Our first tour day in the Galapagos started nice and early. We were making a day trip from San Cristóbal, where we were staying, to Española, one of the many uninhabited islands. Before we left, we had to get our bags and shoes checked to make sure that we weren’t taking anything that could negatively impact the island. Remember how I talked about the introduction of non-native species having a devastating impact on the islands during the colonial years? One part of conservation is making sure that islands are only inhabited by plants and animals that are introduced naturally. Animals are harder to bring along by accident (at least as an individual… but boats can bring rats, and they are terrible), but seeds can tag along without you even realizing it. They’re very strict about checking your shoes before you leave an island which seems crazy, but if you stepped in animal poop or mud, for example, there could be seeds traveling on your shoes to the next island. Admittedly, the system is far from perfect, and I’m sure that there are issues that come up, but it’s a start.

To give you a point of reference… We started at San Cristobal and went via boat to Española which is the southernmost island.

The boat ride to Española is two hours each way. People always warn about getting seasick in the Galapagos because the boats are generally small and the ocean can be choppy, so even though I almost never get seasick, I took some pills just in case. My gosh. It’s a good thing I did. Even with them, I felt like I needed to keep my eyes closed most of the time, and at one point, my face started heating up so I relocated to the back of the boat to feel the breeze. After that, I felt completely fine. It was just in the front with the stuffy air that I felt like I might explode.

Besides the “trying not to die” part of the ride, we also had an awesome start to the trip when we were joined by a group of dolphins! I’d say that there had to be at least a hundred, but who knows. They were swimming alongside the boat and throwing themselves out of the water. Sometimes they’d twist around midair, and the guide said they were playing with us. They definitely looked like they were having fun! They were just so free, so unbridled and joyful. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. When it was over, we all looked at each other and were like, “Well, if we don’t see anything else on this whole trip, it was still worth it.” I didn’t take a good video because I was too busy living it, so you’ll just have to imagine.

Pelican! This was on the dock in San Cristobal

When we finally reached the island, we had a “dry landing” which meant we didn’t have to get our feet wet. The boat anchored nearby, and we used a dinghy to ride the rest of the way through the shallow water. We were welcomed to the island by the famous Christmas iguanas! They’re a subspecies of marine iguana found only on Española, and as you can probably guess, they’re bright red and green with the most vivid colors showing up during the mating season.

So pretty!
These guys also had a lot to say, and it was WEIRD. I tried to take a video, but I guess they were camera-shy because they didn’t cooperate.

Look at their claw hands
This guy has quite the gut

We took a walk around the island, starting at a beach on a little bay. There were more marine iguanas (Christmas and otherwise), Sally Lightfoot crabs, and a lot of sea lions. The guide explained that the bay is a good place for baby sea lions because it’s sheltered from the sea, and the moms and babies hang out here while the babies learn to swim in the shallow water. There’s a bull sea lion who is the alpha of a group of females and babies, and it’s his job to protect them. He patrols the perimeter and keeps sharks and predators away.

Here’s the weird thing… the alpha bull usually changes every couple of weeks. When a bull is alpha, he doesn’t eat because he’s so busy protecting the group. He gets weaker and weaker until another bull can challenge him and win because that bull has been eating. These challenger bulls wander around in “bachelor colonies” of similarly unattached bulls. Like… what?

Baby sea lion bay
I love the iguana mohawks.
They definitely like to hear themselves talk.
These two cracked me up
He’s huge!
The Hood or Española mockingbird is endemic to Española Island. That means it’s not found anywhere else on earth!
We’re definitely friends

People sometimes compare sea lions to dogs, and nothing says “dog” more than chasing your own tail:

Terrifying sea lion teeth
Rare picture of me

LOTS of Sally Lightfoot crabs
Looking back towards the bay. Hope you aren’t looking for any shade on this island because if so, you’re outta luck!

