Ecuador is Awesome – Part 5

Ecuador is one of the most fascinating countries on Earth. The amazing diversity of nature, cultures, geography, foods, activities, holiday destinations, people and languages makes this tiny country straddled either side of latitude zero a stand out destination in South America. You may think I’m biased because I live here, but I have traveled in, lived in or visited 46 countries over the last 30+ years, and Ecuador is the only country that has ever inspired me to build a house and stick around for a while.

When I began thinking about some of the great things about Ecuador that I’d like to share with people who are thinking about visiting, I found that many of my friends and acquaintances feel the same way about the same things. Therefore, in the spirit of fairness, before I sat down to write this ten-part series, I asked everyone I know who lives now or has lived or traveled in Ecuador this one simple question: “What is/was the best thing about your experience of Ecuador?” This series is all about their responses.

Four men roll the boat down the beach on balsa rollers, Flintstones-style, dragging the back roller to the front as the launch lumbers down the sand towards the sea. A man checks our life-vests, to make sure they’re properly secured. We’re in shorts and wind-cheaters, knowing the ride will be wet and cold. Our shoes are safely stowed in our small waterproof holdalls. As the small motorboat nears the edge of the water, the guide calls us over. We push from the stern, floating the boat into the waves lapping the beach. Then, as two men hold it steady, we climb over the back, past the outboard motor and scramble over a fiberglass partition to take our seats. A little rustic, it may be, but we consider it a part of the overall adventure, getting our hands dirty and our feet wet.

36,000kg of awesomeness

36,000kg of awesomeness

The navigator dips a carved wooden paddle into the waves and pushes into the sand, propelling the boat further out into the waves. When the water is deep enough, the driver lowers the motor into the gently rocking breakers and pulls on the starter. After a few coughs and a puff of smoke, the engine roars to life and we are off, skimming over the tops of the waves just as dawn breaks over the bay. The village disappears from view as we speed out to the peninsular of San Francisco on the edge of the Galera National Marine Park. The water is deep blue. The air is crisp and smells fresh. Whizzing over blue-green crests, it’s easy sit back and relax, as we enjoy the ride. About an hour later, we slow down as the driver shouts, “Over there!”

We nearly snap our necks turning to see where he’s pointing, as the huge tail of a humpback whale slaps the water to our starboard side. A spray shoots up into the air, as the giant mammal disappears below the surface. The motor chugs in the water, we creep along, looking and listening for breaching whales. As we come to rest on top of a deep reef, a mother and her calf swim by slowly, the young calf hugging its mother’s side. “It’s just a few days old,” says the guide. The mother takes her time, drifting just below the surface of the clear waters. We sit in silence as the awesome animal weighing in at around 36,000 kilograms passes by with her new offspring, heading south for the winter to feed on krill during the annual humpback migration. Further out to port side, an enormous whale breaches, leaping out of the water and slapping the surface with its massive tail on reentry. Even though we’re not that close, we are splashed with spray as the breeze carries the droplets of seawater over us. Even the normally chatty guide is speechless as we watch another two younger whales breach one after the other. The only word anyone says for over an hour is “WOW!” After a while, no more humpbacks appear and we head back to the village, feeling honored and privileged to have witnessed the migration of a few of the world’s 80,000 remaining humpback whales.

There are few sights as impressive as a breaching humpback whale

There are few sights on earth as impressive as a breaching humpback whale.

Fancy a look? Get in touch!

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Ecuador is Awesome – Part Two

Blue-Footed Booby

Colonies of the adorable Blue-Footed Booby are found all over Galapagos

When I asked all my friends about the best things Ecuador has to offer, we unanimously agree that one of the most spectacular not-to-be-missed destinations in Ecuador is, without doubt, the incredibly beautiful and mystical Galapagos Islands. Straddling latitude zero, 1000km west from the mainland, this archipelago is home to an amazing array of wildlife; numerous species you will never see anywhere else in the world abound on these enchanted islands, unusual and fascinating creatures to someone who has never visited, and yet often quite common to those who know the islands well. Landscapes – or  moonscapes – of shimmering black lava and hardy flora forcing its way through the rock to thrive in such an arid environment where rainfall is extremely scarce in many places is a miracle so fantastic to behold that it’s worth every penny to come and discover the secrets of Galapagos for yourself.

There are 10 species of Giant Tortoises in Galapagos

Giant Tortoises (Chelonoidis nigra) are the longest-living vertebrates on earth. The average life-span is over 100 years, and some live to over 170 years.

