Monday, May 2, 2016

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador: Isla Santa Cruz & Isla Isabela. Or Basically Paradise.

Hello from the Galapagos Islands!!

First off, apologies for the blog delay - I’ve been on a boat cruise for the past week without any internet or cell service (TOUGH LIFE), so I haven’t had a chance to update! But no worries, because not only am I back now, but I also diligently took notes on my phone of the places we went, things we did, and billions of fun facts (real quote from one of the girls on the trip, as she watched me typing notes on my phone during the tour: “are you actually typing out everything the guide says….?”). 

What It's All About:
The Galapagos Islands are a series of islands off the southwestern coast of Ecuador. There are actually over 125 islands that make up the archipelago, though there are only around 10 main islands, and only a handful are inhabited. The Galapagos are famous because of the variety of unique wildlife, plant, and oceanic life that can be found here. It was also what famously inspired Darwin to develop his theory of evolution, as each island has species that have originated from a common ancestor (i.e. Darwin’s finches), but have developed and adapted unique characteristics helpful to where they live (i.e. the finches all have different beaks depending on which island they live on, adapted to their diet on that island).  


On a personal/traveler level, the Galapagos Islands are basically paradise. Think about the prettiest deep sea-green-blue waters, wildlife everywhere, beaches everywhere, and tons of isolated little islands/beaches you can explore without throngs of people.  One of the best parts is that the wildlife here is protected, so they are not scared of people - you can get up close and personal with turtles, sharks, iguanas, sea lions, birds, etc. and they don’t have the instinct to run like hell.  It’s seriously AMAZING.

Welcome to Paradise!

You have the option of exploring the islands on your own by starting on one of the main islands and taking boats around, or you can take a multi-day cruise to go island hopping.  

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Arrived in the Galapagos by plane from Quito on the island of Isla Baltra, then to the main hopping-off town of Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz.  This is where most people base their trip to the Galapagos from.  I met up with Nadine in Puerto Ayora, who is my Swestie (Swiss bestie, keep up) that I had originally met in El Chaltén in Argentina. We’ve been able to meet up in a couple various locales since (Mendoza, Santiago), and had discussed doing the Galapagos together then.  And timing worked out!
  • We spent the first day together looking for last-minute cruises around the Galapagos (a much more economical option if you have the time, because these cruises are super expensive and you can usually get much cheaper options if you book last-minute).  We found one and booked it - the cruise didn’t start until 2 days later, so we got two days to explore some of the places our cruise wouldn’t hit up. 
  • First day, we spent around Santa Cruz itself - Puerto Ayora is a super tiny town, and there is a darling main street, as well as several nearby beaches.

Walking down the street; oh there's a marine iguana

Ah, and a pair of sea lions! NBD. Tons of animals hang around the town's fish market, waiting for scraps.

Another thing about the Galapagos - it's super expensive. This super delicious, super healthy breakfast was possibly $15 - but it came with a SEA LION VIEW. = priceless

And here is an adorable sea lion splashing around in the harbor. He was seriously waving his flipper everywhere. I think I may have discovered my new favorite animal.

  • Nadine and I walked a little bit out of town to the stunning, pristine beaches of Tortuga Bay in Santa Cruz.

I dieeeeeeeeee

The beach was also super empty when we arrived - like our own personal slice of paradise

The best part of Tortuga Bay was the waves. There were these huge, crashing frothy, bubbling waves that were perfect.  They were huge enough to knock us over, but they were also crystal-clear and foamy and running into them and being washed away was like being 10 years old again. We seriously spent like, half an hour just running into each wave and falling over and laughing.

I am now realizing that most things I think are crazy, maybe aren't that crazy to other people. But I thought it was crazy how close the birds would get. This one was hopping all over my shoes and US Weekly (By US Weekly I obviously mean Forbes) and getting so, so close

Ok, so more people showed up at the beach later in the day. But I LOVED THIS BEACH. 10/10.

So I wasn't going to include this photo because I don't think the internet needs any more evidence of my ice cream addiction, but then I noticed the little boy in the corner.

Our evenings in Puerto Ayora were spent eating at these outdoor food kiosks, which were not highway-robbery-priced and were delicious!

This is coconut fish, rice, and beans. Seriously, I love island living.


