Summary: The first week of the Lead Adventures 3-Week Galapagos program is on Santa Cruz, the main tourist island in the Galapagos, and containing the most upscale dining and shopping options of all the islands.  Most people come to the Galapagos to see the animals, and you can definitely cross several off your list here.  Our week began with giant tortoises, then blue-footed boobies, iguanas, crabs, Darwin's finches, sea lions, and marine turtles followed soon after.  You’ll probably have to wait until San Cristobal’s Kicker Rock (optional activity at extra cost) for Galapagos sharks though.  

Destination(s): Mainly the Galapagos Islands, 2.5 days in Quito, Ecuador
Total Length of Stay: 3 weeks
Getting There: International flight to Quito, domestic flights from Quito to the Galapagos Islands

This Blog Post: Week 1 in the Lead Adventures 3-Week Galapagos program, on Santa Cruz Island
Accommodation: La Casa de Judy, located near Puerto Ayora, the main tourist area.  Comfortable rooms and awesome owners and staff :)
Laundry: Laundry can be dropped off at La Casa de Judy in the morning, and ready in the afternoon.  I don't know the exact rate, but I paid around $10 for a week's worth of laundry.  Once we wanted to do laundry in the afternoon, so we walked to the laundry place ourselves, and it was ready by 7pm.  I really, really liked the way my clothes were folded, although one of my bikini tops got ruined here.  Luckily I had another one; it's a good idea to bring more than one swimsuit.  Not just for things like this, but because there's a lot of activities in the water.  
Food: All meals from Tuesday to Friday were included, the majority of which were at El Chocolate Restaurante.  We didn't have meal tickets or anything, I swear the staff just magically recognized us every time.  The food is a set meal, where there are 2-3 meat choices for the main course, with rice and vegetables.  The meal also comes with fruit juice, and sometimes soup and dessert.  For the weekend when meals were not included, there were plenty of dining options in Puerto Ayora,  However, the much cheaper option is to go to the non-touristy part of town, literally one street away from the coast, where set meals are under $5.  The restaurant staff there may not speak English, but for ordering a set meal, all you really need to know is carne means beef, pescado means fish, and pollo means chicken.  Instead of the set meal, I paid a little more ($10) to try ceviche, served with fried plantains.  I tried shrimp ceviche on Saturday, fish ceviche on Sunday, and...got nauseous both times.  I think it might have been the high salt content, coupled with the heat and perhaps not drinking enough water, unfortunate because ceviche is delicious.  Fish ceviche was interesting, as the fish seemed raw, but not raw...I think my friend read somewhere that it was pickled.    
Drinks: So I really don't recommend heavy drinking during this program, because the days are filled with outdoor activities and require waking up early.  My friend also wondered what it would feel like to be seasick and hungover at the same time...probably not very good.  However, I do recommend trying caipirinha, actually a Brazilian not Ecuadorian cocktail, made with sugar cane liquor, a TON of sugar, and lime.  Nearly ever bar serves it, this particular one came from Isla Grill in Puerto Ayora.  

Today was a long day and by the end of it, I was sleep-deprived and cranky.  (Okay, this was probably my fault for not sleeping on that Quito to Galapagos flight, because I was distracted by a really attractive flight attendant.)  Our airport transfer picked us up at 5:45am to catch an 8:50am flight, and the previous day, our program coordinator told us to eat breakfast at 5am.  Hostel Andino starts serving breakfast at 7:30am, and the hostel owner did not seem to know we needed breakfast at 5am.  He was nice and made us breakfast anyway, and I felt terrible.  He assured us that it wasn’t a problem, but I still felt terrible.  Oh Lead Adventures, why Why WHY did you tell us to eat breakfast at 5am, I would have gladly just skipped it. 

