The Poor Man’s Galapagos and Puerto Lopez

Puerto Lopez is a small, fairly quiet fishing town.  The only touristy part of town is along the malecon which is a very nice area to walk around or chill at one of the beach side bars. Many tourists from all over the world and Ecuadorians themselves come here to go Isla la Plata, known as the poor man’s Galapagos, and Los Frailes which many times has been voted the best beach in Ecuador.

We stayed at Hostal Yemaya which costs $30/night for two people.  It’s in a great location one block from the beach. Miguel runs the hostal and is very informative. Miguel set us up with Aventura tours for our day trip to Isla la Plata.  It only costs $35 each (hence why it’s the poor man’s Galapagos) and includes hiking, lunch and snorkeling.

One of the guys from the tour company met us at our hotel at a chill time of 9:30 am.  Before getting on the boat, we walked down the beach with the rest of the people in our group to check out the fisherman’s catch of the day.  We watched the men carry coolers full of fish from the boats to trucks parked right at the shore while the frigate birds desperately try to sneak a fish from the coolers.

Fisherman’s catch

We were the last boat to leave the dock but our tour guide assured us that we would be the first boat to arrive on the island.  He was right, it didn’t take long for our awesome boat to leave the others in the dust, or mist rather.  On the way to the island we saw the biggest pod of dolphins I’ve ever seen.  There had to be hundreds of them.  We also saw jumping stingrays too.

Within an hour we made it to our destination. As we approached, hundreds of frigate birds were circling high above the rocky cliffs of the island.  They look like pterodactyls gliding through the air.  We stopped at a fisherman’s boat because he was feeding fish to a bunch of sea turtles.  Again I’ve never seen so many sea turtles in one spot.  As you can see, we are already very impressed with Isla la Plata and thinking we already got our money’s worth.

Sea Turtles!!

Our tour guide took us on a short 3 km hike where we saw the famous blue footed boobies.  There were many babies hiding in the scrub brush waiting on mom and dad to bring them food.  We had to be careful not to scare them.  They can’t fly and their wings are so fragile that if you get too close they can freak out and break their wings getting them stuck in the brush.  It seems like that is easy to understand but I was shocked by how so many stupid people in our group still wanted to stop right in front of the baby and take its picture.  In fact this is why one of the trails was closed off.  The Albatross used to frequent the island but quit coming because of too many dumbass people taking selfies with them.  The trail is closed because a family of Albatross is back and the islanders want to keep it that way!

After an underwelming but included lunch of tuna sandwiches on hot dog buns, we went snorkeling at a nearby reef.  We saw angelfish, parrot fish, needle fish, puffer fish and many other beautiful species of which I don’t know.  I was so impressed with all the animals we got to see.  If the po man’s Galapagos was this awesome I imagine the real Galapagos Islands would blow your mind.

The next day we went to check out the many times voted best beach in Ecuador, Los Frailes. From town we took a mototaxi to the bus terminal and then a bus to the Los Frailes for 50 cents each.  It’s free to get in but because it’s part of the national park, you need your passport number to get in.  Since I don’t usually take my passport to the beach and I don’t have it memorized (which I probably should) I just pretended to look at something on my phone while I made up a number.

Hiking at Los Frailes

Once you make it through the gate you have two choices: pay a mototaxi to take you straight to the beach or hike the trails where you will come across two other beaches and a mirador or viewpoint of Los Frailes.  The choice was obvious for Tim (I was feeling lazy and wanted to go straight to the beach) and so we took to the trails.  I’m so glad I listened to him because it was absolutely amazing.

It was realllllly hot but there was a constant cool sea breeze which made it bearable.  We stopped at the first beach and went for a swim.  At the second beach the rip currents were too strong to swim so we stood on the rocks and ate Doritos. In a little less than two hours we made it to Los Frailes.  I can see why it’s voted the beast beach with its surrounding mountains, wide, white sand, and trash free (rare in developing countries). The water had a clean blue tint to it and was easy for swimming.  At 4 pm the beach closes down and a van is waiting to take people back to Puerto Lopez for $2.50 per person.

