Las Grietas is one of the few hikes you can do directly from Puerto Ayora, taking you from the town to a narrow canyon where you can snorkel. On our second day in town, we took a ferry across the bay to the start of the trail. It’s a five-minute ride that takes you less than half a mile, but the atmosphere is a world away. Once you get away from the ferry dropoff point, the noise of boat motors dies away and it’s quiet. There’s no sound of vehicles, or bustling crowds. Just the occasional chirp of birds.
The path from the ferry to Las Grietas started as asphalt but then gave way to sand. We passed private houses and hotels, with high walls and locked gates. The wealthiest people live and stay on this side of the bay, where there are no roads and no stores. After the the homes came a boardwalk and Finch Bay, a beach of white sand and clear aquamarine water flanked on either side by mangroves. Snorkelers dotted the water here, while others sunbathed on the sand.
Past Finch Bay was the official start of the Las Grietas trail, marked with a wooden sign. We left the shade of trees to and emerged next to a salt flat, evidence that work still does exist outside of tourism here, however rare it may be. Rectangular pools of water lay drying in the sun, ringed by crystals of pinkish white salt. Though no one seemed to be tending the flat, a man at a kiosk nearby waved us over and placed a pinch of salt crystals in our hands. I sampled one of the crystals and found it salty, slightly metallic and tangy. It tasted like the sea.
The landscape was more arid from here, dotted with leafless shrubs and towerting Opuntia cactuses. We walked along packed red earth and over wooden bridges past marshes and rocky volcanic terrain under. The midday sun bore down intensely. The landscape was flat, then became slightly hill, and finally climbed gently to the top of a cliff. This was the edge of Las Grietas.
After registering with the rangers on duty (rangers are an omnipresence here in the Galapagos), we climbed down the wooden stairs into the canyon. It was blissfully shaded, and we wasted no time stashing our packs and clothes among the rocks and jumping in the water. The water itself was cool and refreshing, a mix of fresh and seawater so clear that I could see the bottom of the canyon, thirty feet down. The occasional parrot fish and mullet swam by, eager to put distance between themselves and us.
We swam to the end of the canyon, then scrambled across slippery rocks into a shallow pool. Though we could have waded in the knee-deep water here, the algae made the rocks dangerously slick, and I found it easier to lay in the shallow water and pull myself along. Sculpins clung to the algae dressed-rocks, scattering was we slid across.Across this pool and another rocky barrier was second deep pool in the canyon, this one teeming with whole schools of mullet and parrot fish.
Stoytcho’s biggest frustration was that he couldn’t see anything. We shared a snorkel and mask between us, a 5$ toy we bought in Mexico. But without glasses, the fish appeared as formless blobs.This didn’t bode well for our snorkeling on the cruise. Luckily, a man with a prescription mask was snorkeling nearby, and offered to let Stoytcho borrow it for a bit. Though the custom mask likely cost more than $100, he let use it without hesitation. It made a world of difference to Stoytcho. We could see all of the fish together, now.