West Isabela – Galapagos Islands

Day 5: Punta Moreno & Elizabeth Bay on Isabela island

We came upstairs for breakfast and were treated to a spectacular view when we looked out the window: blue skies and Volcan Azul (blue volcano). We sailed through the night round the south of Isabela island arriving at Punta Moreno. Apparently the trip was meant to take 10/11 hours but only took 7 and a half because conditions were a lot better than usual.

We set out early for our morning hike and as we neared the shore on the zodiac, we saw a mother pelican land in the nest to feed her young by opening it’s huge mouth to pass on the regurgitated food. I have never seen anything like it! Though our view was slightly obscured by the trees, we still glimpsed the baby’s neck all the way inside the mother’s mouth and I even managed to take a photograph that I’m really proud of!

This part of the island is covered in lava rock from the nearby Volcan Azul. It was a landscape that we had never seen before; black, broken and barren. It can take upwards of 200 years following an eruption before the vegetation really starts to grow. Given it erupted as recently as 2008 only a few cactus plants were to be seen. There are three types of cactus found in the Galapagos, here was where we saw the Lava cactus for the first time, each plant often had different coloured parts.

It was really surprising to see pools of water quite far inland that seemed completely cut-off from the ocean. It was even more surprising to see several Galapagos ducks swimming around in them. As we neared the sea, there were a few larger rock pool lagoons. We were so lucky to find the largest pool full of incredible marine life; 2 white tipped reef sharks, one sea turtle, 3 pufferfish and a sting ray! When the tide changes, these animals would make their way back in to the ocean.

After the hike, we had a quick change in to our wet suits ready to snorkel. As we were now properly in the west of the Galapagos archipelago, the water temperature dropped a huge amount. It was bloody freezing but still worth persevering through. We saw lots of huge sea turtles chomping on the algae on the rocks. I saw a massive hieroglyphic hawkfish too which has a really striking blue and yellow pattern. I was in my own little world when we were snorkeling and rarely bothered to come up to the surface to see where everyone else was. When I finally surfaced, I realised that our whole group apart from me and one other had bailed because the water was too cold. Unlucky for them because that’s when I saw a Galapagos penguin streak past me!

In the afternoon, we went out wildlife spotting on the inflatable zodiac motor boats around Elizabeth Bay. As we entered the mangroves, a couple of Galapagos penguins were hopping through the water in front of us, with a playful sea lion close behind! This sea lion seemed to love the attention and had great fun swimming and twirling around our boat. He kept popping his head out of the water as if to check we were still watching.

We went through the shallow, mangrove-lined waters, turned off the engine and then paddled. We saw SO many sea turtles, it was absolutely mad! You could look in any direction and were guaranteed to see a turtle pop it’s head out the water, we’d often count 6 together at once. We’ve now seen a lot of sea turtles when snorkeling (which still fascinates me every time) but it was really nice to get a different perspective and see them from the surface. Also where else in the world would you see sea turtles, sea lions and penguins swimming alongside each other?!

It was here that we saw the rare flightless cormorant! Even within the Galapagos, this bird can only be found in the western part. The bird has evolved to have these absolutely tiny, stumpy wings but the largest body of all cormorants. In the Galapagos, the cormorant lost it’s ability to fly because there was so need when searching for food, another of the incredible bits of evolutionary evidence the Galapagos has to offer. This was particularly special for me as it was actually the Cormorant bird I first saw in Byron Bay, Australia that got me in to bird watching and downloading bird guides! We also saw some more species of heron (the lava heron and Great blue heron), Blue footed boobies and even some really young white fluffy chicks.

As we got back on the boat and began sailing north, we got to enjoy our first beautiful sunset of the Galapagos with clear skies! Join us next time as we head along the coast of Isabela island to Tagus Cove.

Thanks for reading,

Sophie & Dave



South Isabela – Galapagos Islands

Day 4: Isabela Island, Puerto Villamil & Sierra Negra Volcano

We sailed through the night, our longest navigation yet, and arrived at Isabela island. Isabela is the largest island of the Galapagos but only has a population of just over 2,200 people. Less than 1% of the land is privately owned, the rest of the land is national park. In the morning, we headed to Puerto Villamil where we caught the “chicken bus” 40 minutes inland towards our destination; the Volcano Sierra Negra. Sierra Negra is one of the most active volcanos in the Galapagos, last erupting in 2005. The chicken bus was sort of a converted truck with wooden benches in the back and open sides, although surprisingly quite comfortable.

We got off at the bottom of the volcano and started our hike, which was the most strenuous of the all the Galapagos walks so far, but by no means particularly difficult. We were headed to see one of the largest calderas in the world. It is essentially numerous collapsed volcanoes which make about a 10km2 crater. The depression is situated up in the highlands so it was very misty and a bit wet which didn’t bode well for the views at the top. There wasn’t much in the way of wildlife on the walk up other than quite a few of Darwin’s finches. Whilst it was an impressive sight, we only got to see glimpses of it through the mist. We waited for it to pass and managed to get a slightly clearer view but still a bit foggy.

