Day sixteen: Sierra Negra Volcano

IMG_7845 2

There’s a team from REI staying at the hotel – they’re here to make a promotional video. They’ve brought a load of staff with them and are fully kitted up with cameras, GoPros, drones – the lot.


We befriend the creative team and they took the children out to the beach and help them to navigate and land their very first drone.

Here’s a film of them flying the drone.

They are a really lovely group and at the end of their trip we corner their guide and negotiate a private tour to the top of the Sierra Negra volcano the next day. It last erupted in 2005 and you can walk to the top and peer inside. It’s a 16km, pretty muddy hike – we’re warned that good walking shoes are important. Hmmm… the Clarks girl velcro trainers in green leopard skin, Adidas Absolados and F5 TRX Turf Juniors are going to be put to the test!

We get up early and are incredibly unlucky with the weather. It’s been a glorious clear week, yet today it’s overcast and drizzly. The visibility is terrible so we travel there knowing we won’t get the best experience, but our fingers are crossed that the fog may burn off as the morning develops. It doesn’t. Not really.


It does stop raining at least, so most of the hike is dry – and for about ten minutes the fog passes and we find ourselves at the top of a volcano peering in over the top. We can see the stark contrast of the green grass that we’re standing on and the black lava rocks inside – they’ve formed visible flow formations from the last eruption. Our eldest son takes great pleasure in the fact that it last erupted in the exact month he was born.


We don’t really get to see across to the other side of the crater, and before you know it the fog rolls back in and covers it all over again. Ready for another group… on another day.


Back to the hotel and we find ourselves cleaning thick sticky mud off all our trainers (they are caked) with free hotel soap and a complimentary airline toothbrush – believe me, there were several WTF moments.

IMG_7635Our time on Isabela has come to an end and we head back to Santa Cruz via a two-hour-three-boat-ride (joy) – our flight to Guayaquil leaves tomorrow morning.


– our second children’s refillable water bottle (it probably fell out the side pocket of a backpack when all the luggage was being thrown between the various taxi boats). Gutted.

Day fourteen/fifteen: Cycling around Isabela



We’ve extended! We’re going to stay five nights not four. The luxury of time really hits home this week. We see people coming and going all the time, the turnover is fast, people stay for one night, two nights, then they’re off on a cruise, off on tour. It seems most people stay in the Galápagos for less than a week.

Because we have the luxury of time, we decide not to fill the days manically and instead play on the beach, sit by a pool, hire bikes, write, read, do school work and enjoy time together as a family.

Before we started this South American trip we were lucky enough to spend a month in Bali and a month in the UK together – today Andy worked out that to reach the same number of hours spent as a full family of five, it would have taken TWO YEARS given his work commitments. THAT, is reason enough to do this trip.


Ok, so enough of the Life Is Too Short wisdom….. back to our antics….

We hire bikes for two days in a row and explore the island: here’s a video of us touring Isabela by bike. On one of the days, the cycle trip goes for 12km to see the wall of tears.

IMG_7856It’s an important historical site so named because of the number of deaths it caused to the prisoners who built it. However its significance is not appreciated by all – today I shall borrow an extract from our eldest son’s journal: “It was rubbish”.

Here’s a little video of us taken at the Iguana Beach Bar.


Day twelve/thirteen: Isabela, Galápagos


Arriving by boat to Isabela island is a bit like playing a game of wildlife bingo. After a two hour boat ride with some serious mind-over-matter-horizon-concentration, we arrive in a gorgeous turquoise bay.

Over the side of the boat a turtle swims by, blue footed boobies are on the rocks, penguins are ducking in and out of the water by the dock (hooray: check), sea lions are sunbathing on benches, pelicans dive for fish, we step over large black sea iguanas on the pathway… and to top it all off (I kid you not) three pink flamingos fly over head. We’re just laughing – you seriously couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s incredible.

First impressions: we like Isabela.

