El otro lado: caras de los pobres, (the other side: faces of the poor), Cuzco, Peru

I got into Cuzco three days ago from La Paz. Without going into too much detail (maybe in another post), La Paz was an eye opener. Places like La Paz and Cuzco are the reason I left Chile and Argentina. I wanted to get in touch with the raw and gritty side of South America again. I had gotten too comfortable in Chile and Argentina, especially Patagonia. While the cities are immensely beautiful, crazy, buzzing with activity and commerce, there is an extremely sad side to them. I’d felt a little unsettled in Cuzco and I didn’t know why. The more time I spent walking around the historical centre and observing people’s way of life, the more unusual I felt, but I couldn’t work out why. Today it struck me: the divide between rich and poor in these cities is vast, and evident almost every ten to fifteen meters on the sidewalks. I couldn’t ignore it or look at anything else. For almost eleven months I have been spoiled with the natural wonders and beauty of nature in this continent. Now I had become fixated on the other end.

Westerners like myself walk around toting smart phones and digital cameras while cripples and homeless people beg on the street for money in order to scrape out a living. It’s happening on every block, every street, in every square or park. I think Peru and Bolivia are some of the worst examples I’ve seen. For days I passed by these people trying to shut out the sadness in their eyes, in their lives. What could I do?

I had lunch with my friend Clare today and was talking about my lack of camera use since arriving. Cuzco should be a wonderland for an architecture student, but for some reason I was just not interested in the city’s architecture. Something struck me at lunch and I decided, telling Clare also, that I was going to spend the afternoon with my camera, capturing the other side of Cuzco, of South America.

All I have really exposed my friends and family to are the beautiful points and places and experiences in these countries of South America; the great volcanoes and snowy mountain peaks of the Andes, the lakes, the forests, deserts, salt flats, animals, plants, flowers, gorgeous architecture. I think I felt sick of capturing the same thing. I decided to try something different. To talk to the beggars, to get their stories, to capture their sadness and hopefully get a point across that is not just historical relics, mountains, beautiful sunsets and clear star-addled skies by night. All this poverty is as real as everything else. It matters too. I love Cuzco, but there is more than just the tourist attractions and beautiful historical centre. There is a world of sadness and poverty here, and it’s not unique just to Cuzco and Peru.

In the following photos are some of the people I encountered. They were all mostly friendly, some I got to sit down and talk with for a while. One homeless man, when I asked if I could take a photo, had no idea what I was saying, perhaps thought I was trying to threaten him, lashed out and scratched me in the face with his long unkempt nails. I was fine. I left him some change and moved on.


Three Cuzcqueña women take a break from hounding tourists to take photos of them with their baby llamas outside the Iglesia de San Francisco.


Benito, a Cuzqueño, makes a living by hand-fabricating beautiful coloured bags, beanies and bracelets.


A homeless woman crosses Iglesia de San Francisco with all her belongings on her back.


A woman who sells bananas on the street stops for a break and something to eat.


A homeless woman walks amongst locals, carrying all her possessions on her back.


A street vendor hides from the camera.


A woman and child both clean nuts to sell to people passing by on the street. They sat meters away from the beggar who swiped at my face. She laughed at the scene. I saw the humour in it too.


A man organises his products on the street near my hostel.


A blind man sings loudly as he begs for attention first, and hopefully some money.


Children play around their mother who waits patiently to sell street food to locals or tourists.


Another woman waits patiently at the Plaza de Armas to sell street food.


A woman spends her days selling sunglasses to tourists.


An aged and frail, homeless beggar-woman who was incredibly grateful of my attention and generosity, despite having to do this every day of her life.


This incredibly friendly woman makes her living selling delicious plates of food on the street for less than $1 USD.


A woman and a child beg for money on a busy Cuzco street.


A lovely woman whom grew up in a small town just outside of Cuzco now makes her living selling Artisan products to tourists on the street. She said she does okay and is happy.


A boy studies while tending to a street cart.


Business as usual for this man and his street cart.


A lone child sits outside the Iglesia de San Francisco and waits for her mother whom is nowhere to be seen when I took this photo.


These are all photos from your world. Our world. This is not television. This is not MTV. This is real. This is all happening right now, not just in Cuzco, but in many, many parts of the planet. As I said on Facebook, it was the saddest day of my almost eleven months travelled. Despite the hardship, the struggle for life, these people all maintained an air of respect and friendliness towards me – something, that sometimes, people who have everything in more fortunate societies seem to lack. We live in a strange world.


The lower end of backpacking… long buses and borders

It’s not all amazing mountains, wild animals, raw nature and beautiful Pacific sunsets. If you’ve been following my activity on Facebook you probably only see my photos and rarely hear of the delays, long bus rides, being seated next to stinking toilets, people trying to scam you at borders, forgetting toilet paper (that’s breaking the number one rule :p ).

