Galapagos wildlife encounters

Galapagos wildlife – travel to a magical world :

The Galapagos Islands are a magical world, and one of the reasons it is so magical is because we come across so much approachable wildlife. The locals even say that the sharks are “friendly”.

Darwin’s evolutionary theory argues a natural selection and automatic evolution causing life experience beneficial mutation through the modification of descents. That is a natural evolution over time in order to adapt to their environment. In short, something that particularly appears within the Galapagos wildlife species.

I have made a list of some of the wonderful Galapagos wildlife I was able to see and capture on camera during my time there.

Birds

  • Galapagos mockingbird – Sinsonte de Galápagos / Cucube

Galapagos Mockingbird

The Galapagos mockingbird is endemic to the Galapagos islands. It is one of the original species which inspired Charles Darwin in his research. Different subspecies can be found on different islands. Galapagos mockingbirds are social birds. They have an omnivorous diet and forage anthropods, caterpillars,  seabird eggs, lava lizards, fruit, cacti, and various plants. You can also often see them running on the ground.

  • Yellow warbler – Reinita de Manglar

Yellow warbler

My most colorful Galapagos wildlife encounter is without a doubt the yellow warbler. This bird nests on vertical forks in trees. They also forage in trees, bushes, mangrove for insects mostly found on branches and leaves… The yellow warbler is widespread in the northern hemisphere and throughout the Galapagos archipelago.

  • Nasca booby – Alcatraz de Nazca

A few Nasca Boobies out at sea near Isabella Island

Nasca boobies are the largest of the boobies and thought to be the most elegant of them. Moreover, Nasca boobies have their own mating ritual dance which consists in pointing their beak to the sky. They nest on the cliffs and steep slopes, the female lays two eggs. The older chick performs siblicide: it pushes the weaker chick out of the nest.

  • Blue-footed booby – Piquero Pata Azules

Blue footed booby & soon to be chick
Blue-footed booby & soon to be chick

The beauty of the male blue-footed booby is determined by how blue his feet are. There is a ritual dance during the mating season, it is a technique to seduce the female which will be enticed by how bright the males feet are and how much she enjoys his dance. Females have darker feet and are larger than the males.

  • Red-footed booby – Piquero Patirrojo

San Cristobal – Red-footed booby

Red-footed boobies reside perching on the Galapagos flora and construct their nest there. They only lay one egg at a time. The red-footed boobies fish far out at sea to avoid competition with the blue-footed boobies and can travel as far as 93 miles.

  • Juvenile Great Frigate – Rabihorcado Grande

Great frigate

The Greater frigate is a graceful Galapagos wildlife encounter. They have the biggest wings in proportion to their body size which allows them to glide with grace. The great frigate does not have a waterproof feather coat, so while hunting for fish they usually stay above the water and catch their prey close to the surface. The male frigates have a red pouch which is more intense during the mating season.

  • Galapagos dove – Zenaida de Galápagos

Galapagos dove foraging on Isabella island.
Isabella island – Galapagos dove foraging

The Galapagos dove was part of my Galapagos wildlife encounters and is one of the endemic species of the archipelago. As seen in this picture that was taken on Isabella island you can observe how the bird forages. It feeds from the ground’s leaf litter and seeds.

  • Finches – Pinzón de Darwin

Darwin’s finches are small land bird mainly those found in the Galapagos islands which inspired Darwin’s evolutionary theory. There are now 14 different subspecies which have all evolved from on ancestral species. In fact, these subspecies have evolved to adapt to their surroundings and in vain their diet accordingly. Moreover, research has shown that finches have a gene which influences the adaptation of their beak in order to be more effective in their foraging.

  • White-cheeked pintail duck – Anade Gargantillo

The White-cheeked Pintail duck

White-cheeked pintail ducks hold their name from the white feathers they have along their cheeks and neck. The bird feeds off aquatic plants, seeds on the surface and underwater. White-cheeked pintail ducks from the Galapagos Islands are sedentary birds. They nest on the ground near the water and are also thought to be opportunistic breeders.

  • Galapagos Common Gallinule – Gallineta Americana

Isabella island – Galapagos Common Gallinule

The common gallinule is an extremely widespread specy in the western hemisphere. They spend their time mainly in brackish lagoons where they live and forage. Their feet allow them to walk in muddy waters and over floating vegetation but also to catch some of their preys. Common gallinules forage crustaceans, insects, larvas, vegetation, seeds, snails… They nest just above the water on floating vegetation and more rarely is bushes or even trees.

  • Swallow-Tailed Gull – Gaviota Tijereta

San Cristobal – Swallow-tailed gulls

Swallow-tailed gulls are the only nocturnal gulls. They have excellent eye-sight which allows them to forage exclusively at night time. In fact, the orange ring around their eye provides an oil which improves nocturnal vision, provides them with a light filter, enhances the appearance of light squid in dark ocean, and helps them identify the type of fish in the ocean. Swallow-tailed gulls use echolocation to identify, locate and source food, these sound like screams and clicks.

