Removed from the rest of the world and drawn together to form their own natural haven, the Galápagos Islands are a group of volcanic islands that are home to a peculiar range of local fauna. On a quest to visitone of the many ‘to-go’ places on their bucket list, Shruti Sanghani and Ayushka Ugale made their way to this tropical archipelagoin true backpacker style. You & I learns more about the trip that took these childhood friends to a place that still emanates a feeling of being untouched by the outside world.
South America and Ecuador had always been on our must-visit list. As we had limited time, we chose the Galápagos Islands and Quito in Ecuador. Here we were able to explore the Isla Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela islands of the Galápagos, and stayed for a duration of six days. Our trip began with a flight from Quito to Baltra Island (the main airport) via Guayaquil. From the airport at Baltra Island, we took a short bus ride and ferry to Santa Cruz Island. It is about a 45-minute drive to the main town of Puerto Ayora.
Ayushka, my childhood friend and soon-to-be sister-in-law and I first visited the Charles Darwin Station at Isla Santa Cruz, where we saw the giant Galápagos tortoises, land and marine iguanas, and learned about the history of theislands. Then we went to Tortuga Bay to arrive at this beautiful beach which is about a 2.5 kilometre trail from Puerto Ayora – white sand, blue waters, beautiful, clean, and serene. It is great for spotting marine iguanas, pelicans and small white tip sharks.
Next up was Las Grietas. It was a stretch of inland crystal clear emerald green water, in a fracture at the bottom of an earth, over 10 metres deep, seven metres wide, and 100 metres long. It was the perfect place to swim in on a hot day. We also visited the El Chato Tortoise Reserve. This reserve had gigantic tortoises in the wild, unlike those at the Charles Darwin Center, which were enclosed. We walked around on our own and even get close to the giant tortoises. On the same day, we went to Los Gemelos – two sunken volcanic craters located in a cloud forest.
We then set out to explore Isla Isabela. Our boat ride to this island was equivalent to a two-hour roller coaster ride – extremely bumpy! Isla Isabela has a very rustic, untouched feel to it. As soon as we got off the docks, we saw marine iguanas and sea lions lazing around on the road. We took a 10-minute taxi to the town of Puerto Villamil and visited Las Tintoreras, a chain of small islets. Along the way, we saw penguins, blue-footed boobies, sea lions and sea turtles. We walked on the lava rocks, which are also the nesting ground for marine iguanas. From the trail, we also saw white tip sharks.
This was followed by the most memorable moment of our holiday – the time we went snorkelling. We changed into our wetsuits and dived into the water. While snorkelling, we saw manta rays, sea turtles, white tip sharks, Galápagos crabs and lots of different fish. The adrenalin rush of swimming in the open sea with all these creatures surrounding us was surreal.
The two of us then visited the Laguna Salinas, a pristine spot where we saw flamingos and many other species of birds. We then hiked up a six-kilometre trail (each way) to reach the Wall of Tears, a historical site constructed by prisoners who were forced to build this wall from 1945-1959. Thousands died during its construction, and their ghosts supposedly haunt the site. Not having had enough of the ocean, we wanted to go snorkelling again in Los Tuneles, but unfortunately did not have enough time.
In terms of the local culture and cuisine, the Galápagos Islands have revamped themselves to cater to the needs of tourists, one of the vital factors behind the islands’ development. People were very friendly, we always felt safe walking around at night, and there was a very relaxed and laidback feel to the whole place. Local cuisine comprised mainly seafood, with plenty of fresh tropical fruits and juices. A few of the memorable meals we had there included the Locro de papa (an Ecuadorian soup made with potatoes and served with a slice of avocado), and the Arroz de menestra which had rice, lentils, and a choice of meats. However, being vegetarian here was not hard either, as there were many easy-to-find options, both in local and foreign cuisines.
Six days definitely aren’t enough to explore the Galápagos, and we hope to return for the other islands, like Bartolome, San Cristobal, North Seymour, and the rest. Apart from experiencing this Ecuadorian natural wonder, we’d love to return here for the amazingly friendly people, refreshing cleanliness, and positive ambience. – Shruti Sanghani