Back at the port, we had a bit of time to wander round. We went along a short mangrove boardwalk that was lined with seals and marine iguanas. Back by the beach there were quite a few benches where huge sea lions had climbed up and made themselves comfortable for a nap. Whilst we waited for our little zodiac boat at the pier, we saw an Eagle Ray gliding through the shallows. The Galapagos waters are just so incredible that you can see such fascinating animals even from land!

After lunch, we headed back out to see the Giant Tortoise rearing centre that focused on species from Isabela island. It wasn’t as educational as the Santa Cruz research station but we did get to see tiny, preserved tortoise embryos of 1,2,3 and 4 months! It was really interesting to see the shell growing even within the egg as it is easy to forget that the shell ultimately is a bone. The highlight was when the guide brought out a gorgeous 7 month old baby tortoise, it was smaller than the palm of a hand, and so crazy to think it will grow to 250kg!

Isabela is the only island with multiple species of giant tortoises. The volcanic terrain and different environments have allowed up to 5 different species to evolve. The Cerro Azul tortoises have domed shells, the shortest limbs and are some of the biggest found in the Galapagos as they live in a lush environment with plenty of food. The nearby Sierra Negra tortoises however, live in a dry habitat with limited food so they have evolved to have longer limbs and necks to be able to reach the cactus plants, their primary food source. They also have the most unusual flattened saddleback shells which enable them to further elongate their necks (see photo below!). They actually had to be rescued back in 1998 as they were surrounded and trapped by lava following an eruption in Cerro Azul.

From the breeding centre, we walked along a boardwalk to where there are little salt and fresh water pools, home to Galapagos Flamingos! What’s special about the Galapagos Flamingo is their colouring. The most accurate description would be a pink stabilo highlighter! It was fascinating to watch the flamingos sweeping their heads back and forth as they searched for their favourite food – brine shrimp. We had a little bit of free time to wander round the tiny Isabela town, the last bit of civilisation we would be seeing for the rest of the cruise. We walked along the beach and saw the biggest group of marine iguanas we’ve seen yet, easily at least 50, mostly young ones with one massive adult! We also poked our heads in the Church which had stained glass windows featuring the animals of the Galapagos and right at the alter, there was a statue of Jesus in the tropical sky looking down on the ocean, beach and animals. It was interesting to see the very animals that sparked the theory of evolution inside a church. We then headed back to our yacht aboard the zodiac where we saw our first Manta Ray gliding near the surface!

Thanks for reading and join us for the next day of the cruise.

Sophie & Dave

Cusco & Machu Picchu – Peru


We weren’t sure what to expect of Cusco as a city, we assumed it would just be a huge tourist trap. To an extent, it was, but we were also pleasantly surprised by what a beautiful city it was. Cobbled streets carpeted the old historic centre and mountains dotted with tiny houses surrounded the main centre of the Plaza de Armas. We went to Cusco with very low expectations and we had sort of already told ourselves we probably wouldn’t get the chance to go and see Machu Picchu. We’d been continuously told that everything must be booked extremely far in advance. If you want to do the Inca trail trek, you should book 6 months in advance as there are only 500 permits available per day on the trek. If you want to visit by train, even then, we’d been told to book in advance as there are only 2500 entrants permitted per day to the citadel; let alone the limited and expensive seats on Peru Rail. To top off the seemingly unattainable attraction, from the 1st of July 2017, further restrictions were implemented to try and reduce the human impact on the ancient wonder: so you can only visit during the morning (6am-12pm) or afternoon (12pm-5.30pm) slots!

That being said, booking the train and entrance to the citadel for the following day was a breeze for us – albeit an expensive breeze! We rocked up to the cultural ministry, and opted for the afternoon slot costing us S$150 or £36pp. We then went to the Peru Rail ticket office and booked an early morning train from Poroy (near Cusco) to Machu Picchu that would arrive at 11am giving us time to catch the bus up to the actual citadel before our afternoon entrance. The return got back to Cusco around 9pm at night. Fortunately, there was even a 25% discount on Peru Rail trains for this time, we were lucky not to be in peak season. Still, the train cost us a staggering $163pp or £117 for just a 3 hour journey each way! While the train was comfortable, it was hardly luxurious like the Puno to Cusco train we took.