  • Lava gull – Gaviota Fuliginosa

San Cristobal – Lava gull

The lava gull is endemic to the Galapagos islands and is actually the rarest of the subspecies of gulls. Their name takes after the colour of their plumage as it is similar to the colour of the lava rocks on the islands. The lava gull spends most of the time along the shore and rarely flies very far out to find food. They feed on crustaceans, small fish, baby iguanas, seabird eggs, and even sea lion placentas…

  • Great Blue Heron – Garza Azulada

Great blue heron – Isabela Island

This carnivore bird feeds primarily on fish but also aquatic insects, crabs, lizards, baby marine iguanas… It spends 90% of its time foraging, but more intensely at dawn and dusk. You will often see them standing still whilst they wait to spot a fish passing by. The great blue heron typically nests in the mangrove and breeds all year round. Incubation lasts for an average of 28 days.

  • Yellow-crowned night heron – Martinete Coronado

Yellow-crowned night heron – Puerto Baquerizo Moreno

As part of my Galapagos wildlife encounters, I came across a yellow-crowned night heron in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island. Its stalks its preys both at daytime and nighttime, although more active at night near shallow waters. These birds primarily feed on crustaceans such as fish, crabs, crayfish, aquatic invertebrates… Preys are most of the time swallowed whole or sometimes crushed into smaller pieces. During the mating season, the yellow-crowned night heron grows a feather crown.

  • Black-necked stilt – Cigüeñuela Cuellinegra

Santa Cruz – Galapagos black-necked stilt

My Galapagos wildlife encounters also included a black-necked stilt. Black-necked stilts are the second birds, just after flamingos, with the longest legs in proportion to their body size. They nest on the ground just above the water and are most commonly seen in salt lakes, shallow lagoons, and flooded low lowlands. This is where they hunt for their preys which consists of aquatic invertebrates and fish.

  • Galapagos or Lava heron – Garcilla de lava

    Lava Heron

    The lava heron is another one of my Galapagos wildlife encounters. This bird is endemic to the archipelago. You can often spot them waiting patiently for passing fish on lava rocks along the coast. It feeds primarily on crabs and small fish which it encounters most of the time in tidal pools but also enjoys lizards and insects. During the mating season their legs become bright orange.

  • Brown pelican – Pelícano Pardo

Pelicans at Santa Cruz fish market

Pelicans are relatively large seabirds with short legs. They are feed off fish quite close to shore, they catch their prey by aerial plunge-diving and its bill drains the water after diving. These cheeky pelicans are trying to steal the fish from Puerto Ayora’s fish market. Brown pelicans nest in bushes, mangrove, and trees. While incubating, they cover their eggs with their feet.

  • Whimbrel – Zarapito Trinador

Santa Cruz – Whimbrel

Whimbrels when migrating can do a non-stop flight of up to 4000 kms. They are ground foragers and feed off of marine invertebrates such as small crabs and insects, their beak allows them to search deep down in the sand. They also enjoy berries and even flowers. These birds nest on the ground in open habitats.

  • Galapagos Caribbean Flamingo – Flamenco

Caribbean Flamingos – Isabella Island

Another of the amazing Galapagos wildlife encounters is the Galapagos Caribbean flamingos. They live in alkaline or saline lakes and feed or aquatic plants and crustaceans rich in carotenoids which cause their feathers to turn pink. Although, the young flamingos’ feathers only begin turning pink once they reach 2 to 3 years old.  The male and female birds build their nest together and take turns incubating the egg once laid. Both the female and male flamingo can feed the chick with the milk they produce. You will observe that the flamingos often stand on one leg, this is the way the bird rests.

Invertebrates

  • Sally Lightfoot crab – Zapaya

Sally Lightfoot crabs

These are the most colorful crustaceans on the rocky coastal shore. Sally Lightfoot crabs are feed on nearly everything from sea lion placenta, marine iguana dead skin, and parasites, all the way to also feeding on other crabs… They turn redder as they get older and molt their shell. In fact, the younger Sally Lightfoot crabs are dark, similar to the colour of the lava rocks. The more they grow, the faster they get, therefore they are not as much in need of this camouflage anymore. As their name indicates, these crabs are very light on their feet and move extremely fast on land and on water, in fact, they seem to skip/walk on water.

Reptiles

  • Yellow iguana – Iguana terrestre de las Galápagos

Yellow Land Iguana enjoying the equator heat

The Yellow Galapagos Land Iguana is one of the 3 land iguana species endemic to the Galapagos Islands. They live in the drier areas of the islands and escape the heat at midday to rest in the shade. They feed off low growing plants, cactus pads, and fallen fruit.

