Komodo National Park is famous for its dragons, but it also attracts divers from all over the world for its marine life. When I heard I could see oceanic manta rays, I didn’t think and just signed up.
Because of the strong currents, we did drift dives which means we jump out of the boat at one spot, drift along with the current, and then have the boat come pick us back up.
During the first dive, I saw a sea turtle, giant stingray, a couple sharks and a manta ray, but it was too far to get a clear view.
Fortunately, in the second dive at Manta Point, I saw THREE enormous manta rays that were at least 15 feet wide! Though this was not by accident. This location is where oceanic mantas come to scratch their bodies on the coral.
Thanks Elena for the pictures!
Lots Of Fishes
First Oceanic Manta Ray!
Huge Clam And Small Diver
Sweet Lips Fishes
Mouth Of Oceanic Manta Ray
Huge Sting Ray
Oceanic Manta Ray
Colorful Fishes And Coral
Oceanic Manta Ray
White Sea Star
Boris & The Ladies Back From Diving
What We Paid:
– Two dives with Dive Komodo Diving Company
– Komodo National Park entrance fee
[required one-time fee to enter the park]
“Guess who’s back, back again?” To celebrate New Years, we head out to Cairns for the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Our friend, Zhi, who we visited while in Sydney, joins us.
There is not much charm to downtown Cairns with a few bars and restaurants. After setting our resolutions for 2011 over dinner, we join the crowd in the Esplanade for fireworks. At the stroke of midnight, we cheer with our Champagne-filled McDonald’s paper cups and end the night with a group hug.
Happy New Year 2011
Fireworks On The Esplanade
Early next morning, we board The Encounter for a 2-day/1-night trip to explore the Outer GBR. We are told that the deadly jellyfishes are mating so it is best to wear a wetsuit. Zhi tries diving for the first time and loves it. MuiMui sticks to snorkeling and I decide to do an advanced diving course.
Onboard The Encounter
Boris Snorkeling In The GBR
Millions Of Small Fishes
Live Coral & Fishes Everywhere
On the first day, we visit Norman Fingers and Norman Playground. Snorkeling is pretty awesome as we are right above the colorful coral reef. But diving is even better. During my deep dive, I see a family of 7 lionfishes and a sting ray over 3 meters wide.
Feels Like Swimming Through A Colorful Screensaver
Beautiful Lionfish But Dangerous
Clownfish AKA Nemo
On the second day, while diving at Saxon Turtle Bombie, I observe a baby shark, sea turtles, and barracudas. MuiMui has a blast chasing a turtle and it doesn’t mind as she touches its shell. Zhi accidently touches a poisonous soft coral and as he comes out of the water, it looks like a sea monster attacked his knee.
Giant Sea Anemone
Zhi's Coral Attack
At nightfall, the divers onboard start getting excited for their next dive while someone outside on the boat screams “Shark!” A few black-tipped sharks are hanging around the boat because the light helps them hunt easier. I start to feel a chill in my body, but it is quickly overpowered by the excitement. We are given flashlights and a short briefing: Large Trevally fishes are going to follow you because your light makes it easy for them to spot small fishes. We know it is fun to see them hunt, but please try not to get more than two fishes killed.
I am the first one to jump in the water and there are about 10 or more sharks less than one meter away from me. The fear gets to me again so I shine the flashlight on me to make sure the sharks don’t mistake me for a turtle or a big tuna fish. When I reach the bottom of the ocean and look back up, I can see all the sharks circling the boat.
While back on the boat and telling the non-divers about my night dive, we suddenly see a flying fish jumping out of the water and then 50 sharks rushing in its direction. If one shark had mistaken me for a fish, it would have been the end for me.
After a total of 6 dives, I am exhausted and join MuiMui for one last snorkel. While trying to get a good picture of a Nemo (Anemone fish), MuiMui points between my legs. A leopard shark swims right by us and it looks mean.
Snorkeling Right Above The Coral
While our boat trip was pretty pricey, it was totally worth it. We learn there is an option where you can work onboard (cleaning, etc) in trade for free diving, lodging, and food. This is a great option for backpackers or anyone on a tight budget but eager to see the GBR.
For our last day, we rent a car to visit Port Douglas. It is a small little beach town, but we can only swim in one area with nets because of the deadly jellyfishes and the salt caimans. During our drive back, we spot a few Wallabies in an open grass field so we pull over to take photos. There are hundreds of them hanging out, eating grass, or boxing each other.
