Galápagos Camping Adventure Tour with G Adventures
Travelling around Tortoise Country with a reputable travel company that I have used lots in the past - here's a breakdown of the tour!
Day One: This tour begins in Quito where you arrive and check in to the beautiful pink imposing Eugenia Hotel. It's luxurious and very beautifully decorated in an old fashioned way.
Meeting the group on the first night you can introduce yourself to your fellow travellers that you will spend the next week with. Shortly after the meeting it was straight to bed for us due to our 3:30 am alarm!
Day Two: We woke up at the crack of dawn (technically it was even before dawn) and the hotel had very kindly and generously put on an early breakfast buffet for us. Coffee, Tea, Fruit, Bread, Butter and Preserves!
Then we were transferred by mini bus to the Airport with Stephanie who is a G Adventures Representative in Quito. To begin your trip to the Galápagos you must first obtain a $20 transit card (not included int he tour cost) which is easily done at the kiosk in Quito airport. Due to us being a large group and for the sake of an easy start, Stephanie took care of all the Transit Cards whilst we headed to the area clearly marked "Galápagos Baggage Check." This is where they specifically search your bags for plant or food based products - anything organic and also check for shoes or equipment which may be contaminated with seeds, soil, stones etc from other potentially dangerous ecosystems.
Through security and board the plane, a 45 minute flight and then there was a 40 minute stop over in Guayaquil in which we weren't allowed to leave the plane so we sat patiently. Then we took off again for another 2.5 hours to land at Baltra Airport where you pay $100 tourist tax (not included in your cost.) From here it's a public bus to a ferry to a private bus at the end. If you're travelling independently it seemed easy enough to navigate the bus-boat-bus situation.
We then drove through Santa Cruz Island where we saw hundreds (literally - no exaggeration) of wild Galápagos Tortoises. Mainly in the scrubland by the side of the road but we had to wind our way around a few that seemed to like the Tarmac road!
When at Puerto Ayora we had some free time so we wandered around the town. It was pretty, unfortunately for us it happened to be Sunday and therefore it was quiet and many shops were shut. However once again nature and wildlife is highly prevalent and simply walking by the dock you'll see (or smell) the Sea Lions and the Crabs, Pelicans, Marine Iguanas and loads of rare endemic Bird Species.
We boarded a boat which took us to Floreana Island - this took about 1hr30 and was an enjoyable ride in a comfortable G Adventures boat.
Once we arrived we checked in to our various homestays - we were in "Los Cactus" which is a modern and beautiful home with guest bedrooms. Panda bedding and typical South American blankets decorate the room and comfy twin beds with memory foam pillows and lovely warm high pressured showers!
We walked to Playa Negra to watch the sunset and we could see Sea Lions and Turtles popping their heads up whilst swimming at dusk.
Afterwards we headed to one of the local restaurants for a typical meal Galápagos-style. We soon realised that they are big eaters and love three course meals!
We had a broccoli and mixed vegetable soup (with popcorn to put in it) followed by a local fish which is part of the tuna family with rice, vegetables and salad then watermelon for dessert!!
Day Three: We woke up and had a 7:30 am breakfast in another local restaurant which consisted of a fruit salad followed by scrambled eggs followed by bread with jam and butter - another big meal... Then we walked to a white sand beach about 25 minutes away where we went snorkelling. It was empty and safe to leave our things on the beach and to jump on in. It was December and the water was around 18 degrees so very chilly but it was worth it! We swam with Turtles, Sting Rays, Sea Lions and all sorts of colourful Fish.
We headed back to shower and change and then we tried yet another local restaurant for lunch. We had deep fried yucca with a vegetable soup followed by marinated chicken with rice, salad and lentils then coffee ice cream and an Oreo. In the afternoon we took a bus to where Floreana Island have started a relocation programme for Tortoises and they are kept here in captivity. This means they are guaranteed to be there and there's a short trail that you can walk through and then you can hike a little further to see the caves and remains of the first human settlements and houses on Floreana Island with views of a Volcano. We headed back and had some down time (we were worn out!) before yet another gigantic but delicious meal. We had tomato soup with popcorn, octopus with rice, vegetables and potatoes then a a sweet and stodgy cake. The Galápagos Islands are naturally beautiful and amazing but don't expect late nights as you will be exhausted!