From the beach, we moved to the island’s cliffs where there are TONS of birds. Española has a lot of Nazca boobies, white and black seabirds with yellow eyes and pinkish-orange beaks. They eat fish which they catch by diving into the ocean at high speed. On Española, they nest on the cliffs, and we got lucky enough to see some eggs and even some babies! That was exciting because it’s not something you see every day, but the babies are suuuper creepy looking when they first hatch. Eventually, they get nice and fluffy, but they start out as these weird, grey alien dinosaur-like creatures. Eek.

The guide explained that only one baby usually survives, even if there are multiple eggs. One hatches first, and that one gets priority with feeding and such because the mom bird just assumes that it has a better chance of surviving. There are also cases where the older, stronger baby kills its sibling by dragging it out of the nest. Geez! The animal world is savage.

Spot the Nazca booby!
They could use a housekeeper in this nesting ground. Poop everywhere!
These are some fairly large birds… Like large chicken-sized maybe? I wasn’t used to seeing such big birds, and sometimes it almost looked like they weren’t real… like they were robotic birds. I don’t know. I’ve decided that big birds kind of freak me out.
I don’t know anything about birds, so no clue what this guy is doing. Maybe stretching? Or getting some air?
Enjoying the breeze
Nazca booby with a couple of eggs
I don’t know how well you can see, but look underneath this bird. See the weird grey thing that looks like an alien? THAT is a baby bird in its pre-cute state. Creepy.
Here’s another glimpse of the creepy baby birds. There’s one egg and one baby underneath this booby.
A Nazca booby with its baby. This is the baby after it gets kind of cute, but when they first hatch, there’s none of that fluffiness.
Little buddy has something important to say
Nazca booby soaring. How cool!!
These are swallow-tailed gulls. It looks like their eyes are red, but actually that’s just a rim around their eyes.
An American oystercatcher
Look at its eggs!! These birds mate for life, and they take turns sitting on the eggs. We saw another oystercatcher running around nearby before seeing this one on the nest. Maybe its mate?
Marine iguana chilling. You can see that they’re not the Christmas iguanas, but they still have some pretty coloring. There are a few different subspecies of marine iguana, the most boring being the all-black ones.

The other big-deal bird at Española is the waved albatross. These birds are HUGE. In the scheme of albatrosses, they’re only medium-sized, but that still means a wingspan of up to 8 feet (2.5m)! (Other albatrosses can have a 12-foot wingspan.) They come to the island only to mate and nest. Their mating dance is apparently quite the sight… lots of bowing, waving their beaks around, and smacking them together. Waved albatrosses mate for life, and both partners are involved in raising babies. Eggs have to be incubated for two months, and parents take turns sitting on the eggs/rolling it around for reasons unknown. After they hatch, the parents hunt and come back to feed them by regurgitating an oily substance into their mouths. Yum. Five to six months later, the baby can fly, and once they’re ready to leave the island, they don’t return until they reach sexual maturity and come back to mate, up to six years later.

So, what do they do during all that time at sea? They can fly insanely long distances, and they’re really good at using the wind to minimize their effort. They sleep on the water. They can have trouble taking off, so they try to use the wind to their advantage, and on the island, they have a runway to help them build up speed. When they need to take off at sea, they run on the water!

“Baby” waved albatross from afar. I actually couldn’t even see him when I took this picture… I just pointed the camera in the direction the guide was pointing and hoped that I might be able to see something once I put the picture on my computer. Ha!
Here’s a grown-up waved albatross. As you can see, their heads eventually turn white and their beaks turn yellow. This was also super far away/I could barely see it. Definitely don’t go to the Galapagos without either a camera with a strong lens or a good pair of binoculars.
An abandoned waved albatross egg. We were there at the end of December and found a few eggs sitting unattended on the island. The guide said that they had been abandoned because they weren’t going to hatch in time to survive. They are usually adult-sized and leave the island in December/January.
The eggs are huge. Maybe between baseball and softball-sized, but egg-shaped.
“Baby” waved albatross, though, as you can see (maybe?), it’s pretty darn big which makes sense because it’s about time for it to go off on its own. I’m going to attempt to give you an idea of size… This is probably around the size of a rooster? Ish.
So pretty!
Lava lizard! These little guys are EVERYWHERE.
I’m going to attempt to identify birds and animals and such, but just keep in mind that I’m no birder and I could be wrong about some of these things. That being said… I think this is a Galapagos hawk. I mean, it’s definitely a hawk and it was in the Galapagos… but there’s an actual species called Galapagos hawks. I like this picture because it’s like he’s looking at me.
Hawk flying
Blue-footed booby. We’ll talk more about them later.
The island itself is not especially pretty. It kind of feels like a wasteland, actually, with these scorched branches and the brutal sun beating down.
There is SOME color at least, but yeah, you definitely wouldn’t go inland to enjoy the physical beauty of the island.
The cliffs are pretty, too
Interesting plants, right?
Coastline views
Blue-footed booby
Not a rock in sight that’s not covered in bird poop
I don’t know what this is.

