Espanola Island

Last island stop before the trip is done! Espanola is the oldest and southernmost island in the archipelago, and holds one of the most diverse sea bird colonies. Because of its isolation, this island has a high level of endemism (uniqueness to a given geographical region), reflected in species such as mockingbirds, waved albatrosses, marine iguanas and others.


We made a dry landing at this location near the lighthouse. The trail – about 2.0 miles in total – was very rocky and narrow with some climbing involved.



We snorkeled in the area, then landed at Garner Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches in the Galapagos. We walked the beach, having a great time watching the sea lions, marine iguanas and mockingbirds.

Giant Galapagos Tortoises

These creatures were the feature attraction of our next stop at Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz. The town has a population of about 20,000 people, making it the largest city in the Galapagos.

We first visited the Charles Darwin Research Station, located just on the outskirts of town. This is a biological research facility established in 1964. It is focused on the conservation of Galapagos terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The center raises tortoises from eggs to adults, then releases the tortoises into the wild. They also operates a facility for raising iguanas. Both species have in the past been subject to human predators, but the role of the center has dramatically improved the population of both.

The center is a great place to visit, being well laid out with much information about the Galapagos, tortoises and other wildlife. There are restrooms, a museum with wonderful artwork and a cafe.

We also visited a privately owned tortoise sanctuary located about 13 miles from Puerto Ayora in the hills of Santa Cruz. The centers, adjacent to one another, offer a wandering tour of the grassy woods, inhabited by dozens of giant tortoises.

An interesting sidelight was the shopping areas and harbor of the small city. Many sea lions occupied the harbor benches!

Santa Cruz and Rabida Islands



Our next stop was Bachas Beach in the northern part of Santa Cruz. It consists of two beautiful beaches that combined are about one mile in length. The name originates from WW2, when the US Army left two barges discarded on the beach. The first settlers called it Bachas rather than barges.

We disembarked from our panga onto a beautiful white coral beach, a major nesting ground for the green sea turtle. we also visited a lagoon behind the beach where we saw flamingos, iguanas, a green heron and finches.



Rabida, a short cruise form Bachas Beach, has a rich russet colored beach that gleams in the sun and gives everything on it a special quality of soft beauty. The reddish hue comes from the oxidation of the iron-rich lava that is the basis for the soil. We were unable to snorkel because of the windy conditions, but we did enjoy a late afternoon landing on the beautiful beach. There were lots of sea lions – young and old – and many small birds along the beach. Sunset with the red beach colors was fantastic.


Fernandina Island

After our initial visit to Isabela, we headed across the Bolivar Channel towards Punta Espinosa on Fernandina Island.  Fernandina is just over 100,000 years old and is the youngest of the Galapagos Islands. Volcanically it is also the most active with eruptions from Volcan la Cumbre ocurring every few years. The most recent was in June 2018, so this is somewhere near the highly active Galapagos hot spot. No foreign species has ever invaded this island, so it is one of the world’s most pristine island ecosystems.

During our passage we were excited to see a manta ray majestically leaping out of the sea, followed by a large pod of common dolphins. Their acrobatics were spectacular.


We enjoyed a double dose of this sand and lava point. First we snorkeled among marine iguanas, tortoises, hog fish, boobies and a manta ray nestled into the sand. The feeling of swimming with marine iguanas was particularly neat.

Later in the afternoon we made a dry landing and strolled for about a mile along the lava and sand beach. The point was an endless “pahoehoe” (basaltic lava forming smooth undulating or ropy masses) lava flow, and offered a wonderful view of the volcano. The wildlife among the lava, sand and tidal pools was spectacular, with endless masses of marine iguana, tortoises, sea lions, hawks, pelicans, penguins, flightless cormorants and the ever-present Sally Lightfoot crabs.