Puerto Lopez is a must if you visit Ecuador.  It has so much to offer and beautiful sights to see.

Giant grilled skrimp
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Free, beachfront camping at Cabo Pulmo National Park

We initially only planned to stay 3 nights at Cabo Pulmo. It wasn’t until we arrived to the campground that we realized we had severely underestimated the awesomeness of Cabo Pulmo. The campground isn’t clearly marked but it is the first fenced in area on the beach you see coming into town from the north/east. Surprisingly, we both had cell service and internet in this seemingly off the grid, remote paradise. Not to mention, the cost to camp here is FREE! There are no facilities besides the Sea of Cortez, which is right outside your door or tent flap. Our only fear was having to leave early from running out of water. Thus we immediately began water preservation tactics. We filled up a large pot of water from the sea and used that to pre wash the dirty dishes (then we lightly rinsed them with fresh water). For showers, we swam in the sea. We were able to go ten days on our 70 gallon water tank and could have gone longer (we didn’t run out). We could of bought five gallon tanks at Cabellero’s restaurant in town and manually filled the tanks to stay longer if we wanted to as well.

There are a couple little hiking adventures you can start from the campground. One would be walking down the beach and up to the top of Cabo Pulmo point. Another is a gravel road hike you can access across the road from the campground. The road winds all the way up a mountain and gives you awesome views of the village as well as the east cape.

We were going to go scuba diving but the morning we were supposed to go I was still coughing from getting over a cold. Tim rode the bike up to Pepe’s dive shop and told him I was sick and couldn’t go. Pepe was understanding and even gave us a piece of ginger root to help my cold. You can scuba with Pepe for $100 for a two tank dive. Pepe is a great resource if you want to learn about the history of Cabo Pulmo, he was one among locals that pushed to make Cabo Pulmo a National Park. At Cabo Pulmo campground, you can easily find relics from the fishing village that once thrived. There is a natural reef just outside the campground you can kayak to and snorkel. There are several other reef sites in the area as well.

Los Arbilitos is only about five miles further down the east cape road. It costs 30 pesos a person to park here (15 pesos for the ninos). There is a short trail that takes you up to amazing viewpoints of the cape and then down to little coves where you can snorkel and observe many beautiful fish. You can camp at Los Arbilitos but I only recommend small rigs and four wheel drive. We had a hell of a time turning our fifth wheel around after a fellow traveler recommended we stay here. I nearly had a panic attack after two hours of trying to get ourselves out of there. Just don’t do it if your rig is over 20 feet. Anyways, a couple miles even further down the east cape road is Los Frailes. There are a ton of RV’s full timing it among the bushes in the arroyo. The beach is sandy and wide, if you have a kayak go around the point to check out the sea lions barking and basking in the sun.

Our campsite at Cabo Pulmo campground was the best site to camp in the area, in our opinion. It was next to the only palapa with unobstructed views of the sea. Inside the palapa was signed by the family that built it only 2 months prior to our arrival. We checked out their website, homealongtheway.com, and posted a comment thanking them for the building of the awesome palapa we had been enjoying. A couple days later a large motor home shows up, having a little bit of trouble squeezing through the gate. When I heard the tires overturning in the soft dirt, I ran to get Tim from the beach where he was talking on the phone. Tim and Ol’ Oso (our 1999 F250) dragged their 37 foot motor home through the gate. It was a proud moment indeed. We then realized that the family we helped was the same family that built the palapa! We immediately made friends with them. The whole family, including four kids ranging from 3-9, was really cool and welcoming. It was interesting to talk with them and get a feel of how life would be traveling with children.

It was so hard to leave Cabo Pulmo. Out of all the places we have boondocked this has got to be my favorite, followed by the site outside the Grand Tetons, then Moab. With beach access, a palapa, and internet it felt like a private beach house, but free…for now. I am happy to have had a chance to experience such a beautiful place that I will never forget.

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