Los Tuneles is a geologic formation on the coast of Isla Isabela about an hour or so to the southwest of Puerto Villamil. It is a commonly offered day trip that provides excellent opportunities for snorkeling among the dark black lava formations that come in the shape of all kinds of arches and tunnels. Their nooks and crannies make excellent habitat for seahorses, sea urchins, starfish, and tropical fish.
Our day tour included two snorkeling opportunities and one short hike. Our first snorkeling adventure began in water about 4 meters deep but with enough motion from the waves to remind us that we were in a real ocean. As we prepped to go over the side, penguins looked the other way, not caring one way or another that humans were about to invade their waters.
Almost immediately after entering the water, our guide, Pablo, hollered for us to come nearby. He had found a sea horse, one of gigantic proportions for this area. Even a snorkeler who doesn’t dive below the surface (myself) could see this 6 inch male sea horse swaying with the ocean tides, his tail curled tight around a strand of sea weed attached to the black lava rock bed. Our snorkeling adventure was off to a good start.
And it only got better. I was off in a world of my own, following schools of fish, my mask acting like blinders, forcing me to focus on the world directly in front of me. Tropical fish swam singly and in schools, flitting in and out of rock formations. Some looked like they were kissing the rocks as they delicately removed tidbits of food from the pocked crevices. Others were just hanging out on ledges, watching the world go by and just waiting for an opportunity to snag the next inattentive meal that swam by.
Time passes quickly underwater, especially when you have a snorkel and mask that work well. Remember, your guide should always have a spare set on board so if you are having issues with your equipment, say something! If you are an uncertain swimmer, you can also enter the water with a life vest. And I have seen some very successful child snorkelers hold the large round life saver ring with their hands while their little faces are looking underwater. In this way, a guide or parent can help several children enjoy the experience while keeping an eye on all of them.
I jumped out of the water a little sooner than everyone else to grab some photos of the penguins on the rocks. But it was far too short a time and we were off to our next location.
Our captain smoothly maneuvered the small boat through the lava formations to a quieter cove protected from crashing waves. Each lava island was its own mini habitat – low mangroves and tall prickly pear cactus are some of the vegetation that have adapted to the high saline conditions. Small birds flittered from island to island. We disembarked and took a short hike, using the lava archways like bridges in a Japanese Garden. Looking down into the water, we saw mating sea turtles pass under one archway, completely oblivious to their audience above.
Our guide left us to explore the trail back but it was only a few minutes later and we were headed to the next snorkeling adventure. It was another small cove but with darker, quieter waters and hidden caves beneath the surface where white-tip reef sharks lay sleeping during the daytime hours. Pablo was very good about helping each of us to dive down and peer inside the caverns. This experience made me decide that I need to learn how to dive on my own because having a person’s hand on my neck pushing me down made me panic and I was unsuccessful in having a personal view. But most of those on our tour were thrilled to see these sharks in their native daytime habitat.
But snorkeling in this area was about more than sharks.
I found myself swimming beside a beautiful sea turtle. Turtles are glorious swimmers – their flippers move smoothly in the turquoise green waters and they look like they are flying in water. It would be an impossible flight but their heavy shells weigh next to nothing in their underwater world and they carry their protective cases with a lightness that belies their size. And this specimen that swam by my side was huge; I would have had a hard time wrapping my arms around him even if I could have tried. Up close, it is possible to see the details which make these sea turtles so beautiful – Dark espresso brown puzzle shaped patches of their faces are lined in warm golden yellow.
The highlight of my day was snorkeling beside this giant creature whose eyes watched me with equal curiosity. Not a bad start to our Galapagos Adventure.
This article is part of a series on our 12-day Galapagos Island-Hopping Adventure.