Our next day trip was to Los Túneles (The Tunnels) – which is off the South Coast of Isabela – and is named after a series of natural lava tunnel formations in the ocean… The area is known for its calm waters and AMAZING snorkelling…
Los Túneles can ONLY be accessed as part of a tour with an official tour guide – as it’s part of the National Park. There were two time slots per day for this tour – 7am and 11:30am – but we’d heard that it was best to avoid the 7am start… no it wasn’t so you could have a lie-in, but rather because apparently most people on this tour needed to be back to catch the afternoon inter-island ferry – therefore you are stuck adhering to a fixed schedule and there is less time for just hanging out if you spot something really cool.
Being on the 11:30am tour we needed to be at the tour operator’s office by 11am to get fitted out with our wetsuits – we opted for longies… the shorties we’d used had left us freezing in the waters off San Cristóbal – AND sunburnt… we’d learnt from our mistake!!
Our guide – Gabriel – arrived at the office… His enthusiasm and energy was incredible… although as we waited for the others on our tour to arrive at the office, and Gabriel started high-fiving everyone for random things – we started to get nervous about how things might turn out… 🙂
By the time everyone had arrived, the taxi (ute style) was outside the office and ready to deliver us to the wharf, where ‘Anita’ our boat and the crew were waiting for us… and once we were all aboard we were off!
Our first stop was Union Rock – a huge rock jutting out of the vast expanse of ocean… we circled it several times so everyone could get a good look and see the sea birds that were hanging out on the rock… It was pretty rough waters by the rock, and to be honest the waves seemed to prevent us from getting too close to the rock. Gabriel – the guide – obviously loved this rock – his enthusiasm was insane as he kept shouting for everyone to look at the booby, or gull, or cormorant – or whichever other bird he could see at that precise moment… I’m sure that in part, the multiple circuits of the rock were for his benefit 😉
It was then time to head on… In total it took us about an hour to reach Los Túneles…
Once we arrived there was a huge rush for everyone to put on their wetsuits… then it was a scramble as everyone needed to find a suitable mask and snorkel, and pair of fins to use – the snorkel equipment stays on the boat rather than being returned to the office and allocated to individuals there… PB also managed to secure a super-duper lightweight life-jacket to help keep him afloat…
It was then time to jump off the boat into the water… However, it was pretty comical – as I think this was the first moment that Gabriel had realised that PB was wearing a life-jacket… ‘Sir, he called… wait for me – we will go in together so you can hold my arm’… Too late – PB was already in – getting used to the water with CC by his side… what can I say except that Gabriel looked relieved – he’d misunderstood the situation – he was expecting to have to tow a lifebuoy behind him for the duration of the snorkel with PB desperately hanging on.
What is interesting about Los Túneles is that the marine life is pretty much guaranteed… as it seems to ‘hang out’ and feed in the same areas – a pretty easy job for a guide 😉 So en masse, being led by Gabriel, we started the snorkel of Los Túneles – first the turtle area, then the shark area, and finally the seahorse area…
While there were frustrations en route – such as a Brazilian family who REALLY couldn’t snorkel – AND to make matters worse had no spatial awarenss and often barged past you with no regard to whether you were still afloat or not – as long as they were closer to the front and the next bit of marine life that was about to be pointed out by Gabriel all was okay… well, for them!
There was also at times a lack of visibility as everyone was kicking up so much sand…
And then there was the ‘Go-Pro’ on a VERY LONG stick crew… who were definitely ONLY on the tour to get the best possible pictures – regardless of what that meant for everyone else on the tour… I mean why enjoy the moment when you can spend the whole time taking pictures to look at later…
However, in spite of these annoyances – the snorkel was actually still ABSOLUTELY AMAZING 🙂 We saw so many green turtles in the water, some swimming beneath us, some in the distance, others grazing on the sea-bed. .. Many of these turtles were the LARGEST turtles I have ever seen! 🙂
Then we saw whitetip reef sharks… The initial shark sightings weren’t as easy as the turtle sightings – the sharks like to hang out in a cave, so you had to hold your breath and then dive under to see into the cave…. For those that were a bit inept at doing this i.e. PB and CC (BUT there were others too!) – Gabriel enjoyed pushing you down and holding you under so that you could see the spectacle for yourself… Gabriel hated the thought of any member of the group not seeing everything – a really nice touch.
After the shark area it was time to snorkel over some coral and sea-grass, and under some lava tunnel formations to reach the seahorse area… The seahorses were REALLY difficult to see… but it didn’t matter that we couldn’t spot them through all the sand that had been kicked up – swimming after a cool looking sea snake kept us happy!
Check out the pictures of the amazing snorkel – please don’t worry – we are not hypocritical – we were NOT part of the Go-Pro Stick crew… our pictures come courtesy of Gabriel (just with a bit of cropping on our part to get rid of the people that seemed to be in most of the underwater shots!?!)… the company that we picked to go on the tour with provides each person who went on the tour with a copy of all the photos taken by the guide! Cool, huh! 🙂
After an amazing snorkel it was time to get back on the boat… we dried off, ate a snack, and then all looked a tad confused… half of the group and Gabriel were missing… Turns out someone had ‘really loved’ the sharks, so they’d all gone back to have a second look – for those already out of the water and on the boat… well tough!
Once everyone was back on the boat, it was time for a short boat ride to our second snorkel spot of the day… This snorkel wasn’t as good as the first – BUT at the end of the snorkel we came across a lone penguin sitting on a rock in the middle of the water – It was our first sighting of the Galapagos penguin! This penguin is extra special, as it’s the only penguin in the world that lives in the both the northern and southern hemispheres!
Back on the boat it was time to dry off and tuck into a late lunch… it was already around 3pm – and after a pretty long time in the water we were very hungry 🙂 Over lunch we had a bonus surprise – not only could we see the penguin from the boat… BUT the boat captain pointed out a lone Galapagos Fur Seal on a distant rock… we weren’t expecting to see a fur seal – we hadn’t read any reviews about anyone seeing a fur seal at Los Túneles – this was an amazing surprise 🙂
After lunch the boat set off – and after a tricky manoeuvre through an extremely narrow gap in the rocks, we made it into the calm waters by some beautiful lava formations. It was time for the on-land part of the tour…
We disembarked from the boat and clambered on to the lava tunnels – the formations were extremely impressive, and the cactus growing on the lava formations only added to the charm of the area.
It was time to leave Los Túneles… but not before spotting one last penguin!
The hour ride back to Puerto Villamil went pretty quickly… after the guide had once again high-fived everyone at least once… it was time to relax, watch the waves, keep an eye out for birds and dolphins, and listen to the salsa music that the boat captain was enjoying 🙂