When I left Ecuador for Peru back in January, I said goodbye to one of my best mates, Jake, after a blinder new year and a lot of fun in Quito, Riobamba, Alausi, the coast. I got on a bus from Quito to Guayaquil at about 1pm. I plowed through Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in a few hours and listened to music, failing to drain out sellout Hollywood movies dubbed in Spanish and an Indian man who was singing loudly. I got to Guayaquil at about 10pm and had to take a taxi for two minutes to the terminal. The woman drove an absolute bomb of an 80s Charade or similar and tried to rip me off at $3. I had to do something between charm, beg and bargain with my poor Spanish to get her to lower the price. I got into the terminal and bought a ticket to my next bus off a suspicious character with a solid moustache. The bus was bound for Huaquillas, near the Peruvian border, where I would cross into Tumbes and then take another, long bus, to Lima. It was late, I was already tired, and had a long way to go. The bus was full of suss cunts, as we say in Sydney, or rather suspect people – all men, Ecuadorians, Peruvians, no woman. Lots of rats tails, mullets, men old and one, and young gringo. Me. There was an empty seat next to an old man with a crooked smile at the back of the bus, there was one more row behind, and an old man sat with his shirt covering his face to mask the shit and piss smell eeking out of the toilet. There were people standing, but the seat was vacant? I wondered if it was defective or covered in shit or something absurd. A young guy offered me the seat and I took it. Five hours next to a toilet. Nice. After some bullshitting about we left, I got some crappy sleep, clutching my backpack, hiking boots and other assorted items in another bag above me (I was carrying too much at this point). I was hugely suspect of the crossing  and have heard some stories. Jake advised me of this route, but before I left his mate from Otavalo had turned up and was laughing saying it was no better at this time especially. Jake. Haha.

I woke confused and stumbled off the bus at between 4 and 5am glad to be in fresh air, but was presented with a small and mostly deserted border town. I was tired. I was fucked really. A fat Peruvian changed my USD for Soles (at a shitty rate, I was half asleep and my sensible was too), I had forgotten to get my Soles out of my large backpack and wasn’t going to attempt to do so here. His mate, another Peruvian character was being super friendly saying he could take me to immigration and across the border. The other people on the bus had disappeared, there were no connected buses to get to the border. What was going on? In a haze, I agreed, and he took me into a gated property into a nice, almost new Honda. Wait, what the fuck am I doing? Why did I agree to this? The guy was friendly but I was in semi panic mode and started to wonder where I would end up. We got to the border, I took all my bags into customs with me cause I was not giving him the chance to drive off with everything, he said I could leave, but I deflated the situation saying my passport was in my big backpack. He had been asking me all these questions about money, cards, how I travel etc on the way in, so I felt hugely stupid for the situation I put myself in and massively suspect of him.

The border was full of sleepy travellers and families, and immigration officers who did not give a fuck about anything and didn’t even say hello or thanks. A sharp contract from the reception in Colombia. Anyway whatever. Signed out of Ecuador and into Peru. Buses full of smart people that had taken one single bus turned up, filtered through customs and left. Why did I not do this?

The driver had agreed to take me to Tumbes, where I could get a colectivo to Mancora and then a bus to Lima. When we got to the car he wanted $20USD. I got into an argument with him, took him back to a tariff notice at customs where he tried to mask the price at $20 per colectivo meaning $5 per passenger, in front of a Peruvian cop, who I asked what the price was – he wanted nothing to do with me, didn’t say a word and perpetuated the rip the gringo show. Fuck these people.

To be fair the cabbie had waited a while, but that’s the way it goes at borders. We had the shits at each other, I wanted to get to Tumbes and leave, so I offered $10 and no more. He took me to Tumbes and we sat in silence. To be honest I was super pissed too, after months in Colombia where everyone was so honest, my patience for this was slim. We got to Tumbes, I took my bags and bailed. He added more USD to his ever growing stash of paper and took off. Not a word was spoken. Dickhead.

It was now between 5 and 6am and I was in a dive Peruvian border town. A man was mixing some kind of drink for people on the street. There were a lot of construction workers eating at a street-stall. It was all typically South American. I had a while to go. I paid for my next colectivo. A black woman with several kids vomited rapid Spanish in my face but I asked her to slow down as I was learning. She was from Tumbes. She said there were too many mal gente around, bad people, and that I should be careful. We took off to Mancora. I was retarded from lack of sleep. The sun had come up and was blazing. I was in a large van rammed with Peruvians. I love the road but this journey was just total ass.

I was woken by the family in the back, who told me we were at Mancora. What?! I got off and took my bags. This is Mancora? It’s a small, very small, mainly one street town on the northern coast of Peru, popular for surfing. The place seemed full of people who also did not give a flying fuck about anything, locals, and travellers too. All I saw were waster gringos, drifter hippies and surf types bumming about. There was nothing going on. I spent hours trying to get a bus ticket to Lima while everyone tried to rip me off. The power in the town had gone out and all the booking systems were down. Goddamnit. Never before had I wanted to leave a place like I had in Mancora. Hours passed, hours and hours, I bummed around town tired and frustrated. I decided I would not commit to staying here a night and had to get out. Eventually I got a ticket at a reasonable price and the owners let me bum out on their couch until the bus came at 5pm. Power came back on at about 3. I had killed about 7 hours here and finally got a bus. Never before had the road seemed so appealing…

Though, I had an 18 hour journey to Lima ahead of me, and once again, I was seated next to the toilet. 18 hours. Not 5. 18 hours of people pissing and shitting in this thing. Damn man. I sat next to a filthy but friendly construction worker from Lima who kept waffling about things beyond my Spanish comprehension at the time. This time I had remembered to bring my Valium on board, so I ate something like 3 or 4 tablets intending to hit a state of heavenly bliss before drugging out to sleep for hopefully a huge distance. Fucking buses. Toilets. The smell of urine. Mancora. Border hounds fixated with hoarding USD and shafting gringos.

