Our second snorkeling adventure was at Tintoreras Islet, which is a small island sitting at the edge of the Puerto Villamil harbor. To look at it from the dock, you’d just think it was a strip of lava rock, nothing more.
That is an understatement of monumental proportions! It is part of the national park, with a narrow winding foot trail that takes you through a mine field of iguanas, boobies, Frigate birds, White Tipped Reef Sharks, sea lions, lava lizards, Galapagos Herons and penguins, just to name the most prolific animal life we saw while hiking there.
Seriously, the iguanas are EVERYWHERE and they don’t move when you approach them on the trail, so we all had to sidestep, hop and scurry past many of them as we made our way to the iguana nesting beaches and the sea lion nursery tucked into the mangrove trees.
Midway through the hike, we stepped onto a small wooden bridge and looked into a channel created by two separate lava flows a long time ago. It was low tide, our guide told us, so the channel was full of water but each end of it had a low wall of lava rock shutting it off from the open water on the other side. As we looked down into the water for a few minutes, we began to see large (We estimated 8+ foot long, at least) White Tipped Reef Sharks! There were five or six of them, just swimming down and back the length of the channel constantly.
We arrived at the iguana nesting beach and were amazed by the sheer numbers of them, digging or guarding nests while Frigate Birds flew overhead, occasionally diving down to grab either an egg or a baby for dinner.
We continued on to the end of the trail where we had a great overlook down onto a quiet beach ringed by mangrove trees. The guide told us that this is where many sea lion mothers live with their pups while they are young, because it’s safe and cool under the trees. We watched a mother sea lion come out of the water with a pup in tow and make their way to the trees, as if it was rehearsed just to prove the point.
Following the hike, we motored into the middle of the water between Isabela and Tintoreras and jumped in to snorkel. The coral reef below the surface was full of fish of all kinds, penguins zipping by at lightning speeds, and again we saw and swam with giant sea turtles! The depth of the water varied greatly, from shallow over lava rock and coral to 20-30 feet I guessed over sandy bottom, where we were amazed to see more White Tipped Reef Sharks, sleeping below. (It was so exciting – and curiously not terrifying, since they really seemed to be sleeping, mostly – The ones that did swim around were so deep and not coming up, it was fun just to watch them for a while.)
After swimming from one amazing sight to another for a while, all of a sudden we saw the guide gesturing wildly. We swam over to see a school of Angel Rays, gliding not too far below us so we followed them for a while before they outpaced us.
I know I keep using the term “amazing”, but what else comes close? It was an amazing day.