Then when we landed at Baltra airport in the Galapagos, our program coordinator told us we were meant to meet a girl named Tamara...but that didn't exactly happen.  A naturalist named Julian somehow found us in the crowd, and told us he would be our guide.  I’m glad he somehow figured out we were Lead Adventures volunteers– I guess we just look like tourists - because I would have been really confused otherwise.  After taking the ferry (costing 80 cents) from Baltra to Santa Cruz Island, we went straight to Los Gemelos, sinkholes created by collapsing magma chambers.  Scalesia trees, endemic to the Galapagos, are also present here.
Los Gemelos, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
Los Gemelos, iPhone panorama. Those are scalesia trees in the back.
After Los Gemelos, the next stop was Las Primicias Range to see the Galapagos giant tortoise.  I pretended to pet one, since actually petting one is illegal.  There was also a short lava tunnel.
Giant Tortoise
Pretending to pet the giant tortoise
Inside Tortoise Shell
Obligatory tourist photo
Lava Tunnel Entrance
Entrance to lava tunnel
Lava Tunnel
Inside the lava tunnel
It was nearly 2:30pm when we got to our hostel, after which we ate a pretty late lunch - luckily Tame airlines had served food on the flight earlier, handed to me by an attractive flight attendant.  There were no planned activities after lunch, so we went to the Charles Darwin Research Station, which is like a zoo featuring Galapagos animals.  Beaches and coastline are nearby, where iguanas and crabs are abundant.  Also, while marine iguanas are all over the islands, the only time we saw a land iguana was inside an enclosure at the Charles Darwin Research Station.  
Red Crab
Red Crab
Black Crab
Black Crab
Marine Iguana
Marine Iguana
Land Iguana
Land Iguana
Darwin's Finches
Darwin's Finches
To the coast
To the coast
The coast
The coast
There were no planned activities in the morning and the suggested activity was Tortuga Bay, which we headed towards around 8:20am.  It was necessary to start early given how long it takes to get there!  First we took a cab to the beginning of the trail, and then walked 2.5 km one way to get to the coast…the walk was worth every meter though!  Be prepared though, there are no restrooms or water past the trail head.  After getting to the coast, it’s about a 10 minute walk to Tortuga Bay where the waters are calm enough for swimming, but we took 2 hours because we explored the area.  My friend had this brilliant idea to walk around some rocky island, during which I slipped on the rocks, but I saw plenty of crabs and iguanas so I guess I forgive him.
Trail to Tortuga Bay
2.5 km one-way hike down to Tortuga Bay...
Coast near Tortuga Bay
...this pristine beach, with super-fine white sand, made the hike worth it.
Tortuga Bay, Rocky Island
The little rocky island we walked around
Tortuga Bay, Mangroves
Mangroves, near the little rocky island
Tortuga Bay, Crab
Crab Close-Up
Tortuga Bay, Crabs and Iguanas
Plenty of crabs and iguanas on the rocks
Tortuga Bay, Kayak
Tortuga Bay, water's calm enough to swim or kayak
Tortuga Bay, Swimming
People swimming in Tortuga Bay
In the afternoon, we went on a hiking and snorkeling tour of Academy Bay.  The first stop was Las Grietas, a gorgeous natural swimming pool.  Unlike the ocean we later snorkeled in, the water was warm(er) and calm.  
Hike to Las Grietas
Hiking to Las Grietas, journey was just as beautiful as the destination.
Las Grietas
Tour guide and tour group before snorkeling
In Las Grietas, there is a place where you can climb up some rocks and jump into the water (it's deep enough, I promise).  Most people opted not to do it, I watched two people do it...and then decided to give it a go.  The results are documented below:
Las Grietas, Climbing Rocks
Climbing up the rocks wasn't difficult except this last bit...praying to not slip, or to have my bikini slip off.
Las Grietas, Climbing Rocks
Finally decided to go for it and shift my weight upwards...thus making it to the rock you jump from.
And now for the part where I actually have to jump...
Las Grietas, Standing on Rock
Standing on the rock, looking down and shrieking with fright. The other tourists encouraged me, our tour guide encouraged me...and I continued shrieking. However, given that I had climbed up some steep rocks to get here, the only real way out was...
Las Grietas, Jumping from Rocks
...to just jump. I did eventually. The water is really deep. Also, looking at these pictures now, I really wasn't even that high up.
After Las Grietas we went snorkeling at Estrada Point, where we swam with sea lions!  Unfortunately the pictures are minimal because my underwater camera battery died, plus it’s generally sort of difficult to get good underwater shots.  I swear there were WAY MORE sea lions than my pathetic pictures are letting on.  Swimming with sea lions was amazing but FREEZING COLD; it was August, cold season, and I jumped in without a wetsuit, in a bikini.  Later, I was shaking so intensely that a Chilean tourist wrapped two towels around me.  
Estrada Point, Sea Lion
Sea lion
Estrada Point, School of Fish
School of fish
Our tour ended outside the water – thank goodness, because I was cold plus seasick - with a hike to Playa de los Perros (Beach of Dogs).  There was a pool where sharks sometimes hang out, but we weren’t lucky enough to see any.  
