Less than an hour after our plane landed on Isla San Cristobal we were walking along the soft white sands of Playa Mann, completely surrounded by sea lions!
It was completely surreal, we knew we’d see plenty of wildlife here but weren’t expecting to see it so soon. Neither were we expecting the sea lions to be quite so brazen. One came flapping out of the sea, slowly crawled up the sand and decided that the perfect sunbathing spot was right next to me. I knew right then I was going to fall in love with The Galapagos.
We’d chosen to volunteer with a local farm and would be staying in the home of Eduardo, Lucia and their two daughters. After our airport pickup we were surprised when we were shown to our private room with our own bathroom above the family’s house as we were fully expecting to be sharing with the other volunteers. Once again we’d landed on our feet with volunteer housing.
The programme we’d signed up for saw us working 4 hours per day Monday to Friday. The work was all manual and pretty tough at times but Eduardo and his brother Carlos offered regular breaks and made sure there was a bit of variety to our days. During our three weeks we were mainly responsible for conservation work, which basically meant chopping down invasive species with a machete and planting endemic species in its place.
#2 BEACHES & #3 WILDLIFE
We’ve both seen some stunning beaches in our time; The Maldives, St Lucia, even Scotland. The Galapagos competes with all of them with its turquoise lagoons, pure white sand and jurassic like coastline. But it’s the vast wildlife you’ll see on literally every beach that makes this place so mind blowing.
Playa Mann is the closest beach to the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and it’s where all the sea lions hang out!
Punta Carola is where we finally caught a glimpse of some boobies. Scrambling over rocks and passing by some pretty intimidating looking pelicans we got damn close to the famous blue footed boobies. Definitely a trip highlight for me!
Playa Boquerizo is a 45 minute hike from the Charles Darwin Centre near Playa Mann, the route is strewn with rocks and there’s a hefty hill in the middle. If you can handle the heat it’s worth it for the empty beach and the iguanas. We had to hurdle over a couple on the way there and even spotted one whilst snorkelling. I’m not gonna lie, that thing scared the crap out of me.
Puerto Chino is the furthest beach you can access by land on Isla San Cristobal. This one is less about the wildlife (although you’ll still see plenty of sea lions) and all about the perfect white sand and beautiful waves.
Although Playa Loberia can get a bit breezy it was still my favourite spot. The light winds keep the flies away and make it pleasant for sunbathing. We visited on our second day on the island and returned regularly during our three week stay to stare at the igaunas, sunbathe with the sealions and swim with turtles. The lagoon here was a perfect spot for snorkelling.
And I couldn’t possibly write about Playa Loberia without mentioning these adorable sealion pups frolicking in the waves.
Hiring bikes and attempting to climb 25km uphill to Puerto Chino was a bad idea. The bikes were awful, mine was a tad too big and caused a serious amount of bruising to my ladyparts so we gave up after 12km. The downhill was a highlight though.
#5 THE BAKERY
The donuts from the bakery in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno were orgasmic. The apple strudel and pan au chocolat were pretty decent too!
Lucia’s home cooking beats just about everything else we’ve had in South America. I for one would be totally stressed out preparing food for five ravenous backpackers everyday, but Lucia would whip up something different everyday and do so effortlessly. From the verduras to the lobster, and everything in between, we were totally spoilt!
#7 COMMUNITY FESTIVALS
During our first weekend on the island our host family invited us to a local fiesta. Lucia and her daughters had been practising their routine for a dance competition all week and we were lucky enough to watch them in action in front of a big crowd that Friday night. The following day we were spectators at a football tournament before watching some awesome chicas take part in a horseless rodeo competition!
#8 FEEDING TURTLES
Feeding turtles at Galapaguero on the other side of the island was a twice in a lifetime opportunity for us. The first time we chopped down some trees for an hour before feeding the giant turtles and attempting numerous selfies with them. During our second trip we fed the baby ones!
#9 LEARNING SOMETHING NEW
Six months ago I wouldn’t have believed you if you said I’d be working with a machete. I learned so many new things in The Galapagos like how to mix cement, use branches as levers and to actually build stuff from scratch. Like this path we built one morning for the local library!
#10 FRUIT PICKING
Whether it was shaking the orange and lemon trees to eat as a snack during work or collecting blackberries and avocados to make jam and guacamole back at home, there’s nothing more rewarding than collecting and then cooking your own food.
#11 PLAYING FOOTBALL
I was over the moon at the prospect of a football match against some other volunteers, Alison was grateful for the exercise but less enthused about the choice of sport. Our team consisted of Eduardo, Lucia and their eldest daughter Dayana, our good friend and fellow volunteer Sierra, and a handful of locals. I lost count at how many goals Alison and I scored during our first game, our second game the following week was less successful however with Alison and I somehow managing to pull the same muscle in the same leg within seconds of each other.
#12 NEW FRIENDS
We’ve met some fascinating people on our travels and made lots of new friends along the way, and that was no different in The Galapagos. Our host family extended to the volunteers too and I hope we cross paths with Antonia, Daniel, Sierra, Sarah, Nicolaas and Abby again!