Let’s Go Exploring! Galapagos Part 2: The Giant Tortoises of Santa Cruz

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FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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This is Part 2 of our trip to Galapagos. Click here for Part 1.

One of our bucket list items for the Galapagos is to see a giant tortoise. After all, the word “Galapago” literally means “saddle”–a term used to describe the shells of the tortoises they were famous for.  Also, they are particularly special, as there are only two places in the world were you can see them—Galapagos and the Seychelles in West Africa. Since we spent most of our time on San Cristobal island with the seals and sharks, when we left for Santa Cruz island, we made sure Tortoises were on the top of our list.

One of the biggest attractions on the island is the Charles Darwin Research centre, where we got to not only see the giant Galapagos tortoises, we got to find out all about how they breed new tortoises and all the conservation efforts put into sustaining the species. What I wasn’t expecting was how much going to a research center would make me reflect on my own existence.

We’ll get to the heavy parts of going to the center in a bit, but first let me tell you about all the things Santa Cruza had to offer.

One of the biggest advantages of staying on Santa Cruz island is all the things you can do. Despite it being the most developed and inhabited island and was more crowded than San Cristobal, it never felt too touristy.

Here’s a list of the incredible places we visited:

The Fish Market:

We thought we’d seen it all when we went to Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market. But turns out, the Santa Cruz Fish Market had even more action.

Pelicans waddled up to fishermen chopping up today’s fresh catch, flapping their wings and squawking, begging for fish parts. Seals barked alongside the pelicans, pretending to be helpers to see if they too can steal a fish.

That’s the thing I loved the most about the Galapagos. No matter which island you’re on, there’s always plenty of wildlife action, especially with adorable seals trying to sidle their way up to the counter, as if to say “Hi there! I can help! Let me guard this fish with my mouth!”

Las Grietas

Las Grietas means “crevasse” or “crack”. An appropriate name, considering it’s a stretch of aquamarine water between two cliff faces on each side. The crystal clear water allows you to see all the way to the bottom and because it’s fed by an underground river, there are no waves, making it perfect for swimming (kind of like the Cenotes we discovered in Mexico).

Photo credit: Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

We even met some friendly critters as we got into the water.

It was so clear, I could see all the way to the bottom and I didn’t have to worry about swimming against any currents.

Getting to the Grietas was also super easy. We simply took a water taxi for $0.80 USD from the pier at Puerto Ayora and got off at Angermeyer Point. At which point we realized, “hey isn’t Angermeyer the last name of our Airbnb host?” Turns out, after talking to him at dinner, his ancestor is one of the first settlers of the area and own many restaurants and shops on the island. No wonder our Airbnb house was so massive with its own maid and swimming pool. We were staying in the house of one of the founders of the town. So cool!

On the way to Las Grietas (it’s about a 10 min walk), we came across a strange open field flooded with pink-colored water. Turns out that’s how they dry out the sea water and harvest salt. So we’d apparently found the salt flats.

After that, we came across a beautiful beach where I found a spotted purple stingray resting in shallow water. So even though the las Grietas is what we came for, just the path to get there was full of wonderful surprises. And this time I didn’t even get lost or fall into any cactuses!

Tortuga Bay

One of the most beautiful beaches on the island was actually a bay that takes about an hour walk to get to. The good news is that the path is neatly paved and easy to walk on so you don’t even notice how long the walk is. Most people stop when they get to the beach, which is beautiful but wavy enough that it’s more suited for surfing than swimming. We decided to keep walking down the beach. Good thing we did, because as you turn right at the end of the beach, there’s this hidden bay surrounded by mangroves that’s acts as a wave break, making it the perfect place to swim.

Rancho Primicias

This is sort of like a farm except, instead of cows, you have giant 100-year-old tortoises taking a gazillion years to walk from one tree to another and eating grass at a speed that makes grass-growing seem fast.

To get there, we took a cab from the pier. It cost around $35 USD there and back for the 2 hour tour, including a trip to the nearby tunnels. This ended up being a much more natural experience than seeing tortoises at the research center, as we were able to walk around and see the tortoise up close rather than behind a fence.

Unlike the seals, the giant tortoises were shyer and would shrink into their shells when they saw a human walking nearby. But I did manage to find one eating grass, and he didn’t seen to mind when I sat down in front of him on a bench to eat my lunch.