We awoke early and unfortunately I had a relapse of my illness from Bolivia. It was touch and go as to whether I would actually be able to make it out (on one of our most expensive outings this year). In the end, I decided I could not miss it so I battled through the day extremely weak having only eaten a banana. We knew before going that Machu Picchu is located amidst a tropical mountain forest, but the train journey and the bus up the mountain were just absolute madness and we were in such awe. Never would you expect something of that delicate craftsmanship to be somewhere so remote on an Andean mountaintop. Peru’s national treasure, Machu Picchu, is located 2400 metres above sea level. To this day, the exact origins and purpose of Machu Picchu are unknown, they say it was built in 1450 for the Inca emperor called Pachacuti. When the Spaniards invaded Inca lands, Machu Picchu was abandoned around the year 1572. However, the Spanish never found the citadel. It lay forgotten until its re-discovery by Hiram Bingham, the American explorer in 1911.

The 20 minute winding bus ride up the mountain was horrific and nausea inducing. But as soon as we disembarked and actually entered in, our jaws dropped at the site of Machu Picchu. We must have seen thousands of photographs of Machu Picchu (every billboard or company seems to use the iconic image in their advertising), yet we were still unprepared for the beauty of the world heritage site. We had an amazing time wandering through the pinnacle of the legacy of the Incas and even met some wild llamas, seemingly all with babies, on our way round! We were also extra lucky because we had glorious sunshine! The day before, there had been torrential downpour in Cusco and even hailstones in the night! We went to Machu Picchu armed with a waterproof bag for the valuables, coats and even waterproof trousers! Turns out we actually just needed sunglasses, a happy error for once!

Join us next time as we head to Peru’s second biggest city; Arequipa!

Sophie & Dave

Puno & Peru Rail to Cusco – Peru


We left Copacabana in Bolivia and crossed the land border to Puno, Peru. It was a four hour trip including the customs, but distance wise; its only 144km as Puno is still situated next to the massive Lake Titicaca. The main thing people do when in Puno is visit the floating Islands of the Uros people. These are man-made islands from reeds that are supposedly still inhabited today, though there is much debate as to whether the tours just show a facade or real people who live there. However, neither of us actually went. Dave had booked on to a tour the day before but unfortunately got projectile vomiting food poisoning after eating the local delicacy of guinea pig (karma?). I had never intended to go as I was now in my fourth week of being ill. Randomly, my Dad knew someone from Puno that he’d met sailing and she was able to recommend an English speaking doctor. We went again and after a few tests he just said that I was at the tail end of the stomach infection/parasites episode from Bolivia and put me on another strict diet (where I basically only ate bananas, plain bread and occasionally grilled chicken for 4 days). So unfortunately, we didn’t do much in Puno at all, and most upsettingly, don’t even have good food to report back. I did however drink a lot of the Andean tea infusion served in a clay teapot over a candle to keep warm; it has spearmint, coca leaves, eucalyptus and airampo (cactus flower) which gave the tea its vibrant majenta colouring.

Our next destination was Cusco and we decided to look in to taking a Peru Rail train called the Titicaca. We looked up the timetable and found the train that would suit us but every time we came to where you buy the tickets online, an error occurred (this becomes relevant, wait for it). So, we decided to pop down to the rail station and the ticket office. We asked how much (as we hadn’t been able to see the price on the website) and he said 384. We said, ah great, did the 384 Peruvian Soles conversion and said, £45 a ticket, great! We paid by card, and then I said, ‘hang on, I think that said US dollars, Dave?’. Turns out we’d just paid $384 USD (almost £150 each per ticket)! We felt like total muppets and had our first taste of a proper traveller error. With hindsight now, I can happily say that the hefty price tag was indisputably worth it! It’s a 338km journey taking 10.5 hours during the day. The train and service are luxury and the views are spectacular. We were seated at our own private 4 man table with arm-chair style seating, however, we were free to get up and walk around whenever. The adjacent carriage was the Bar carriage with more lovely seating and finally there was the Observatory carriage with not just panoramic windows like the rest of the train, but ceiling windows and even an open back with a railing which was lovely to be able to sit and get some fresh air on the journey. Have you ever been on a train where you can literally hang out the railings on the back?!

The train ride weaves through the Andes mountain range and it was very interesting to see so much of the “real Peru” which is vast farming landscapes with herds of wild llamas. We couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable viewing it from panoramic windows on a luxury train though. Mostly all the farming is done by hand and in the 10 hour journey we only saw 2 tractors, so it is serious back-breaking work. On the other hand, had we not taken the train, we wouldn’t have seen how so many Peruvians live and work at all. We also had a 10 minute stop at La Rays which is at 4319 metres above sea level; the highest point on the train journey (one poor guy had to be given an oxygen mask and tank because of the altitude). There were lots of vendors selling the traditional llama and alpaca wool clothing and trinkets. We were even being sold llama-wear by Peru rail as one of the bits of train entertainment was a fashion show performed by the staff! Although that was… interesting…there was far better entertainment in the form of song and dance. On the first half of the trip, we were treated to Pisco welcome drinks whilst they did a show with music and dance from the Puno region. The guy playing the panflute was particularly impressive. In the afternoon, we had another cultural session, this time with music and dance from the Cusco region. Dave was even given a maraca to join in with, which he valiantly did (predominantly out of tune). The shows really were of amazing quality and felt genuinely enriching, giving us a glimpse of Peruvian culture.

