Swimming with Sharks at Los Tuneles
When I hear “swim with sharks”, the image that comes to mind is all things shark week. Being in a cage, in the middle of the ocean, with someone dangling meat in the ocean, and huge sharks trying to get food. So, I was definitely hesitant when the tour my friends recommended on Isabela Island, Los Tuneles, included swimming with sharks. I was reassured multiple times that the White Tip sharks found on the island were not aggressive with humans. And after looking at the beautiful photos from the tour, I decided to go for it.
I arose early that morning, lathered on sunscreen, and packed my bag for the day. My hotel was directly up the street from the tour company, Rosadelco, and there wasn’t a breakfast spot near by. I hadn’t prepared the day before for breakfast, figuring the butterflies were enough, I headed down the hill.
As the first to arrive to the shop, I chatted in broken Spanglish with the captain of the boat. Suddenly, I was actually quite hungry as I perused the ice cream freezer. I figured some sort of food was better than none, so I chose a Magnum Ice Cream bar to accompany the butterflies. Then a red pick up truck arrived filled with people arrived and I hopped in the bed of the truck with my snorkel gear, backpack, and ice cream starting to feel excited for the adventure ahead.
We arrived at the pier around 7:45 in the morning and loaded onto our boat for the day. The guide described, in English and Spanish, the plan for the day. We were headed to do the long snorkel experience first, then we would snorkel through the lava tunnels, finishing with a walk on top of the lava. Lunch would be served after the final snorkel and we would need to wash off with fresh water to avoid horse fly bites.
Swimming with Manta Rays
On our boat ride to the first snorkeling location, our captain let myself and two other passengers sit on the top part of the boat. From here, we witnessed the fin tips of four manta rays coming out of the water. The boat slowed so we could get a better look at them. There was one incredibly large ray swimming with three smaller ones. Our awesome captain told us we could hop out and try to snorkel with them. We quickly got our masks and fins on, jumping into the chilly, blue ocean.
Let me tell you, Manta Rays are incredibly fast and graceful swimmers! As soon as one’s form appeared in front of me, I’d swim as fast as I could to catch up, only to see the form fade away before I could get a good photo! Then suddenly, I looked directly down into the great expanse of blue ocean and saw its dark body swimming below me. No photo, no rush, I simply watched this creature move through the water, undisturbed by our presence. Truly magical.
Sea Turtles, Sea Horses, and Sharks – Oh My!
We continued our trip to the first snorkeling location. We moved through shallow, chilly waters and came upon my very first sea turtle! I had no idea that these creatures could hold their breath for hours at a time. Then, they just peek their heads up out of the water, for another sip of air, before returning underwater. Our guide swam with a Go Pro – ensuring that everyone in the group had their photo taken with one of the turtles. He was also very aware of respecting the turtles’ space. We wouldn’t stay too long with any particular turtle, so as not to overwhelm him.
We moved to a cove of mangroves and our guide began his search for sea horses. The water was quite chilly, so I was glad for my wetsuit as we waited for the results. It was beginning to seem that we would not see any sea horses – until our boat’s captain joined the snorkel, finding not one, but two wrapped around the root of a tree. Their camouflage is uncanny. Their brown color almost perfectly matches the sea floor and tree!
Leaving the sea horses, we swam on in search of White Tip sharks. We could see their swimming area under the arch of the lava tunnels. There were easily 100 White Tip sharks. They were mostly resting along the sea floor. However, as I approached them, praying they couldn’t sense my racing heart, they simply swam away from me. They had very little interest in playing with me.
The captain of the boat took my Go Pro and told me to swim ahead, so he could film me swimming with this beauties. We moved under multiple lava tunnels, each time greeted by more sharks! As we circled back to where we began with these sharks we were provided with a rare treat…
White Tip Sharks Mating
This was unreal! Sharks swimming about with two paired in the middle. They were vertical, heads down, tails up, intertwined in each other. Pure nature and instinct. A sight I will never forget. Our guide said he hadn’t seen this in years. Thankfully, I got this all on video!!
We began the snorkel back to the boat passing a group of about 6 sea turtles. The captain took my Go Pro again and like a pro got me snorkeling with these graceful creatures.
Upon our arrival at the boat, we noticed three other tour boats approaching the area. I was immediately grateful that I booked with this company who had the foresight to do the trip in the reverse of other companies. This way we were able to snorkel with just our boat and the animals.
The most amazing part of this entire snorkel, even more than the mating sharks, was that these animals were undisturbed by us, encroaching on their territory. We were simply other animals sharing their space. There was harmony with these different species living together. It’s quite eye opening, to say the least.
Our next stop was to snorkel through the lava tunnels. There were a few sharks and turtles here as well, but the main view was the stunning underwater landscape. Seeing these tunnels formed by the volcanic explosions gives an immediate appreciation for how the islands were formed.
We only stayed here for about 30 minutes prior to returning to the boat for a fresh water “shower” and lunch. Lunch was simple tuna sandwiches and the best herbal tea. The warm tea after being in the chilly waters all morning was incredibly welcome!
After warming up and filling our bellies, we put our shoes back on to walk on top of the lava! Our guide took us to see two blue footed boobies. One had just laid two eggs and her mate was keeping close watch nearby. A bit further away, was a baby blue footed boobie. It was too early to tell whether it was male or female – they tell by the noises they make – and the blue feet had yet to come in. As the boobies age, their feet turn a deeper blue due to their food. We did not get to see a boobie dance, but seeing the budding family and baby more than made up for it!
We walked a bit more on the tops of the tunnels as our guide described their formation, catching a glimpse of a turtle swimming by. The landscape here is out of this world. It really felt like I was on a different planet. Unfortunately, our time had come to an end, so we headed back to the boat for a trip home.
Everyone was happily chatting about all we’d seen and beginning to make plans for the remainder of the afternoon. We arrived back to the pier around 2:00pm, jumping back in the pick up truck to be taken either to the tour company or hotels.
After a quick shower, I walked into town, smiling the entire way as I picked up a fresh coconut and met up with a friend to continue my DIY Galapagos adventure.
Fearless Travel Checklist
Don't stop before you start! I've compiled a major list of everything I needed to figure out before I quit my job to travel long term. And I want to share it with you. It can be done, one item at a time!