I had no idea the desert was so huge in Peru. The coast is littered with tiny fishing towns and many smaller towns a little further in land with no electricity, very basic, basic, sometimes only stick-housing or stick and board housing. The things I saw on that bus ride were crazy. People living like that. Among all the crap, it was incredible to see. Jake had said it would blow my mind. The desert, and its inhabitants up there really did. The sunset was ace too. I had to leave the window open all night to help ease the toilet smell but late on the air was damn cold. And loud. But I’ll take that over 18 hours of toilet smell.

At some point I fell asleep, waking up like an utter cripple about ten hours later. Not bad, about 8 to go and this ridiculous journey would end (I had to get to Lima to get my flight to Easter Island and I had fucked about having the time of my life in Colombia and Ecuador for six months haha, this is why I was rushing). Eventually, we approached Lima. Insane poverty and shack housing on the fringed of this incredibly massive city, huge, huge, huge, on the coast, surrounded by red desert. Chaotic street scenes, mental South American traffic. What a buzz. Buildings got bigger and more dense and we came further into the centre.

Feeling like a new man I got off the bus, having now travelled about two full days and spent  something like 36 hours in buses and colectivos. I played the rip the gringo game once more with a cabbie (I rarely take cabs, I usually walk or save money by using buses or whatever) as I was not getting on a packed Lima bus in a post-Valium haze and having to watch all my stuff when my guard was still so low. Finally I got to Che Lagarto. I was able to wash days of bus and scum and sweat off me and relax for a day before going to Easter Island. I met up with my friend Nicolle who showed me around Miraflores and took me to a see an excellent Afro Peruvian band play. Peruvians are a solid bunch. Lima was cool but my time was short.

Lesson? Get a bus that does all the crossing for you – not three or four buses and ridiculous AM border crossing when you’re a total zombie. That’s just stupid. I was lucky, sort of.

When I came back from Easter Island I took another lengthy journey – from Lima to Tacna on the Peruvian border with Chile, in order to cross to Arica and get to Atacama to meet Poliana from Colombia in the Atacama desert.

I didn’t have to sit next to the toilets but I almost missed my bus from Lima cause the girl at the hostel got the terminal wrong. I took a fucking wild, wild cab ride to the terminal with a cabbie wanted to hear about Colombia and especially its women. He drove like mad. But he got me there just in time. He tried to rip me but I laughed at him and told him I was not an ordinary gringo and paid him the normal fee plus a tip for his fine driving which got me onto my 20 (!!) hour bus to Arica. The woman I sat next to lived in Tacna, she was super nice, dug that I was learning Spanish and left me her number in case I needed anything. She said I could crash and eat with her family at the border but I wanted to move on and get to Atacama, get stoned and stare at the stars and not think of the smell of urine and of crossing borders, people trying to rip me, lengthy bus rides. At Tacna, she assisted me in getting a colective to the border. The drive was a woman who was also obsessed with USD. Fucking money.

I crossed into Chile. another full day behind me. From Arica I had to wait from about 11am to 8pm for my 8 hour bus to Calama. I spent the day trying as much Chilean beer as I could, remained on a bar stool for the entire time bottle after bottle talking to a bunch of friendly Chilean characters as best I could. The bar staff were awesome too. I’d heard Chilean empanadas were best and it was true. Anticipating another bus ride I hoarfed a Xanax before I got on. By the time I went to board I had a cigarette and was a floppy mess. I got on the bus and my head started spinning from all the beer. I almost yakked. Soon the Xanax kicked in and I blissed out and woke up at the freezing mining town of Calama in northern Chile. There were a lot of happy, friendly dogs at the terminal. After about 1.5 hours I got a two hour bus to Atacama and arrived at around 9am. It was quiet, cold, eerie. But I was finally in Atacama and could stay put for a while. More on Atacama later.

I am currently in Santiago, having come from Pucon (10 hours) yesterday, arriving at 8am, and having to wait to 9pm to get a bus back into Mendoza in Argentina (all this is actually cheaper than a bus from Bariloche to Mendoza). I crossed from Bariloche to Osorno (almost got caught with 5g of weed at customs – another story for another time) then took a bus to Pucon to get my USB and check in with my wonderful friend Anita for two days. Last night, after killing a day in Santiago I was told the border was closed due to snow. I checked into a hostel for the night. At 4pm I find out if the border is open.

In the end, none of this matters. I should have been a little more careful crossing into Peru, but it worked out. The road, as always, remains one of the most electric and exciting parts of the whole journey. Getting on a stinking bus full of crazies, Indians, even a chicken or whatever, and just going. All that really matters is that which is ahead. Whether I am on a bus, in a Kombie, hitched with a truckie in the south of Argentina or Chile, the road is always one of my favourite places. That point in-between destinations where I am taken back to my childhood, eagerly staring out the window and admiring everything around me, everything new, places I’ve never been before. Ten months in and I still love the transit phase. I always will.