There are four inhabited islands: San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Isabela and Floreana, with an international airport on Baltra, near the abandoned WWII American military base. While the Galapageño capitol of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is on San Cristobal, which also has an airport, Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz is the most populated settlement, with its infrastructure firmly in place to serve the requirements of around 175,000 visitors per year to the World Heritage National Park and Marine Reserve. Whether tourists participate in land-based or water-based activities, Galapagos; its phenomenal wildlife, unique vegetation and breath-taking landscapes, are bound to make a life-long impression on anyone fortunate enough to experience the magic.

Las Grietas, a fissure in the lava rock, is a wonderful local swimming hole.

Las Grietas, a fissure and a swimming hole where dare-devils leap in from the cliffs.

Regardless of age, there are activities to suit every level of fitness and include a vast range of interests, from a gentle 2.5km walk to Tortuga Bay near Puerto Ayora, to a strenuous hike up the challenging slopes of Sierra Negra on Isabela to see the massive crater, which is 11km in diameter, from stretching out in a bikini under the hot equatorial sun while your launch cruises leisurely from island to island on the azure Pacific Ocean, to rolling back off the launch in your scuba gear to experience the fascinating world of Galapagos marine life 20 meters below the surface off North Seymour, from observing the Magnificent Frigate Birds bathing in Lagoon El Junco on San Cristobal, the only fresh water lake in the archipelago, to leaving your postcards in Post Office Bay on Floreana and hoping they’ll arrive at their destination at some point in the future, and once you’ve done all that, there is still so much more to do… like visit the Giant Tortoise breeding center at the Charles Darwin Research station, or just lay on a towel on a pristine beach and relax.

Divers are always thrilled to find large schools of Hammerhead sharks

Scuba Divers are thrilled to find large schools of Hammerhead sharks at Gordon Rocks.

A trip to Galapagos is, for many, a once in a lifetime experience. Admittedly, it’s a little costly to get there. Between airfares, national park fees,  and the high cost of cruises and many other vacation activities, you almost need a second mortgage just to put your feet on the enchanted islands. And because most of the food is shipped 1000km, it also costs more than on the mainland. Even so, if you spend every penny you’ve saved for this trip, just to make it one single time, you will spend the rest of your life enjoying the wonderful memories of a natural phenomena not to be found anywhere else on the planet. Galapagos is worth every penny. There are also a number of land-based and water activities that don’t cost a thing. Depending on which island you are on and, if you have the time and resources, it’s highly recommended to go island-hopping on at least two islands in the Galapagos, and you can easily find out which activities are free. Whether you’ve lived in Ecuador for many years, or have just passed through as a visitor, the magic spell of Galapagos remains with you forever.

Ask us how to get to Galapagos:

The Octopus Garden

Just after dawn, as the motorboat pulls out of Pelican Bay, we start to prepare ourselves for the dive, pulling on pre-dampened wetsuits over our bikinis and leaving them hanging half-open at our waists for the rest of the journey. Frigate birds fly overhead, their distinctive red necks deflated as they wait to see if we’re offering them breakfast. Disappointed, they soar towards a flock of blue-footed boobies hunting nearby to bully the boobies and pirate another meal.

The glorious Galapagos Islands shimmer in the bright sunlight as we speed past Santa Cruz and Baltra, Dafne and finally arrive at North Seymour. A large manta ray skims along just under the surface. At first, just a shadow in the distance, we get close enough to see the 4m wingspan of this magnificent creature, with its wingtips breaking the surface as it cruises alongside. We anchor in the channel between North Seymour and Mosquera to listen to the dive brief and finish putting on the rest of our gear: weight belts and fins, masks and finally our BCDs with tanks and regulators attached. The language of the dive has been discussed. We all know how to communicate underwater.

It's another world where nothing above the surface matters.

Twenty meters under the Pacific Ocean there is a completely different world where nothing above the surface matters.

Unless you have been scuba diving, it’s difficult to describe the feeling that envelopes you when you roll backwards into the water and then descend to the first meeting point. The only sound you can hear underwater is your own bubbles as you exhale. A small group with a very experienced dive guide, we buddy-up and head into the channel, adrift on the current which carries us along. Almost no effort is required. I barely wiggle a fin. My buddy drifts along beside me. White-tipped sharks rest of the ocean floor, letting the cool water rush over them. Minutes later, we find ourselves in the middle of a large school of yellow and black striped angelfish. We drift over impressive lava formations and colorful corals until we notice that some of the pretty pink rocks aren’t rocks at all. They’re fish. Scorpion fish.