After we walked around the island, we headed back to the boat, ate lunch, and got ready for some snorkeling time. The boat dropped us off near the island, we swam along the coast for a bit, and then it picked us back up. I have some not-great pictures from snorkeling… I don’t have an underwater camera, so I put my phone in one of those waterproof cases. Better than nothing, but not ideal (it kept my phone dry, though, so that’s a big win in itself).

Headed back to the boat (pic by my uncle)
Blurry sea lion zooming past
Sea turtle!

Here’s a sea turtle video! (I think I took it by accident, actually. It was hard to control the camera through the waterproof case. Hehe):

So many fish
Can you see the rays hanging out underneath that rock? They must have been at least a couple of feet in diameter.
Pretty colors on this little guy!

We rode the two hours back to San Cristóbal in near silence… I think everyone was exhausted. I sure was! And my body was either too tired to get seasick or else the ride was much smoother because I felt fine. After we got back, we ate dinner, lounged around, got our gear fitted for the tour the following day. Whew! The instant it was an acceptable time to go to bed, I was out.

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Welcome to the Galapagos – learn about how the islands were formed and transformed from barren lava islands into the wildlife refuge they are today

The morning after my short day in Guayaquil, I met my aunt, uncle, and cousins at the airport for our flight to San Cristóbal, our first stop in the Galapagos! I was really excited that it worked out for me to travel with their family because while I do love to travel alone, there are some destinations that are even better with travel companions. To me, the Galapagos is one of those (because you need someone to share your disbelief with! It’s a place like none other).

Cousins! (pic by my uncle)

Since the Galapagos Islands are protected, there are lots of hoops to jump through on your way there. We needed to provide all sorts of information about where we were staying and what we were doing, they scanned our luggage to make sure we weren’t bringing any organic materials with us (because non-native seeds and such can really mess things up), and when that whole process was finished, we were off!


No trip is without its drama, and this time, there was some seat assignment debacle happening. I don’t know exactly what it was all about, but I stepped onto the plane and immediately regretted it. Chaos. People were standing in the aisle and yelling at the flight attendants who were frantically looking at papers and passing them back and forth and yelling across the plane. I managed to scoot past the mess and into my seat, but there was still no resolution in sight. The departure time came and went. Tensions were rising. Finally, a man a few rows in front of me stood up and said, “Okay, so whatever happened to mess this up, it doesn’t matter anymore. The flight is only 2 hours long. Can we all just agree to sit in whatever seats are available so that we can get out of here?” A voice of reason. The plane breathed a collective sigh of relief. The problem passengers sat down. We took off. That man was a hero.

Now that we’re airborne, let’s get some Galapagos backstory. The Galapagos Islands are a volcanically formed archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, straddling the equator about 560 miles (900km) west of Ecuador. There’s a hot spot beneath the earth’s crust, and sometimes, an eruption pierces the crust and sends out a flood of lava that accumulates and cools into an island. Since the earth’s crust is made of tectonic plates, giant areas of crust that are constantly moving, these newly formed islands slowly move away from their source hot spot which remains stationary. The Galapagos are on the Nazca Plate which is moving east towards South America at a rate of about ~1.2”/year (3cm). That may seem slow, but over 50 years, that’s nearly 5 feet (1.5m)! Over millions of years, a group of islands is formed. The oldest Galapagos Islands are on the eastern side, estimated to be 3 million years old. The newer ones to the west are young… more like 50,000 years.

