Santa Cruz- I traveled to Galápagos Islands alone. Before I met my husband, traveling solo to destinations such as this, was something I relished. I traveled around the world alone, with a suitcase, my travel guides and a positive disposition, which is really all you need to go anywhere. Today, I adore sharing these experiences with my traveling partner, but traveling solo is something I recommend to everybody to do at some point. You are alone, in an unfamiliar place and you have to completely rely on yourself. It builds character, self confidence and the ability to dwell into a personal contemplation of the wonders before you.
Galápagos was a once in a lifetime experience of this kind for me. I say this because, sadly, tourism such as it is today in this unique and treasured ecosystem, is unsustainable. Over 100,000 visitors come every year to marvel at the wonders of the islands, and this is such a fragile site that many rules have to be observed and strictly obeyed. If you are not inclined to visit this place with a deep sense of respect and care, I urge you not to go. The fact the now even cruises can go there is, to me, a tragedy. People who choose to "see" Galápagos this way, will never really experience it. Galápagos is a pioneer in the development of ecotourism, way before it became trendy. For them, it was simply necessary. It is rough, raw, hot...no one will come to your rescue on a beach to sell you a drink or rent you an umbrella, and that is part of its bare magic.
The wonder begins as early as the airport, where you have to take a ferry to get to Santa Cruz and, and, if you are lucky, get to see hundreds of the iconic Blue Boobies flying around. You don't come to these gems of islands for the cuisine or the hotels (there aren't many, mostly B&B); you come to see unparalleled beauty. To go scuba diving or snorkeling if you don't have a Padi licence, is a must (you will not believe the sudden spray of vivid colors that will transport you to an otherworldly and ethereal fantasy, and be ready for some huge sea lions and stingrays to meet you up close and bring you back to reality) and you can do this easily by booking at Puerto Ayora directly (center of all things in Santa Cruz).
Go to the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Reserve to get an idea of how precious this place is. They take care of the status of the tortoise populations. Only 11 of the 14 original populations remain and most were on the brink of extinction. The rearing program began in 1965 with the first transfer of tortoise eggs from Pinzón Island to the new center on Santa Cruz. Here you can see them as scientists work with them.
Take an hour off the usual activities and walk up and down Santa Cruz only avenue. Wake up early and feast on the show of the fisherman cleaning and gutting fish while throngs of sea lions and Lava Herons gather to have breakfast with the scraps. When you return from the Charles Darwin Reserve, take a small detour and look to the left before hitting "town" (a couple of minutes away, really) and discover a very special hidden garden which also serves as an open ceramic museum. Most people walk past it when coming or going from the Charles Darwin Reserve, and rarely stop to go in. It's also a great quiet spot to watch the sea and the sunset.
After almost a week exploring, I improvised a picnic (no easy task here) with some basic essentials and headed to Playa Los Alemanes, where I was lucky enough to get some shade and a great rest after visiting the chilly and spectacular waters of Las Grietas, a place to swim in cool ocean water between two tall cliffs, where the earth has opened like a crack. Tortuga Bay (to swim with the famous and forbidding looking giant iguanas) and the gorgeous Isabela island are also high on the list. The obvious and unique beauty of Galápagos is everywhere, but it also has many hidden gems. You just have to keep your eyes open.
Happy small detours!