I thought I would share a bit on the not so glamorous side of backpacking. The year thus far has been full of things like this. From the northern coast of Colombia to Punta Arenas in the far south of Chile, I traversed one entire side of the continent all by road. It’s been immense.

Galapagos Islands overall – good, bad & ugly

Should you go? Will you like it? Why would you go? What are the pros and cons? What are the bad things about Galapagos? Things I loved, hated and was shocked about. This is my last post on the islands, I hope everything has helped you out if you are reading this blog.


The abundance of animal, plant and marine life and the proximity of them to humans. I don’t think you can get like this with animals and marine creatures anywhere else in the world and they are not scared of us at all, we are on the their turf. This makes Galapagos a completely unique place. Something very special.

You can visit the islands in many ways, if I had my tent and hammock with me it again would have changed everything. But it is a place that can definitely be done cheap. The main key to this is having a kitchen, being able to cook food. Eating out is expensive.

There is a huge range of tours, for backpackers, catering up to people who are filthy rich. So there is good diversity not only in the land and life but in what you can do and how you can do it.


$110 to enter the park for foreigners and $10 for locals? Come on. That’s it outrageous. And if they care so much about preservation and using the money to sustainably develop the islands then we all should be paying the same price. Ecuadorians also get cheap airfare so are able to travel to and from the islands very easily due to the governments fuel subsidiary.

The place is overpopulated for what it is. My guide-book, published in 2010 said the population in total was 20,000 people. Three years on and it is now in actual fact… 30,000. How far will this go? Still hard for me to imagine there are that many people and hordes of tourists passing through such a fragile place every year. It’s no secret we are the most destructive species on earth, intended or not. What will the population be in two or three more years as tourism continues to grow (Ecuador is one of the top ten destinations in the world now) and more locals flock to the islands for… mooooney.

UNESCO has labelled the Galapagos Islands as being in DANGER. So this is all serious business. What will prevail, preservation, meaningful, useful preservation and seriousness, or the dollar?


The rubbish. How on earth can the Galapagos Islands be so untidy and polluted in some parts? Have we absolutely no respect for any environment at all? Even something as special as this? Do we need to fuck everything up before we learn? Anyway not going into detail, same shit, similar story across much of South America and much of the world but Galapagos? Baffled. Astonished.

Dumb ass westerners with no brains and too much money. They are everywhere. I am not sure everyone who visits the islands gives a shit about Darwin’s finches or sustainability, history, evolution or more. Galapagos should be a place of much learning and enlightenment, and it should be looked after, leading me to my last ugly point…

Full of shit people branding their company as being sustainable or eco-friendly but doing nothing beyond that – simply branding themselves so took look good, or like they actually give a shit about animals, plants, nature, the environment in total. It goes a lot further than making your company look green. And this is something that applies all over the world from food shops to boat companies to hiking business. Leave bullshit for Hollywood. They got it covered.

The above is a phenomenon I am so sick of seeing and really pisses me off. I see it back home in Australia, throughout South America, and even Galapagos. Come on. Pretending to be green isn’t going to solve anything, in fact, it’s only going to slow and already slow change that should be happening at a much faster pace and sadly is a global condition. Not a one-off.

So… Sure, you should go, but as my friend Lukas said, don’t go there looking for a cute animal experience where you can be all cuddly with seals and touch things that you would not normally touch, see or even be close to. Go there to learn, to experience, to respect and to widen your eyes and understanding of the world and something as raw and real as evolution and diversity which Ecuador is number one for, especially Galapagos. But be respectful, be mindful.

… And please, put your fucking rubbish where it belongs!

Free and inexpensive things to do on the Galapagos Islands

Hello. This is a list of all the free or quite inexpensive things to on the islands should you be looking to backpack around the islands for a few weeks, give or take, without spending a lot of money as I attempted to do (I stayed for ten days). I left all my maps and items at a hostel in Quito for someone else to take and/or use, so I may have left out a few places for each island, though I hope this gets you started.

San Cristobal

Playa Mann (free)
A great beach with few people and dozens and dozens of seals. Babies, females, dominant males, mothers breastfeeding their young. Free and a ten or fifteen minute walk from town depending on your pace. Great sunsets too. Many birds flying around at all times.

Centro de Interpretacion (free)
Also a short walk from town and highly informative, information in Spanish and/or English. A must see if you want to really understand the islands and their history.

Las Tijeretas (free)
This is behind the Interpretation Center, there are several paths leading to it where you can see much on land and in the water if you have snorkeling gear (rent it for the day, you can see sea turtles). The paths are nice to walk. There is also a good beach at Punto Carola. with more seals. Many bird species and masses of iguanas are visible too.

El Junco crater (free)
A lake in the crater of a now dormant volcano. You can take buses or taxis (very expensive) though I took a bike. I suggest renting a bike and allocating a day to get there, visit the site for a few hours and enjoy the downhill ride back. Its a few hours getting there, about 15km mostly uphill via the village El Progreso. Just hope the weather is good and that everything isn’t clouded over by mist and fog. Go to Planet Bike in town for a bicycle, see Luis, $10 for the day. Best price.

