Las Grietas, Galapagos Islands

If you are spending some time independently in the Galapagos, that is to say, not with a tour, you will want to go to Las Grietas. There are day tours that will take you here, of course, but where’s the adventure in that? Also, it’s free and I will tell you how to get there, as will the Lonely Planet. On Isla Santa Cruz, take a very quick panga ride from Puerto Ayora to the Angermeyer Waterfront Inn. Follow the path through the flowering bougainvillea, past the gated entrances to the Galapagos’ most exclusive accommodations. Watch out for marine iguanas of course, and be sure to stay on the path – they nest here. Cross a small beach in front of the Finch Bay Eco Hotel and continue until the path turns into loose lava rock. There is less shade now, and fewer gringos. Continue on through the salt marshes and the stands of giant Opuntia cacti. The red rocks radiate an incredible heat, as if they were freshly formed.

You’re probably starting to wonder if this semi-secret swimming hole is really worth the trouble. It is. Keep going, climbing gradually upward until you see the stairs. And then the water, surprisingly clear, in this narrow oasis.

If you hang around long enough, local kids will jump from the high cliffs, especially if there are some pretty girls to impress. Others lounge on the rocks, listening to musica nacional on their phones, smoking the occasional cigarette. A belly flop from the highest cliff will elicit a collective gasp, but he’ll just shrug it off and scramble up the nearly vertical, rocky walls to try again.

When it gets too hot on the rocks, slip into the cool water and watch the fish inspect your toes. Don’t forget your mask and snorkel.

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