This post covers our five-day cruise around the eastern Galapagos islands. We also spent two days in Puerto Ayora before the cruise began, and a week in San Cristobal after it ended. You can read about that in Part 1 and Part 3.
After two days of checking out Puerto Ayora (and getting used to the Galapagos heat!), we headed back to the Baltra airport to meet up with our boat and guide for our five-day Galapagos cruise! Our room and boat looked like this:
Day 1: Santa Cruz Island
After checking out the cruise boat, and having our first lunch, we went to the Charles Darwin Station on Santa Cruz, where they have a tortoise breeding center. Most of the major islands have some sort of breeding center to ensure the tortoises do not become extinct. Their numbers dwindled dramatically in the 1800’s and 1900’s due to hunting of their meat, and limitation of their food supply by foreign-introduced goats.
Day 2: Santiago and Bartolomé islands.
We managed to do two hikes and two snorkel trips on this day, so as you can imagine we slept VERY well that night.
The day started out with a hike around the southeast of Santiago Island—an area covered by solidified lava flows from 1897. The top magma layer that has formed is flat, but the underground lava movement, rapid cooling and other eruptions led the magma layer to break in many places.
We then snorkeled both before and after lunch in Sullivan Bay and Pinnacle Rock beach, two spots in between Santiago and Bartolomé islands. In the afternoon session, we got to snorkel with PENGUINS! and a huge SEA TURTLE! Spending time with each was one of the highlights of my trip.
Towards the end of the afternoon, we hiked up Bartolomé island to see the most photographed view of the Galapagos:
Day 3: North Seymour Island and Mosquera Islet
On our third day, Peter and I woke up to watch the sunrise. As we were sipping our coffee and trying to wake up, we looked down to find sharks swimming right alongside our boat! This may have been some type of foretelling, because we definitely ended up swimming with a lot of sharks later on.
After breakfast, we hiked around North Seymour Island, which was absolutely covered with birds—including blue-footed boobies, colonies of frigates and gulls. Surprisingly, the birds were also extremely comfortable with humans being so close, even those that were nesting. Mixed among the birds were some sea lions, lava lizards and land iguanas.
The second half of the morning was spent snorkeling, and we managed to see a few huge eagle rays, some sea lions and several sharks.
After lunch, we visited Mosquera Islet, which by far and away was my favorite experience in the Galapagos. It’s located between the islands of Baltra and North Seymour, and is basically a patch of sandy beach in the middle of the ocean. The whole islet only measures 160 meters by 600 meters or so, and is so short in height it’s actually hard to see from a boat. But the more important fact about Mosquera Islet is that it has one of the largest populations of SEA LIONS! Who love to swim with humans! And are not shy at all!
Don’t get me wrong, swimming with the sea lions was super fun. They will swim until they almost hit you in the face, and then veer off at the last moment. They’ll bite your flippers in an attempt to “play.” It’s adorable.
But I found I couldn’t pull myself away from what our guide called the “play pens.” They were on the other side of the islet, and are basically shallow pools of water in between rocks. The baby sea lions use these spaces to learn how to play with each other and await their mother’s return with fresh food. These little ones were SO inquisitive and joyful; they seemed to want to learn about me just as much as I wanted to learn about them.
Day 4: Plazas Sur Island and Cerro Brujo on San Cristobal Island
We started this day with a hike around Plazas Sur Island, which had some amazing views from the top of some cliff walls to all the surrounding islands.
At the top of the cliffs, many of the older sea lion bulls (males) come to sun, and to stay away from the younger bull who control the lower side of the beach and the females there (apparently sea lions live as many women to one male). What is fascinating is that the old sea lions use their flippers to CLIMB UP and then BACK DOWN a pretty steep cliff face, in order to reach the top. We were lucky enough to watch one do the downwards trek (see image below).
In the afternoon, we took a ride in the zodiacs (the small 10-person travel boats) around Cerro Brujo, located on Western San Cristobal Island. There are these dramatically sheer cliff faces, some with holes in them that we got to boat through. Gorgeous! And then we spent a few hours trying to find sea turtles on the beach at Cerro Brujo, to no success unfortunately.
Back on the main boat, we started sailing towards the major town on San Cristobal, and on the way, watched the sun set over León Dormido, a rock formation in the middle of the ocean.
Day 5: Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island
Our last cruise day was spent watching the sun rise over San Cristobal, and visiting the Interpretation Center on the island. It provided some educational information about the evolution of the Galapagos Islands and animal life in the islands.
More to come on our week on dry land in San Cristobal in the next post…