It’s much more chilled out than Santa Cruz and we struck a great deal at a pretty empty hotel that looks like it’s being refurbished. We’re all squeezed into one room, but it’s a nice room and feels luxurious compared to recent places we’ve stayed.


The Tunnels, Isabela.

During the four days we’re booked to stay here, we plan on just one organised tour – and we chose a trip out to the Tunnels to see some amazing lava formations, more snorkelling and blue footed boobies nesting.


Our tour guide.

There’s no question – this was BY FAR the best tour we had done. We see sharks, sea wolves (we now know we’ve been calling sea lions by the wrong name), turtles, golden rays, other rays, penguins. The only thing we fail to spot from their promised list were seahorses. We look quite hard, but no luck. (Have you seen our snorkelling highlights video?)

So instead of seahorses, the guide swaps them out and replaces them with… humpback whales. Hahahahahaha. They are not usually in the waters here, but he had spotted some the day before, so he returns to the same place – and there they were. MASSIVE and blowing big jets of water from their spouts. Incredible.


Blue footed boobies.

We stopped to watch a colony of blue footed boobies with their day old hatchlings – about 30cm away in some instances. The boat had taken us into the ‘tunnels’, strange lava formations both above and below the water that have created a series of networked pools. The water is still and clear so you can see a long way down. We saw several fish and a beautiful turtle. It’s not possible to snorkel here and the boat had to cut its motor in places to approach slowly and quietly.

Here’s a quick and dirty video of them:

Back on land and at the Iguana Beach Bar we bump into two Dutch brothers we’d met on the boat – they are also on a South American tour, but they’re trying to couch surf most of the way. They join us for dinner and later as we head home to bed, they go back to the Iguana bar for more – they are 22 and 24 after all!

Here’s a little video of us taken at the Iguana Beach Bar.



– There are NO ATMs on Isabela – bring cash.

– Restaurants will charge you an additional 22% if you pay by card – so bring cash!

Day eleven: Daphne and Pinzon, Galápagos


  • Sickness tablets: check
  • Snorkel gear: check
  • Wet suits: check
  • More wrong guesses on which two of the children are twins: check

An early start today – we’re off on a boat trip to the islands of Pinzon and Daphne plus a small bay north on Santa Cruz. We drive up to Baltra Crossing (a small channel of water between the islands of Santa Cruz and Baltra) and are loaded onto the small taxi boat to take us to the main boat. Adults are given life jackets… none for the children… none of them match… and Andy’s doesn’t even do up. Alarm bells start ringing.

We meet two lovely women from Germany and are unexpectedly reunited with Yoran, the 71 year old fast walker from Sweden. We were all promised an English speaking guide and lifejackets (our ill-fitting ones were given back to the taxi boat).

We find out there are no life jackets and our guide (loosest sense of the word) only speaks Spanish. Between the five adults we gather enough words and our itinerary is confirmed. We’ll go snorkelling… we’ll go around an island… and we’ll get off at a beach… we’ll fish for our lunch.

A laminated card is held up to help identity the fish we’re likely to see. Penguins have gone from you will see… to… maybe/possibly. Saying all that, the boat is clean, the lunch smells lovely and in its heyday (c. 1976) the boat would have been quite a luxurious vessel. Of course, more importantly, the kids don’t see any of the negatives, we find three loosely fitting, knackered looking life jackets in the back of a cupboard and HEY! We’re on a boat! It’s sunny! And we’re fishing! All is well.

We catch a shark – by accident – but *we* catch a shark. As it was reeled in, we saw what it was, just as it bites through the line, eats the metal fish bait and swims away. Gone.

Fishing is over and the boat speeds up. I’m still not convinced by the life jackets, so I remind the kids to roll onto their backs if they fall in.

I notice that we’re heading in the wrong direction – it looks like we’re going back to the start. We learn that we’re heading back to the harbour to collect four more people, from the same place we left over an hour ago, who have just been booked on the same tour. Remember those alarm bells?

Finally we’re back on track. The snorkelling is great and the wetsuits work well. Today we all swim with sharks, turtles, manta-rays, more fish and sea lions (no penguins, of course). Some of the footage is included in this video.

