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Puerto Lopez and the ‘Poor Man’s Galapogos’

The shadow descended under the boat. We waited with baited breath as it shrunk into the depths – knowing that it was somewhere underneath us. We scrambled for a better view, while holding on to the sides as the boat gently bobbed in the waves. Suddenly, a plume of water shot high into the air to our left – followed by a giant black body that slid easily through the water.

We were watching humpback whales in the sea off the coast of Puerto Lopez; making our way to Isla de la Plata –  also known as Ecuador’s ‘Poor Man’s Galapogos’.

Humpback whales off the coast of Ecuador

Humpback whales off the coast of Ecuador

We’d been told we could expect to see them on our way to the island as it’s the height of whale season, but I had still been anxious we would be unlucky. I needn’t have been worried; we hadn’t had to wait long at all when the first tell-tale burst of water was spotted on the horizon. Shortly afterwards we were right in the midst of the action – watching three whales frolic in the sea beside us. One of them was a baby and would show off for its audience – launching its barnacle-encrusted body right out of the water before crashing back down into the waves.

Thar she blows!

Thar she blows!

The baby whale liked to jump out of the water - it was fun to guess where he'd pop up next

The baby whale liked to jump out of the water – it was fun to guess where he’d pop up next

They were amazing to watch as they swam through the waves

They were amazing to watch as they swam through the waves

Just when we’d thought we’d seen enough, we saw a huge tail rise up out of the water in the distance and smash down onto the water with a mighty splash. The others immediately turned and headed towards the newcomer. We would have loved to go with them but it was time for us to complete our journey and see the island we’d come for.

Bye bye whales!

Bye bye whales!

Arriving at Isla de la Plata was like finding ourselves in some kind of Hitchcock film. Hundreds of birds perched on the silvery rocks, more seemed to be gliding above our heads and some shot down into the water behind our boat – coming back up with a fish if it was lucky. Our guide took us on a trek that looped through the island so that we could see as many of them as possible.

There were so many birds on the island it looked a bit like it was surrounded by a swarm of bees

There were so many birds on the island it looked a bit like it was surrounded by a swarm of bees

Although the island looked uninhabitable and unforgiving with dry and sparse vegetation, we saw an astounding number of birds that had made the place their home. The blue-footed boobies were my favourite – peering inquisitively up at us as we passed and waddling alongside us as we made our way through their nests as if they wanted to come along too.

Cheese! The female blue-footed boobies have darker coloured feet and larger pupils. You can see the difference in their eyes and their feet pretty clearly here.

Cheese! The female blue-footed boobies have darker coloured feet and larger pupils. You can see the difference in their eyes and their feet pretty clearly here.

We also saw nazca boobies, which had recently had chicks, and frigate birds, which were in the midst of mating season – so the males were proudly showing off their red bellies.

A Nasca Boobie protecting its chick from the hot sun

A nazca booby protecting its chick from the hot sun

The frigate birds were funny to watch - the males would inflate their red pouch and hit it with their beak to make an odd noise that would attract a mate

The frigate birds were funny to watch – the males would inflate their red pouch and hit it with their beak to make an odd noise that would attract a mate

We were also lucky enough to see two red-footed boobies, which are extremely rare (there are only around 40 on the island) and also some tropicbirds that were nesting.

A very rare red-footed boobie

A very rare red-footed booby

The tropicbirds were very pretty in flight with their long whip-like tails

The tropicbirds were very pretty in flight with their long whip-like tails

Before heading back to Puerto Lopez, we were given the chance to snorkel in the water which was full of sea turtles that scouted around the boat in search of food scraps.

A sea turtle swimming around our boat

A sea turtle swimming around our boat

We had an amazing time swimming amongst the tropical fish that darted through the coral around the island. Although we’d heard that people in the Galapogos had been able to swim with manta rays and sharks, I was secretly pleased that none of those turned up – that would have been a bit too scary for me.

Ready to search for fishies!

Ready to search for fishies!

There they are!

There they are!

Isla de la Plata was an amazing day-trip and seeing the whales was an incredible bonus. It’s a fraction of the cost of a visit to the famous Galapogos, but I also think that we saw a fraction of the wildlife that those islands offer. We were more than satisfied with our trip, but I think we’ll have to go back to see the Galapogos at some point in future.

We enjoyed our walk around the island

We enjoyed our walk around the island

Back to Puerto Lopez harbour

Back to Puerto Lopez harbour

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