Mallorca is an amazing island with countless day trip opportunities. For those who are interested in seeing a bit more of Mallorca than the typical tourist destinations, and for those who like some physical activity, this day trip to Sa Dragonera might be something for you!
Sa Dragonera is an island located in the South West of Mallorca, and geographically seen it is like an extension of the Sierra de Tramuntana, the mountain complex of Mallorca. Since 1995 it is declared as a Natural Park by the Balearic government.
I recently went on a day trip with my German friend, Stephanie, who lives on the island since a few years. I met her back in 2015 when I stayed at her beautiful AirBnB and ever since we stayed in touch. Now that I’m back, Stephanie invited me to go out and explore some more of the island.
The Leap promised its Leapers an “a week of adventure and expedition, taking the famous “Ruta de los Volcanes” (Volcanic Route), biking to waterfalls, white-water raft, climb Chimborazo volcano and kayak over Quilotoa crater lake”, but it was much more than that, exceeding all of our expectations. It was a crazy week, finally getting EVERYONE out of their comfort zone, with loads of unforgettable memories, and loads of work for me as a leader! Here follows a great story, enjoy the ride!
LAGUNA DE QUILOTOA
After having breakfast in Quito and giving my group an orientation about this week, we left by private bus to Quilotoa. It was a horrible temparature shock going straight from the warm Galapagos Islands to the cold Laguna de Quilotoa. I felt quite calm, although I knew I could expect a crazy week when it came to organizing, leading, transporting, arranging meals and making many many invoices in hotels, travel agencies and restaurants. But I was more ready then ever before and started to feel more and more comfortable with my job and the group.
The Quilotoa Loop is a bumpy, ring-shaped road that travels from the Panamericana far into the backcountry of Cotopaxi province. Along the way tourists encounter colorful indigenous markets, a crystal-blue lake that the locals believe has no bottom (!!!), and ancient trails that meander in the shadow of snowcapped volcanoes. The isolated location brought us in contact with Kichwa-speaking indigenous people and some lamas.
After paying a 2$ entrance fee to Quilotoa, it was not hard to find our hostel as there were only a handful in town. We had a typical lunch, warmed up near the fire place where we met other travellers and watched how the clouds got ticker and ticker, until we could not see the end of the road anymore and finally watched how it started to rain. We felt quite stuck in the building, went to our room and collected wood for the fires at night. It got colder and colder, so freezing I had never felt before!
I went souvenir shopping in my raincoat with the girls as real fashionistas, we bought some drinks and food to keep us warm and strong, and spend the night making fire and more fire until we finally had de-frozen our fingers and toes, played “never have I ever” (my all-time favourite game!) and finally got to sleep. Some alone, some together… To keep each other “warm”?!
Well yeah, it was a lovely evening even though I was really disappointed in the fact that we did not managed to hike down the lake because of the weather. We agreed on having breakfast at 6h30 in order to leave for the hike early in the morning at 7h30 because usually it does not rain in the mornings.
And oh yeah, I woke up and the sky was bright blue and clear. We were very lucky and because there were no clouds, the reflection of the sun showed all kinds of colours of blue and green. We enjoyed the lookout on the top where we had stunning views of the mirror-green lake about 400m below and the snowcapped peaks of the Cotopaxi volcano in the distance.
When you ask the locals how deep it is, they always say it has no bottom at all, they said in the Lonely Planet. So I did the test and asked some locals. Some could not even reply to my Spanish, because they only spoke Kichwa, and does who did speak Spanish confirmed: no bottom. Well, geologists say 250m…
After an hour going down, we rented kayaks to see more of the lakes surroundings. The alkaline lake water is not potable, and I assume it is too cold for swimming, even though it was clearly warmer near the lake then in the village during the day.
With an altitude of 3914m, it is really hard to hike around the volcanic-crater lake of Laguna Quilotoa. You have no air in your longs, and it literally feels as if you had just smoked a package of cigarettes in 5 minutes. Impossible to walk back up, was what I said after giving it a try for 30 meters. I stopped a local, and continued by horse (or was it a donkey?!)
I felt really sorry for my ‘animal’ which did not only suffer itself from the hike up carrying my weight, but apart from that he had some serious diarrhea and stopped every once in a while, refusing to walk further. Pobrecito, I will never do that again but I have to admit it was way easier and enjoyable to get up like this.
Some of my group members took the challenge and hiked all the way up, arriving sweaty and tired, while I was already chilling up there for half an hour. Because of that, we were a little bit late for our private transfer to Baños, but it was definetely worth the delay and we had been so lucky with the weather after all.