Day Four: We checked out of our accommodation in Floreana Island, had boiled eggs, toast and fruit for breakfast then headed to the dock. There is a famous place on the other side of the island known as post office bay. Due to the amount of tourists that visit only the dock area they have built a replica post box for tourists to enjoy. So ... the concept is that you put a letter or postcard or whatever in the post box and every tourist that visits is encouraged to check the post box, see if any of the letters are addressed to nearby their house and to take it with them to hand deliver it. This concept is amazing and apparently it works well but can sometimes be as slow as their native animals - the tortoises. Unfortunately we didn't find any nearby to us in The U.K. (Sorry Ireland and The Isle of Wight you're just not close enough.) however other people in our group took some home to Canada and Denmark.
After this we took a 1hr30 boat ride to Isabela Island where we arrived around lunch time. On our way there we saw a huge pod of dolphins flipping and swimming around and showing us more of the amazing wildlife that the Galápagos Islands has to offer. On arrival we saw Penguins and also lots of Sea Lions occupying the wooden bench seats so don't expect to be able to sit down when arriving here!
We had lunch at The Dolphin Restuarant where we had curried pumpkin soup and then I chose shrimp in a garlic sauce which was incredibly tender and fresh served with rice and vegetables then followed by cold rice pudding which was better than it sounds. Next stop was to take a bus to Sierra Negra Volcano where we hiked for 3hrs to see the massive Caldera which is essentially a crater but labelled a Caldera due to its ginormous diameter. This Volcano last erupted in 2005 and is still active. It's impressive to see but it often attracts clouds so be patient with the view...
We drove back down and checked into Campo Duro where we slept for the next two nights. It's a beautiful and large campsite with the massive tents already set up with mattresses and blankets waiting for you. There are fruit trees scattered around the estate and a secluded bar and restaurant in the forest. There's the option to have a cold shower surrounded by nature or to have a hot one in a cubicle - it's up to you! We had some time to relax (or nap) it's been another busy day before meeting up for dinner - a buffet of rice, lentils, spaghetti, chicken, vegetables etc - and a bonfire!
Day Five: An early start for a 7 am buffet breakfast of the usual toast, eggs combination. Then we took a bus to the Flamingo Lagoon and then to the Tortoise Breeding Centre. Both were amazing, we saw lots of Pink Flamingos and hundreds (literally) of baby, juvenile and even OAT's (Old Aged Tortoises.) The breeding programme has been very successful and they have lots of adults who are successful mating partners then the babies are kept covered until they're 4, because they're tiny and vulnerable then you can see them in the large open pens from 4 through to early teens when they are released into the wild. It's a nice large place to walk around, read the information signs which are written in both English and Spanish and then through the interactive interpretation centre.
From here we took the boardwalk through the wetlands, lots more flamingos and Iguanas. And we came out on the beach in the centre of town. We had a free afternoon, nothing planned as the group so we (my friend and I) went solo. Many others opted to go kayaking but we walked to The Wall of Tears. When you reach the trail it's 5km each way and it's a simple gravel trail with lots of signs and viewpoints and interesting geological things along the way. Such as the pink Lagoon, circular formations, lava tunnels etc. The Wall of Tears is a remaining Wall from the previously standing penitentiary as a memorial to those who built it and some who died.
The walk is fantastic and very popular with cyclists too, either is a good option. We had a long day and time to kill so the walk was perfect and it racked up the step count for sure. It's relatively flat with a few inclines but nothing too heavy. There's the chance to see the famous Galápagos Giant Tortoises in the wild - we saw 4 so keep an eye out! That's when walking has its benefits as we didn't speed past and miss all the wild tortoises like the cyclists we met.
We wandered back to town, to the port to see some more sea lions, back into the town and to the church which is worth a visit just to see the tropical island interpretation. It's a lovely building with Island images and stained glass windows of the local wildlife! We then watched an impressive sunset before taking advantage of the $7 menu of the day in a local restaurant. We had meat soup then I chose the lobster with fries, rice and salad then a cake/bread for dessert and it included a juice drink too! A good deal and local delicious food - I highly recommend any fish and seafood whilst on the islands as it's as fresh as it will get! Back to the camp and after our 21km walk we were ready to head to our tent!!!!!
