If you want to experience the most out of the Galapagos Islands, consider a live-aboard journey. // (c) 2013 Richard Lowe
By Chelsee Lowe
On a recent trip to the famed Galapagos Islands, I was determined to stick to a strict travel budget. I had traveled abroad on the cheap many times before – through China for three weeks, around Japan for two, and so on – and I saw no reason why the Galapagos Islands could not be similarly planned.
Ignoring the fact that guidebooks, websites and well-traveled friends advised us to explore the archipelago via a live-aboard boat, my travel companions and I decided we would not follow suit. Instead of paying thousands of dollars to sleep on smallish boat, we’d cut costs by making Santa Cruz Island, the most inhabited island in the chain and centrally located, our home base. We would explore as many other islands as we could from there.
After unloading our backpacks at a simple hotel in Puerto Ayora, we headed downstairs to the front desk to devise a game plan for our five-day visit. The hotel had plenty of information on local tour operators, most of which offered a complete list of half- and full-day journeys from Santa Cruz’s main dock. After some lively chatter about our desire to see blue-footed boobies, flamingos, Galapagos tortoises and more, the hotel staff assured us that these creatures were as common on the islands as seagulls on the California coast and that traveling to other islands would be easy via speed boat.
Glamorous images of sunbathing on a deck while skimming over the Pacific clouded our minds. Speedboats sound good to us, we said, and we signed up for a half-day trip to Isla Floreana.
After approximately five minutes aboard the vessel, we realized the error of our ways. The boat, propelling at a rocket-like velocity over dreadfully choppy waters, was anything but glamorous. The rough sea and cramped boat made for two hours of miserable bumps, thumps and overspray — and that was just on the way there. We were promised warm water penguins, but we saw just one lone and sickly-looking fellow on a rock. A hike around the island and a few masked booby spottings were exciting opportunities, surely, but all the while my mind was preoccupied with worry about surviving our ride back to Santa Cruz.
When the boat docked in Puerto Ayora, we resigned ourselves to seeing only those sights that didn’t require so much time on the water. We visited the Charles Darwin Research Center, situated within Puerto Ayora and home to many old, lumbering Galapagos tortoises. We walked along quiet stretches of beach, observing radiant, red Sally Lightfoot Crabs scurrying over rocks and pelicans swooping down to catch shallow water fish. When we did opt to board another boat, it was one that took us to hard-to-reach portions of Santa Cruz Island. Boobies with piercing blue feet dotted the coastlines and huge numbers of Galapagos iguanas took over rocky portions of the island. Our boat dropped us off at a trailhead, and we hiked over volcanic rock to reach Las Grietas, a narrow strip of clear water walled in by rock cliffs perfect for diving. We also decided to put our recently earned PADI certifications to good use, and we swam with huge schools of fish, sea turtles, sea lions and manta rays with the help of one of the island’s veteran dive shops.
Though we look back on the trip with fondness — especially our encounters (and missed encounters) with the unique flora and fauna that make their home in the Galapagos— we’d certainly plan a second visit differently. A live-aboard journey would allow for a more comprehensive experience, and for me, knowing that I saw what I came to see is worth whatever the cost.
Guest post written by Chelsee Lowe