  • Marine Iguana – Iguana Marina

Marine Iguana napping on the beach

One of the unavoidable wildlife encounters is the marine iguana which is endemic to the Galapagos islands. It is the only iguana able to swim, live and forage at sea. In fact, they have adapted to the Galapagos island lifestyle. They feed almost exclusively on green sea algae and ingest a large amount of salt. Marine iguanas have salt glands near their nose which allow them to evacuate the salt in their blood by sneezing. Their size seems and color seems to vary depending on the islands they live on. Male marine iguanas also change color during mating season. You will often see them lying in the sun, this process allows them to gain heat as it loses a lot of body warmth whilst foraging.

  • Tortoise – Tortuga Gigante de Los Galapagos

Giant Galapagos tortoise having a mud bath

The giant tortoise is the Galapagos’ most famous animal. The enchanted islands are actually named after them, as the old Spanish name for a tortoise is “Galapágo”. The giant tortoise weighs on average 250kg but can weigh up to 400kg and live up to 100 years +, being the largest living tortoise. The Galapagos giant tortoise feed on fruit, grass and cactus pads. The rest of their time is spent resting or bathing in water. This reptile can live up to 1 year without water or food.

  • Turtle – Tortuga Prieta

Galapagos Green turtle at Los Tuneles

The Green turtle is the only species of turtles to nest in the Galapagos. These turtles are vegetarians, although the younger ones are known to be more opportunistic and to eat a bit of everything. They have glands near their eyes which enable them to cry out the excess salt in their body. These reptiles are fast swimmers and can travel very long distances. They weigh an average of 65kg and measure on average 84cm but can attain 136kg and 130cm. You can see them come up to breath at the surface in calmer water but can stay underwater and even sleep for a few hours. Although their ability to stay underwater in shortened while they are stressed.

  • Lava lizard – Lagartija de lava

Female Lava Lizard

There are 7 different species of lava lizards found throughout the Galapagos archipelago. It is quite difficult to tell them apart. The male lizard has brighter colors and the female usually has a very red throat or head.

 

Lava Lizard

 

They can be seen resting, enjoying the heat of the sun laying on lava rocks. The lava lizards are very social, although I only ever saw them alone. In fact, they seem very much like their fellow iguanas.

 

Mammals

  • Sea lion – Lobo Marino

Galapagos Sea Lions

The emblematic Galapagos sea lions are one of those Galapagos wildlife encounters you can consider you have a guarantee to have on your trip to the Galapagos archipelago.  They spend a lot of their time resting on beaches, on benches, surfing the waves and playing in the water. Consequently, the sea lions are just wonderful to watch! In fact, I never got tired of them. And I wish you are lucky enough to see some swimming on one of your snorkeling outings as they are so elegant in the water.

  • Long fur seal – Oso marino de los Galapagos

Long fur seal resting near Los Tuneles – Isabella Island

Galapagos islands also host long fur seals which are smaller than the Galapagos sea lions and have longer fur as you may have guessed. The funny thing is that we call them seals but are actually sea lions as well. Long fur seals are in the less touristy areas, they can be seen resting on by rocky shores and on lava rocks. Although they can not be seen as easily as the Galapagos sea lions, there are thought to be pretty much as many of them throughout the archipelago.

  • Bottlenose dolphin – Delfín nariz de botella

Early morning dolphin games just off San Cristobal Island

Bottlenose dolphins are a common sight in the Galapagos Islands. They are fast swimmers and elegant dancers which dazzle the tourists lucky enough to spot them. They are playful, incredibly intelligent and social creatures, they travel in pods. Dolphins communicate with whistles and squeaks as well as with their body language. The common bottlenose dolphins prey on a variety of fish, shrimp, and squid… In order to locate their prey and receive details such as their size and shape thanks to echolocation, the clicks echo back with all this information. This process also enables them to navigate the waters.

Fish

  • Whitetip reef sharks – Tiburón de arrecife de punta blanca

White-tip reef shark

The whitetip reef shark to my great surprise was one of my first Galapagos wildlife encounters. They are a common sight throughout the Galapagos islands which I had not really integrated before coming face to face with two of them! This nocturnal shark is often seen resting in shallow waters and swims very close to shore. The white tipped reef shark feeds on crustaceans, octopus, fish, lobsters, mollusks… These sharks are relatively harmless to swimmers and usually swim away when approached although they are also very curious.

  • Seahorse – Caballito de mar

Seahorse

The seahorse holds on to plants or coral and is able to camouflage in accordance with its surroundings. This skill is essential to their hunting technique as it consists of blending in and waiting for its prey to pass by. The males are the ones that give birth and stay attached to its plant or coral for the whole gestation period which can last up to 45 days.

  • Marble ray – Raya

Marble ray

The marbled ray / black spotted stingray is a much rounder shape to other species and has black spots all over. It feeds at the bottom of the ocean on fish and crustaceans. These rays are not aggressive but you need to be aware of its spined tail.

  • Spotted eagle ray – Raya

Spotted eagle ray

Another of my Galapagos wildlife encounters in the water was the spotted eagle ray. It has a pointier head in comparison to other ray species and is recognisable thanks to this characteristic as well as the spots on the top of its body. Spotted eagle rays are coastal species but have been spotted in the deep ocean as they are known to migrate.