Shark Pool
No sharkies now. According to our tour guide, they were there in the morning.
Playa de los Perros
Playa de los Perros
We were supposed to go to Floreana Island today, but that got pushed to Friday, so we did Friday’s activities on Thursday.  We volunteered in Bellavista, where we spent the morning pulling up weeds, so that endemic Galapagos plants could be planted.  It rained while we worked, although the trees provided some shelter.  Scalesia trees are endemic to the Galapagos, and I accidentally pulled up a baby scalesia!!  Our volunteer guide buried it back in the soil, and assured me that it would not die.  Gloves and rain boots were provided, but the pair of gloves I had weren’t very effective and my fingernails were soon filled with mud...ladies, don't get a manicure before doing this program.  I also somehow got an ant into my glove…ouch.  We picked some passionfruit because the plants are abundant, but unfortunately they tasted quite sour.  
Volunteering in Bellavista
Hard at work, pulling up weeds
The passionfruit we picked
After volunteering, we ate at a local restaurant in Bellavista.  We were given bikes to go visit Los Tuneles de Bellavista, and then bike back into Puerto Ayora.  Unfortunately, the chain on one of the bikes broke.  This wasn't a big deal because the lava tunnels were only 500 meters away from the restaurant, and a cab ride back into town wasn't expensive, but I'm really not sure why a bike in such crappy condition was even kept.   Anyways, the lava tunnels were cool, they cost $3.50 to hike (I think, can't really remember), and flashlights were provided.  They're about 2 km long, but only 1 km can be hiked, after which a road leads back to the trail head.  However, we did not want to get lost on the road, and therefore backtracked through the tunnel.  
In the afternoon there wasn't anything to do, so we got a bike that wasn't broken and went on a ride.  We left around 3:30pm, aimlessly biked in the direction of Bellavista, and resolved to turn back at 5pm.  It was a strenuous uphill ride, going inland from the coast, but we made it to Los Tuneles de Bellavista and a little further before turning back!  The downhill slopes were fun on the return trip, and it's where I met the kitten that brought out my Spanish skills.  
Uphill towards Bellavista
Trudging uphill...
Puerto Ayora, looking downhill
As far as we got before turning back, looking down at Puerto Ayora, where we'd started
This trip to Floreana Island takes all day, we left at 8am and got back around 5:30pm.  The boat ride is about 2 hours so seasickness is a possibility, or in my case, a certainty.  Upon landing, we went to a restroom that cost 10 cents, and toilet paper was provided upon payment.  When we went back later, it was free and there was no toilet paper.  Therefore, it seems that both change and toilet paper should be brought to Floreana.  The morning was spent hiking in Asilo de la Paz, where we saw pirate caves and carvings, a freshwater source, tortoises eating Chinese potato leaves, and nice views of landscape and ocean.  
After lunch (included) at a local restaurant, we went to Playa Negra, my favorite part of Floreana.  This translates to "black beach" in English and the sand is black!  We snorkeled around the coast here, and my friend and I had received two snorkels before the trip.  Because one of them was broken, we ended up sharing one snorkel...hey, salt water kills germs right?  Sharing wasn't a big deal, because the snorkeling area is small anyways, but it felt like drowning when I used the broken snorkel.  I know, I'm being overly dramatic, it was shallow, calm water near the coast and I was never in danger of drowning.  It's just that unexpected salt water in my mouth was SO DAMN DISGUSTING AND UNCOMFORTABLE.  I really hope people are more careful with discarding broken snorkels in the future.  On the bright side, I saw my first marine turtle in the Galapagos!  Other than that snorkeling here wasn't that notable, just some fish and seaweed.  
On the way back, we saw penguins and blue-footed boobies along the coast, and then dolphins jumping out of the water.  I wasn't quick enough to get a picture of the dolphins, because there's no way to predict when they'll jump out, and also I was seasick...apparently bad enough that the tour guide told me to go lie down.
Penguins hanging out on the rocks
Blue-footed booby
Blue-footed boobies are hard to photograph, because they're usually far away and blend in with rocks. The closest I got to them was later in Los Tintoreras, on Isabela Island...that's Week 3 of this Lead Adventures program
Today was a free day, and the suggested activities were either Bartolomé, Santa Fe, or Seymour Islands, and Judy, our super awesome hostel owner, also suggested Plaza Island.  We started planning a day trip to one of these on Thursday, and everything was fully booked, except for a half-day snorkeling trip around Santa Fe.  It was only $55 because it only included snorkeling, we would not walk on land, plus it was half-day and didn’t include lunch.  According to Judy, a day trip that enters land costs $145-160 for Bartolomé and $125-140 for the others.  Anyways, if there’s any specific island you want to do, book well in advance during high season.  For anyone into beautiful scenery, Bartolomé is the source of postcard pictures.