  • The morning before our cruise, Nadine and I took a boat out to Isla Isabela for the day, a neighboring island and the largest in the Galapagos. Isabela has tons to do (snorkeling, hiking volcanoes, beaches, etc.) and tons of wildlife.

Leaving Puerto Ayora and heading to Isabela on the world's smallest boat

I thought I'd include a boat selfie where I look happy, as evidence that I was happy at some point during this ride - because right afterwards, the boat was churning and the ride was so choppy that I honestly felt like dying.

But I didn't die, which is a great thing, because look how pretty the waters of Isabela are!!

To greet us at the dock were tons of sea lions. Which I am clearly losing my mind over.

Welcome to Isabela Island!

Ruins of an old boat. Should we be concerned here.

Nadine and I joked that the entire trip was incredibly romantic, because there are tons of couples that come out here and everything is set up for romance: pristine beaches, life-changing sunsets, adorable cafes, and of course, swan towels in love.

The adorable city streets of Isabela

  • We rented bikes for the day and rode them all around the southern part of the island.

We got so hot riding bikes that we made a pit stop at the beach and threw ourselves into the frothy waves before getting back on our bikes and continuing on the journey.

You know what romantic couples do? Take matching beach jumping photos, of course.

Oh, let's just tuck a little cemetery over here near the beach

There were zillions of signs on the bike path warning of giant tortoises.  And then we actually found one of them! 

We're the three best friends that anyone's ever had

He was seriously SO cute. And giant. Animals are the shiz.

After hours of biking in 200 degree heat (we unwisely started our bike ride in the middle of the day, hence the reason neither Nadine or I are wearing any pants in any of these photos, in case you noticed), we reached a site called The Wall of Tears.  This is the former prison wall from back when Isabela was a penal colony in the 1940s/1950s, and prisoners were sent out to this remote landscape and forced to build this wall.  Lots of them died. 

Above the Wall of Tears is a stunning panoramic view of Isabela. Which involved climbing a million steps. Cue the heatstroke.

And in 20 seconds, the 200-degree heat instantly disappeared with a wall of thick fog (weather here is so weird and constantly changing!) Which obstructed our view of the coastline! I can imagine that it probably looks beautiful

Another stop on our bike ride - the lover's beach. Which is, strangely enough, filled with marine iguanas

And crashing ocean waves!

More iguana action. And you can't really see, but there is a pelican couple in the tree. 

One of the best parts of Isabela is the miles and miles and miles of deserted sand beach. Because there is so much coastline, you can find a totally secluded stretch of beach with no problem. Again, ROMANCE.  

Then we visited a turtle sanctuary. Apparently, giant tortoises are not so good at breeding because lots of invasive animals eat their eggs and stuff, so this center helps them out. Not as cool as our wild giant tortoise, but still. (I may already be becoming a turtle snob).

The flamingoes on Isabela are super-pink because they eat super-pink shrimp.

We capped off the most romantic day ever on Isabela by drinking coconuts on a hammock and watching the sunset.

And THIS was the sunset. Moments like these are what make you realize how beautiful life is sometimes. And how much beauty there is in the world. 

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • Ecuador uses U.S. dollars!  And the change is a strange combination of Ecuadorian and U.S. coins. I've never noticed this before, but the U.S. coins don't clearly say how much they are, and this is apparently (and appropriately) very confusing to people from other countries.
  • When booking a Galapagos Islands cruise, they usually make you pay in cash. Which is kind of impossible, given ATM withdrawal limits and the fact that the money only comes out in $20 bills. It requires a nice little combo of leaving deposits and passports at tourist agencies and withdrawing your daily max here and there, and paying it off as you go.
  • The marine iguana is the only lizard that swims in the ocean.
  • Also, giant tortoises can live up to 150 years old!


  1. THAT FISH WITH ARMS! um, I think you just witnessed evolution first hand...

    <3 <3

    1. SO WEIRD, RIGHT??? And I was respecting the beauty and complexity of evolution by choosing not to eat it!!

      <3 <3 <3

  2. EEEEEEE i love all of this. <3 it looks just MAGICAL. PS. If you love sea lions I know a place where you can see them by the hundredssssssssssss!!!! #sf #sf #sf ;) <3 smooches!

    1. Do they swim with you in SF?! Or is it perhaps TOO COLD THERE to be able to do so!?? :) :) :)