The Galapagos Islands. There are some smaller islands that don’t show in this picture, but these are the major ones that people visit/know about.

The new islands, as nothing more than mountains of cooled lava, are completely devoid of life and rather inhospitable places. Slowly “pioneer species” make their way there, starting with things like cacti and lichens (fungus algae) that don’t need much to survive. Their seeds come to the islands via winds or tides, a few eventually land in places where they manage to germinate and grow, and slowly, they spread. Saltwater-resistant coastal plants, like mangroves, have a better shot than those requiring fresh water.

This is a good place to explain that one of the reasons why the Galapagos are so unique is because of their location. There are three different currents that converge on the islands: the warm Panama Current from the northeast, the cold Humboldt Current from the southeast, and the Cromwell Current, an upswell current from the west which brings cold water from the ocean depths. In essence, all ocean roads lead to the Galapagos, making them an incredible site for marine diversity, including marine mammals that also spend time on land, like penguins and sea lions.

Sally Lightfoot crab. The name origin is debated, but some say it’s named after a Caribbean dancer because of its speed and agility. For an idea of scale, this guy is maybe like 6″ wide?
Sea lions!

Okay, now we have some basic plant life and marine life… so how did the land animals arrive? Vegetation rafts (floating masses of vegetation) and other large, floating objects like tree trunks sometimes carry animals as well as plants. From the continent, in favorable conditions, it takes about two weeks to float out to the islands which means that any animal capable of surviving two weeks without freshwater and in the hot sun had a chance to make the Galapagos home. Not surprisingly, this mostly limited the land-dwellers to reptiles, mainly tortoises and land iguanas, that thrived in the absence of predators and competitors.

Land iguanas
This guy has some pretty colors!

Finally, the easiest path was taken by sea birds who simply flew to the islands. Many species nest on the various islands, probably attracted in part by the lack of major predators, making the Galapagos an especially famous destination for birders.

Great blue heron (not a great picture, but hey, baby steps)

Everything that came to the Galapagos had to either quickly adapt to the environment or perish, and the plants and animals that live there today sometimes look very different from their mainland ancestors. One famous example is the Galapagos finches. The thirteen species of finch are differentiated by their beak shapes, each best suited to accessing a particular food source. Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos, and his observations of the finches helped to form his theory of evolution.

The islands have two seasons: hot and garúa (drizzle). Hot is from December-May when the warm NE winds are strongest, and rainfall is abundant. Garúa is June-November when the SE and W winds are strongest. Temperatures are cooler with a persistent garúa.

In the lowlands of the islands, the climate is arid. Some of the larger islands have highland areas as well. Their climates transition from arid lowlands around the coast to almost rainforest-like vegetation (and weather!) in the highlands toward the center. It’s very strange. You can have a bright, sunny day on the coast, but a rainy day is just a quick drive into the highlands away.

Can you see the little crabs? They have one GIANT claw. These are actually so teeny that I couldn’t tell what they were from where I was standing. I saw hints of movement, and, curious, I took a picture with my camera zoomed in all the way and then zoomed in on the picture. Only then could I see the claws.
Get ready for post after post of me obsessing over how pretty the water is.

Okay, now I’m going to zoom through the human history of the islands because it’s far less interesting and mostly involves lots of bad decisions, people dying, and destruction and exploitation of the islands. Some evidence has been found to suggest that pre-colonial people made it to the islands, likely on large rafts that were driven by the winds and currents. The first written account of their existence is from 1535 by a Spanish missionary named Fray Tomás. A few days after his ship’s departure from Panama, the wind disappeared, and they were left to the mercy of the currents. By the time the ship reached the islands, its passengers were in desperate need of water. It took three days and two islands before they found freshwater pools which they used to refill their stores before heading back to the mainland. Fray Tomás wrote of “sea lions and turtles and tortoises so large that each could carry a man on top of itself, and many iguanas that are like serpents” and said that there were “many birds like those from Spain, but so silly that they didn’t know how to flee, and many were caught by hand”.