Check out some more of my Galapagos wildlife shots here.

Meanwhile, I would just like to add a reminder with respect to the wildlife and to the national park’s rules.

  • Do not use flash photography
  • It is required to keep a distance of 2 meters (6 feet) between yourself and wildlife even if they approach you. In practice, this is not always easy. For instance, the bridge leading to Concha Perla on Isabella island is often full of sea lions which you may have to step over… However, just keep this in mind, and do not disturb the natural course of nature.
  • Do not feed the wildlife as it can cause health problems or other…

Take only pictures and leave only footprints behind. 

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Galapagos on a budget ?

The Galapagos islands: An Enchanted World

My trip to the Galapagos islands was definitely not on a budget. But I had originally intended for it to be. And if you are trying to find out if traveling in the Galapagos on a budget is possible: well I would say it is.

Whilst I was traveling around Ecuador I met so many people that had decided to skip the Galapagos because it was overly expensive, I began wondering how to do it on a budget.

An Ecuadorian friend of mine had told me that the one place I could not miss out on when I went to Ecuador was the  Galapagos Archipelago. So I just listened to him and booked myself a flight.

However, once in Ecuador, after hearing how expensive it was,  I began to worry about what this may represent in terms of budget.

This is how I traveled to the Galapagos Islands on my budget and I hope my trip may inspire you when you create your own itinerary!

Your essentials checklist

  • As you are so close to the equator in Ecuador, make sure you do not forget your sunscreen, I have never seen worse sunburns than those I saw some travelers walking around with.
  • Swimming suits
  • Anorak
  • Cash
  • Walking shoes
  • Goggles, snorkel, and flippers
  • Waterproof bag
  • Camera and/or underwater camera or case
  • On every one of the speedboat trips I went on, there was always people sick, seasick pills could come in handy for some of you.

Getting there and around and about

The only way to get to the Galapagos Islands is to fly from Ecuador through one of the only 3 airline companies to offer flights to this destination.

I believe all of them take off in Quito and make a stop in Guayaquil on the way. There are 2 airports: Santa Cruz airport and San Cristobal airport. You then go from one island to another by speedboat.

To save yourself a boat ticket and a 2-3 hour speedboat ride I would recommend flying into one airport and out of another. 

You basically have 2 travel options when you go to the archipelago:

  • A fancy or less fancy cruise
  • Stay mainland on Galapagos Islands and DIY on a better budget

However you chose to organise your trip to the Galapagos islands, the flight to the Galapagos seems to never be included into the tour packages.

Also, the entrance to the Galapagos national park is a 100$ fee.

I chose to organise my trip to the Galapagos myself on a more reasonable budget. First of all, I could not find a cruise I could possibly afford on internet before hand, but also because I like to do things at my own pace.

Reading through the cruise programs, many of the activities included are some you can do for free…

Day tours

Being that the Galapagos islands are a national park it is not allowed to visit certain areas without a guide. As a result, this means that some of the places to see will have to be as part of a day tour or a cruise.

You have to do some of the day tours if you are not going on a cruise.

Check out all the stuff you can do on your own and chose day tours to discover the rest of the island. Buy your tickets at a specialist tour shop. You will find an astronomic amount of tour offices on these tiny islands. If you are going diving go to one that sells only diving tours or looks at least the most specialised.

Chances are you will get a better price because the other offices are selling their tour, and will naturally add their margin. Consequently, remember to bargain in Ecuador! It is expected of you.

If you buy all of the boat tickets at the same office you should also be able to get a good price for them.

Food and accommodation

Food and accommodation are relatively cheap on the islands although they are more expensive than on the mainland, as you would expect when going to an island.

You should be able to have an “Almuerzo” from 5$ in the Galapagos. An almuerzo is a lunch menu, often including soup as a starter, the main dish with a choice of fish or meat, a juice and sometimes a small dessert.

As far as accommodation is concerned, you will have a reasonable choice of places to stay between 15$ to 20$ for a hostel room and private rooms.

In may 2017 a new entry rule was created requiring for accommodation to be booked before arrival in the national park as well as an obligation to have health/travel insurance. Although I did not have to prove this on arrival it is important to be aware of this regulation which will surely be implemented more strictly in the future.

How to organise your days

Keep in mind that the sunrise is around 6 am and the sunset around 6 pm all year round. The opening hours of the national park are in accordance to these hours.

When I went for a hike up to El Muro de las Lagrimas (The wall of tears) on Isabella Island I got caught out by the sunset because I wanted to go all the way there before heading back to the village.

I then had to walk back quite a long way in the dark with no battery on my phone or torch and this was not particularly fun!

I had met a couple on the way back, they were not going to go all the way to the wall. As they were on bicycles, I told them it was not that far and was definitely worth the extra little push. Fortunately, they found me walking my way back into Puerto Villamil and insisted on walking back with me as they were so happy to have gone to the end!