The boat ride to Santa Fe took about 1 hour, after which we circled around the coast for a while.  We saw some blue-footed boobies - three at once! - and the coastline was beautiful.  
We then went to the first snorkeling site, where there were sea lions and beautiful fish.  Snorkel masks were not included but could be rented for $3, and wetsuits were not provided.  Thus, I jumped into the August, cold-season ocean in a bikini...    
Our second snorkeling site was near a rock, where I really did not want to jump back into cold water, but I did anyways.  We only spent about 10 minutes here, as there wasn't that much to see.  Just the rock really, 
The rough water doesn't look inviting, especially when I know it'll be freezing.
Pelican on Rock
The rock below the water...
...and the rock above the water.
After this half-day trip was over, we ate lunch, and I had my first nauseous run-in with shrimp ceviche (see discussion of food at the beginning of this post).  We then spent the afternoon relaxing and souvenir shopping in Puerto Ayora, and packing since we had to catch a speedboat to San Cristobal Island the next day.
9/6/2013 02:09:14 pm

Wow, you really get a full comprehension of the size of those giant tortoises in the picture where you are framed behind it! They are such beautiful creatures. But, that lava tube just made my jaw drop...that is amazing! :)

9/6/2013 05:32:21 pm

Yeah, the tortoises are definitely beautiful creatures! The lava tunnels were fun, although certainly not for anyone who doesn't like dark, enclosed spaces. I personally find it amazing that they were created by, well, moving lava. Like a river carves a canyon, but not really.

9/7/2013 06:51:37 pm

I like all your photos of the wildlife. It's so interesting seeing how different animals have evolved according to their needs - like the iguanas!

9/8/2013 07:59:59 am

Yeah the Galapagos are definitely great for people who are into exotic biology - one of my friends once described the Galapagos as a "zoo on steroids." Pretty accurate.

9/10/2013 01:23:53 am

I love the blog! So glad you guys enjoy it!

9/10/2013 01:52:11 pm

Thanks for stopping by! Will post about the rest of my trip soon. Thanks again for all your help :)


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