About a century later, pirates moved in, using the islands as a refuge and hiding place after attacking Spanish ships. The Spanish then took an interest in the islands, gathering as much information about them as possible to try to stop the pirates. The 1800s brought whalers who hunted the whale-rich waters, killed fur seals for their pelts, and took/killed tortoises for their oil which was used in lamps. This also was the beginning of the introduction of non-native species, a huge issue for the Galapagos wildlife that persists to this day as they threaten the native species by eating their food, eggs, etc. As Fray Tomás noticed with the “silly” birds, their lack of exposure to humans kept them from recognizing the risk they posed. The same is true for other animals. The native species have no time to adapt to them and the new threats they bring.

Crystal clear water!

The early attempts to colonize the islands all ended in disaster. The first was in 1832 and included 80 prisoners who were pardoned in exchange for their work in the colony. Within five years, it failed due to a toxic atmosphere between the colonists and criminals. Criminals continued to be sent to the islands, and in 1839, the new governor transformed the colony into a work camp where overseers dealt harshly with laborers until an 1841 revolt put an end to the whole mess. The next had a better leader, but he was idealistic and was murdered by some of the pardoned convicts he sought to reform… who were then killed by some of the workers who were loyal to the leader. Another failure. In 1879, the next guy produced sugar and treated his laborers (a mix of volunteers and convicts) like prisoners, allowing extreme punishments like whipping, banishment to another island, and death. He was killed by his workers in 1904. In 1925, 2000 Norwegian immigrants tried to set up a community, but the environmental conditions were too much, their business plans failed, and people died, leading most to return to Norway within three years, tired and disillusioned. In the 1940s, a penal colony was set up and became famous for the mistreatment of prisoners and abuse by the guards. This lasted 13 years until an uprising where the convicts took control, stole a yacht, and sailed themselves back to the continent.

Understandably, this run of “bad luck” led many people to believe that the islands were cursed. I think it was nature’s way of saying “keep out” and also “stop sending tyrants and convicts to start colonies because it’s never going to work”.

The Galapagos became a national park in 1959, the same year the penal colony was dissolved. This was a great step, but four centuries of exploitation had taken its toll. The wildlife on and around the islands was greatly depleted both from being killed by humans and by damage caused by the introduction of non-native species. Whaling logs from North American whalers alone list a minimum of 100,000 tortoises taken, meaning multiple times that were probably killed in total. Some tortoise species were lost to extinction, and the ones that are still around have been repopulated with great human effort.

We’ll talk more about some of these things later, but there’s a brief, whirlwind history of the Galapagos!

After we landed on San Cristóbal, we dropped off our bags at our apartment and walked down to the coast to check things out. Within two blocks, we were surrounded by sea lions and iguanas and crabs, and that was the end of our exploring. My uncle explained some camera basics to me, and I was happy as a clam (hehe), trying to take better pictures and figuring out the settings (you’ll see my photos gradually get better from this point on). We did eventually make it about two more blocks to a beach where some sea lions were lounging, and that entertained us until dinnertime.

This was where we spent approximately 40 minutes staring at crabs, sea lions, and iguanas. (pic by my uncle)
Another Sally Lightfoot crab
This looks comfortable
Sea lion beach
The little ones are so cute!
Just stretching…
Sea lion tracks
Look at that face

What posture!
My uncle is doing a good job of maintaining the required 2-meter distance between person and wildlife. Also, this is a good depiction of what’s going on behind practically every picture I took in the Galapagos. A crowd of people admiring the celebrity wildlife.

Everyone was exhausted after that. We had a full-day tour the next day, so I went to bed as soon as I could to prepare for our early start!

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Iceland History – visit the world’s largest volcanically formed island, Iceland! While Iceland and the Galapagos were formed the same way, you’ll see what a difference location makes!