Day Six: Another 7 am breakfast on the campsite which was eggs, croissants, bread and fruits. We checked out and drove to the port as today we left Isabela Island! At the port we managed to see Blue Footed Boobies - I jogged over to them to get some photos and I'm very glad I did! We travelled on the boat for about 2hours until we reached Santa Cruz - Puerto Ayora. From here we drove in a private bus to Rancho El Chato which has apparently been built around the tortoises natural habitat where there's mud pools, water and vegetation. Therefore although technically you "can't guarantee wildlife" - here you can guarantee you'll see lots of wild Giant Galápagos Tortoises with no fences, boundaries or captivity. They happily roam around here and there's lots to be seen!
After this we went to our new campsite in the Santa Cruz Highlands which is a lovely place with a large restaurant and good facilities. We enjoyed lunch which was Caprese Salad, Fish with Rice and Vegetables in a coconut Thai curry sauce followed by chocolate cake... yum! There are lots of wild tortoises here too so whilst it's a quiet and small campsite, regular tour buses pop by for the viewpoint nearby and the wild tortoises. Back towards Puerto Ayora and the Charles Darwin Research Station which, I'm saddened to say, was not my favourite place. Although I understand the importance of studying an endangered species and captivity. This for me wasn't a nice atmosphere it was like a bad version of a zoo - with small enclosures with dried up ponds and water supplies. There's only a few tortoises to be seen and a couple of iguanas. There's a nice shop and a video too but nothing amazing. Having said all this, it is currently under construction so with the addition of the breeding section this could prove to be a more fun and educational outing. We were assured that the animals didn't need water and it had simply evaporated in the heat and its refilled every 3 days but it just looked a bit depressing. For the animals as well as aesthetically for visitors - nobody likes a dried up pond!!!!!
We wandered into town and had the late afternoon and evening to ourselves so we mooched about, bought postcards and souvenirs from the endless amount of shops in Puerto Ayora then settled into a pizza restaurant for the warmth, fresh pizza and nice atmosphere before heading back to camp!
Day Seven: Once again we had breakfast as a group at 7 am; toast and eggs. We set off in the bus to the main town where we proceeded to walk to Tortuga Bay - it is around an hour and there is no shade on the walk nor on the beach so be prepared. Pack suncream and plenty of water to make the most of your day. One thing I will say about this tour in general is that it would be cheaper and easier if you have the space in your bag to bring or buy your own snorkel and mask. It costs around $10 per rental and there have been at least three days when we could snorkel.
Tortuga Bay is beautiful, white sandy beaches that look exactly like postcards and clear water for miles. There is one expansive and stunning beach when you reach the end of the paved trail but this is for seriously experienced swimmers and surfers only due to strong rip tides. Head to your right and you'll find everyone sunbathing, snorkelling, kayaking etc where the waters are still and less dangerous. Except they're full of White Tipped Reef Sharks which aren't notoriously dangerous but be mindful not to annoy them. There's a park ranger that patrols the beach and will let you know if you're in an area you shouldn't be, generally avoid the far right hand side where there's a shallow rounded pool - that's where we found them and lots of them.
We arrived to Tortuga Bay as a group and then had the rest of the day to do what we wanted, some people opted for snorkelling and sunbathing others for kayaking and swimming. Personally I paddled around and saw the sharks and fishes, sunbathed a little and wandered around to see if I could find a Blue Footed Booby but to no avail sadly - luckily I took my photo yesterday.
It was extremely hot on the beach and by 1pm I couldn't sit there any longer due to the extreme lack of shade! So we headed back to town and did some more souvenir shopping and exploring of the town. Afterwards we met the group again for our last "Island Dinner" I had an amazing Spaghetti Carbonara (sorry it wasn't traditional!) Then we headed back to camp for a bonfire and another early night.
Be warned: Galápagos is not about partying, it's about nature and wildlife. There's lots of early starts and long days which results in early nights. There is nightlife if you search for it but with this particular G Adventures Tour the campsites are set further out of town so getting to and fro isn't easy - it's a taxi journey and not necessarily a cheap one.
Day Eight: We woke up and had breakfast as usual and then had time to pack our bags and sort ourselves out. We went to the airport (the same bus to a boat to a bus situation as before.) Check in was easy and our G Adventures Guide stayed with us and helped us with any problems. We flew to Quito via Guayaquil with Avianca then transferred back to Hotel Eugenia for our last night!
Day Nine: Breakfast was included in Hotel Eugenia and check out was at 12 pm, as we had left our main guide behind in Galápagos we were pretty much on our own on the last night and free to check out and have breakfast at leisure this morning which was a nice relaxed end to our trip! The hotel was very nice so it rounded off a good week of homestays and camping.