El Progreso (free)
A short bike ride or maybe 40 minute walk to this inland and very small town. See many species of Darwin’s Finches along the way as well as curious varieties of trees and very colourful plant and flower species. Nice to do, on your way to El Junco. Take a bike!

300 year old Ceibo tree and treehouse (El Progreso, free)
Ask for the house with the 300 year old Ceibo tree, which also houses a treehouse that you can stay in ($20 per night, sleeps up to three, had a double bed and one single, amazing little place). Owners have a large garden full of ducks and ducklings, geese and a few really cool dogs. They also run a restaurant. Call Maria Elena on 0994697733 for details or to book. The treehouse absolutely rocks. Apparently you can camo there for $5 so bring your tent! Don’t leave it at a friends in Quito as I did.

La Loberia (free)
Maybe 45 minute walk from town? A mostly rocky beach with some sand past the military base, with many seals and iguanas. Would have good sunsets too given its orientation.

Punto Chino (free)
A beach about 10km past El Junco if you have a bike and want to continue, or can afford the taxi. I did not get there so am sparse on details for this location.

Puerto Baquierzo Moreno (free)
The main town, its nice to explore, take photos, look at the plants and trees, see sunsets and sunrises, hang with the countless hilarious seals chilling out all over the main promenade and dock area. Talk to the locals. Get to know the island.

Playa de Oro (free)
Between town and Playa Mann, a smaller beach, with many people but also many seals too. A nice mix of life and a fun and close place to visit without having to go far at all.

El Cañon & Tongo Reef (free)
I did not get here but these are both free and accessible from behind the airport and military zones. El Cañon is meant to be a good surf spot.

Jacinta Gordillo Breeding Center for Giant Turtles (free)

Santa Cruz

Puerto Ayora (free)
This is the most touristic and developed island, you can walk around and explore the town for a while, it’s really tourist heavy though. The docks and wharfs are nice, and the town center is lively at night, and on the outskirts you can see many animals in human habitats. Of course, there are always many seals about the main wharf and promenade.

Media Luna (free)
Take a bike and ride there (about an hour to and via the town Bellavista) – once you get to the foot of the hill it is about a two-hour hike and will give you fantastic panoramic views of the mountain.

Charles Darwin Research Centre (free)
Fifteen to twenty-minute walk at most from town, just ask how to get there, it’s very close. Great place to wander around for a few hours, there is a giant tortoise breeding centre and iguana breeding centre, you will see countless iguanas on the way, and several of Darwin’s finches in the gardens and on the trails. There is also information on Lonesome George, finches in general, evolution and two small galleries/museums. I really liked the garden with many natural types of local fauna from the islands.

Shark viewing at ship ports during the night (free)
I did not hang around long enough to see any but the sharks are attracted to light so go down with a spliff and hang there for a while! Bring your camera for some night photography if its your thing.

Bahia Torguga (free)
Large expanse of beach for surfing, currents are dangerous so be weary. It is a short walk from town to the entry where you walk along a path for about 30-40 minutes – you will see countless species of finches, iguanas, insects, I did this twice as it was excellent and swimming after is nice and refreshing. When you get to the surf beach go right for another 15-20 minutes and you will get to the bay, which is very still and tranquil as it is closed off from the ocean by rocks. You can see turtles, iguanas, flamingoes, blue footed boobies, finches, even, if you are lucky, harmless varieties of sharks in the bay. One of my favourite sports. You can spend a day between the beaches and walking back and forth from town.

El Chato Tortoise Reserve ($3, or free?)
The women let us in for free. Continue past and to the right of Bellavista on your bike when you get to the main road of the small town for about 40 minutes or an hour? Can’t remember. It is a bit of an uphill slug but makes the ride back nice and cruisy. You will see an abundance of turtles, possibly mating. There are many bird species too. From here you can also visit the lava tunnels.

Lava Tuneles ($3 or free?)
Covered with the price of the turtle reserve the tunnels are located on the same area of land, there are two or three that you can explore – bring a light, the lights went off when we were down there and you will be in complete darkness if this happens making it super difficult to get out. There are nice flower species along the way to the reserves, as well as very old trees and interesting scrub growing alongside and on them.

Garrapatero Beach (free)
An excellent beach for swimming, that you can also camp at if you ask for permission. Follow the signs from Bellavista, though head right when you get to the main road of the town. There are poison apple trees, many birds, mangroves. Might take around three hours on a bike and make sure you allocate time to get back in the evening, otherwise you may find yourself stuck in the dark with a difficult ride ahead… on loose dirt and gravel roads.

Pan de Chocolate (50c)
This is a must try. When you get to the main fork in the road at Bellavista, go right, a few stores ahead on your right (of the street) will be a small bakery.Try the chocolate bread, i is divine!


Puerto Villamil (free)
Soon, this town is going to change from a dirt road, underdeveloped quiet town into a busy and more expensive tourist hotspot. If you get there soon, walk around and explore the whole town on foot. It has such a quiet peaceful ambience about it. There is an amazing Panaderia somewhere in the centre that has the best cheese empanadas I tried in South America with sugar on the bread – look for a newly built shop, totally decked out in nice wooden panelling and detail, you will know it when you see it. Take the hammocks, chill with the locals, soak in the beach and the palm trees on this big but remote and somewhat isolated island. It’s very different to Santa Cruz.