If you ever plan on going to Ecuador, make sure you do not skip Quilotoa. Truly recommendable and one of the most beautiful places in the whole country, in my opinion.
Then it was time to head further to Baños, another 4 hours by bus away. Everybody slept as a baby during the transfer, preparing for “the thrill town” of Ecuador!! And every now and then I opened my eyes to enjoy the amazing views along the road. The Andes is fascinating!
The 3rd of May it was time to head further to the biggest island of the Galapagos archipelago. In order to survive the 2 hour ‘lancha’ boat trip, I took an anti-seasickness pill, as many other travellers adviced me to do so. It wasn’t that bad, too be honest. I enjoyed the sunrise and was warmly welcomed by my tour operator on the peer. As it was the first time in my life that anyone was waiting for me with a personal nametag, I was super excited! Lol 😛
Just some advice for any Galapagos backpacker reading this post: Isabela has no ATM so you have to take enough cash with you from either San Cristobal or Santa Cruz. Upon arrival at the peer you will be obligated to pay an additional $5 entrance fee to Isabela, helping the island’s conservation.
I felt like ‘a real tourist’ with my super cheap all-inclusive package deal, checked in at Hotel Coral Blanco, got meal coupons and excursion vouchers. I paid $185 for 4 nights in a single room (airco, wifi, hot water), 2 diners, 2 lunched and 2 breakfasts, a city/flamingo tour, the full-day trekking to Sierra Negra & Volcano Chico and an excursion to Las Tintoreras.
However, the first day on the island I decided to take it easy and I headed to the beach for some tanning and sleep. Every once in a while a crab or marine iguana passed by next to my towel, but apart from that it was a very enjoyable morning at the beach.
After lunch I had a very short city and flamingo tour, which was not so impressive as Puerto Villamil is a tiny beach village with only unpaved roads and everything is in walking distance. But it was pretty cool to see the wild flamingos chilling in the lagoon.
After the tour I wandered around some more but got quite bored soon as Puerto Villlamil is an undevelopped and tiny village of which you can count the bars and shops on one hand…
I did another nap (siesta) and went to the restaurant with my food coupon for dinner. I felt quite lonely and bored, so headed to the Iguana Bar on the peer in search for some new friends and cocktails. I chatted with the bartender, told him about my job and found out some adresses and contact persons for new volunteer projects for Yanapuma. Lovely how working, enjoying cocktails and watching pinguins can go all together here! This is the life!
The next morning I felt like a new person and totally ready for my day excursion to Sierra Negra & Volcano Chico. With a lunchbox and loads of water packed, I left for what turned out to be a SICK day! Apparently, they ‘forgot’ to inform us that the hike was 16km in 2 difficult phases: a muddy and rainy hike uptil the Caldera of Sierra Negra, and a climb over lava rocks to Volcano Chico. And that everything, the same road as we went to go back. It took our group 8 hours of non-stop struggling through very changing weather and landscape types.
After walking for 3 hours in the rain, mud and mist we finally reached the top of Sierra Negra. Here we could see the caldera partially, but it was still pretty impressive to see this black sea of lava floods.
Then as we walked further the green and lush landscape changed into a dry desert of volcanic rocks…
We reached volcano Chico and already left half of our group behind somewhere because they could not handle it. The hike was a real stuggle and adventure. I thought it was a good excercise if I would ever go climbing the Mount Everest, lol :-p
Me, the guide and two other tourists climed all the way up to Volcano Chico, where we had the most spectacular views at +/- 1000 meter above sea level.
We took half an hour to eat our lunch box and then we headed back. On our way we put our hand in some lava rock and it was very hot, so that means – yes yes – that this volcano is active! I was told that the last eruption was in 2005.
On our way back I thought about ice cream and home, that way the time went faster and I tried to forget about the rainy part of the hike that was still coming. I ended up making jokes and good chats with the other tourists and by the time we all arrived, we were friends and could only smile about this insane day. We headed back completely soaked, full of mud and exhausted, ran in the sea with clothes and walking boots to get the mud off and had a good time.
Later in the night, after a good shower, I went to see the sunset at the peer, felt a little bit lonely and had dinner. The next day I woke up early again for the next excursion, I really wanted to make the best out of my stay here and see as much as possible. So I went to visit Las Tintoreras.
First we went to take our snorkel gear and drove to the boat dock where we started our tour. Las Tintoreras is a small archipelago of volcanic islands near Puerto Villamil.
On your way to the islands, you can see sea lions chilling on boats, pinguins chilling on rocks and so on…
Once we got onto land, we walked around a little bit. We saw a colony of baby iguanas, which was very cute to see. They all sit on top of each other and it looks like some of them are hugging each other. Big love, babies!
