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Cruising Notes for the Galapagos 2005

By doina — last modified May 24, 2005 12:49 PM

Published: 2005-05-24 12:49:58
Countries: Galapagos

By Lilly Vedana and Thomas Müller

Yacht MIZ MAE in April/May 2005


We still regard mid April the best time to go from Panama to Galapagos. With the wet season arriving at that time in Panama and ending for Galapagos at the same time, it makes for logical timing. Not only will you miss the rain in Panama and the high humidity going with it, but you will also see many animals breeding and plants carrying fruit on Galapagos. Boats arriving from Panama to the Galapagos in April 2005 all reported 1-2 kn of north setting current, light tail winds to start with and S-SW winds of moderate strength for the past 500 miles. A reliable engine and enough diesel are good assets on this 900 mile voyage. We found many charts in the Galapagos being on "Horizontal Chart Date". Check and adjust your GPS and electronic charts accordingly, otherwise you may be 0,4 miles out at times.


This island is the administrative centre of the Galapagos, though St.Cruz sports at least 5 times as many inhabitants. When approaching Christobal from the west, locals recommend going on the south side of Christobal to make absolutely sure giving the Eastern Cape of Punta Pitt and its adjacent shallows a wide berth. This area has a horrible reputation for overfalls and strong currents. Once arriving in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, St.Cristobal's only port, you will find a little lighthouse working on its NE corner and a marker buoy keeping you away from a treacherous reef at the western side of the entrance channel. Find a place to anchor to your port side (eastern side of the post) and not too close to the large pink building on the beach, which is the university. Going closer to the beach is very tempting, but there are numerous rocks on the bottom, just waiting to entangle your hook.

The Port Captain by the sandy town square right at the beach on the SW side of the bay should be your first stop. Then go and see Immigration to get you stamped in and out at the same time for 10 US/person.

We employed Bolivar Pesantes of Naugala shipping a few weeks before our arrival to get us an extended cruising permit, allowing us a maximum of 90 days and the visit of all 5 "harbours" on Galapagos. The permit was ready on Bolivar´s desk when we arrived and clearing was polite and efficient within an hour.

Bolivar also arranged a tour on the back of a 4WD Pick up the next day. His friend Santiago came along and we had a grand time. Going a whole day to see the turtle sanctuary, waterholes, fruit farms, the fresh water lake on volcanoes "El Junco" and the loberia (sea lions beach) was a fantastic 6 hour trip at 50 dollars for the 7 of us. We brought our own lunch to the volcanoes and picked fruit from the back of the truck. A very nice day on Christobal!

There are 5 flights per week to the South American continent, then linking to international connections worldwide. Crew change here is no problem at all.

It is not advisable to use your dinghy for going ashore, but to pay 50 cent/ride to the keen taxi boat drivers. Fenders help to keep your boat from being scratched; the boys are in their early days of a captain's career. If you still want to use your dinghy, be prepared for a rough landing, high tides and playful sea lions using it on the beach.

The small town is beautiful, very laid back and has both hardware shops and T-shirt galleries. Laundry at 2 US/load close to the port. Eating out properly is 4-8 US for a hot evening meal. There is no canned beer available. There are several dive shops offering lots of opportunities to skilled divers. Newcomers watch out! Galapagos has a lot of swell, chop, current and big fish with lots of teeth.

The anchorage is safe except for the lobos marinas (sea lions) who will jump on your transom or into your dinghy at the first given possibility. Fenders, nets and even wire are used to discourage these happy visitors. Cute as they are, the do make a racket and the smell is of a very acquired taste. You can swim with them, it´s great fun and they are harmless and very playful clowns of the sea.


The anchorage outside the Port Capitaneria off the "Black Sand Bay" looks hideous to start with. Large swell sometimes rolling in. But once in place, close to the small work boats, it´s much calmer than expected in about 10 meters of water. Superb holding in black sand, no rocks. Wet dinghy landing on the beach in front of the newly built "Wittmer Hotel" or at the concrete dock. Watch the swell!

The current Port Captain may or may not come to your boat asking for food, claiming there is no shop. The locals are very embarrassed about this and try to stop it. If you wish to do any excursions, your best bet is to go and see Erika Wittmer who speaks Spanish, German and English. The family welcomes sailors since 2 generations, good value and lots of fun. Their guest book is a must, bring a picture of you and/or your boat to join the hall of fame! They also have a little souvenir shop, home made ice cream, a fantastic new hotel right on the beach and a very rich history on the island. There is a volley ball net on the beach and a sea-lion "Loberia" 10 minutes walking distance. They may be able to take you up the hill to their land and pick some fruit while visiting their old caves and houses. Both Ingeborg and Erika Wittmer are extremely guest friendly people and we thoroughly enjoyed our 3 days on Floreana. And before I forget: Erika and Ingeborg will trade you Sauerkraut, German Wurst and celebrity magazines for any amount of fruit and vegetable you can eat! It is, after all, a very remote island. No fresh water or diesel, but pay phone available. Little transportation on the island, ask Erika. Visit to the Flamingos, Post office Bay or Devils Crown by speed boat, again, ask Erika to get in touch with a guide.