Beaches (free)
Just off the main part of town are huge huge expanses of white sand, palm and coco tree-lined beaches, you will most likely have a big stretch all to yourself. Enjoy.

Laguna Salinas and surrounding Pozos (free)
Flamingoes, iguanas, ducks and more everywhere, and the ponds are really beautiful especially in the light of the sun both during the day and at sunset!

El Muro de las Lagrimas (free)
A wall built by prisoners who first settled and worked on the islands Isabela.

Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre (free)
Just outside of town near the pozos. I skipped this but head there if you are not sick of giant turtles already!

Volcan Sierra Negra (free, if you ride there)
I was not able to get there as I had injured my knee and was not spending $20-30 on a tour obviously, but if you get there and hike you get mad views of the island.

Volcan Chico (free, with bike)
As above. An active volcano that last erupted in the 1970s!

Concha de Perla (free)
About a twenty-five minute walk from town, or, if you are at the wharf, about five minutes or even less. One of the most beautiful bays, closed off from the ocean but still connected. Amazing for swimming. Jump in and don’t stop for 80m until you get to the rock edge! You can also snorkel here, there are many seals and varieties of fish.

Mirador (free)
Can’t miss it, its situated on the main beach, a good spot for sunset and photography, and to look at countless iguanas loafing about on rocks and moving around lazily.

Hammocks (free)
Oddly, the only islands with hammocks (what?!), take to one and relax, catch some sun, read or whatever. You will feel amazing. It was like being back on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. ;)

Galapagos Islands: the money side of things

All things money:

Fixed costs
Flight with Aerogal, return to Quito via Guayaquil $450
Park entry fee and airport fee $110
9x nights accommodation (at $10 per night) $90
Inter-island transport (at $25 per boat, 4x boats) $100
Taxis across whole stay (I walk a lot) $5
Tips and skiff boat fees $5
Isabela entry fee $5
Total $760

Variables (San Cristobal)
Disposable underwater camera $18
Ecuadorian flag and Galapagos bag patches $4
Food Groceries $45
Bike hire for one day $10
Day tour with Chulo’s Tours $40
Internet $10
Total $127

Variables (Santa Cruz)
Beer and cigarettes $20
Food & Groceries $40
Bike hire (motorised) for one day $15
Internet $10
Total $85

Variables (Isabela)
Food & Groceries $15
Internet $2
Total $17

Total (all inclusive): approx $990 for 10 days on the Galapagos Islands.

A few things…

I left my tent on the mainland of Ecuador, I should have bought it, there are plenty of places to camp and I am sure people would let you camp for a small fee if you were to ask them to use your land. There are some areas that are off limits. I was only paying $10 accommodation per night, but it is nice to be outdoors, so maybe a tent is a good idea. If you have a hammock, that could be useful too, I also left mine on the mainland this time. Next time I will bring both. You can definitely be sneaky and camp in places where you are not meant to or squat for a night. :p

I am obsessed with ceviche and encebollado, I ate these a lot in the mornings, they cost more than normal, I also drink a lot of coffee, everyday, and I’ve become a bit addicted to glass bottled Coke since coming to South America, so I spent a bit more on these items. Everything is a bit more expensive on the islands. If you want to really save bring canned stuff that you can cook with from the mainland and buy pasta, vegetables and fruit when you arrive. You can’t bring any fresh food onto the islands.

I am a bit of an internet addict, I also realised I hadn’t backed up photos in a while so did this sometimes at night as nights were very chilled. It was also Christmas so I was on Skype a bit to people back home. Internet is generally slower and costs more than the mainland though there are some fast outlets.

I know of people who paid around $200 for their flights, non-Ecuadorians too, I thought I got a decent deal for $450, but there is definitely room to save money, book ahead, and try and get something really cheap. Aerogal was a decent Airline to fly with, no complaints from me. Note: you don’t exit the plane at the stopover in Guayaquil.

Try and stay for at least two weeks, I lost a lot of time in my ten days with flying in and out and then the speedboats inbetween islands. Two weeks would have been ideal for a budget visit of the islands and I could have bummed around Isabela even more. Though, I think, a month would be the best.

Hope this is of some use to other travellers. Thanks to Brian and Lukas for a lot of tips and help before and during my stay. If you have any questions or need more information on anything, please ask!

Back to San Cristobal & leaving the Galapagos Islands

Day 172, Isabela to Santa Cruz to San Cristobal, day 9:

Getting from Isabela to San Cristobal via Santa Cruz cost $50 today, I needed two boats, as they do not go from Isabela to San Cristobal direct. Got back into Santa Cruz at about 9AM, ate, had coffee, left my bags at Hostal Brattle for a few hours while I went online, called to confirm that the treehouse was available, which it was not, they had messed up the booking (these things happen in South America, best not to worry!) so it was one more night at Hostal San Francisco. I had to go to the Aerogal office too, to try and change my flight so I could exit at Guayaquil and not continue to Quito, as I was looking to get to Montanita on the pacific coast for new years eve. If you need to do this, its very easy, takes a few minutes and costs $10 – you just might have to wait a while for all the people in front of you. Bring music or a book.