In the afternoon, the bartender explained how to make the traditional Peruvian drink, Pisco sour. We’d also been told various facts about Pisco and apparently grape trivia sticks in my head as I won a free cocktail in the competition for knowing that there are 8 different grapes used for Pisco. Dave was pleased too because I gave it to him to drink. Within the ticket price, aside from all of the entertainment and freebies, was the star of the show; the gourmet food. We had a delicious three course lunch consisting of potato & herb soup, followed by steak wrapped in bacon and finally, chocolate & praline cake. Lunch also came with wine which added to the value, and you could have unlimited water and coca tea throughout the day. We even got mini afternoon high tea with little sandwiches, cakes and lemongrass tea. Overall, an absolutely incredible experience, and in an ideal world, we’d travel everywhere by luxury train!

Join us next time as we explore Cusco and head up to Machu Picchu!

Sophie & Dave

Florianópolis – Brazil


We made it to Brazil. Technically our first stop was Porto Alegre though we only stayed a night and didn’t really do anything. The start of our Brazilian adventure was when we arrived in Florianópolis, also known as ‘Floripa’; a city predominantly on an island in the South of Brazil, infamous for it’s 42 beaches!

We arrived fairly late so we decided to stay one night near the old town where the bus station is. We had a very fancy lobster dinner at Rita Maria Lagosteria, though very pricey, it was pretty spectacular. The next day we headed deeper in to the island. There are apparently many local buses you can catch, or taxis. But we opted for an uber; a 40 minute journey for $BR26 = £6.50 – such a bargain especially when lugging around backpacks.

Speaking of bargains, we stayed at one of the nicest accommodations we’ve had this year. The island has so many different areas, we were unsure where to stay. In the end we opted for Haute Haus near Lagoa da Conceição. It was a guest house but more like staying in a mansion, complete with beautiful grounds and a swimming pool! The gardens surrounding the property were my personal favourite as one day, when I was standing on our balcony, I caught sight of what I initially thought was a dragon walking across the grass! I grabbed my camera, pushed Dave in to the door (apparently) and sprinted down the corridor and outside the house where I discovered an Argentine black and white Tegu lizard! They are the largest of all Tegu species, and males can grow up to 4.5ft!! Of course, see photos below, this lizard was even bigger than the Monitor lizards we saw in Singapore.

Unfortunately, we seemed to be a little unlucky with the weather so didn’t actually have any sunbathing beach days but we did walk to Joaquina beach nonetheless. Joaquina is one of the highest ranked beaches and you have to walk over the sand dune to reach it. There’s a rocky/cliff area where lots of people climb around or sit overlooking the waves. I thought the steep, slippy rocks looked too dangerous for my taste so I waited for Dave to return.  However, when Dave came back exclaiming ‘you wouldn’t believe what I just saw!’,  turns out he’d just seen an enormous wild tarantula crawling over the rocks, I couldn’t resist, and ironically this is what swayed me to clamber over the rocks too. Unfortunately I didn’t see the tarantula for myself but we did see a man sat right at the lowest rocks’ edge against the enormous crashing waves. We watched him for ages because we thought he was absolutely mental! He looked as though he could have been engulfed by the waves every time. We actually ended up chatting to him later and he told us he came and sat there every weekend to just listen to the waves. I showed him some of the photos I’d taken of him too (see below) which he was thrilled about and asked for our email address to send him a couple.

We’d seen quite a lot of people sand boarding the day before and decided we wanted to try for ourselves. However, when we got to the dunes, they were completely deserted. In off-season, they must only run on weekends. We still had fun running around just the pair of us in these huge lonely dunes. I even found a piece of cardboard (like the flimsy backing board of an IKEA book case) and we tried our own card-boarding down the dunes. It sort of worked. We have some hilarious videos, mostly of me falling over.

Our last day in Florianópolis was of course a sunny one. We were fortunate that the accommodation let us hang around for the whole day before our onward night bus at 9pm. As they had no other guests arriving, they even let us keep our room for the entire day free of charge so we were able to enjoy some pool side time and see Lagoa da Conceição in all its glory in the sunshine. The lagoon is a hotspot for windsurfers and sailers alike and we sat and watched them tear across the lake at such speed. In case you’re wondering, there is a small river out of the lagoon that feeds in to the South Atlantic Ocean.

Thanks for reading and join us next time as we head to Sao Paolo!

Sophie & Dave