Meanwhile, I was extremely lucky to have some company and light to finish my route into town. However, you may not come across anybody, so just be careful and equipped for these kinds of situations!  A torch could come in handy but the best would be to get back on time!

To fit as much into my days I chose to do the half-day tours or boat trips from one island to another in the morning for an early start. This then leaves the afternoon for free activities.

I spent 10 days in the Galapagos Islands which meant I could spend pretty much 3 whole days on each Island. To me, this certainly seems like the minimum stay to take advantage of what the islands have to offer.

Santa Cruz

View over Santa Cruz from Las Grietas

Santa Cruz is the most inhabited island in the Galapagos

  • Chill on Tortuga Bay. Tortuga bay is a beautiful stretch of sand, you can watch the surfers, iguanas and sea lions surf the blue waves and rest in the sun. Above all, make sure you bring your snorkel! FREE
  • Tortuous breeding center : Learn all about the Galapagos tortuous and Darwin’s evolutionary theory. FREE
  • Snorkel in las Grietas, a canyon formed by lava. FREE
  • Diving: Galapagos is a paradise for divers. I heard that 70% of what there is to see in the Galapagos is underwater.
  • Los gemelos: twine craters FREE
  • Visit El Chato tortuous farm.
  • Wander through the impressive underground lava tunnels. FREE

Where to eat in Puerto Ayora:

Lo & Lo is a small Ecuadorian restaurant that serves typical food. I had the best “Bolon de Verde” there! Typically, the locals eat this dish for breakfast. However, they make lots of different savory bolones that are delicious at lunch and dinner as well.

Il Giardino has an almuerzo which was just more than twice as much as the ones found on the main strip but I had the best fresh tuna there and it was worth the extra.

Isabella

View from the rim of Sierra Negra Volcano

Isabella is the largest Island of the archipelago and is in the form of a seahorse.

  • Concha Perla is a natural seawater clear pool, I would recommend visiting both at low tide and high tide as you will have a very different experience. Concha Perla provides amazing snorkeling. FREE
  • Los Túneles is quite an exceptional site formed by the lava flows. It offers an amazing snorkeling experience. You will have the opportunity to closely observe black tip sharks, turtles, seahorses and more!
  • The Muro de las Lagrimas stands some 7 kms away from Puerto Villamil. The wall was built in the most horrendous conditions by the prisoners held on this island. The majority of whom died whilst building this wall now named wall of tears. They shut the penitentiary colony in 1959. Most people ride bikes to the wall. I walked. It is quite an easy hike but you need to make sure you have enough time to do it. There are many stops to make along the way. It’s a lovely walk or ride. FREE
  • Sierra Negra Volcano rises to an altitude of 1124 m and is one of the largest active craters in the world. It offers a spectacular view of Isabella Island and of the lunar landscape. The 8 kms hike is relatively easy. This expedition requires a guide in order to access the area.
  • Visit the flamingo lagoons around Villamil and do some bird watching. FREE

Where to eat in Puerto Villamil:

Shawerma Hot is a little restaurant that serves shawarmas and falafels along with delicious milkshakes!

San Cristobal

View from the hike up to las Tijeretas
  • Walk to las Tijeretas viewpoint, admire the view of the Kicker rock and snorkel in Las Tijeretas bayFREE
  • Learn about the history of the Galapagos Islands, the evolutionary theory and the effect of tourism on the archipelago at the Center of interpretationFREE
  • La Loberia beach is a small walk away from town to a very long stretch of beach. A large population of sea lions lay along the whole rocky beach. FREE
  • The 360-degree tour takes you around the entire island. The tour includes a complete circle around the island, we made a stop at the Leon Dormido (Kicker Rock) to snorkel. This spot is popular for watching hammerhead shark. Unfortunately, I was not able to see them on that day. We watched the Red-footed boobies at Punta Pitt and had a fishing session. We made a stop at Bahia Rosa Blanca, a beautiful beach. The tour also includes snorkeling at Sardine Bay where you will see many black tip reef sharks. In addition, we stopped at Cerro Brujo where we could observe Kicker Rock through a window in the rock formation.
  • Scuba diving: I enjoyed going scuba diving. However, I preferred the experience of Santa Cruz Island being that I am a beginner diver. This said San Cristobal has some exceptional diving sites for experienced divers.

Where to eat in Puerto Barquerizo Moreno: 

Midori Sushi had some great sushi and delicious fresh fish.

Galapagos on a budget – The price of Paradise

Although the Galapagos have a cost, they are all the same priceless.

I do not usually count my expenses while traveling, but I am careful with how I spend it. Exceptionally, I decided to keep count to convince everyone to visit the Galapagos islands because it is the most magical place I have been to so far. You can visit the Galapagos on your own budget.

The flight cost is from Guayaquil to the archipelago and the Lancha are the speedboat tickets from island to island. I spent 3 days on each island. Some the day tours included meals.