Killed hours reading, writing, walking around and outside of town then took my last speedboat back to San Cristobal. Got in around 5PM, hurried to check in, leave my bags, head to the beach to swim and then catch the sunset. I had wanted to get to El Canon or Tongo Reef behind the military base, there is meant to be a hiking trail but the military, or navy or whatever don’t let you through for some reason. They say you are meant to go around the back of the airport but I could not find my way there either. Go figure. El Canon is meant to be a good surf spot, if you fancy that. After sunset I ate, and crashed like mad.


Day 173, San Cristobal, day 10:

Slept through until about 4AM and knew I would sleep no more. Grabbed my music and camera and went outside, waiting for the sun. Tuned out to the stars, the moon and the sky while all the local roosters went mad in an early morning symphony as the sun started to come up, illuminating the clouds all these shades of pink and purple, while I’m watching Galapagos birds of all sorts float up in the sky, gliding blissfully and easily in front of my last morning sky here. So peaceful and beautiful, just sitting there soaking in nature and the world without a worry on my mind. I never did this at home, or it was rare (binge and stay up for days, that’s it). I had managed to kill a few hours so went back into town, got coffee, ate an encebollado, collected my gear, said goodbye to this amazingly beautiful and completely unique, special, magical place and went to the airport to catch my flight back to Guayaquil for new years madness with friends from all over the place.

IMG_6639My time on the islands, only ten days, which is not long given the way I like to travel ordinarily, was amazing – something really special, especially having gone there completely free and on my own, with just a return flight booked and no idea what would eventuate (the flow!). I know I will be back one day, a little more prepared and probably with a different sort of plan in mind, though backpacking budget styles was great fun, and I think I did a reasonable job. I will have one more post soon with information on budget (overall), a list of free or cheap things to do on the islands I visited and a general wrap up on all things, good, bad and perhaps ugly.



Isabela, Galapagos Islands

Day 170, Isabela, day 7:

Having taken the speedboat from Santa Cruz ($25 USD) at 2PM, I got in quite late. I got stuck at the front end of the speedboat and for the first time in days it was completely sunny – it got seriously warm inside and it was one of the roughest boat rides I took, a few people vomited. I still would have preferred to be at the back end with sunblock on than inside sweating it out and stuck to the seat, but anyway! There is a $5 entry fee when you get to Isabela that you need to pay at the wharf, why, I do not know, I am assuming its funding the large amounts of civil, street and road work going on there. The main town is called Puerto Villamil.
IMG_6533IMG_6586Isabela blew my mind when I got there. Not a single paved road, few footpaths, few people (I knew it was the least inhabited island before arriving, it is also the biggest, in fact it is huge), masses of volcanic rock all over the streets and sidewalks, you can see ex-molten rock which just hardened over time and formed part of the normal landscape, now situated among houses, trees, mounds of rubbish. Very quite, tranquil, a main, but quite small part of town set along a beautiful palm tree lined, white sand beach. It reminded me of the Caribbean coast of Colombia. I wanted to find a place to stay and maintain my $10 per night with kitchen standard, a friend (thanks again, Lukas!) has suggested checking out Posada del Caminante, so I took a taxi ($1) around town, first I checked out a few other places to the recommendation of the driver but there was either no one there or they were too expensive. At Posada del Caminante, the place was full, but they had a second building 5 minutes walk away, and here were privates with double beds for $25 or a dormitory on the third level of the building with 9 beds and a bathroom, for $10 per night. And they let you use the kitchen in the first building, sorted. There was no one else staying there so I had this huge room to myself. Left my gear there and set out for town and the beach. Isabela is not hard to explore, most, of the few things there, are all centrally located  on the main dirt road promenade along the beach and around. Its quiet, really quiet. I loved it. There are a few places where you can buy groceries (tuna was cheaper here than, San Cristobal by thirty cents, what?) and fruit and vegetables, as well as another amazing Panaderia that sold some of the best cheese empanadas I have ever had (50c and bigger than normal), the bread was lightly covered in sugar. Amazing taste. Can’t remember the name or where it was, but there aren’t many bakeries in Isabela and the store is newly built, decked out in beautiful treated timber. You will know it if you see it! Went to the beach and swam while the sun was setting. Went back, showered, spent a while organising all my stuff in my backpack and throwing excess stuff out, I do this every few weeks to stay light and organised. Went to the main house to make dinner. The owners were incredible, happily letting me into the own personal kitchen, letting me make tea and coffee using their ingredients while I made food, they shared their own dinner with me, a really hearty vegetable soup, took my clothes to wash them for free, also had free organic (crazy tasting) bananas and oranges, hammocks strewn up undercover outside. Lauro, the owner also offered to take me around on a tour anywhere in the island the following day, problem was, I had hurt the tendon at the back of me knee, that joins your calf and lower thigh? So I couldn’t really hike or climb much, stairs had been a struggle for the last day so it was looking like I would walk a few trails and hit the beach once I was done. The guys at Posada del Caminante really made me feel welcome, like family, it was a nice way to see out my closing days here on the islands. Met more friendly Ecuadorians from Guayaquil and Quito who I hung out with and all left me their details and offered their places should I be passing their cities again before heading to Peru.