Macaw Clay Lick – speaking of birds, head to Peru to admire the colorful macaws of the Amazon Rainforest.

Guayaquil – you know those prisoners who “helped” to colonize the islands? They were sent from the prisons of Guayaquil. Doesn’t that explanation make you want to take a walk around Ecuador’s biggest city? No? Well, you should anyway.

Travel day! Travel days are always kind of the worst, but the ACTUAL worst is when they start with a pre-6AM wake-up. People aren’t supposed to wake up that early! And you can never get to sleep early enough the night before to offset those lost morning hours because of last-minute packing. Our alarm went off at 4AM. DEAD. That’s how I felt when I opened my eyes. Mom and Dad had an 8AM flight (WHY), so we planned to leave the hotel at 4:45 to get to the airport three hours before. It always feels like overkill, but at the Lima airport, sometimes you really do need it. It turned out that the airport wasn’t busy, but there was a taxi mix-up that thankfully wasn’t disastrous thanks to our time cushion.

At the airport, I said a half-asleep goodbye to Mom and Dad, they headed off to the States. and I spent a few drowsy hours in the airport food court until I could check in for my flight to Ecuador! My final destination was the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago in the Pacific that’s known for its wildlife, but my trip there was a multi-day journey. The plan was to fly to Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador, explore the city for an afternoon, spend the night, meet up with my cousins and aunt and uncle the next morning, and then fly the rest of the way to island #1, San Cristobal!

I guess there’s no hiding that these pictures are from around Christmas…

Guayaquil doesn’t have the best of reputations. I planned my flights to have at least a few hours to wander around the city, and while I was looking for things to do and see, all sorts of articles with titles like “Why You Shouldn’t Visit Guayaquil” came up. Okay, not terribly encouraging. There were also plenty of articles with tips on how to not get robbed or scammed. After reading enough of them to feel like I had a handle on things but not so many that I was totally freaked out, I concluded that I’d be fine as long as I took official taxis to and from the airport (which you should always do anyway), left my valuables behind while walking around, stayed in the tourist parts of town during the day, and maintained a general awareness of my surroundings. Aka be smart. I wasn’t worried.

I don’t have a ton of pictures of the city, unfortunately, because I was a little extra cautious about how much I had my phone out. So we’ll just have to make do with the ones I did take.

Anyway, like I said, Guayaquil (wai-ah-keel) is Ecuador’s largest city. It’s located on the banks of the Guayas River, about 40 miles (64km) upstream from the Gulf of Guayaquil/Pacific Ocean and is the primary port city of Ecuador. According to legend, the name comes from an indigenous chief, Guayas, and his wife, Quil, who lived back when the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 1530s. They both fought valiantly but were captured. Guayas tricked the Spanish by promising to lead them to great riches if they were released, and instead, he used the opportunity to kill Quil and then himself, preferring death to imprisonment. When the city was first established, it was given the full name of “Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de Santiago de Guayaquil”, the Very Noble and Very Loyal City of Santiago of Guayaquil, named after Guayas and Quil as well as St. James (Santiago).

Throughout the colonial years, the city was attacked many times by pirates and privateers (which, to my understanding, are basically gentleman pirates… They did the same things as pirates but were commissioned by different governments to attack and plunder their enemies. So, French and English privateers would have attacked Spanish colonies, etc.), and you can still visit a fort at the top of Cerro Santa Ana, a hill in town, and see the cannons that were used to defend the city.

Cerro Santa Ana, a hill that you can climb up for a nice view… if you don’t mind walking up 444 stairs. At the top, there’s a tower that you can climb (just a few more stairs) for a panoramic view of the city and the fort/cannons that I mentioned.

In 1820, Guayaquil declared independence from Spain and operated as an independent province until 1822 when it was forced to join the newly formed Colombia. In 1830, the southern part of Colombia split off to form Ecuador, taking Guayaquil with it. Today, it’s Ecuador’s largest and most important city economically. Most of the country’s international imports and exports pass through its port, and its rapid industrial development has attracted people from rural areas in search of work.

