Our trip to the Galapagos began with Santa Cruz Island. The nearest airport is on Baltra Island just north of Santa Cruz, from where you take a boat and bus. As we were coming in to land we saw a huge pod of bottlenose dolphins from the plane which was incredible, while from the bus on the way to the town of Puerto Ayora we saw numerous giant tortoises in the fields either side of the road—a great start!
Having found the cheapest hostel we decided to go to a few tour operators to compare prices for different day trips we wanted to do. Our first day on Santa Cruz was an early wake up to get to Tortuga bay, a long walk to a secluded beach which boasts marine iguanas and sightings of blacktip reef sharks. Tortuga bay was absolutely stunning, a wide and very long beach with barely anyone there; the sun rising over the ocean made it even more amazing. The marine iguanas were everywhere—these big sleepy guys definitely had some character! We were also lucky enough to see lots of bright red crabs, blacktip sharks, pelicans, and green sea turtles—which we paddled out to get a better view of.
We returned to Puerto Ayora for a quick bite to eat before heading to the lava tunnels, which are underground and you can walk through. It was incredible to be inside something that was probably made in a few minutes and had stood the test of time for thousands of years. We then went next door to El Chato, a giant tortoise reserve. Having watched many David Attenborough documentaries, this was one of those utterly lost for words moments: the giant tortoises were huge, tranquil and really sweet! We spent a long time just sitting and watching them, the way they moved and how they farted every so often! We rounded up our day with a visit to the Darwin Research Centre, which gave us a bit of geological background to the islands. We could not believe how much wildlife we had seen in one day. Excited and exhausted we got an early night.
The next day we went on a day tour to Bartolome Island. We luckily were on a really beautiful boat, which meant we were able to sit at the front and enjoy the view the whole way there. We spotted many things breaking the ocean, some of which we thought must have been sharks or rays. However, our most exciting sighting happened as we approached Bartolome: a huge pod of bottle nose dolphins were surrounding our boat. There were about 30 of them, jumping, twisting and talking to each other, which was also amazing to hear and witness. It was one of those truly special moments where everyone on the boat was completely in silence with massive smiles on their face. After visiting Bartolome we had our first Galapagos snorkelling experience in the bay of Santiago Island, which was incredible. The sea was bursting with life, small and big, we saw all sorts of things, from turtles, rays to big and small fish.
The following day we went on a day tour to South Plazas, which is special for its vegetation and for being one of the only islands home to land iguanas. As we approached we talked about how staggeringly different every landscape seemed to be on the Galapagos, you feel like you are going back in time! In the bay when we got to the island we saw a school of sealions, with the alpha male looking after all of the kids. The small sealions were very sweet and seemed to play endless games of tag in the bay. The land iguanas and marine iguanas have bread on this island to make a strange mix of the two and rather similar to the mule they are also infertile. The island is covered in a plant called Sesuvium, which turns from green in wet season to bright red in dry season. Luckily it was dry season when we were there and the contrast between blue waters and the fiery red was striking.