23. Ecuador – Galápagos Islands & Quito

Five days in the uniquely diverse islands of the Galapagos and a long weekend in Quito made up a compact but awesome visit through Ecuador

Galapagos – 16 May

After over a month in desert and mountains it was time to get back to the sea- luckily there’s a decent spot in the region. I got in by flying from Lima to Quito, sleeping a few hours in a airport hotel and carrying on to Baltra airport on the north side of Santa Cruz Island. Santa Cruz is the “hub” island, sitting centrally in the archipelago and housing the largest settlement of Puerto Ayora where most ferrys to other islands leave from.

As I only had 4 full days on the islands, I decided to stay on Santa Cruz rather than waste whole days travelling to another island. This worked well as my main desire was to dive – and Puerto Ayora is a good base from which to do so. I dived days 1, 3 and 4, two dives and lunch a day for $160, steep but well worth it!

Short trip from Baltra to Santa Cruz

Day 1’s dives were at Daphne and Mosquera, Day 2’s at Seymour and Mosquera and, best of all, Day 3’s were both at Gordon Rocks. Whilst the visibility wasn’t great and the underwater terrain not particularly amazing – the wildlife was easily the best I’ve ever seen diving. We saw sharks on most dives and plenty of fish species, turtles, mobula rays, trumpet fish, eagle rays but the best was to come last. Our first dive at Gordon Rocks was incredible, these isolated rocks with strong currents are only for reasonable experienced divers and are famed for large schools of Hammer Head sharks. 

My favourite
Mucho mirrors
He shouldn’t turn his back on me!

It started with a few big colourful schools of fish before a few galapagos sharks drifted past. After a large school of eagle rays passed right next to us, a family of eight white tip reef sharks circled us for a few minutes. We moved into deeper water away for the rock and spotted a hammer head drift out of view.. damn .. I’d missed it! No worries it came back, and in greater numbers. A school of 15 or so hammer heads around 2-3 metres long calmly and slowly swam right past us, no more than 3 metres away from me. Surprisingly I had no fear at all in that moment, just awe at their grace! They circled back round a few more times letting me get plenty of shots on the Go Pro before we had to ascend.

Best dive moment of my life- 15 hammerheads
White tips

There’s a video of all my dives on my Instagram Peters.Lloyd

My only day on dry land wa spent going up to visit some craters (average), lava caves (rubbish) and a giant tortoise farm (awesome). These guys are so big is crazy and move about in the laziest way possible from fruit to fruit. The farm let’s you walk freely around and get really close to the animals without fencing or crowds- I had a private and intimate chat with one. In the afternoon I hiked over to Tortuga Bay to see the also huge and lazy marine iguanas and sunbath a bit by the calm lagoon.

Giant tortoises fighting / mating
Marine iguanas sunbathing at Tortuga Bay

Puerto Ayora is pleasant enough town for a few days in spite of its relatively dense development and tourist feel. Food and drink wasn’t as expensive as people would have you believe and there’s a nice buzz- but when I come back it’ll be to do a dive / nature cruise… just need more money!

Quito – 22 May

Ecuador’s capital is another place not held in high regard on the backpacker circuit, in my opinion unfairly. I stayed right next to the Mercado Central, a short walk away from the old town. It was also close to two micro breweries with good pub food- perfect when you have two mates to catch up with; I met Matt and Rachel in Egypt two years earlier and had also just come back from the Galapagos! 

Mercado Central
Don’t mess with Quito’s police!

A good walking tour showed us round the old town- a pretty and friendly grid of cobbled streets and colonial buildings with large leafy squares. Ecuador’s history shares much with that of the other South America countries but the modern economic history is unique, with the official currency being the US Dollar. The best views of the old town were from Basilica Del Voto Nacional which lets you climb up ropey metal ladders up the spires.

View from Basilica del Voto Nacional

The main tourist site is just outside Quito, 45 minutes north on the equator. There are more than one ‘equator’ in Ecuador and indeed Quito. The biggest and most we known is apparently technically not quite in the right place and so we went to a smaller one 200m to the north. I don’t think that small a distance makes any difference but it came with a free tour which was informative. They pulled the usual ‘water spins in different directions’ trick either side of the line; as I know this is 100% a hoax and not the coriolis force in action I was intreaged. After whacking out my physics degree credentials, our smiley guide conceded that it’s just the way she pulls out the plug- very sneaky.

One foot in each hemisphere
One hand in each hemisphere
Balancing an egg- the equator factor is non existent

Rejoined now by Tom we got up early to catch a bus north to the Colombian border. This meant getting to the north bus station which is easier said than done in public transport. Quito is shaped a bit like Chile and it meant us travelling the length of the city on the confusing Auto- Bus / tram contraptions, however for 50 cents one can’t argue! It got us there just in time for a direct bus to Tuscan and Colombia! 

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