Scenic and People

Bartolome Island

Next up – Batolome! This is a smaller volcanic cone east of the larger Santiago Island. The cone is easy to climb and the views are outstanding. The island is famous for its’ Pinnacle Rock, the distinctive characteristic of Bartolome, and the most representative landmark of the Galapagos. Our hikers went ashore to climb to the top of the island – 370′ – for a wonderful volcanic view of the whole island and Pinnacle Rock. The rest enjoyed a panga ride, a beach landing and later snorkeling in rather rough seas. The latter adventure – done by few – was rewarding for an experience watching a group of penguins swimming around and under the panga.

Views and People




Isabela Island

Our first overnight stop in the Galapagos was Isabela Isand. We enjoyed several activities on or around several spots on Isabela over a two day period.


This point is located at the mouth of the head of this sea horse shaped island. The rich up-welling of the Cromwell Current provides all the necessary nutrients for abundant marine life. The entire area of Punta Vicente Roca lies on the flank of the 2600′ volcano Ecuador; half of this volcano has slid into the ocean, leaving a spectacular cutaway view of its’ huge caldera.

Our activity here was a panga ride along the cliffs of the point. Although the seas were a little rough, we were delighted to see flightless cormorants, sea lions, seals, marine iguanas, pelicans brown noddy terns, Galapagos shear waters, petrels and Galapagos penguins.



The next day we made a wet landing on Isabela at Urbina Bay. This bay is located at the base of Alcedo volcano on the west coast of the island. The area experienced a major uplift in 1954, causing the land to rise over 16′. The coast expanded half a mile out, leaving marine life stranded on the new shore.

We landed on a black and somewhat rocky beach, and walked about half a mile into a forested area along a strictly controlled footpath. On the walk we encountered numerous Galapagos giant tortoises and land iguanas, as well as hawks, finches, mockingbirds and warblers. We also learned that up until the early 2000’s there were many goats in this area, which have subsequently been eliminated because of their adverse effect on the foliage and thus the natural inhabitants.


Land Iguanas



Carpenter Bee




Tagus Cove, named for a British naval vessel that moored here in 1814, was used historically as an anchorage for pirates and whalers. One can still find the names of their ships carved into the rock. The cove is approached through the Bolivar Channel.

Some in our group landed, and hiked about a mile uphill, mainly to enjoy a wonderful volcanic view and Darwin’s lake. Others chose a panga ride along the cliffs and the tuff cone formations. These provide a wonderful shelter for many boobies, penguins, brown noddy terns, sea turtles and sometimes whales and dolphins.

We also had an opportunity to snorkel in this same area. A special treat was an encounter with a sea horse (unfortunately we have three short videos but no still images).

Galapagos Island Paradise

The Islands

The Galapagos Islands are a volcanic archipelago straddling the equator in the Pacific Ocean. Situated about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the islands – a province of Ecuador –  are one of the world’s foremost destinations for wildlife viewing. The islands offer a broad diversity of plant and animal species, many found nowhere else. Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos on the HMS Beagle in 1835; his observations later inspired his theory of evolution. The islands also provided a base for whalers and pirates. The former nearly wiped out the tortoise population in the 1800’s, taking them on-ship as a lasting source of protein. The first recorded visit to the Galapagos was that of the Bishop of Panama, who accidentally discovered them on his way to Peru in 1535.

The chain consists of 18 main islands, 3 smaller and 107 rocks and islets. Isabela, shaped like a seahorse, is by far the largest at about 2000 square miles, 75% of the total land mass of the Galapagos. Named after Queen Isabela, the island has six volcanoes,  rises to 5600′ and is bisected by the equator. The youngest and adjacent island of Fernandina (named after King Ferdinand) has extensive lava fields, home to many interesting species The distance from south to north (Espanola to Darwin Island) is 137 miles. Four islands are inhabited, with a total population of about 25,000 people; only 3% of the total land mass is inhabited.

The geology of the islands is relatively young. There are numerous contemporaneous volcanoes , some with eruptions as recently as this year. The westernmost islands and their volcanoes are youngest, and are taller with well developed calderas.

Darwin visited four islands over a period of six weeks. He spent a considerable part of this visit studying volcanic activity and structures. He also noted that the mockingbirds were different island to island, and he collected dozens of birds to take back to England. He noted post trip that, while different and unique to each island, most of the birds were finches. This discovery started the development of his thought process on evolution.

