Los Tuneles – Snorkeling at its best

March 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

Los Tuneles Bridge

Los Tuneles Isabela

I’ve been asked before where is my favorite place to snorkel in the Galapagos, its Los Tuneles.  This little known site is not part of any cruise itinerary it is a remote site, which most people in the islands don’t even know exists. To get to Los Tuneles you have to be staying in the sleepy town of Puerto Villamil on the island of Isabela.  Then there is just one way to get there and it’s not for the faint of heart.

You begin by boarding a small, fiberglass fishing boat to take you the hour ride down the coast – the site is accessible only by special permit – it’s one of the few interesting tourist sites in Galapagos exclusively open to local fisherman.  Traveling down the coast, you’ll know you are getting close when you see La Union Rock.  La Union is an easily identifiable point – the basalt monolith rises out of the ocean.  Every few minutes a massive wave arrives to envelop the rock with water in an epic battle to reclaim it as part of the sea.  Flocks of blue-foot and nazca boobies perch on top, enduring the near non-stop downpours of sea spray.

A few minutes further and you reach an area that looks superlative site for the X-games surfing competition with white cap waves rolling in one after another.  The idea of reaching land here seems virtually impossible.  Yet, in a feat of navigational excellence the captain maneuvers the boat with a series of zigs and zags skirting the waves to reach a series of coves known as Los Tuneles.

Once inside the islets the waters drastically changes, gone are the unrelenting surf that guarded the entrance, instead the surging waters have given way to crystal clear, tranquil pools.  The water is so shallow that your guide jumps to the bow to help direct the captain through the rock-strewn labyrinth.  Using hand signs they signal to each other “a little more to the left…a little to the right” as the boat continues in a series of turns from one cove to another making you question if either the captain or the guide really knows where they are going.

Where you are doesn’t really matter, this enchanting place is unlike any where you have ever been.  Formed when the hot magma from the volcanoes reached the island’s edge it flowed into the cool pacific waters and froze into a series of rock formations including tilted slabs, bridges and of course the tunnels that give the site its name.

Marine life has apparently known about this place for years.  As the boat continues along its crazy route you pass from one cove to the next seeing sea lions, penguins, boobies, rays and white tip reef sharks all enjoying their own private pool.

When the boat stops it is time to go explore.  A quick look from the rocks above lets you inspect the area – and realize it is easily to get lost within the giant lava maze.  Jumping into the water with your snorkel gear you begin checking out the underwater scenery passing from pool to pool seeing yellow tailed grunts, salemas, chocolate chip starfish, lobsters, and the odd rock formations along the way.

Suddenly you see two eyes spying on you – then they are gone in a flash.  What was it…you speed up your swim to give chase and try to find out what it was.  Having snorkeled in other spots in Galapagos it’s clear it wasn’t a sea lion– they would have swam up to you to play with you rather than darting away.  Whatever it was – it’s gone.  No problem there seems to be so much else to see.

Passing to the next pool you catch a glimpse at what you were chasing.  Again you see it watching you– it’s a green sea turtle.  Sea turtles seem to have their own type of game it’s a tactical one.  They follow you then having the advantage of experience; they find secret hiding spots where they lie in wait.  Unlike their land based cousins, sea turtles are quick in the water, thus rush past you then hide again as they try to investigate why you have entered their sanctuary.  Rather than the sea lions favorite game of tag the curious sea turtle prefers to play a game of Spy.

Sea turtles are an amazing creature unlike the carefree surfer-dude sea turtle of the Finding Nemo these turtles appear to be old and wise.  Looking into their eyes they seem to have witness the history of the islands first hand.  Sea turtles live to be up to 60 years old making you realize this turtle may have been here before the Galapagos became a national park.  You can’t help but wonder all the things he may have seen – the last eruption of Cerro Azul to the south in 2008 and Sierra Negra to the north in 2005 for sure but probably those before it too – there were large eruptions dating back over the last 6 decades this wise turtle may have been here to see them all and witness the creation of this site.

Snorkeling at Los Tuneles is a magical place it’s one of the only places in Galapagos you can swim with both tropical fish and rooks of penguins but there is so much more here.  I’ve played with sea lions, swam with sharks and manta and golden rays, schools of fish and of course sea turtles. The unique environment combined with the multitude of marine life makes it my favorite place to snorkel in the Galapagos Islands.

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