This is part of a monument outside of City Hall that commemorates the secret meetings that let to Guayaquil’s independence. Also, totally unrelated, but the City Hall is called the “Muy Ilustre Municipalidad de Guayaquil” aka the “Most Illustrious Municipality of Guayaquil”. I’m telling you, they really know how to name things in the Very Noble and Very Loyal City of Santiago of Guayaquil.

In recent years, city leadership has prioritized urban renewal and infrastructure projects, working to grow Guayaquil’s commercial districts, tourism to the city, and international business. There have been massive improvements to the roadways, a large pedestrian bridge project to promote tourism to Santay Island (an island on the Guayas River where over a hundred species of birds have been recorded!), updates to public transit, and various projects meant to create a safer and more welcoming downtown area. One such project, lauded as a great success in urban revitalization, is the Malecón 2000, a 1.6-mile-long (2.5km) river walk featuring monuments, river views, playgrounds, gardens, and more.

Malecón views
What. A. Tree.

I landed in Guayaquil around 1PM, took an official taxi to my hostel, and enjoyed a minute of A/C before heading back out into the million-degree heat. I was in “blend” mode, so despite feeling like all of my skin was going to melt off, I wore pants and jammed my phone, room key, and a couple of dollars into the waistband to avoid having to carry a purse. I was on high alert for pickpockets, but everywhere I walked was in the tourist center, there are cops all over, and I didn’t feel unsafe for even a second.

The Malecón is really well-done. I started with a walk through the Malecón Gardens, and it was a bit jarring to see how different the flora is from Lima. It seems like it should be similar… two cities on the Pacific coast, not too far from one another. But Lima is a subtropical desert, and Guayaquil is a tropical savanna which means that for at least part of the year, there’s a lot of rain (the “wet” season in Lima is mostly just misty).

Sometimes I look at things like this and think I should have studied landscape architecture.
I can’t deal with this color explosion. What cool plants!!!
Duck pond in the gardens

After all of the negative “don’t go there/it’s not worth it” articles I found, I was pleasantly surprised by how many things there are to do in the city. I actually regretted only having a few hours there because I had to contain my sightseeing to a small area, but I have a long list of things to see if I ever find myself there again.

I stuck to the center of town, and another major “must-see” is a plaza called Parque Seminario. It features a statue of Simón Bolívar, one of the main liberators of South America. He and José de San Martín (who, if you recall from our walk through Lima, is one of the liberators celebrated in Peru) had a famous meeting in Guayaquil in 1822 to discuss the future of independent South America… but it sounds like, while they had great respect for one another, they didn’t agree on much beyond liberation. I’m actually not quite sure what the meeting accomplished except for maybe a conclusion of “let’s agree to disagree”.

Simón Bolívar
Parque Seminario

Anyway, Bolívar has the honor of watching over the famous iguanas of Parque Seminario. Yes, that’s right. Iguanas. They’re native to the area, so while it seems like a weird low-budget zoo, they weren’t brought in for the sake of amusement. That’s just where they live. My gosh, though. It is WEIRD to see a bunch of giant iguanas in the middle of the city. The biggest ones are up to 5’ (1.5m) long!

It seems like a perfectly innocent city plaza until…
… BAM! Iguana!
“Giddy up, Mr. Iguana!” – Mr. Pigeon
I couldn’t quite figure out the relationship between the birds and iguanas. They seem like they just ignore each other completely, even while standing on each other.
I felt like this guy and I had a connection
Look at his little dinosaur face

I took a video of one of them because I think they’re such funny creatures:

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Guayaquil is also on the square, and while I would have loved to go inside, there was a massive crowd out front… I think there was a wedding going on.

It was getting late when I left the park, so I grabbed some dinner and went back to my hostel to relax and prepare myself for the busy week and a half ahead! Next time, off to the Galapagos!!!

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Metropolitan Cathedral of Guayaquil. The original structure was wood, and this one was built in 1924 after it burned down. The inside sounds beautiful, with Gothic ceilings and stained glass windows!