These are the day tours I decided to go on along with an indication of what they cost.

Santa Cruz :

Seymour island scuba diving trip (half day tour) $140 for a discovery dive. The taxi and entrance fee to El Chato, Los gemelos, and the lava tunnels was $19.

Isabella:

Los Tuneles snorkeling (half day tour) cost $90, this includes lunch, and sure seems expensive for snorkeling but one of the most amazing snorkeling trips.
Sierra Negra volcano hike (half day tour) cost $30 and included hotel pick up and lunch. You can only visit the Volcano, part of the national park, by going on a day tour with a guide.

San Cristobal:

The 360 tour takes you around the whole island, you will snorkel, watch wildlife and spend some time on the beach (day tour). The tour was a total of $120 and includes lunch. Diving (half day trip) $120 – I have to say that this trip was not necessary and not as interesting as the one in Santa Cruz for a beginner diver.

 

If you were trying to reduce your costs to travel the Galapagos islands on a better budget I would choose not to go scuba diving on San Cristobal. But I believe all the other day tours are necessary to get a real feel of the Islands.

The allocation to treats for the mind and body refers to unnecessary treats like ice cream, milkshakes, drinks … That is to say that you can easily avoid them if you are looking to spend less and travel Galapagos on a budget!

The meal budget can also be reduced as I had quite a few expensive meals such as Lobster or sushi… But it was scrumptious!

The Price of Paradise

 General ExpensesSanta CruzIsabellaSan CristobalTOTAL
TOTAL572,2309,5223383,51491,2
Accomodation806067
Meals533948.5
Treats for the mind & body 🙂17,5428
Trips159120240
Flight360
Entrance100
Transit control20
Lancha (Speedboat)90
Water Taxis5,2
Now set your Galapagos budget. If you need to reduce this budget for your Galapagos trip, think about staying longer to spread the cost and reduce your average daily budget. You could even volunteer to further reduce it.

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Ho Thuy Tien Abandoned Waterpark in Hue

Ho Thuy Tien once sparkling, now decaying

You may ask yourself why people visit abandoned places. Ho Thuy Tien lake hosts an abandoned waterpark which has become an alternative tourist attraction in Hue. 

We would all question why you would abandon somewhere. The peculiarity and mystery these places hold, intrigue us. What has happened on this property?

Well, the answer in the case of Ho Thuy Tien waterpark is bankruptcy. Not so apocalyptic after all, is it?

This park was opened in 2003 although its construction was not even finished, and it had cost an astronomic 3 million dollars to build. Later, in 2011 the park closed for bankruptcy. Were there not enough visitors? Was the park too expensive to run? Or the entrance too expensive for Vietnam? The answer is most likely yes to all of these questions.

Ho Thuy Tien waterpark just outside of Hue procures urban exploration sensations. It has mystery and amazing photogenic character that does not disappoint. Enough to guarantee you with a fun outing but may deceive those searching for urbex adrenalin.

Dragon Island

The park is built around the dragon tower forming an island in the center of Ho Thuy Tien lake. This is where you will come across the most explorers. Inside you will find a building in decomposition. My favorite room was the aquarium right at the bottom. Although the top offers an amazing view over the whole park.

Ho Thuy Tien Dragon
Ho Thuy Tien’s Dragon

Magical Events

The amphitheater seemed like the most preserved spot. In fact, we had to climb over a fence to enter. Find yourself the best seat to imagine what those shows were once like.

The Thrillrider

You will also find a room with a simulator, the “Thrillrider” which you can climb into! However, I have to say I did get a bit of adrenaline from the simulator as it is holding open thanks to a stick. Be careful you do not bump it. You may stay trapped in Ho Thuy Tien waterpark forever.

The Thrillrider

How to get there?

Ho Thuy Tien waterpark is located roughly 7 km out of Hue.

To get there you can:

  • Rent a bicycle or a scooter
  • Take a taxi or a motorbike taxi
My cheerful motorbike taxi driver

How to get in?

There is a guard at the main entrance gate. When we arrived there, the guard denied our entrance. Our motorbike taxi driver did the negotiation and asked us to pay an admission fee. I suspect they split the money between the two of them, but I was just happy to enter. Because word out the park was closed to the public.

Consequently, the guard may require you tip him to let you through. Although, I  did meet a few people that said they were denied entrance even though they had tried to tip the guard.  Therefore, you should be prepared to be refused admission.

Apparently, you can enter the park at a few different points. As a result, it may be worth investigating further to see if there is another place you can enter.

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Doel – A ghost town left to decay

A complicated history

Doel was founded in 1613 and hosted at its best over 2500 inhabitants in the 1800’s and was actually touristy at that time, but for completely different reasons. Doel was known to be a lovely, lively village where those living in Antwerp would go to escape town for the day, but times have changed. The village is now considered to be one of the most vulnerable sites in Europe due to the proximity of nuclear plants.

