February 16th
written by Alonna

A peek at the Galapagos

A peek at the Galapagos

After our 4-day cruise, Ben and I stayed 6 more nights on the Galapagos islands. Our primary reasons for staying longer were:
    a) we had time before our flight out of Ecuador
    b) we heard that you can stay on the islands cheaper than a cruise and take day trips.

So we ended up on the main island, Santa Cruz (Puerto Ayora) and another island Isabela (Puerto Villamil) for three nights each. Staying on the islands gave us a completely different perspective of the Galapagos. When you’re on the cruise, you see these pristine, uninhabited islands with the native plants and animals – virtually unchanged for millions of years. The guide talks about history and preservation and you almost feel like you’re getting a secret glimpse of another planet. It’s not that this impression is misguided, it’s just a very different picture than you see from the Galapagos towns.

Untouched Galapagos

Four of the 15 islands are inhabited. The biggest city, Puerto Ayora, feels like any other island or beach town. Paved roads, taxis, markets, pharmacies, banks – you name it, it’s a regular city. In the highlands, people are farming and raising cattle, and on the coast they’re fishing and taking tourists on snorkel and diving tours. Over the last 100 years, immigrants and tourists have brought countless plants, animals and insects to the islands, many of which threaten the endemic species. The National Park and Darwin Research Center are working to combat this, but there’s already been a lot of damage, and some species are already extinct. It’s a sensitive issue, because the local population believes in their right to live off the land and sea as they have for many years, but as a visitor, it seems so wrong to destroy one of the few untouched places on Earth.

Puerto Ayora  Isabela

The other island we visited, Isabela, is much less developed. It’s a small, laid-back town with dirt roads and friendly residents. Our 20-something hotel manager became our local city guide and walked us around town and hung out with us the first evening. Our taxi driver became our tour operator, hooking us up with a bay tour on his own boat and a volcano tour with a local guide. At first we felt totally out of our element – we aren’t used to a place where tourists are a small minority. But after a day I really enjoyed being off the beaten path, especially in such a beautiful and unusual place.

Anyway, it was very interesting to see this side of the Galapagos. At the end of our 6 nights, we both agreed that it was a little long. Although it was interesting and we enjoyed a few fun activities (more on that in the next post), I think we could have skipped the island stay all together – especially if we traded it for a longer cruise. The magic of the Galapagos is on the uninhabited islands where you feel like you’re witnessing something special, not in these port towns that exploit the land and tourists pocketbooks. I’m very interested to see what happens in the Galapagos in the future. It seems inevitable that the introduced species will continue to fight off the native ones, and the population will continue to grow, along with tourism. Maybe Ben and I will return in 30 years and compare. I hope that nothing has changed.

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