IMG_7660In the end it turns out to be a great day, with just a small pinch of annoyance. We give feedback to the tour company and are reminded of the simple life lesson: You get what you pay for.

Day nine/ten: Darwin, Santa Cruz, Galápagos


We plan in a couple of quiet days on Santa Cruz, allowing for home learning catch up, general downtime and some battery recharging. One day the children work on a project about tortoises and turtles with the finale being a tortoise race (using our empty backpacks, two ten sided dice, some simple subtraction and a very long tiled lounge floor as the race track).


Another time they watch a DVD on Darwin (still counts as home learning, right?) and another time they research and create a PowerPoint presentation on The Galápagos Islands and present it to us, while we are instructed to sit on one of the lined up dining chairs.

IMG_7580We find a better version of a fruit and vegetable market for some supplies and buy eggs in bags (who sells eggs in bags?). A precarious $1 taxi journey later and the eggs make it back safely.

DSC_4872We walk over to the Charles Darwin Research Station to see their tortoise breeding programme. We are few years too late to meet Solitario Jorge/Lonesome George unfortunately – but it’s a nice place and would have been significantly more impressive if we hadn’t been to the giant tortoise ranch yesterday. Medium sized tortoises now all seem a bit… well… a bit… meh. Second week and we’re already spoilt.


What was impressive was a group of over 20 large black sea iguanas crossing the road on their way back from a day’s feeding session, just outside the institution gates – unexpected and amazing.

We decide to do a second trip out to Tortuga Bay and give ourselves enough time to walk the extra distance to a beautiful calm bay, set back a little from the ocean. We walk between eight and nine kilometres today; – more pelicans and more large black sea iguanas – clearly they’re becoming the norm as we’re now just stepping over them.

IMG_7599At the bay, we bump into a young German couple we’d met on the Santa Fe boat trip yesterday – apparently they have been contemplating our ages in the last 24 hours and calculating at what age they too should have children. They put us both at less than forty. Happy.

Incidentally, after all the talk of Darwin and the theory of evolution, it took exactly two days for our son, L, to come and ask what was invented first; the theory of evolution or God? And was God invented in the way that Darwin says things were invented…. That one took a little while.


– 1 sock, probably didn’t make it back from the launderette.

Day eight: Santa Fe, Galápagos


Today was a truly great day. No home-school (it’s the weekend) and we took a boat trip to Santa Fe, another island about an hour away. We were promised swimming with sea lions, sharks, turtles and blue-footed boobies. The water was freezing and we hadn’t thought to organise wetsuits, but despite each snorkelling trip being short and sweet – we saw them all.

The first snorkelling location had lovely clear water and a family of seals played in front of us and with us, less than one metre away. In a second snorkelling spot, Andy and our eldest son, saw an eight foot black tip shark swimming just underneath them. Despite knowing they’re not man-eaters, basic instincts kick in and it was still pretty terrifying.

Watch our snorkelling highlights here.

On board, we met Yoran, a fast walking, 71 year old, man from Sweden, who offered to show us the right way to Tortuga Bay once the day trip was over. We now know that yesterday, we were just one road off!


The trail is 2.5km long and it’s clear we can’t keep up with his pace, so we say goodbye and off he goes.


Tortuga bay is beautiful and well worth the long walk. The local surf instructors keep the boys entertained with their keepy-uppy-football-skills (sic) and we play in the water. The bay is part of the national park so everyone needs to sign in and out at the start of the hike so we are all accounted for.


Fresh langoustine and tuna for dinner in ‘fish street’ – where each family-owned-booth will grill or barbecue today’s catch right in front of you.

A great day.

Day seven: Santa Cruz, Galápagos


A sea-lion and several lazy pelicans entertained us at the fish market last night stealing off-cuts from the fisherwomen. We were also entertained by the local fashions and the various blue footed boobie merchandise – clearly hilarious if you’re a seven year old boy.


