We left Ruby at Finca Sommerwind in Ibarra and caught a local bus to Quito, about 2 hours away. We spent a few days in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Quito is situated at an altitude of 2,800 metres, and on the slopes of a volcano. We explored the old town, a UNESCO world heritage site, which has one of the largest, least-altered and best-preserved historic centres in the Americas.
The group consists of 18 main islands, 3 smaller islands, and 107 rocks and islets. The archipelago is located on the Nazca Plate (a tectonic plate), which is moving east/southeast, diving under the South American Plate at a rate of about 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) per year. It is also atop the Galapagos hotspot, a place where the Earth's crust is being melted from below by a mantle plume, creating volcanoes. The first islands formed here at least 8 million and possibly up to 90 million years ago.
While the older islands have disappeared below the sea as they moved away from the mantle plume, the youngest islands, Isabela and Fernandina, are still being formed, with the most recent volcanic eruption in April 2009 where lava from the volcanic island Fernandina started flowing both towards the island's shoreline and into the centre caldera (volcanic crater).
We had booked on an 8 days cruise around some of the islands, on the Millennium Catamaran. The week was a mixture of walking on the islands, snorkeling, sailing on the boat and short dinghy trips. We started at Santa Cruz, where we went to see the Galapagos giant tortoise, they were huge and live to over 100 years old. We then finished by exploring a lava tunnel, which are formed following a volcanic eruption when the outer layer of molten lava solidifies, but the liquid magma inside continued to flow-leaving a tube.
Every day was jam packed full of different landscapes, animals and sea life. On day 2, whilst still having a great time, the small dinghies which collected us after a walk had been late a couple of times-leaving us waiting for nearly an hour each time. I approached the guide and asked him if the dinghies could be on time the following days. A simple request, or so I thought. The guide went a little crazy on me saying " are you complaining? We don`t care about you...the boat is always full" then coming back to say " I have bigger problems than this-I might leave the boat!" Arkward! ! To cut a long story short-our guide was a little eccentric but hugely knowledgeable and he stayed on the boat and continued to guide us.
Gav and I absolutely loved the snorkeling and were often the first to be ready in our wetsuits, flippers and masks! The water was usually crystal clear and turquoise blue and we saw so much. We swam with sharks, seals, penguins, marine iguanas, huge turtles, loads of fish etc. The first time the guide told us that where we were snorkeling was a good spot to see sharks, I was really scared! When someone spotted one under water and shouted "shark" I could often be spotted swimming away in the opposite direction! However, by the end of the week, as soon as someone shouted "shark" I was swimming to find it as fast as I could! I swear that sometimes as my head was under water looking for them, I could hear the Jaws music coming from somewhere! On our last day-we spotted a shark swimming right beneath us-it was fantastic! We also snorkeled above giant turtles, followed swimming marine iguanas and were objects of fascination for sea lions. The sea lions liked to play and swam very fast under and around us. When we all spotted our first sea lion in the water whilst we were snorkeling, we all grouped together looking outwards laughing manically because we were a little scared!
Our cabin aboard the Millennium was brilliant! We had a private balcony which overlooked the sea-where we could sit and spot the marine life . We also had a shower which overlooked the sea, although we had to make sure the blinds were closed otherwise a passing ship might have thought they had spotted another species!
Our trips on land were also scenic and full of wildlife-we saw land iguanas, so many sea lions, tortoise, and a variety of birds. Every day and every island we landed on was different and we loved it. This was by far our best experience on our trip so far and we would highly recommend it to anyone.