Academy Bay is the bay of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. An abundance of tour operators offer day tours around the bay to experience playing sea lions, immense reef sharks, elegant blue-footed booby birds and giant sea turtles, just to mention a few of the fascinating animals. A boat tour is a unique opportunity to get very close to these animals, and you may even end up swimming or snorkeling with the impressive sea turtles and colourful reef fish.
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 24 JAN 2020
Having bought an Academy Bay day tour departing from the harbour of Puerto Ayora, we are waiting on the pier for our boat, George, to show up. We have bought this tour to get a chance to see some of the special animals on Santa Cruz in close-up, for instance blue-footed boobies, reef sharks, marine iguanas, giant sea turtles as well as sea lions on the small island in the middle of the bay.
Two of the benches next to ours are occupied by a couple of sea lions snoozing without taking notice of the people around. They are together with pelicans, frigate birds and a wide variety of other birds, as well as hundreds of Galapagos sharks and an abundance of smaller fishes in the water, part of the life on and around the pier.
On arrival in Puerto Ayora some days ago we were literally left speechless with surprise of the many species of animals to be observed by the sea. Nevertheless, it just is like that wherever you go along the harbour front. You will find interesting and endemic animals, no matter where you turn, which is absolutely beyond awesome! It is rather a matter of keeping the required minimum distance of 2 metres (6 feet). This is not always possible, though, since the passages in town are sometimes too narrow.
Cool fellow passengers
We jump on the vessel, joining the fifteen other passengers going on the tour. All ages are represented, right from a not even one-year-old boy and his 2 years elder sister to mature adults. We soon happen to be thankful that we took a seasickness pill before departure. We are heading towards the sea lion island, Caamaño Islet, and the waves are noticeable.
When buying the tour we were assured that there would be life jackets on board. It does turn out to be true, but they are seemingly not meant to wear. The life jacket equipment is being used as convenient cushions on the seats. None of the South American passengers seem to take any notice of this, but behave as if it is the natural function of life jackets. We must admit that, after a while, also we welcome these comfortable seats which keep the water, running back and forth inside the boat in accordance with the waves, out of our clothes.
We have set off in high spirits in our boat which counts South Americans – and us! Especially our guide, who is also a national park ranger, is extremely curious about the Europeans in his boat. Repeatedly and retorically he addresses us to ask if we can experience similar things back home. We sense that he in particular wants us, the people from far away, to like what we see, imagining that it is a completely different world we come from. This is in fact also the case!
Approaching the island we spot two sea lions on the rocks. The younger one is playing and constantly jumping into the water and up again – only pausing to go for a refreshing swim. The ranger reveals that in the evening more sea lions return to the island to stay overnight. Also a couple of swimming marine iguanas come close to the rocks.
It is now time to discover new sides of our fellow passengers. We really cannot believe our eyes when we see the young family with toddlers taking steps to climb out of the window of the boat. They leave the inside of the boat to get onto the roof, all happening while the boat is at open sea. The parents climb with each their child on the hip, asking us to pass their backpacks up to them on the roof! They apparently arrange themselves confidently with kids and luggage up there, despite the waves … and the risk of the toddlers falling overboard. It seems that it comes naturally to them, though, and they end up spending all morning on the roof sunbathing!
Giant sea turtles and blue-footed booby birds
Blue-footed booby birds and giant sea turtles
Next stop is a quiet snorkelling spot where we can get to see impressive sea turtles. Our guide stops the boat and offers snorkel gear to everyone. He encourages one of us to go first to get the best view of the gigantic sea turtles. They may disperse with the whole group jumping in. It is a world of wonders that reveals under the surface where we snorkel with several colourful, tropical reef fish and five fabulous, giant sea turtles.
We continue by boat and go close to some rocks where we to our delight catch sight of a flock of blue-footed boobies. This is specifically what we had hoped for without knowing if we could really be this fortunate! The erect birds are beautiful and unique with their spectacular blue feet.
” Are we happy? our ranger asks when we catch sight of the blue-footed booby birds.”
Our guide likes to see us pleased and asks repeatedly if we are happy with what we see. In particular, seeing the blue-footed boobies on a boat tour is not a matter of course. We understand that the meeting is fortuitous. We might as well not have been that lucky today, so indeed we are happy now! The blue-footed booby birds were precisely what we had hoped most for seeing on this tour!
Sharks and giant sea turtles
We moor on the coast from where we take a trail on foot through arid cactus forest and volcanic landscape to Playa de los Perros. It is a tiny, rocky beach with an abundant wildlife. In particular, large numbers of marine iguanas gather and nest in the soil here. Some are bustling around the place and others are simply resting peacefully in the sun.
On the rocks, which now and then are being flooded by the waves, a plethora of the shining red and gigantic Sally Lightfoot crabs are crawling around. Our guide lets us know that when he was younger, they used to eat them in his family. However, today you are not allowed to touch the Sally Lightfoot crabs at all!
Soon after we arrive at a small lagoon with a breathtaking view down to several 3-4 metres (10 feet) slowly moving sharks and one of the most impressive, giant sea turtles, we have seen so far, swimming around.
The park ranger takes us to a gem, Las Grietas, an enchanting canyon-like crevice in the volcanic rocks. The scenery is absolutely magnificent with crystal clear and emerald green water.
In the past people used to jump into the water from the rim of the rocky walls, but this is now forbidden. Instead a wooden platform just above the water surface serves the purpose.
We cannot resist the temptation to plunge into the waters, characterised by a mixture of saltwater and fresh water, fed underground by both a river and the salty sea. The dip is exhilarating and gives energy for the walk back.
By water taxi to the pink lagoon
The next day we take one of the numerous yellow water taxis to the Angermeyer Point near the Finch Bay Hotel. We look out for blue-footed boobies along the rocks since our host at White House Galapagos hotel has mentioned that he has spotted some there. However, there is no sight of any birds at all.
From the dock a path leads to Playa de los Alemanes, a fine snorkeling beach where we even find loads of fossilised corals. We are contemplating a lot of interesting birds, striped fish and various kinds of crabs. The water is shallow and it is so opportune that we, all of a sudden, spot a few eagle rays swimming and even a couple of times jumping out of the water!
The hike from the beach goes through a forest of giant Opuntia cacti and across a pink, salty lagoon, Las Salinas. The salt production previously served in the process of drying fish. Like everywhere else in the Galapagos Islands there is a rich biodiversity in this unique location surrounded by saltbush, mangroves and small lagoons.
Academy Bay tour
Our Academy boat tour included:
Caamaño Islet where we found sea lions jumping and playing in the sea.
Snorkelling with giant sea turtles and colourful reef fish.
Rocks with the blue-footed booby birds.
Playa de los Perros with an abundance of Sally Lightfoot crabs and marine iguanas.
Lagoon with sharks and giant sea turtles.
A hike trough interesting Opuntia cactus landscape.
A refreshing swim in Las Grietas.
Various agencies in Puerto Ayora offer this day tour. You just ask around to find out where to get a good deal. We paid about $35 per person.
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