This morning we borrowed some ill-fitting wellies and went off to see giant tortoises and explore lava tunnels on Santa Cruz island. We were driven just past Santa Clara to a lush green farm called Rancho Primicias where there are hundreds of giant tortoises roaming on their land. We simply weren’t prepared for the size of them – they ARE GIANT, some over one hundred years old, and they are literally dotted all over the place.

Next stop: we walk down some steps under the ground, through giant lava tunnels directly underneath the ranch, created hundreds? thousands? (sorry I wasn’t really listening by then) of years ago.

Here’s our video of the lava tunnels.

Later that afternoon we head off on foot to find Tortuga Bay – no map, we just follow our noses. How hard can it be, it’s walkable, westward and just along the coast?

Fail. We hit a dead end and don’t find Tortuga Bay. Instead we stumble across a mangrove lagoon and learn about red and white mangroves, salt and fresh water lagoon ecosystems and how young fish and sharks hide in the water with mangrove roots to avoid predators.

Tired and hungry, we head home with a small detour to a little shop to get totally ripped off on some just-about-within-their-edible-life-vegetables and wander back to do some creative cooking.

Excited about tomorrow – we have a snorkelling trip to Santa Fe booked.

Day six: The Galapagos Islands


We had our photo taken on the plane today. All five of us sat in a row and all happened to be using technology. One of us was creating a movie, one editing photos, two were reading books and one was building a hotel in Minecraft.

Seat-24A-lady reclined her chair as far as it could go, lent through the gap to try and quietly take a photo but the shutter-noise gave her away. Protective of our family, I gave her a look and in broken English said she was interested that we were all using technology and would I mind a photo. So, now a total stranger has a photo of our family. I find that odd.

Incidentally, the children gave our choice of Quito guest house a two or three out of ten. A bit harsh, but matching sheets and our own bathroom might have increased the score.

Today we travel to The Galapagos. We decided against a pre-booked cruise or land tour (to lower costs and increase our length of stay) and instead opted to go solo. We booked flights via Skyscanner and accommodation via Airbnb. We bought one way tickets and 7 nights accommodation has been secured in Santa Cruz. Our next commitment is a flight from Quito to Lima in 15 days time, so we just need to meander our way back in time for that.

A relatively short flight from Quito via Guayaquil and we land in Baltra, one of the islands north of Santa Cruz to be met by ‘Freddy’ a contact picked up at the ‘two or three out of ten guest house’. On exit we clearly don’t fit the usual demographic. The airport is full of backpackers in their twenties as they all watch our family walk by – seeing children outside of term time is clearly a curiosity.

They are strict on what we bring onto the islands to help preserve the national park. The plane cabin is sprayed, our hand luggage is x-rayed for contaminates on arrival and we walk through a more tasteful version of the council swimming pool foot bath – black wet rubber mats, so discrete, you may not even notice.

IMG_7478I cannot describe this place. Our eyes are in sensory overload. The terrain is like nothing I’ve ever come across before. Red earth, grey grass, bright green cactus plants, turquoise sea, crisp blue sky, black rocks, red rocks, white trees, orange and black iguanas. Then you reach the towns – much less exciting. The bus stops abruptly to let a huge iguana cross the road (I swear, I’m not making this up). Then a further quick swerve to avoid three cows. Within our first thirty minutes we have seen stunning vibrant landscapes, crabs, iguanas, cows, several brightly coloured small birds, herons, pelicans. I’m already wondering how the rest of the trip can top this. As first impressions go, this is pretty impressive.


  • You will need to pay $100 + $10 entry fee (each adult, $60 for children) on arrival. They only take cash.
  • It can go from burning hot sun to rain within an hour. Wear sunblock and pack a rain coat every day.
  • Definitely bring rain covers for your backpacks – they are usually thrown in the back of open trucks and on top of boats – they will get wet.
  • Try to get hold of the arrival forms (two types) before arrival as they take forever to complete.

Items lost:

  • Kids refillable water bottle – probably left in the taxi in Quito.