St.Cruz, Puerto Ayora

In the last decade since Tom as here the town has lost much of its atmosphere and become more money-orientated. Plentiful shops and tourist places along the foreshore. A very greedy Port Captain and shipping agents who try to beef up the already heavy fees announced. DO NOT believe that you need an agent to clear as the port captain will try to make you believe. There is no rule for that and sailors who insist can easily save lots of dollars by filling in their own entry forms just as in the other Galapagos ports. The port captain may also tell you that you cannot visit Floreana or Isabella. In spite of that we were assured by those port captains and other disobedient yachts that they were very welcome at both locations. But yachts mean income and St.Cruz doesn't like to part with the business. Don´t let them discourage you! If you see the port captains on arrival in Isabella or Floreana, they will welcome your visit.

The best places of the anchorage in St.Cruz are now fully taken over by resident fishing boats and day tour operators. As a result the visiting yachts are left with the rolly spots far offshore. We got unlucky and slept like in a roller coaster for 5 nights. The boat became unusable and on the 38 ft Bavaria "Sanuk" the 45Lbs CQR anchor was bent heavily. Commuting with the 50cent taxi boat each time was as good as training for navy seals can become. MIZ MAE still bears the marks of the taxi-boats. Shopping and fuelling up was accordingly very difficult and St.Cruz has become what must be Galapagos worst anchorage for yachts in any sense.

Unfortunately, this town has most of the shops, supplies, fastest Internet Cafes and medical centres. However, fuelling up with diesel and gasoline is better done on St.Christobal or Isabella with jerry cans from the gas stations. The fuel was reported clean from all gas stations, but there are fuel barges as well we have little confidence in. Best fresh food supplies can be found on Saturdays at the two open air markets out of Puerto Ayoras centre. Go really early for good prices. Good, well priced beef available.

There are some shoemakers opposite the old market who repair also dive fins, canvas and awnings, but no sails. Three shops like Bodega Blanca and the fisheries supplies offer almost every yachting gadget you can wish for. FedEx and DHL are in town at bearable prices. Please note that fresh produce and restaurants are almost double the price as on Isabella (limited supplies) or on St.Christobal (best shopping!). Ask the taxi boat drivers for help to locate fruit and vegetable, they always have a friend somewhere.

Tours on St.Cruz are not cheap, but there is a wide range of them to all islands and for all tastes. We recommend seeing North Seymour with its hatching Frigate birds and Blue Footed Boobies. Many of the animals in Puerto Ayora have disappeared. Only a few hardy sea lions are left. We believe pollution and heavy boat traffic may be the reason. But there is still the fantastic Darwin Station, which is very well worth a visit!

Isla Isabella

The best protected anchorage allowed to yachts. Nighttime approach not recommended. CMAP out with 0,4 miles East-West. Horizontal Chart date applies. Stay at least 2 miles away from the natural wave breaker when approaching from the south. There are breakers over shallow 3 mtr spots. Head for the white sand beach far west of the town. One mile before arriving to the beach turn slowly to starboard/NE and then E to pass between two large red and green marker buoys. Leave the red one to starboard and head for the large yellow mooring buoy reserved for military vessels at the harbour entry. Find a place amongst the other yachts in 2-6 meters and DO NOT go to deep into the bay as tempting as it may look at first sight. There are shallows and rocks suddenly coming up, even dangerous when riding your rubber duck to the beach and loading dock. The anchorage is occasionally exposed to light rolling, which can be prevented with a stern anchor.

It´s a 15 minute walk to "downtown" from the dinghy landing. Some people warn that there should be no loose items in your dinghy left behind, not even the fuel hose! Laundry place on your right before you come to town. The port captain is friendly, so are the tour operators, all desperately looking for business. Limited fresh fruit and vegetable supplies when the ship was in, but plenty of meat and bread available. There is little Saturday market close to the "Albatross" internet place. Slow internet access at 2 locations for 2 US/hour. Difficult to get cash in town. Diesel (1,03 US/GallonUS) and fresh water in jerry cans. 1 US for the taxi to go to the gas station and the same amount back. No safe dive tour operators available. But full day tours on horseback onto the volcanoes. Call Joseph or Antonio on VHF Ch 16 for bookings. Or make reservations on VHF CH 14 with Alfonso for the long boat ride of your life, through heavy breakers into the most amazing lagoon to also swim with the sea lions and admire lava arches. They all speak reasonable English and can be found at the respective hotels like i.e. the Hotel St.Vincente.

There is a boat channel out of the anchorage leading south. Find your way through the shallows for good snorkelling and to the concrete steps at the island sheltering the anchorage. There is a circular path over the island where you can see a lot of animals including penguins, sea lions and seaguanas. You need no guide or fees for this. Great pastime!

There is a very cosy beach bar called the "Yacht Club" right by the dinghy landing under the trees. Cold drinks and nice lunch at 3 US. Reservations for dinner appreciated. Sailors love it. Lots of other little restaurants with live music in the village. This place is known for its musical scene and well appreciated by the lifestyle people of the Galapagos.

Lilly Vedana, Thomas Müller

Yacht MIZ MAE in April/May 2005