The village now counts just over a dozen inhabitants. It has been gradually abandoned since 2000 to make space for the project of harbor expansion. Antwerp is the second largest port in Europe and counts on keeping this competitiveness running and growing. The activity is not growing as fast as planned. In fact, the previous extension is not yet exploited to its full extent.

Will this mean they will not be needing to take over Doel after all? Or simply not as quickly as they had thought? The residents were bought out by the government and some said to be forced to leave their homes. However, a few have stubbornly remained.

Doel – The abandoned village that calls for urban exploration

This town is now reputed to be a ghost town and attracts tourists for its street art and urban adventure. It has a weird photogenic character and is a curiosity worth exploring.

Few houses are lived in whilst others are completely closed up with metallic plates and do not leave any possibility for entry. It is forbidden to break in or enter any of the buildings. Although you can very well see that some have tried, I would say that recently not many have succeeded.

You can explore the gardens, walk around the properties, take original pictures and dare your own urban exploration experience!

There is some awesome street art to check out. In 2007 the village made an attempt to develop its attraction and invited a handful of well-known street artists such as ROA, Luc Tuymans, Steve Locatelli, Pso Man. The objective was to transform the village of Doel into an open-air art exhibition. Unfortunately, this did not only attract positive visits but some problems along with it. The recent addition of metallic plates to keep urban explorers, squatters, and unwanted parties out of the abandoned buildings has ruined some of the street art.

Has Doel been left for dead or will it be making its come back? It sure seems like a significant challenge to bring this village back to life.

Until this question is answered by time, the ghost town makes not a sound. And the villagers are left living in decay.

Xieng Khuan : With our thoughts we make the world – Buddha

Xieng Khuan – Buddha park

Buddha Park counts around 200 concrete Buddhist and Hindu Buddha sculptures.  Xieng Khuan Buddha Park is located on the outskirts of Vientiane, some 25 km away from the capital city, just off the Thai border.

Although I have heard mixed appreciations about this park, we really enjoyed it. I would not say this was the most amazing place I visited in Laos. It was, however, a very mysterious and intriguing collection of sculptures which was worthwhile the visit. The ride to get there was very interesting and the park is peaceful and can be visited at any pace.  Although I would recommend making it a half day trip.

You should spend at least one hour and more to fully enjoy the wisdom this park has to offer. Each statue deserves to be seen and interpreted.

Buddhism is very important in the South of Asia. Gigantic Buddha sculptures decorate and protect sacred places and temples. This collection of sculptures is quite an alternative representation of Buddhas, very different from what I was able to see elsewhere.

We rented our scooters from our hostel. It took us almost one hour to ride to the park on the scooters although it is only 25kms away. For the reason that the road from the friendship bridge to the park is is a dirt road full of potholes, chickens crossing the road and an infinity of other rural obstacles. Furthermore, along the whole way, the Laotians were very busy working on the road, their houses, their fields…

This is my driver and friend equipped with our rented scooter and identic pink helmet.

Night market stop

On the way back from the park, we came across a pleasant night market on the right-hand side of the road. I am not quite sure about which village it was based in, but you should be able to spot the market if you pay attention driving back to Vientiane.

How to get there

  • Rent a scooter (If you can drive one and be aware that the roads are not the best quality)
  • Take the public bus
  • Day tours leave from the tourist office and hostels every day
  • Take a taxi

It could be worth visiting the park on your way to Laos or to Thailand, being that Xieng Khuan is located 6 km away from the border crossing. You should be able to negotiate a stop at the Buddha Park in your trip from or to the border.

 

 

Hang En cave Expedition

There is no better way to bring out the adventure in you than going on such an expedition. Hang En is the third largest cave in the world. It is part of the same cave system as Son Doong, the first biggest. Enough to bring your adrenaline right up.

You will notice that most cave names begin with Hang. This is because Hang is a cave in Vietnamese.

The Adventure Begins

Another early start awaits to begin the adventure. This being so we first drive through Phong Na Khe Bang National Park. The beginning of the trail will lead us to a 6-hour trek to Hang En. I am working hard not to think about the leeches we are told we may encounter on our way. Here we go, heading out into the unknown, crossing rivers and trekking through the Vietnamese jungle in the breathtaking scenery of limestone mountains and green tropical jungle. 

We stopped at the minority village of Ban Doong for our lunch break on the way. On a full stomach we went back into the rivers and the jungle again on our exhausting hike in particularly unpleasant humid weather.

Hang En Cave

This is all forgotten by the time we get there because nothing beats that feeling of arriving. When you enter the cave and pause for a moment to admire our unbelievable campsite, laid out on a white sand beach inside the cave with a natural blue water pool. 

Hang En natural pool

We all chose our tents, checked ourselves for leeches and off we went for a swim in this incredible pool inside of our home for the night.

By the time everyone was almost fully recovered from our day of hiking, Oxalis team had prepared an amazing meal. It was a feast you would not expect to be served in a cave in the middle of nowhere.

