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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.