I was the only guest left in the dining room. Two Darwin’s finches hopped on a chair before zeroing in on a bowl with freshly cut papaya, watermelon and pineapple on the breakfast buffet.
When Natalia, one of the cooks, spotted the birds, she shooed them away. I frowned. Why did she do that? She responded that some guests don’t like birds in the dining room. I was stunned. Aren’t visitors coming to the Galápagos Islands to see animals, moreover, from up close, as they aren’t afraid of people? Isn’t that the whole purpose of coming here?
We invade their territories, on land and underwater, in some cases we even wipe them out, but when a finch wants a bite of our fruit, it crosses a line? Odd, to say the least.
Darwin’s finches, by the way, are only one of the finch species on the Galápagos. They are named after the legendary natural historian and geologist Charles Darwin. He stayed on the islands for five weeks in 1835. He spotted finches on several islands and the fact that on each island the birds had a differently shaped beak was one of the elements that helped him develop his Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.
My partner Coen and I were staying at the Finch Bay hotel on Santa Cruz Island. It is the only beachfront hotel in Puerto Ayora, the island’s main town. From the dining room I looked out over the swimming pool to the beach and a bay hemmed in on two sides by mangrove. The view came with pelicans and other waterbirds gliding across the ocean. Even though the hotel is part of an urbanized area of the Galápagos, the town is home to plenty of wildlife.
In Your Bucket Because…
- You love wildlife and/or birds.
- You like to visit the Galápagos Islands but not on a cruise. Staying in a hotel gives you the option to go on day-trips, while having time to be on your own as well.
- Good for any visitor to the Galápagos. Staying in a hotel is particularly suitable for families, because kids have all the space to run around and you can do some exploring without organized tours.
Peace and Quiet at the Finch Bay Hotel
We were staying in one of the hotel’s twenty-one garden view rooms accessed by wooden walkways. It was equipped with twin queen beds, bedside lamps good for reading, chair and desk, aircon, a safe (too small for a laptop but good for smaller stuff), more than enough closet space, and a bathroom with hot shower.
The hotel has no TVs and I think that’s just perfect as the penetrating sounds can be highly disturbing in a peaceful place like this. In our room the staff regularly refilled a bottle with purified water. Finch Bay is the only hotel on the island with its own water treatment plant and doesn’t buy bottled water from the mainland.
In front of our room was a balcony with chairs and a hammock. From here we looked out over a landscaped garden with endemic flora such as the Scalesia tree, the Opuntia cactus tree (a species evolved from the prickly pear cactus), and the Galápagos cotton tree. The garden is inhabited by Darwin’s finches, but also mockingbirds.
Wildlife on Santa Cruz Island
Despite the 20,000 people living on Santa Cruz, the island is teeming with wildlife. We saw wild tortoises in the highlands, and hundreds of young ones in the Charles Darwin Research Station. Here they breed different species of the herbivorous land reptiles to help increase the population that was decimated during three centuries of human interference (buccaneers and whalers ate them, and later tortoises were killed for their oil).
When swimming in the Tortuga Bay or kayaking right around the corner of Finch Bay Hotel, you may spot green turtles, reef sharks, and marine iguanas. At the fish market downtown we were smitten with the sea lions and pelicans waiting for leftovers from the vendors filleting the fish, as well as with a majestic frigatebird fighting with another bird over a fish while soaring back and forth over the shallow, blue ocean dotted with black lava rocks.
I had read about the Galápagos, about watching wildlife and endemic species from up close. But that they would be this close, all around me, wherever I went, was one of the things that surprised me most during our visit to the “Encantadas”, as the islands were initially named.
Bird Watching at the Pool
Even when lazing by the swimming pool we were in good company, as it is frequented by blue-grey herons and ducks. Blue-grey herons are territorial but Tito (the hotel manager) told us that sometimes four of them sit around the pool, each at a corner. Ducks love to take a bath here and during our visit five of them were regular visitors. The sight couldn’t have been more peaceful.
It was clear that the staff cared about the animals and their environment. They clean up after the ducks throughout the day without disturbing them so the pool stays clean. The barista lets the finches take a sip from the drip tray in the soft drink dispenser. Since environmental issues are very high on the hotel’s agenda, employees daily clean the beach in front of the hotel, (even though it isn’t hotel property).
When I was having breakfast the next morning, I dropped a few crumbs beside my chair. A finch noticed them, checked if the area was safe and landed right next to the chair to pick at them. For a moment it felt as if we were sharing a secret.
- LAN Airlines daily flies from Quito and Guayaquil to the Galápagos Islands. To go to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, take a flight to the airport on Baltra Island. A ferry across the Itabaca Canal takes you to Santa Cruz Island. From there you either organize your own taxi (45-minute drive) or you arranged a transfer with Finch Bay beforehand. Especially in high season (Jul/Aug) the latter is recommended.
- Finch Bay Hotel has several connecting rooms, making it a perfect place to stay with family groups.
- You could also combine a land-based stay at Finch Bay Hotel with a cruise. The hotel is owned by Metropolitan Touring, which has three yachts in the Galápagos Islands.
- This year the hotel received the World Travel Award for South America’s Leading Green Hotel.
- To learn more, check out Finch Bay Hotel’s website.