Ecotourism in the Galapagos has grown substantially over recent years, with about 220,000 visitors in the latest year. 97% of the archipelago is a National Park, and ten islands are accessible only by sea. Ecuador has permitted these visits despite very strict conservation policies. Visitor sites are very limited, with only 54 permitted land sites and 62 scuba/snorkeling sites. Landings are limited to 20-25 people at a time, and the allowed walking areas are tightly controlled. While there are multiple tourist ships visiting each island at one time, these are typically smaller cruise vessels with 10-100 passengers only. Each vessel is limited at any given site to once per two weeks.

Our Visit

Typically the duration of a  Galapagos cruise is one week, Saturday to Saturday.  Our group of ten flew from Quito to the small island of Baltra (an old US Air force base), adjacent to the larger island of Santa Cruz. We were transported by bus to an ocean-side landing area, boarded on pangas (inflatable dinghies or zodiacs) and transported to our home for the next week. This was the Evolution, a 32 passenger cruise ship, really a motor yacht, owned by Quasar Expeditions and operated for our visit by International Expeditions. The spacious cabins (140 to 260 square feet) are situated on three different levels, with the lounge, office and dining ares between. The ship, refurbished in 2017,  has a length of 192′ and a beam of 29′. It is operated with a crew of 18, plus two well trained Ecuadorian naturalists. Our guides, Cris and Bolivar, were outstanding – and lovely people to boot.

The yacht is comfortable, the crew like family, the food wonderful and the activities delightful. A typical day consisted of at lease one island landing,  snorkeling from the panga (followed by a hot tub visit!) and a panga ride along the shoreline to view birds, penguins, sea lions and the like. Three lovely and delicious meals, ample beverages and a highly informative lecture were included.

Our cruise was designated as the Darwin route, from Baltra past Daphne Major to Isabela and Fernandina, back to Bartolome, to Santa Cruz and Rabida Islands, a stop at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz  to visit the Darwin Research Station and to see giant tortoises in the cloud forest, on to Espanola and finally to San Cristobal. We flew from there back to Quito after an absolutely wonderful experience.


A Trip to Otavalo

Our second day in Quito, we journeyed about two hours north to Otavalo in Imbabura province. Our goal was the native craft market in that town. The bus route takes the Pan-American Highway, and along the way we passed many plastic sheeted greenhouses where roses and other flowers are raised. Cut flowers – particularly roses – are Ecuador’s third major export, after Oil and bananas.

Our first stop was at Quitsato, some 47 KM northwest of Quito and near the town of Cayamba. The point of interest here was a monument of sorts to the equator consisting of a 52 meter diameter paved circle with a line representing the equator across its’ center.Interestingly there has been an archaeological center for thousands of years, with constructions recognizing the center of the earth straddling the equator line; the people apparently recognized long ago that the earth was round. They used the presence of large land masses (volcanoes) to position these constructions. This present-day site is advertised as the ideal point to stand in both hemispheres at the same time, as most other sites are quite inaccessible (oceans, rain forests, etc.)

We than stopped at an overlook called Miralago with views of a lake (Lago San Pablo) and a volcano system with three peaks (Imbabura). Coffee, snacks and shopping added to the views, and we boarded two young native girls selling hand woven scarves.


Next stop was the town of Otavalo, a fairly good sized place well known for its’ market. The town is located in Imbabura province and is surrounded by volcanoes including the three peaks of Imbabura. The market is situated in Plaza de Ponchos, and is populated by traditionally clad indigenous town people selling textiles and other handicrafts. It is a good size, and has much to offer. We left the market to visit a local industrious household with several looms, busily manufacturing scarves, purses and other goods.


Our last stop was at Hacienda Pinsaqui, a local hostelry and restaurant just outside Otavalo. This is a 1790’s vintage colonial house, with tile floors, sheepskin rugs, whitewashed walls and lots of period furniture. The latter was all hauled by mules from the seafront. Simon Bolivar apparently used to stay here. We were treated to a very nice Ecuadorian lunch before our long trip back to Quito.