Another rule is that cruising yachts must stay in one of three designated anchorages in the islands. So, no exploring the coastline solo. (One of the pleasures of our arrival was our cruise along the coast).
To see the coast from the water we had to take a tour. In San Cristobal we opted for a 360 tour which would take us right around the island...a long day trip in a powerfully engined boat. Tours are also rule ridden...no more than 10 tourists per Official Guide.
Our boat left the dock at 7.30am. Just over half an hour later we were arriving at the most spectacular snorkelling site. Named Kicker Rock or Leon Dormido (Sleeping Lion) this volcanic tufa plug rises dramarically out of the sea, with deep deep water all around.
There was no possibility of our boat dropping its anchor. Ten slightly nervous tourists jumped over the side of the boat, following our guide.
Our guide was a very talented guy, able to spot wildlife above and below the water and lead us to it, tell us about what we saw engagingly in both English and Spanish, keep tabs on us all to ensure our safety, and furthermore was able to shoot lots of footage of our group and the wildlife we were observing.
We swam towards the towering island rock, swimming for a while alongside a Galapagos sealion, who chose to keep us company, and then into the narrow canals between the three huge tufa rocks.
Within a short period of time we had watched hammer head sharks (with their impressive and unmistakeable hammer shaped heads, gliding around a couple of metres below us. Smaller, more conventional-looking black tip sharks, and Galapagos sharks swam nearby.
Shortly, a large eagle ray swam close by. In addition to these very exciting species sightings there were hundreds of other fish, of all shapes, colours and sizes. It would have been wonderful to linger for longer – but the best we can do is return for another visit. As we emerged from the canal into open sea we were joined by a couple of large turtles.
Our next stop at Sardine Bay took us to a beach with the most gorgeous powdery white sand. This sand is the product of parrot fish, who feed on the coral and then excrete this white powder. We were walking on luxury poo! – the rules were strict, bare feet only on this fabulous sand. No shoes! We enjoyed an unguided snorkel - seeing lots of huge parrot fish (of course) as well as colorful damsel fish and so many others that I couldn't identify.
Our boat took a ten minute pause at the Eastern most tip of the island, Punta Pitt for us to watch the booby birds. The blue footed boobies get their distinct foot coloring from the lipids in their fish diet (deprived of fish, the blue fades) Whilst we could see the red footed boobies (who have a diet principally of squid) they were too far away to take a decent photo. Hopefully we get another chance some time soon.
As we pulled away from this point we were suddenly surrounded by dolphins. Hundreds of them surrounded our boat, leaping and playing all around us. Our boat spent quarter of an hour circling the area, so we could enjoy their company.
This end of the island, (south and east) is barren. Rainfall is very slight compared to the western end (explaining why the villages have grown up where they have)
Our last stop of the day was at this sea lagoon, accessed by a walk over a black lava footpath, past tall cacti.
Here we hoped to spot some white tipped sharks. But this is not the zoo, and we didn't get lucky on this score today. Instead we enjoyed watching huge - and we mean huge - yellow back turtles, feeding and meandering through the rather murky waters of the lagoon.
Then it was an exhilarating fast ride back to port, with 600 hp of engine behind us. Turned out it was a great day to have chosen for the trip - not only did we see so much wildlife, but also we appreciated the blue sky day on the sea....it had bucketed with rain on land!