Boxing Each Other
Thanks again Zhi for joining us; we had a memorable start for the New Year. You will now be known for surviving a sea monster attack.
Beware Of Deadly Jellyfishes
Little Holes On The Beach
Coral Arch In The GBR
Don't Bother Me
Blue Lined Surgeonfish
Blue Green Damselfish
Yellow Mask Angelfish
White-Tipped Reef Shark
Down Under With Divemaster
Boris Going Down
Nudibranch Sea Slug
Spotted Sweetlips Fish
Prickly Red Sea Cucumber
Our Buddy, Zhi
What We Paid:
– Virgin Blue Flight From Brisbane To Cairns
– 2 day/1 night onboard the Encounter for a trip out to the Outer GBR
301 / 411
222 / 304
– Private room with own bath at the Best Western in Cairns [AC, clean, up to 3 ppl per room, pool, 10-15 min walk to Esplanade, book online for better rate and when they say they’re full]
– Private double with shared bath at NJoy Hostel in Cairns [fan, basic, pool, 10-15 min walk to Esplanade, free early morning transfer to airport, recommend only if on tight budget or if everything else is sold out]
Day 6 – Fernandina is the far west island, which few cruise ships venture off to. We knew right away that we would see unique things on this island when we were greeted by the skeletal remains of a large whale.
Skeleton Of A Whale
Then for the first time, we saw marine iguanas swimming. If you remember the movie Alien 4, it looked just like aliens swimming, just a little tinier.
Marine Iguana Swimming
While we were taking pictures of sea lions, we saw a flightless cormorant. It’s not especially beautiful but it gained our respect when we learned there are only 1,000 still alive in the world and that they are all living on this one island. We eventually spotted a few more and counted over 30, which is 3% of the world population.
Afterwards, we sailed to Tagus Cove in Isabela Island. The scenery was still rocky but there was an orange hint everywhere. Our snorkel session brought us to a spot where penguins and sea lions were swimming within one meter of us. The sea lion wanted to play and would even touch us sometimes but his size was too impressive for us so we backed far away.
Sea Lion Swimming With Us
Sea Turtle Chilling
In the late evening, we crossed the equator line for the 3d time! Then we had a moment of whale watching as everyone onboard the ship came on deck to see the Bryde’s Whales.
Sunset Before Crossing The Equator
Day 7 – On the 7th day, we landed on a black beach in the backside of Santiago Island. All around us were birds diving into the water looking for fishes. This was also another great spot for observing fur seals. They were very noisy and the younger ones kept fighting each other. After our 2-hour walk, some of us went snorkeling, but I went off to play soccer while MuiMui decided to tan on the beach.
Boris' Feet On The Black Sand Beach Of Santiago
Bird Going For A Dive
Young Fur Seals Playing
For our afternoon excursion, we explored Rabida Island with its red beach and popularity among lazy sea lions. After a quick hike up, we found a great spot to take a group picture.
Sea Lions On Rabida Island
Both Pretty & Lazy
Day 8 – It was our last day and with a morning flight to catch, we woke up extra early to indulge the last of the Galapagos. We took the small boat out to black turtle cove. There were many mangrove trees so we had to maneuver our way in. Suddenly under us was a school of Eagle Spotted Rays passing through. It was a beautiful morning and the water was shallow enough to get a clear view of them. Minutes later, we realized there were also many white tip reef sharks resting in the water. As we continued further, there were two turtles mating in the water. It was a beautiful moment and I was already pleased with everything we saw, but this was definitely a great way to end the cruise.
Spotted Eagle Ray
Sea Turtles Mating
*** There is a lot of hype about the Galapagos and after experiencing it ourselves, this is definitely a must do. It was one the most expensive highlights of our travel so far, but we had an amazing time so it was all worth it.
There are a few cost effective ways to reduce the price:
1. Go off peak season! The weather is still great although the water is cold, but there are usually wetsuits onboard to rent. Whatever the season, the animals are always there.
2. Don’t book overseas. Go to Quito and relax for a few days and book your cruise there.
3. If you have to book overseas or if you are in Quito, book direct and avoid the middleman. While it is hard to book directly with the owner, they usually have an agency in Quito.
4. The Galapagos is very popular especially during peak season but there are hundreds of cruise lines so if you can book last minute, you can save even more.