Then we were on a beautiful beach were sea lions lived and played, which was absolutely paradise!
And after that we walked on some more volcanic rock material and enjoyed the views and the sun.
We encountered another colony of marine iguanas, this time it were the mommies and the daddies I suppose… And last but not least, we found granddaddie, but I think he did not survive it …. 😉 RIP
We headed back to the boat and jumped in the water to cool off and enjoy some snorkeling. To my biggest surprise this was one of the best snorkel trips so far, as I saw gigantic sea turtles of over hundred years in the water. At least 7 of them!
There were also sea stars and other fish types that had not seen before so far on the Galapagos trip. Recommendable!
In the afternoon I went to visit the tortoise project on Isabela, in order to find out whether they can receive volunteers for Yanapuma. I decided to walk via the 20 minutes trail, which turned out to be a beautiful walk. I had to pass some crossing iguanas every now and then, but it was peaceful and quiet.
Upon my arrival at the project I registered and introduced myself to one of the guards. I got a private guided tour through the whole area and got to feed the turtles, which is normally strictly forbidden for tourists. The advantages of working in the industry, I guess!
It was a rehabilitation center for tortoises that were rescued from an eruption of a volcano on Isabela, and over 2 years they had already made over 200 baby tortoises. I can only say it was a very nice experience to feed the tortoises, but in order to get more information for Yanapuma I had to go back to the village to talk to the people of the Ministerio de Galapagos, which I managed to do, but with all these restrictions it was quite hard to get a deal out of it.
So I made another appointment in the evening to visit another project the next day, and finished my day at a bar with some cocktails and met some French volunteers from Hacienda Tranquila, with whome I turned out to have dinner with. We ended our night near a campfire and a bar, drank Tequila Sunrise and Piña Colada, felt like hippies and went to bed tipsy. Love life!
The last day in Isabela was fully booked with ambitious plans: snorkeling in Los Tuneles and project visit to Campo Duro… I noticed that waking up at 6 o’clock became the weirdest holiday habit ever, but I enjoyed it as I could make the most out of my days. Although I have to say I was also happy that it was the last day of doing excursions and snorkeling, because after 3 weeks of die-hard travelling, you really have enough of it. No matter how much paradise factor this place has.
Oh yeah, last night I dreamed that there was a volcano eruption which caused a tsunami wherefor I escaped on a zodiac and I had saved my photo camera in a mysterious way. I was one of the only persons that survived on earth and when I woke up, I did not realize it was not happening for real. Was it the alcohol? Or had I just been to much fascinated by the stories of the guides on this island? Lol 😛
The tour started, I met a Dutch woman on the boat, who became my buddy for the day and we sailed away… On our way we passed by Union Rock, which is full of Nazca Boobies! Sailed around it up to very close, and then went further.
It was difficult to sail between the tunnels of Los Tuneles, as they are all volcanic erosions in the water. But it was a beautiful walk with nice views.
We could also see some tortoises swimming and later we had the chance to snorkel with them and literally chased some sharks out of their tunnels. It was pretty pretty adventurous, and I was exhausted from doing this excercise snorkel around under and through the tunnels.
After two snorkel trips, a lunch on board and seeing some gigantic manta rays jumping out of the ocean, it was time to head back.
I called a taxi to go to Campo Duro, which was a fantastic project I found on the island. This ecolodge does not only offer camping sites, but has its own tortoise refuge and organic farm where they harvest food for the animals and the community. Their grounds are massive and I have never before seen the tortoises living so happily in natural surroundings.
I was warmly welcomed by the owner, Don Michui, in his restaurant. Again I was offered a guided tour, got the chance to ask a lot of questions and felt very professional, lol. No, I’m serious… I really enjoyed doing this visits and negotiations and I really hoped that Yanapuma would be able to work with them because I could see volunteers coming here…
I took a taxi back to the hostal and met my French friends again for one last goodbye dinner and cocktail on the beach. The next day I would leave very early to take 2 ferries and having a long travel day…
Next stop: SAN CRISTOBAL (7) –> Keep following for the last destination of my Galapagos Dream Journey
Day 3 of my Galapagos trip, and again time for a daytour. Today the island of Floreana was on the schedule. At 8AM I left for a 2 hour boatride southwards from Santa Cruz. The sea was rough and a lot of people were sick on the boat. Me, I wasn’t because I am just feeling great at sea!
Welcome to Floreana
The island of Floreana is inhabited, but it has a long history of strange people and there is only one main road in which they all live. The Galapagos Islands captured the world’s attention in 1934 when they were the site of an international scandal of sex and murder.