There was a lot of construction going on at this island. They are slowly paving all the roads, there is a small artificial football pitch and tennis court that has recently been built. Isabela will boom in a few years time, it will become more populated and prices will no doubt go up. For me, the charm was the underdevelopment, and the tranquility of the island compared to Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. It is crazy how much rubbish there is about the place, across all the islands, not just Isabela; I mean, you would not expect to go to the Galapagos Islands and see this much rubbish, no, any rubbish at all. Hugely careless and disrespectful from locals and tourists alike, but, this is a common story across much of South America.

Day 171, Isabela, day 8:

Got up early, had a fruit breakfast and set out to see as much as I could with my bad knee in one day, as this was going to be the only full day I had on the island. :( Made coffee at the main house, got some information on places to visit from a girl from Guayaquil and set out. Oh, they also have free wifi at Posada de Caminante, I did not realise until this day. So for $10 this is certainly the best place that you can stay.

IMG_6470First, I set off for the nearby wetlands where you can see flamingos, iguanas, pintail ducks, finches, other lizard species and more. There are 6km of trails you can walk. I spent a while exploring the Poza de Los Diablos, Poza Baltazar, Poza de Los Flamingos y Laguna Salinas and the Pozos Puerta de Jeli. These locations are all free, and very close to town and the beach, the sun was out and they were really beautiful, some of the tracks are shaded by trees which gives you a nice break from the sun – you can walk for a while around here, and also the Pozo del Amor, you can also continue onto El Muro de las Lagrimas, a wall built by prisoners when the island was first  colonized. If you exit at the end furthest from town you will be closeby to the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center, which is also free. I skipped this as I think I had seen enough turtle action for the time being. You can also hike to the Volcan Sierra Negra (last erupted in 2005), or the neighboring Volcan Chico which last erupted in the late 1970s. In fact Isabela is probably the best island for hiking, there are six or seven large craters to check out and climb in altitude, I had to leave these, as my knee was bad and I was short on time, but they are worth seeing, from what others have told me, and going from the general beauty of Isabela itself. I saw a lot of the pintail ducks (they are really scared of humans in comparison to other animals on the islands) and flamingos, as well as they always well represented iguanas loafing about in the hot sun.


Spent hours at the beach swimming and in the sun, the weather was amazing and the huge strip of beach along the  archipelago was mostly empty, the water nice and not dangerous. If you you want some down time, Isabela is perfect to relax, though it has a huge amount of things to do in the water and on land. There is a nice amount of hammocks scattered around the bars, restaurants and hostels on this island (though there are not many), giving it a proper relaxed coastal feel (something strangely missing on the other, much busier islands). It was nice, I got mad nostalgia from my three and a half months in Colombia, before I came back to Ecuador. It was great. Had lunch (my own food) and set off to towards the wharf to get to the Concha de Perla, a small bay disconnected from the ocean by a chain of rocks, creating perfectly still water to swim in which is a full of fish species and the occasional seal passing by or lazing about somewhere. I didn’t snorkel, but its a good spot for snorkelling, the water probably gets about 3m deep at the sea end. I just dove in off the jetty and swam far out to stretch my body and float on my back for a while. Great swimming spot. It is about a twenty minute walk from town and five minutes or so from the main wharf itself. The main wharf is also disconnected from the ocean by a strip of rocks, though much lager than the Concha de Perla, this particular bay is called Los Tintoreras and is meant to be incredible for snorkelling and/or diving, but you need to pay to get a boat out there, there is no land access. Not sure of the cost of this one.
Swam at the beach once more, visited the Mirador, a wooden lookout on the main beach surrounded by rock and masses of marine iguanas chilling out in packs and roaming about in the sun. Great spot for photos, especially as the sun goes down. Though I went back to the hostal to watch the sunset, they have a rooftop terrace / mirador at the second building. Saw one of the best sunsets that I have witnessed in South America (see below) followed by a moonrise about twenty minutes later. Hung with a guy from Guayaquil who had checked into the hostel dorm and the owner for a bit. There was some absolutely crazy festival on in town, everyone was there, the hostel was empty of its owners, they went on until way into the night, music was loud and did not stop at any point. They really know how to party over here!


IMG_6591Knew it was going to be a long, loud night so took two valium and went to sleep. My boat out was at 6AM in the morning.

Day 172, Isabela, day 9:

Woke up at about 530Am and the music was just wrapping up. They had partied until the sun came up. l grabbed my bags and set out, bumped into a few Ecuadorians I had met the night before who were coming back to the hostel, drunk as, staggering about, unable to work the fence and climbing over, the whole time still being so nice and pouring me beer for breakfast and having me drink. No one was about. There were others looking to get to the wharf but all the taxi drivers got mad wasted at the party and it was getting near six. I jumped onto the back of a taxi at the last moment and the five of us got to the wharf at 6, boarded the speed boat and took off back to Santa Cruz.

Isabela was my favourite island. I loved it there. So calm, peaceful, beautiful, quiet, free from masses of tourists, beautiful beaches, wildlife, plenty to do, if you wanted to do it, a good place to stay with mad hosts and a kitchen an hammocks! I could have spent a month there. I usually do that when I get to a place I like (I travel slow). Maybe one day I will be able to come back here for an extended period. My visit was brief, but most enjoyed.