Going it alone in the Galapagos

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No entiendo. $2000 for a couple of days on the Galapagos? On our budget? A last minute trip to the Galapagos was looking increasingly unlikely until we realised that perhaps we could go it alone. Indeed, we may not have been treated to cruise-liner luxury or given access to inaccessible beasts in far-away coves, but our go-it-alone budget tour did not disappoint. It was truly mind blowing.

From the three main islands (San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabela) it was possible to see many of the islands´most charismatic species, including marine iguanas, blue footed boobies, sally lightfoot crabs, frigate birds, sea lions and of course Darwin´s finches. But they´re not Darwin´s finches; these islands and their fauna most definitely don´t belong to the people who visit them. On countless occassions we had to retrace our steps because our path was blocked by a basking marine iguana, a barking sea lion or a bemused giant tortoise. We shared the islands with the animals rather than the other way around. I was gently reminded of this on three occasions, which involved being pooed upon by aforementioned finches (small ground finches I believe) and getting in the way of an iguana who spat his briney goodness all over my chin.

Here are our top 5 things to do when you´re not on a cruise:

1. SIT AND WAIT. With time on our side, the best close-encounters happened while sitting waiting for a boat or sheltering from the rain / ecuatorial heat.

2. WALK THE BEACHES AND THE TRAILS. Although visitors are restricted from walking in many places without a guide (for good reason), there are plenty of walks you can do, including the wildlife-rich beaches of western San Cristobal, the stunning Torguga Bay (pictured) on Santa Cruz, and the trails around the harrowing Wall of Tears (Isla Isabela).

3. HIRE A BIKE. We hired a bike in Santa Cruz and chucked it in the back of a pick-up truck for a ride into the highlands, from whence we free-wheeled all the way back into town. On the way home we stopped at Los Gemelos sink holes and Rancho Permisso to see some truly enormous giant tortoises. We also popped into one of the longest lava tunnels in the world. Keep your bike helmet on and you might make it all the way through - we chickened out after about 500m due to the extensive sections of collapsed ceiling and the fact that I kept tripping over things (I later realised this was because I still had my sunglasses on. Fail.)

4. HIKE SIERRA NEGRA. A five hour steamy hike up through Scalesia forest and around the enormous caldera rim before dropping down to visit the most recent eruption cones is well worth the heat, the dust and the bargainous $35!

5. COUNT THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE BEING SICK ON AN INTER-ISLAND FERRY. The two-hour speedboat trips between the islands are both necessary and bone-crunching. But they´re certainly an experience, and can provide a great (albeit bumpy) viewing platform for diving Nazca boobies and other sea birds.

¿Cuanto Cuesta? $1000 for seven days of Galapagos glory (including flights into San Cristobal and out of Santa Cruz). Highly recommended for agraphobics or those on a tight budget! Apologies for spelling mistakes and typos - I just can´t take this keyboard anymore!!


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