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After clearing into the Galapagos Islands at Santa Cruz, David and I set out to explore all that Santa Cruz, Galapagos has to offer.
About Santa Cruz and the Galapagos
The Galapagos Islands are a small archipelago of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean. They are, politically, a part of Ecuador. Santa Cruz is the second-largest island in the Galapagos and is the most populous of the islands.
Charles Darwin Research Station
Monday the 28th we got a water taxi and went into town. We did a little bit of walking around, doing recon at dive shops, travel agencies, and the stores. Then we headed out for the Charles Darwin Research Station. This included a stop at the National Parks Visitors Center and Playa de la Estación. We saw many iguanas out in the wild (even swimming!), pens with different kinds of tortoises in them for the breeding programs, and learned a bit about what research goes on in the facilities. The whole compound is under construction, and our visit was entirely outdoors. The construction is a really beautiful series of buildings planned to house a lot more information. Not a great stop right now, but I bet it’ll be great after the construction finishes.
Back in town, we grabbed some ice cream and we booked a scuba trip for the next day.
Diving with Academy Bay
Wednesday we did our dive with Academy Bay Diving. The staff was all really great. We did the North Seymour Island dive. We got up and at ’em at 5:45 in order to be at the dive shop at 6:40. Thankfully the water taxis run 24/7. The dive shop served a small breakfast and then we packed up for a short drive. We got on a dive boat and headed to the island.
First, we stopped for a general briefing and to test out our weights. The water here was shallow and sandy, so we put our gear on and hopped in. There were seven of us for the dive, and one guy doing a Discover Scuba lesson, which ran in between the main dives. From the boat, we could watch the frigate colony on the island, and although we’ve been seeing frigates for months, we finally saw some of the males with their red, inflated throats.
While the Discover Scuba class was going, the 7 of us were free to swim around. Academy Bay did not provide snorkels, but David and I had brought our own masks and snorkels, so we got to snorkel around. We saw large parrotfish and angelfish.
Next, we took off for the two dives. We picked this dive to see the large animals. That part did not disappoint! We saw:
- Hammerhead sharks (David’s favorite)
- Galapagos sharks
- White tips reef sharks resting on the bottom (my favorite)
- Manta rays
- Spotted eagle rays
- Thousands of garden eels
- One sea turtle
It was an interesting experience, especially compared to our last dive with Noam and Dalit in the BVIs at the Painted Walls. The Painted Walls were full of coral and colorful small fish. This dive at Seymour was sand and blue vastness interspersed with something very exciting swimming through your line of sight. Our GoPro gave us some problems on the dive, so we don’t have any of our own footage. Awesomely, our dive trip included the footage taken by the dive instructors.
We got up early to beat the heat and walked out of town to Túneles de Mirador, a lava rock formation. To get there from the central square, we followed Avenue Padre Julio Herrera, the only road that leaves town. The entire walk was almost 3 km and took about 45 minutes and it was quite hot – reminiscent of the southwest US. We arrived at 9 and had the whole place to ourselves!
Lava tunnels were formed when lava flowed in different channels across the land. The top layer of lava cooled and the bottom layer continued to flow. Then the volcanic eruption ceased. Over time, collapses in the tunnels opened them up to human exploration. The whole tunnel walk was about 50 meters and took us about 15 minutes. Then we chugged back to town.
Learning from the hike to the tunnel, on Saturday we got up even earlier for the hike to Las Grietas, a fissure rock formation with snorkeling. This location is rumored to be really busy so we wanted to arrive as early as possible. You take a water taxi to the Angermeyer dock (you can tell them Las Grietas and they get it) and from there it’s easy – follow the signs!
We arrived at the site at 8 am and were all by ourselves. There are three pools; the first one is long and deep, the second rocky and shallow, and the third long and deep with large fish living in it. We had heard of people showing up and getting turned away because it was too crowded. The sign says maximum capacity of 48 people!
We even saw a bright blue eel in the first pool. The water is amazingly clear and deceptive. I read that it is 65 feet deep! Afterward, we walked the trail that runs alongside the chasm. It provided us with nice views looking down and a view over Academy Bay.
Say Hello to the Locals
The pier at Academy Bay is full of the natives – sea lions! During the day you can catch them snoozing on the dock, and at night they play in the underwater lights.