We used up every minute of our allotted hour wandering around the place and capturing these action-packed shots of our new BFFs:

 

Here’s a video of a tortoise we named “Speedy Gonzales” making a break for it:

 

The Tunnels

Less than 5 min drive away, we found volcanic tunnels that were completely empty and free for us to explore. It was cool, dark, and the perfect place to get a little lost in after the brightness of the afternoon sun. But if you’re claustrophobic, the tunnels would probably not be so fun since there was this part that you had to crawl under, where the rock is only a few feet from the ground. I got to practice my penguin impression by flopping on my belly, so that was fun.

Los Gemelos

Los Gemelos means “the twins” in Spanish and they are two crates next to each other formed by the collapse magma chambers of two volcanos. Not the easiest to get to, since you have to take a cab from Puerto Ayora, but luckily it was on the way to the airport ferry, so the taxi driver was nice enough to stop and let us have a look before our flight out.

 

Okay, so I said at the beginning of this article I’d tell you all about how the Charles Darwin Center made me reflect on my mortality, so here goes.

I never expected to reflect on existentialism after seeing a stuffed giant tortoise, but that’s exactly what happened.

The staff at the Charles Darwin Center opened the doors to a dark room and ushered us visitors in, single file.

A hush fell over the room as we saw the large black shadow in a glass box in the middle of the room. The air felt cold, a shocking change from the balmy temperatures outside.

Someone flicked on the light switch and the large black shadow revealed itself :

photo credit: By Info2Learn (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

“This is Lonesome George.” A guide from one of the visiting groups said. “He died on June 24, 2012 of cardiac arrest. On that day, his species, the Pinta Island Tortoise became extinct.”

The guide then went on to explain, how as sailors brought rats, dogs, and other foreign animals to the Galapagos islands, the predators began devouring the Pinta Island tortoise eggs and killing baby tortoises. And since these giant tortoises could survive up to a year without food or water, they were brought onto the ships as food supply by the thousands. Since tortoise oil was also useful for lighting lamps, they were used for that as well. So you can see why the tortoises’ population quickly become decimated from predators and sailors.

Prior to Lonesome George’s death, there were many attempts to prolong his species. A $10,000 reward was even offered to find him a suitable mate. But sadly, lonesome George would live out his name until he died.

And now we were all staring at his stuffed, refrigerated body, seeing the tortoise that, just a few years ago, had been the most rare species in the world.

The silver lining is that the centre is breading new giant tortoises, so while we were there we also got to see baby giant tortoises (which looked a lot like normal-sized turtles).

Since these giant tortoises are the world’s longest-living animals with lifespans of up to 100 years or more, we found out we wouldn’t live long enough to see the baby giant tortoises in the center grow to full size. Which kind of makes you think about your own humanity and face the limitations of your lifespan.

That got me thinking about what I would leave behind once I was gone.

For some people it’s children. For others it’s legacy, or positive impact on the world. Or it could be both. Or neither.

I wasn’t quit sure what mine was going to be, but I was glad I got the chance to reflect on it.

Who knew a trip to a research center would get so philosophical?

Anyway, so after that whole experience, I realized the take away from Santa Cruz is that, even though it’s more developed and populated than San Cristobal, that moment of reflection in the Charles Darwin center made it super special for me.

Our next stop would be Isabela, the least inhabited island of the three. Little did I know getting there would be the biggest battle of all–which I will tell you about in my next travel post.

Here’s how much we spent on Santa Cruz:

Category Cost in USD/couple Cost in CAD/couple Notes
Accommodations: $59 USD/night $74 CAD/night Our fancier digs on Santa Cruz came with a swimming pool, maid, free breakfast, and was only a 5 min walk from the pier. 
Food: $14 USD/day $18 CAD/day ($8/day for eating out, $10/day for groceries) Eating out and groceries were very affordable, especially since breakfast was also included.
Transportation: $22 USD/day $27 CAD/day Since costs of flying into the Galapagos were already accounted for in San Cristobal, the only costs for transportation on Santa Cruz was the $30 USD/person for the ferry, the $35 for 2 for the taxi to the Tortoise farm, the $12 USD tax to the airport on our way out after splitting with another couple, and a few quick water taxi trips for 0.80 USD each way. Amortized over 5 days, that's only $22 USD/day.
Entertainment: $2.40 USD/day $3 CAD/day Entertainment was essentially free because there were so many free gorgeous beaches and swimming holes to visit. The only thing we paid for was to rent 2 snorkels for $3 USD for the whole day.
Total: $98 USD/couple/day $122 CAD/couple/day As I mentioned in Part 1, the most expensive part of going to Galapagos was the flights to and from Quito and the park entry fees. After that, accommodations, transportation food and entertainment are pretty reasonable.


