Los Túneles – Isabela Island – Galapagos

The Galapagos is a mecca for snorkeling and diving.  And while I haven’t taken up the latter (I already have waaaaaay too many expensive hobbies), one of my favourite memories of my last trip here was snorkeling with the Green Sea turtles.  I knew I wanted to do at least one snorkeling excursion while in the Galapagos, and opted for one of the longer trips – Los Túneles – on Isabela Island.

I had spent the entire day before in bed with flu symptoms and, on the morning of the trip, still felt like crap at 4am.   However, it’s amazing what your subconscious and mind-over-matter can do for you, and when I awoke again at 6am I actually didn’t feel too bad!  During that 2 hours of sleep, my body seemed to have convinced itself that it wasn’t sick after all, and that I shouldn’t miss the excursion. 

Cold and flu tablets

I was feeling so terrible, I even resorted to heading to the pharmacy for some medicine

When I booked the trip, I was told we would meet at the office at 7:15am.  I was there early (as usual), and promptly laid down on a bench to conserve energy and wait for the actual departure – this is Latin America after all. We finally left at about 7:45am and headed to the dock and our open-sided boat.

Our boat to Los Túneles was an open-sided affair

Our boat to Los Túneles was an open-sided affair

On the 45 minute boat ride to Cabo Rosa, we swung by Roca Unión – a large rock in the middle of nowhere with Nazcar boobies and sea lions perched just out of reach of the pounding waves.

Views Roca Unión with Nazcar boobies and sea lions

Roca Unión sits alone off the shore of Isla Isabela and was host to plenty of Nazcar boobies and sea lions on the day we passed by

When we arrived at our snorkeling spot, our guide was very excited because the level of the tide was such that it might be possible to see seahorses.   To avoid stirring up the silty bottom and reducing visibility, he instructed us to not use our fins and just float, but it is surprising how many people either a) don’t listen, b) ignore or forget instructions as soon as they are given, and/or c) simply have no idea of where their body is!

Yes we found the seahorses – and they were quite big actually!   Probably about 25cm long.  But unfortunately I only got murky views due to the fact that everyone else had kicked up the bottom with their fins…   *sigh*

From there, we followed our guide through the shallow rocky area looking for whatever else we could see.  There were only 10 of us plus the guide, but it is amazing how pushy and inconsiderate people are in these circumstances – there were times when it felt like an all-in-brawl!   We spotted some octopus, a tiger snake eel (it is actually an eel, not a snake), some stingrays, and white tip sharks sleeping in the caves formed in the lava. 

But, once again, the highlight for me was snorkeling with the Green Sea turtles.   It was a standout memory from my last trip to the Galapagos, and did not disappoint this time either. These creatures are very large (at least 2m across), and just so placid and graceful.   And curious!   If you stay still and float (as the guide suggested), they come right up to you to say hello, and then narrowly miss you as they make their way to wherever they’ve decided to head.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE snorkeling with the Green Sea Turtles!  It was one of the main reasons I wanted to return to the Galapagos.

The only problem with snorkeling in the Galapagos (at least at this time of year) is that the water is cold!  Even with an (admittedly ill-fitting) wetsuit, I was shivering and numb by the time we finished snorkeling about 1.5hrs later.  If the guide hadn’t headed back to the boat when he did, I would have had to have headed back myself – I was so cold!

Once everyone was back on board, we motored around to the area of Los Túneles itself – a maze of volcanic outcrops.  Given that it is a key breeding ground for the Green Sea turtles, access to this area is very restricted with only 5 boats of 10 visitors allowed during the morning and another 5 boats during the afternoon.  Only the local fishermen have permits to enter the area and, fortunately, our captain was one of them!

Approaching Los Túneles

Approaching Los Túneles

This place was amazingly beautiful (the photos don’t do it justice) and it was seriously impressive to watch the captain of our boat maneuver through the very narrow passages to arrive at a point where we could disembark.

Our boat docked in the middle of the lava labyrinth that is Los Túneles

Our boat driver negotiated passages only millimetres wider than the boat itself to arrive at the point for us to disembark at Los Túneles

We spent about 45 minutes exploring a fairly small area – but the colours and structures were amazing.

Views of Los Túneles

Los Túneles is absolutely gorgeous and a fascinating place to explore. It is also a breeding ground for Green Sea Turtles, which you can see swimming in the super-clear water.

We also got to see some more Blue-footed Boobies, including one with a 6-week old chick!

Images of a Blue-footed Boobie at Los Túneles, and a fluffy chick

I can never get enough of the Blue-footed Boobies. Amazing to see how fluffy their chicks are as well!

What drove me insane here was yet another demonstration that people either a) don’t listen to instructions or b) purposefully ignore them. Time and time again, our guide reminded the group not to get too close to the animals.  But in their efforts to get a selfie with the Blue-footed Boobie, several of the passengers were sidling right up to the poor creature – and it was very, very clear that the bird was a little nervous about this.  

Now the incredible thing about the Galapagos is that you can get about 2m away from a bird and it really won’t be fussed.  This is the distance that the guides try to enforce, but so many visitors push the limit and just don’t seem to realise, or perhaps simply don’t care, that the bird is becoming distressed.  They just want that picture!   If I had been our guide, I would have been much more forceful about telling people to pull their head in about this.   In my opinion, they are not strict enough with their clients 🙁 

On the way back to Puerto Villamil we passed a Green Sea turtle sunning itself on a rock, saw a huge Manta Ray on the surface of the ocean, and finally caught a glimpse of a Galapagos Penguin on the way into the harbor.

A Green Sea turtle sunning itself on a rock, and the fin of a sting ray - both seen on the way back to the harbour.

A Green Sea Turtle sunning itself on a rock (top) and the fin of a sting-ray

Recommendation

This is a great day trip and a good opportunity to see a variety of marine life.  Make sure you go with an operator who can enter into the labyrinth of Los Túneles though!

Time:  5 hours

Cost:  I paid USD$100, though had been quoted $120 at other places for the same tour.  Price included the hire of a wetsuit, guide, transport, boxed lunch.

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