“ The Galapagos Islands are a place which never disappoints and when you go expecting nothing, you actually have more fun and see more!”
I learned some valuable things on a journey to the eastern islands aboard the Legend cruise ship in March of 2019. I had already visited the western and the central islands on the Santa Cruz II yacht, so it was time for me to see the eastern part of the archipelago. Keep reading for some of the lessons I learned while traveling in the Galapagos Islands.
Western Islands or Eastern Islands?
This is the question that almost every person going to Galapagos Islands asks when planning a trip. Many itineraries divide them (with some beautiful exceptions) so most people have to choose one or the other.
Fernandina or Espanola, Isabela West or Floreana, Isabela East or San Cristobal? You really cannot go wrong, as the Galapagos Islands are a unique destination, in that they always deliver.
The Legend Cruise Ship
The Legend cruise ship has multiple four, five, and eight-day itineraries that cover both the western and eastern islands. It was refurbished in 2017, but still retains the feel of a cruise ship of days past. The Legend carries 100 people, one of the biggest boats to travel in the islands.
Amenities include luxury rooms ranging from suites with private balconies, junior suites, and comfortable cabins; a jacuzzi and pool, a kid’s area, kayaks, and a glass bottom boat. All of the staff onboard were friendly, the food was great, and the day trips were organized so that people had space to explore the amazing eastern islands of San Cristobal, Española, Floreana, and Santa Cruz.
Many people are afraid of the big cruises in the islands thinking that it is going to be very crowded, but don´t worry! The boats have multiple guides, as the Galapagos National Park’s rules are that a guide can´t have more than 16 passengers. The Legend cruise ship divides groups into smaller numbers (mine was only 12 people) and day trips in the Galapagos Islands are designed in a way that there are never crowds.
The major concern for the Galapagos National Park is the animals, it is important for them not to get scared and rules are in place to protect them. Almost all cruises have different itineraries, even if they seem similar.
If you look closely, they have a little changes-some start on a different day or do one activity in the morning and another one in the afternoon. Everything has been planned so there are never more than 3-4 cruises at the same time visiting a site.
Most pangas are for 16 passengers, and each group starts at a different time and follow the same route but in a different way. You may cross paths with others at some point, but are never exploring together. So with this review, let’s start!
The Adventure and the Lessons Learned
My dad came with me on this journey. It was a retirement present, as the day before going to the islands he retired from public service after more than 40 years of working in his trade as an architect.
He had been dozens of times to the Galapagos Islands while working-he helped build both airports- but had never been on a cruise or as a tourist. It was something completely different that took him by surprise.
DAY 1 – Quito to San Cristobal-It’s the Journey, not the Destination!
We had an early morning Avianca flight from Quito, stopping in Guayaquil and continuing to San Cristobal Island. When we arrived at the San Cristobal airport the guides from the cruise picked us up and took us to busses that would start our trip.
We had a box lunch meal and visited the Interpretation Center, which tells the history of Galapagos in depth. There is a TON of great information there, so I would recommend that you spend some time to find a lot of fun facts about Galapagos.
My dad and I had booked an amazing Balcony Suite, and even though I asked for a twin, there was a double bed. Luckily, the friendly staff had no problem switching the bed for two twins. We had a welcome cocktail, and then it was time for our first buffet dinner. We sat down with a lovely couple from Peru/USA which we befriended for the rest of the trip.
One note about the food-breakfast and lunch were normally buffet style with an ample selection of Ecuadorian and international dishes. Dinner was served in courses-you choose your preference in the morning before heading out for the day.
DAY 2 – Española
We arrived at 11 am and disembarked half an hour later to discover Gardner Bay.
Many people get confused about Espanola’s visiting spots, as they are reached in different ways by different Galapagos cruises. In a nutshell, all cruises visit the same places.
Either Gardner Bay or Osborn beach is where you see tons of sea lions greeting you after disembarking on the beach. Also, depending on your level of snorkeling you can either snorkel in the beach/bay area or take a panga ride right in front of the beach. There is a small islet (Gardner-Osborn Islet) to do deep water snorkeling.
After swimming in the western islands, in the dry season, I was looking forward to seeing what the eastern islands had to offer as one of my favorite activities is snorkeling. After a short walk on the beach with the sea lions, I went in the panga to the islet with my dad for our first snorkel- we saw a couple of sea lions and a couple of sea turtles.
I have to say that in the western islands I saw dozens and dozens of sea turtles, swimming with colonies of sea lions, and even penguins, so I was able to appreciate more wildlife that in this eastern islands itinerary, especially in the snorkeling side of the trip, this partly due to the different seasons of the different trips, also just pure luck, as wildlife is unpredictable, it is not a zoo.
Don´t go with expectations! It is not a zoo, so you really don´t know what will appear, but the Galapagos Islands never disappoints
My dad struggled a little bit during our time snorkeling, so it definitely does help if you practice a little before going on the cruise!
