These mysterious islands, belonging to mainland Ecuador, are only accessible by live-aboard boat. The one inhabited island, which is also home to the Darwin Research Center, also serves as a business hub for touring boats and yachts. The rest of the islands are visited in day excursions only, with a registered guide, in order to make certain that these precious and fragile eco-systems can remain relatively unharmed by human contact.
Baltra to Las Bachas Beach to Islas Plazas
Arrival in Baltra
Written by Patrick
To get to Galapagos, you must first catch a flight from Quito, Ecuador to Baltra. As you approach the one runway airport, you can see the scattering of islands that are clouded with mystery and overflowing with rich animal life. Most of the passengers on board are as eager and excited as you are, while the others who are locals are just happy to have arrived home from wherever they came. I wondered what it would be like to come from Galapagos. Visitors get syphoned into a que, to pay the national park entrance fee of $100US and then anxiously look for the guide who might have your name on his/her list. One by one you meet the people you will be living with for 5 days and watch as the other groups forms as well.
The bus met us at the airport and we travelled to the harbor, where we were greeted by our first natives: marine iguanas and sea lions. We boarded our home for the next few days: the Guantanamera, stowed our belongings in the small cabin, picked a bunk - oh wait, this was preceded by our first official briefing up on deck, something we would come to expect every evening as the sun went down. We listened to rules and regulations and guidelines for how to visit these precious islands. Our cast of characters for this adventure would include a full crew, Victor (our guide), Heather & Guy (Canada), Andres & Andrea (Germany), Lori (Oregon), Teresa & Jackie (Los Angeles) and of course myself and Patrick.
Our first stop would be a wet landing. We learned that throughout the next few days, we would regularly be getting off and on the boat to go exploring. A wet landing meant we should be prepared to get wet - perhaps up to our knees, so hiking boots and long pants needed to be taken care of. A dry landing meant that our boat would get us to a pier or other docking station and we could get on land with dry feet. We learned to ask every time, just in case.
About our boat: The "Guantanamera" is a mid-class ship and offers very good value for the money. It has space for 16 passengers in cabins, all equipped with private bathroom and showers. There are above deck cabins and larger below deck cabins. I would always recommend the outside cabins over those below. While those below have the only opportunity for couples to sleep in the same bed, the the above decks cabins have windows that you can open for fresh air (instead of relying on the A/C below). However, it is always a thing of preference as Lori actually loved the below deck cabin due to the space it had and it moved less in high swell waters, which she learned first hand. Luckily, we were only 9 passengers for the first 5 days and 12 for the remaining 2 days so there was always lots of space on the boat. All of staff were extremely friendly and professional. The boat came with 6 crew members (excluding the guide), which meant that for each passenger there was almost 1 crew member on board. We were well taken care of.
First stop: Las Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz
Things to see:
This was probably the dreamiest beach we visited, with lots of very fine white sand and clear blue waters. It was also one of the sunniest days during the visit. We did a little guided walk on the beach. Victor showed us the stretch of beach where the sea turtles lay their eggs and pointed out a few empty turtles nests - these round indentation in the sand, when full can be home to 50-200 eggs. After two months the turtle babies hatch and race to the water. We walked past rusting ship wrecks - they had deteriorated leaving only a skeleton, making it difficult to discern what kind of boat it used to be. It turned out to be to barges once owned by the US Navy, who had rented the island of Baltra during World War II. These barges (las bachas en espanol) had gotten loose and drifted onto the beaches, where they were left to rot. Hence the name: Las Bachas Beach.
We got to see large specimens of crabs going about their business and were thrilled, because they were some of the very first animals we saw on this visit. Even more exciting was the occasional sea iguana walking the beach. After the hike we ended up resting at the beach and Lori convinced me that I needed to go into the water with her. I did, but I can tell you it was the one and only time I went into the water without a wet suit. It was freeeeeeeeezing cold. I made myself stay warm by lap swimming back and forth until I covered a distance that would resemble roughly 1km. The dinghy brought us back to board and we got dressed warmly as the boat left the anchorage. The "Guantanamera" was in need of fresh water and so we stopped at the refueling station between the island of Baltra and Santa Cruz. The sun was setting slowly which encouraged the Blue Footed Boobies to chase their dinner meal. Standing on the top deck of our boat we saw dozens of birds soaring about 45 feet (15 m) above the water scanning what was below. Once they saw what they were looking for, they would dive bomb into the water, folding their wings mere inches before impact. Since the water was so clear you could see the track of white bubbles up to 3 meters (9 feet) deep. It was fascinating to watch and soon they were emerging from underwater and either ate what they had caught or, which was more often, instantly taking flight again to resume their hunt in the air.
The boat would anchor here but leave the next morning in the early AM to take us to the Islas Plazas, off the the east coast of Santa Cruz.