After our memorable meal, the dinner table turned into a game table. Our guides made us all play games and then brought out the cards and taught us a Vietnamese card game along with other games.

It was such a lovely evening because everyone was together, around the table, playing, exchanging, drinking rice wine (a.k.a happy water) and laughing all evening. Enjoying our unusual experience of camping in a cave, in the middle of nature.

Deeper into the cave

The next morning, the adventure really begins! After a scrumptious breakfast, equipped with our helmets and headlamps we head deeper inside of the cave. We climbed to the top of the big room we had spent our night in, in order to reach an entrance to a different room. Then, we moved deeper, to inspect the 300 million-year-old fossils. We found a place for our cave group picture moment before switching our headlights off to find that it is pitch black. Not one ray of light to be seen anywhere, to my surprise knowing that both cave openings are so grand.

 

Dancing in Hang En!

And you can only question how lucky you are to enjoy a mindblowing wonder of nature without thousands of tourists in sight. Instead, we are 8 adventurers enjoying every moment of these discoveries. 

The caves in Vietnam are beautiful. But most of them are wired with lights, paved with paths and are full of litter.

Hang En gives you the impression that you have discovered a wonderful place where no one has ever been before. And this is a privileged feeling that I would imagine all travelers are seeking.

It was by far my most incredible experience and the most amazing spot in Vietnam. And I will always remember that time I camped in a cave, completely cut off from the outside world!

Oxalis team porters and adventurers

Oxalis Tour Operator

To visit this impressive cave you will have to go on a tour. There is no way of doing it yourself without a guide. Oxalis is the only tour operator with authorization to offer tours to Hang en cave. The hike is a total of 22km and 4km of caving.

The tour was a total of VND 7 500 000, the equivalent of close to $300 which seems, at first, quite a startling price for Vietnam. The government allows is a limited number of people to visit Hang En per year. When you see the professionalisms of the team and more staff than guests including the guides, porters, chefs, bus driver… All of our included meals were amazing. All that food along with your bags are carried through the jungle on the back of Oxalis team members which justifies the price which may seem very high.

Explore more. There is matcha more to life!

 

A wander around Caddo Lake State Park

Caddo Lake

Caddo Lake State Park in Uncertain, Texas was one of my favorite places that I visited in the United States. It took a long time to find out this wonderful place hidden away in Texas. However, after finding out it was only a few hours drive from where we were, we hop into the car thinking we will drive there and hop on to a boat to visit the park. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to arrive and find out that the tourist season was over. The park was all to ourselves! Well then let’s have some alligator tail for lunch and rush off to find a boat.

Unfortunately, as it happens, the boat offices close when other tourists are not around. This certainly makes it quite difficult to visit a 103km2 State Park Lake.

No one to be seen in Uncertain, after visiting a few closed tourist offices and beginning to feel uncertain about this trip, we decided to ask a local store if they knew where we could find a boat. Unexpectedly the only other person around in the whole town was doing his daily shopping. He overheard our conversation with the shop owner. He was buying snacks and wine and told us we were lucky to have arrived at that moment because 30 minutes later he would have had a glass of wine and would be unable to drive HIS BOAT.

The usually practiced prices which were if I remember right 25$/person for a 2-hour private boat ride, we were 3. Great value to discover this amazing landscape.

The adventure begins!

Away we go, deeper into the natural beauty of this weird, peculiar but magical scene: Caddo Lake, the largest cypress forest in the world and second biggest lake in the South of the United States. It has such an impressive and mysterious atmosphere. In autumn, the colors were amazing, and their reflection in the lake, even more. The Spanish moss hanging from the cypress trees give an amazing texture to the view.

You should be able to easily spot eagles, herons, tortuous and alligators and much more!

A football match in Ecuador


Football in Ecuador is a sacred thing!

The heart of an Ecuadorian is owned by the team they support.

Even before you get to the stadium the energy in the streets is quite intense. The atmosphere only heats up the closer you get to the stadium and during the whole game.

Love, excitement, tears, anger, screams, and cries are all there, all at once. The atmosphere is awesome. The feeling of joy communicated by the cheers in the stadium is seriously contagious. There are moments were you cannot hear yourself think and then a sudden silence appears and you never know what’s coming, apart from the fact that that silence will be shortly broken by screams of disappointment or screams of joy.

Watching a football match with locals was such an amazing and unforgettable experience, it is electric!  When I was not watching the game, I was observing the lifestyle and activities going on around it. And there is so much going on in the stadium. People are busy speaking with each other,  eating, sharing, laughing, crying, singing, cheering, taking pictures, others are terribly concentrated, children are playing… There is nothing like being part of the spectators at the live football game. For the time of the game, all those supporting the same team become a big family, cheer together and share their snacks. Their imagination is captured by the players while they try to anticipate all the next moves.

I thought it was such a lovely cultural insight into an activity which is not as common with tourists and travelers as other things to do in Ecuador. Something you feel privileged to experience.

Go and check it out yourself!