August 14, 2009
The unique Galapagos Islands have long been visited mainly on live-aboard cruises on small, medium-sized or larger vessels, economic, mid-range priced or luxurious types. These options are still the most popular and provide visitors with ample and varied alternatives to choose from on 3, 4 and 7 night itineraries which allow guests to visit some of the most remote and pristine islands, within the National Park’s authorized visitors sites.
However, recent times have seen an important development of land based visits, utilizing the hotels located on the inhabited islands, mainly Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabela. An increasing number of voyagers is currently opting for a “mix” of a cruise around the archipelago followed by one, two, three or more days at one of the populated islands where they can either relax, tailor make their own daily programs, pace themselves as fast or slow as they prefer and undertake an array of activities which may go from beach, swimming pool and relaxation to exploring the towns, getting to know the people, sampling local gastronomy at the predominantly seafood oriented restaurants or undertaking more action filled alternatives such as snorkeling; scuba diving (lessons and crash courses with official certifications for beginners are available); trekking; hiking and bird watching; caves’ exploration; mountain biking in the highlands or kayaking along magnificent bays and coastline, fauna filled shores.
On my most recent visit, a few weeks ago, in addition to enjoying the comfort, superb location, great service and hospitality of Metropolitan Touring’s awarded Finch Bay Eco Hotel; I undertook a mountain bike outing in the highlands of Santa Cruz. Escorted by a security vehicle, and with a local guide, we descended from the quaint and picturesque village of Bellavista, heading north east, past placid pastures and rolling hills around El Cascajo, watching the ever changing vegetation, grasslands, cattle ranches and some movie-looking wild horses. Then, a steeper descent over a gravel road (cycle with care here…) starting to see the blue ocean and the silhouette of Santa Fe island, anchored like a giant aircraft carrier east from the southern tip of Santa Cruz. Final destination: the sparkling coralline beach of El Garrapatero, where a quick dip on its refreshing waters provided the energy to continue on with the adventure. The escort vehicle brought us higher, to the “El Chato” giant tortoise reserve area. Here, a short stop at a local farm, “Rancho Primicias”, provided the perfect place to benefit from some shade on a stunningly sunny day and to enjoy some absolutely delicious “empanadas” with melting cheese rolling over our lower face, while a cold beer served as the ideal thirst quencher…
The outing was enhanced by a hike looking for giant tortoises in the wild, which was a success, finding at least a dozen individuals in some 30 minutes, including two immense specimens that must have certainly had well over a century of age. Then it was back to the bikes to enjoy the adrenaline of riding first the gravel road from El Chato to Santa Rosa an then onto the paved road which links Baltra with Puerto Ayora, the bustling and picturesque capital of Santa Cruz Island.