Unsolved Murder Mystery: The Galapagos Affair – “Who Killed “The Baroness?”
Friedrich Ritter and Dore Strauch
In 1929, German doctor Friedrich Ritter abandoned his practice and moved to the Islands, feeling he needed a new start in a faraway place. He brought with him one of his patients, Dore Strauch: both of them left spouses behind. They set up a homestead on Floreana Island and worked very hard there, moving heavy lava rocks, planting fruits and vegetables and raising chickens. They became international celebrities: the rugged doctor and his lover, living on a far off island. Many people came to visit them, and some intended to stay, but the hard life on the islands eventually drove most of them off.
Heinz Wittmer arrived in 1931 with his teenage son and pregnant wife Margret. Unlike the others, they remained, setting up their own homestead with some help from Dr. Ritter. Once they were established, the two German families apparently had little contact with one another, which seems to be how they liked it. Like Dr. Ritter and Ms. Strauch, the Wittmers were rugged, independent and enjoyed occasional visitors but mostly kept to themselves.
The next arrival would change everything. Not long after the Wittmers came, a party of four arrived on Floreana, led by “Baroness” Eloise Wehrborn de Wagner-Bosquet, an attractive young Austrian. She was accompanied by her two German lovers, Robert Philippson and Rudolf Lorenz, as well as an Ecuadorian, Manuel Valdivieso, presumably hired to do all the work. The flamboyant Baroness set up a small homestead, named it “Hacienda Paradise” and announced her plans to build a grand hotel.
An Unhealthy Mix
The Baroness was a true character. She made up elaborate, grand stories to tell the visiting yacht captains, went about wearing a pistol and a whip, seduced the Governor of Galapagos and anointed herself “Queen” of Floreana. After her arrival, yachts went out of their way to visit Floreana: everyone sailing the Pacific wanted to be able to boast of an encounter with the Baroness. But she did not get along well with the others: the Wittmers managed to ignore her but Dr. Ritter despised her.
We were welcomed by a happy group of sealions and the Galapagos National Park security guards, who as always and everywhere checked our bags for fruits, nuts etc. You cannot import anything in these islands to protect the nature!
Sea iguana near the peer
Right after arrival we were brought by ‘ranchera’ (kind of pick up truck) to the higher part of Floreana, it was a beautiful road with a lot of sightseeing.
Yellow Warbler (Canaria Maria)
We visited a protected area with giant turtles and finally I got to make a picture with these massive animals. This was definetely one of the MUS TSEES on the Galapagos trip. By the way, I am posing behind a 90 years old one…
Me with the Giant Tortoise
After that, we hiked around and got a lot of information about the history of Floreana. Apparently there were pirats, but also some Inca-wise art is found which made the people believe that there were people since long time ago.
Inca looking sculptures during the hike
A lot more then that I don’t remember, because I was more busy with enjoying the surroundings then listening to this boring stories. (hihi, honest)
Hiking in the highlands of Floreana Island
After 2 hours of walking, we returned to the car and just when we wanted to head back, the tire was broken. ‘No pasa nada’ (no problem), we just waited until it was fixed and continued with some delay. I asked the guide why he did not call somebody to send another car, but there was no phone signal… Of course! There is no service, no WiFi etc. on this island!
During lunch in a local restaurant I found out that there were 3 Belgians in the group, but I absolutely did not feel like socializing with ‘my’ people as I do not really like to see Belgians in other countries. I know, I am a WEIRDO! And so I did as if I did not know, and I did not talk to them in ‘our’ language. Lol, afterwards I felt quite creepy as I could understood their conversations but they did not know that I could. But oh my god, I really hate this typical travellers questions: ‘Where are you from? How long have you been here? Where did you go before and where are you planning to go next? …’ Bla bla bla
After that moment which turned out completely AWKWARD, we headed to Playa Negra, a black beach where we could enjoy some snorkeling. I felt like having a nap on the beach and enjoyed some music. It was just chilling and relaxing with the sun burning me again as usually…
Playa Negra, Floreana
Around 3PM it was time to head back to Santa Cruz by boat, and we were lucky to see some Galapagos Penguins right on the cliffs where we left the island.
When I arrived, I bought myself an icecream on the peer, headed back to the hostal for a shower and bought some post cards to send home. Hope you received them, Mommy, Abdenbi, Kim, Karine, Linde and Grandparents!
I went to bed early as next day I had to leave to Isla Bartolomé at 6AM! But more about that later… Sorry for keeping the blog posts so short, but I’m trying to keep you up to date faster to keep up with my busy travelling schedule!
Next stop: ISLA BARTOLOMÉ (4) –> Keep following for the next destination