, open after 5pm, that sold yummy pastries for a mere 25 cents each. Heaven! Be warned: the $1 water taxis that we always used, only run until 10pm. We had young crew that got caught short.
After a week, we lucked out with another wonderful day’s sail to Santa Cruz, where Irene Pumayugra quickly checked us in and organized for us to have fuel delivered to our boat. She was wonderful and looked after us extremely well during our stay, helping us to check out at Immigration, as it can’t be done in Isabela.
We had fun getting to know the cruisers in Academy anchorage; socializing from boat to boat, and with cheap drinks and food we often went out. Like San Cristobal, the anchorage was rolly, so we were glad to be a Catamaran. Santa Cruz is the most populated Island, with great shopping in Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the islands. The sea lions also seemed to keep to themselves, which was a relief. There is a grocery shop near the dock that was well stocked, with a good municipal market and a Saturday market (go early) not to be missed. The fish market is very entertaining; with the sea lions and pelicans enjoying the scraps, fish was only $3 a kilo. The best market I have ever found. We splashed out at the sushi place on the main road out of town, and it was worth every penny. We would also recommend the laundry down the alley off the main road, where she did a super job and was very reasonable.
The Darwin Research Station was closed for repairs; instead we hiked to Bahia Tortuga, over a great paved path. There is a beautiful beach for surfing and if you keep walking to the end, there is a lovely lagoon (you can get a boat ride back to town for $10 pp, but we walked back along the lovely paved path). An early swim at Las Grietas, which is a fissure in the volcanic rock, was beautiful with no one there. We found it worth climbing over the rocks and going to the other fissure in the rock area for a second swim. We also took a cab to see huge, wild land tortoises and to explore the lava tunnels, a unique experience. There are many trips to some of the other islands from Santa Cruz to be enjoyed. Getting into town was easy by water taxi at 75 cents a ride, and they run 24/7, which worked much better for our young guests.
We motor sailed to Isabela and anchored in beautiful Puerto Villamil, which is very protected by low volcanic islets called Las Tintoreas. The water here is crystal clear and we enjoyed playing with sea lion pups between our hulls in the late mornings, when they would appear. Swimming and kayaking around the anchorage we found out is not allowed, as the area is reserved for tourists; however we needed to check our hull on a regular basis. You can use your tender to get to the small dingy dock that during the day is taken over by sea lions and large iguanas; luckily they are used to being climbed over.
A short walk takes you to Embarcadero town, either by road or via the beach. The town is small, with no banks and limited supplies; but there are some great lunches to be had and James at the Booby Trap Bar, who checked us out, was a mine of information. There is a ton of wildlife around the anchorage, including the famous penguins, and the Las Tintoreas tour is very popular. There are the volcanoes to visit, the Wall of Tears via the Flamingo lagoons, Concha de Perla to snorkel, kayaking, biking, but for us the highlight was our day trip to Cabo Rosa.
It is a 25-mile panga (local boat) ride to Cabo Rosa via Union Rock. The boat surfs over the breakers to a collapsed lava landscape that is incredible. Our driver skillfully negotiated us through extremely narrow channels, with crystal clear water. Everywhere there were bridges, arches and tunnels, with cactus growing on the lava – it was magical. A hike took us around more stunning landscapes, with turtles and fish to be observed in the clear water and mating boobies to be seen on land. We then moved to another area for snorkeling. We saw hundreds of huge turtles; observed sleeping white tip, nursing, and reef sharks; saw a large shoal of golden rays, and even a large seahorse in the mangroves.
We had my brother and wife on board; and decided to celebrate my birthday early by having every one in the anchorage on board the night before they left. The large group included two musicians and we had a terrific night, a wonderful get together that makes cruising so much fun. We loved the Galapagos and would have stayed longer; however, a perfect weather window arrived, telling us it was time, sadly, to leave for the Marquesas. As we took up the anchor, our playful sea lion pups swam around the chain and then instead of dolphins wishing us well on our journey, we had two massive manta rays come alongside as we trimmed the sails. Oh the Galapagos, words are not enough to describe its beauty – we look forward to returning one day!