In the afternoon we visited Punta Suarez, one of Galapagos major highlights, full of wildlife, especially birds, which I love. The visit was great and is one of my favorite sites to explore in the Galapagos Islands. Here we found many “Christmas” marine iguanas, which are colored in red and green, which are unique to Espanola Island. There were also an incredible variety of finches, sea lions, Nazca boobies and other sea birds.
Unfortunately, because we went during the warm season, we did not see the waved albatross, which migrates to the mainland from December to April. They don´t go all at once, but according to the guides, the last few departed just a couple of weeks before.
Even so, the place is beautiful and full of cliffs and animals. One note-be very careful as this is one of the most uneven terrains that you will find in the islands, so people with mobility problems might have a hard time on this island, as it would be a bit complicated to navigate.
DAY 3 – Floreana Island: Post Office Bay, Devil´s Crown and Cormorant Point.
Everyone was thrilled with the islands, and we were all looking forward to Devil´s Crown and its famous snorkeling.
First, we visited Post Office Bay which is always a fun visit. It follows an ancient tradition where sailors headed out to sea left mail there. If another sailor was going to a destination mentioned in the letters when a different ship passed by, they took them and delivered them personally once back at home.
The tradition continues, and it is fascinating to go through postcards and letters as you see they are from all around the world. I saw a newlywed couple putting a letter in the barrel for their future kids, to deliver it back to them when they visit Galapagos decades later. It is a very interesting visit!
After Post Office Bay we traveled to Devil´s Crown, which had really great snorkeling. People saw sharks, sea lions, sea turtles and many other types of fishes. I went a bit ahead of the group to try and see things before the rest and missed the sharks!
In the afternoon we visited Cormorant Point where we saw rays and flamingos in a wonderful landscape that is one of my favorites in islands.
In the afternoon there was an ice cream party on the deck of the boat and after the sunset, it was trivia night. They paired a couple of travel agents (myself included) against passengers, and… we lost! There were a lot of tricky questions but it made the night really funny-bringing people together to relax after days full of activities.
DAY 4 – Santa Cruz-The Awakening
We arrived in Santa Cruz, for a day that was all about giant tortoises! First, we visited the Charles Darwin Station, where you see the Galapagos National Park offices and learn what they do including their hard work to protect the environment and different species of the archipelago.
You also see giant tortoises in various stages of growth, from babies until adulthood. The famous Lonesome George is also here in his new home. It is interesting to learn his story, but also sad after seeing him alive when I was a kid. The previous time I was in Galapagos Islands he was still in New York being showed at the Museum of National History.
We then headed to the highlands to see giant tortoises living in the wild. This is definitely a personal top place in islands as my favorite animals in Galapagos are giant tortoises. Looking at them in the wild and walking right next to them, it really feels like you are one of the luckiest people in the world just for being there!
In the afternoon we had a snorkeling activity at Eden Islet. To be honest, Eden Islet was the place from the beginning of the trip that I was the least excited about, but boy was I wrong… It was one of the best snorkeling experiences that I´ve had in my life.
I was the only one that swam with sharks, as I jumped first into the water and saw two Galapagos sharks swimming around me for about a minute and it was amazing! I also saw dozens of sea turtles and sea lion; it was just incredible!
On our last night, we had a wonderful farewell BBQ dinner in the sun deck of the ship, with a great sunset with tons of food. It was a beautiful way to spend our last night.
DAY 5 – Carrion Point and flight back to Quito
On our last day, we left everything outside of our cabin before breakfast, so we could check out early and then leave for the airport to catch our flight back to Quito.
We said goodbye to all our new friends made on the cruise and I talked with my dad about how was his experience. He told me it was definitely one of the most beautiful things he had ever done in his life, and he has traveled a lot!
He was also completely worn out from all the activities, and said if the cruise would have lasted one day more he would probably not make it through it! It was so fun to see his face when I told him that actually, most people go to Galapagos for 8 days, and there are some that even go for 15 days to try and see everything!
So, after this incredible time in the Galapagos Islands, I learned a couple of things.
• Don´t go with expectations! It is not a zoo, so you really don´t know what will appear, but Galapagos never disappoints. So if you go thinking that you will see dozens of sea lions you´ll probably just see two but if you think you are lucky just to see one, then you´ll probably see entire colonies! I went to Galapagos another time after this trip and kept repeating to myself not to expect anything, and it was definitely the time I´ve seen the most! But that story will be told at another time.
• Do practice a bit the snorkeling if possible beforehand. It does help.
• In my personal experience, Western beats Eastern, in variety and quantity, which doesn´t mean that the Eastern would be a bad experience! There is a reason why a lot of people choose the eastern islands. it is entirely a personal preference, some prefer to see the marine iguanas or the albatross. In the western islands, I preferred the flightless cormorants and penguins, a personal choice.
Sebastian graduated in 2014 in Glion Institute of Higher Education in Switzerland with a Bachelor of Arts in Hospitality and a minor in Sales and Marketing and started working at Happy Gringo in 2016. He is really motivated about helping clients discover all the secrets and adventures Ecuador holds, and he will be completely at your service to plan the perfect trip!