5. If a cruise is out of the question, fly to the Galapagos and enjoy Santa Cruz Island. There is so much to see there. You can even take a water taxi to a few other islands.
While the prices vary in the type of ship you select, no matter what the size is, bring seasickness pills!
Thanks Again Kelly, Sam, Jennifer, and Christian for your pictures!
When we were initially planning for our world tour, we both wanted to see the Galapagos badly, but when considering how much it costs, it was always a warm subject between us. So when my birthday came around, my knight in shining armor told me we were going to the Galapagos but I didn’t believe it until we took flight.
On Our Flight To The Galapagos
We heard taking a cruise was a must-do, but we also wanted to also experience Galapagos by land, so we planned for 4 days by ourselves followed by an 8 day cruise. As we flew to the Galapagos, we got an extraordinary air view of the Cotopaxi Volcano. We soon landed in Baltra in the open terminal and the weather was perfect, not too hot and not too cold. After a short ride, first by bus and then by ferry to the main island, we then shared a taxi with another couple to Puerto Ayora. A 30-minute ride later, we were all friends and stuck together for the next couple of days.
Amazing Air View
For our first meal, we decided to get off the gringo strip and followed the local traffic to Cevicheria El Pulpo. As we looked around, everyone was having soup so we opted for the same. I am not a big seafood person but this sopa marinera (mixed seafood soup) was excellent. We sat for over an hour talking to this local guy at our table and he ended up buying us beer.
Lunch And Drinks At Cevicheria El Pulpo
Mixed Seafood Soup
For Isabela Island, we got a great deal on a package we just couldn’t refuse. To get there, we took a water taxi for 3.5 hours and it end up being one of the worst boat rides ever. The water was very choppy and our driver was completely insane, driving like he wanted to crash into each wave. There was a pregnant woman onboard and after an hour, she was hovering over the side of the boat. We were all very happy to be finally off the boat and to be on land again.
When the shuttle dropped us off at our hotel, we were extremely confused. It looked more luxurious than the pictures shown to us by the agency. The four of us just kept quiet and made our way to the welcoming snacks. Afterwards, we toured a lagoon and saw pink flamingos chomping away at the shrimp in the water.
The next morning, we got up very early for a 6-hour hike to our first volcano. The morning started off misty, which was very nice, compared to the beating sun we had for the rest of the day. Our first stop was Sierra Negra Volcano (Black Mountain) whose last eruption was back in October 22, 2005. The magma chamber is constantly filled with new magma so more eruptions are expected in the future.
Caldera Of Sierra Negra
After lunch, we were walking over a large lava field crunching our way for two hours. It felt as if we were walking on the moon, but with random large cactus plants in the background. It was very interesting to see the variation of colors from the new and old lava. We took a break at a scenic viewpoint where we could see the other volcanoes on Isabela Island from afar: Ecuador, Wolf, Darwin, and Alcedo. We could also make out the seahorse shape of the island.
Random Cactus Plants
HUGE Lava Tunnel
Lava, Lava, Lava!
After our wonderful hike, we took a small boat to the Islote Tintoreras (Tintorera Islands). On the lava island, there is a natural canal where the white tip reef sharks, called tintoreras, rest on the bottom of the shallow waters. While on land, any movement we made would result in hundreds of black marine iguanas scrambling around. They were well camouflaged against the black rocks that I wonder if any tourist has stepped on one by accident.
White Tip Reef Sharks
Back on the boat, we saw sea lions sunbathing, a group of Galapagos penguins hanging out on the rocks, and then our first Blue-footed Booby! We made our final stop of the day to snorkel. I was hesitant at first because it was freezing cold. I put on my wet suit and plunged into the water. Soon enough, I had one of the most amazing first experiences swimming with GIANT sea turtles. There were three around us and they were just chilling in the water and would slowly swim up for air and come back down with no care that we were nearby. Luckily I had on a life jacket because they would get very close to me and it was no joke how big they were.
Our trip on Isabela Island was truly amazing. We saw so many animals that I wasn’t sure that we needed to go on a cruise anymore.
What We Paid:
– Flight From Quito To Galapagos On Icaro Aero (Partners With LAN)
– Quito Airport Fee
– Entrance Fee To Galapagos
– Water Ferry From Baltra To Santa Cruz Island
– Taxi To Puerto Ayora
– Lunch (Sopa Marinera) At Puerto Ayora
– Tour Package For Isabela Island
Includes Water Taxi, Lodging, Meals, Daily Excursion