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26 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Galapagos Part 2: The Giant Tortoises of Santa Cruz”

  1. Another great Galapagos travel post FIRECracker! I never tire of these posts!

    The wildlife looks really…. err… friendly there. 😉

    This post seems far more affordable than the last one with the flight costs. I’m curious to see combined costs for the entire trip.

    I might decide to take the kids one day!

    1. Yeah, the costs were crazy for the first week because of the round trip flight costs, the park fee, and the Scuba diving. That’s why if you stay on Galapagos longer the costs gets spread out. I was pretty surprised how affordable week 2 was too.

  2. “So even though the las Grietas is what we came for, just the path to get there was full of wonderful surprises.”

    As with any destination, including FIRE: Remember to enjoy the journey and to appreciate all of the moments along the way. It’s easy to be so future-focused that we look right past the present!

    Thanks for sharing, FIRECracker 🙂

  3. The caption on the tortoise picture at the top should be “It’s not just my shell, it’s my retirement too.”

  4. Yes!!! The turtles!!

    And the fish market is awesome!! Please tell me that you needed up eating in the restaurant area where the locals eat. We got lobster a la plancha for like $15. It was awesome.

    What a great trip! Jealous and makes me want to go back and spend more time.

    1. Oh yeah, we ate all local food (thanks to your tips!) Cheap and awesome. I remember that whole street of local food (the name escapes me at the moment) that we kept going back to. Loved it!

  5. Just to let you know that my favorite part of your blog are your travel post. Love to learn about new places and the cost of living there. Do you speak Spanish? Please let continue to bring them to us. Thanks!

  6. Hi FC,

    I received news that there is an earthquake in the region. Hope that everything will be fine with you guys.

    Ben

  7. The Galapagos is a special place! Everything about it is just magical. I especially loved the fish market line goers and the tortoises too. Oh and Tortuga Bay! Ok, everything, I loved everything about it, except how much more expensive everything was on the islands compared to the mainland of Ecuador. BTW, I’m loving the videos that you guys are putting in these days. Go Speedy Gonzales Go!

    1. We had nothing to compare to because we hadn’t been on the mainland long before going to Galapagos so I was thinking “wow, everything’s so reasonably priced!” Guess everything’s relative 🙂

      Speedy Gonzales is the best. He makes me appreciate the speed at which paint dries.

  8. Hi, this is a really random and unrelated question:
    Does the Millennial Revolution site has ads on it?

    I think I read in one of the early posts that the plan was for the site to not have ads. I never noticed any in the past.

    I am traveling now and browsing from another country (I am usually in Canada) and I am seeing ads on the site…

    Did I just never notice the ads before?

    1. I’ve never said the plan is to never have ads, but I did say we will only affiliate for products we use and love. There have always been ads (strategically placed so they don’t distract from the reading experience), and we use the proceeds from google adsense to cover server and mailchimp costs.

      1. Thanks for replying. I have no issues with ads supporting your costs.

        I never really noticed them when browsing from Canada, I guess our politeness means that “unobtrusive ads” really are unobtrusive. Where I am now they were more obtrusive than in Canada (I really never noticed the ads before!) and I was curious whether the local ISP is somehow injecting ads to the site (again, because they seemed like they just showed up since I travelled).

        It is more of a technological curiosity about the local ISP behavior, and not at all criticism of your use of ads.

        1. No worries. I never thought it was criticism, just curiosity 🙂 Questions and feedback are always welcome.

  9. Hah, love the tortoise video, must be the longest minute and 47 seconds on youtube!

    Such a unique trip with some of the coolest animals. That’s sad about the turtles, travelling to these places where species are on the brink is always eye opening. In places like Belize and Costa Rica it’s tough because the locals want to eat the endangered turtle eggs just like their ancestors have for centuries. It’s easy to point fingers, but I think education is key, most people just don’t know the damage it causes.

    We don’t plan on having kids, and I’m not sure if I need to have a legacy, but I’d like to leave this place better than I found it 🙂

    1. I with you on that, Mr. Crazy Kicks. Leaving the planet a better place than you found it is a worthwhile endeavour.

      Btw, really enjoyed your interview on GoCurryCracker 🙂

  10. LOVE this and the existential pondering it inspired! Maybe not exactly where you were headed, but the whole time I read this I was thinking: I’m pretty sure people would think twice about every day decisions, like plastic bags, styrofoam, etc., if they had a chance to visit a place that’s as naturally splendorific* as this.

    *a word that is possibly as unnatural as styrofoam

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