The Scorpion fish is one of the world's most venomous species

The Galapagos Scorpion Fish is one of the most venomous species in the Pacific Ocean.

Responsible divers in the Galapagos know not to touch anything, so we are never in any danger of being stung by this cleverly camouflaged fish. Starfish abound in all shapes and colors, clinging to rocks and corals as the current sweeps over them. An octopus hides in a narrow crevice, its tentacles stretch over the rock as it moves ever-so-slowly across the rock face to find a more spacious hiding place. Enormous Moray eels peek out from their rock caves, mouths open to allow the Pacific cleaner shrimp to wash their faces for them. Outstanding service, if you ask me! During the dive we glide alongside elegant Eagle rays, and see a large school of Devil rays overhead. Concealed Stingrays shoot out from their hiding places in the sand and a large Manta ray circles overhead. A massive Pacific green turtle snoozes on the sandy bottom, ignoring us as an underwater photo-frenzy takes place above its head.

After a fifty-minute dive, we slowly ascend, making a safety stop a few meters below the surface. As we hold hands in a circle and dance, wiggling and shaking our hips, trying not to laugh out loud and lose our regulators, our friendly Manta ray sweeps by one last time to wish us farewell. On the surface, we board the boat once more, all talking at once, such is the excitement of yet another great dive in the spectacular Galapagos archipelago.

Would you like to come diving with me? Ask Footprints how.

Footprints Ecuador

  • Footprints Ecuador: Galapagos Scuba Diving Tours
    Footprints Ecuador helps you custom design and plan your trip to Ecuador, inc. Galapagos Cruises, Island Hopping, Scuba Diving, and also travel on the mainland inc. Otavalo, Cotopaxi, Mindo, Quito, Cuenca & more. Go Scuba Diving in the Galapagos!
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Galapagos – Bartolomé Island

Bartolome Island

Breathtakingly spectacular

As the luxury cruiser surges through the gentle waves of the pristine blue Pacific Ocean just after day-break, a large pod of dolphins join the boat on our journey to Bartolomé Island. In front of the boat, hundreds of bottle-nosed dolphins leap and dive, chasing and racing each other through the ship’s breakers. Passengers stand in awe at the front of the boat as this wonderful display of Galapagos marine life welcomes us to Bartolomé. As the boat slows, nearing the island, the dolphins drift away, seeking another competitor.

The air is fresh and crisp, and the day is gloriously sunny. We disembark onto a white sand beach and don snorkeling masks and fins to check out the rest of the underwater critters around spectacular Pinnacle Rock. Nearby, several Galapagos penguins, the smallest in the world, zoom past so quickly we can barely see them. As the sun rises higher, they waddle up to the rocks to sun themselves and show off for the visitors. We snorkel with Pacific green turtles, harmless white-tipped reef sharks, and a rainbow of tropical fish atop an atoll of colorful corals and volcanic lava. After a short rest on the beach, sunning ourselves amidst a dozen dozing sea lions, it is time to climb.

Crossing the molten lava of an island that was born as the result of an undersea volcano eruption millions of years before, our naturalist guide points out cacti and other small desert plants shooting bravely out of the red, orange, green and black volcanic formations. There is little rain here, very hot sun, and no shade at all. Thirsty plants cling precariously to cracks and crevices in the glistening lava, eking out an existence of harsh deprivation and thriving all the same. There are no land animals on Bartolomé, but passing herons visit the sandy beaches.

A short climb to the summit of Bartolomé reveals a spectacular view of Sullivan Bay on Santiago island and a 360-degree view of the vast Pacific Ocean and nearby islands in the magical Galapagos archipelago. It is here, in the bay between the two islands, that certain scenes from the 2003 blockbuster movie Master and Commander were filmed. After drinking in the view from all angles, we descend the island and rest briefly on the beach before sailing away, leaving the cacti to wait for the next rain shower.

Day trips to Bartolomé Island leave from Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz.

Ask Footprints how to get onboard!

Footprints Ecuador

  • Footprints Ecuador: Galapagos Cruises and Day Trips
    Footprints Ecuador will help you custom design and plan your trip to Ecuador, inc. Galapagos Cruises, Island Hopping, Scuba Diving, and also travel on the mainland inc. Otavalo, Cotopaxi, Mindo, Quito, Cuenca & more. Take a Spanish course in Ecuador!
  • “LIKE” Footprints on Facebook
    Footprints offers personal one-on-one consultation to help you plan the trip of a lifetime to Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands with no-fuss itineraries making the most of your time and your budget, catering to your specific interests and requirements.