Postcards from Ecuador: Swimming with sea turtles, sharks and rays in epic Los Túneles snorkel session

The group’s last full day in Ecuador proved to be one of its most memorable, highlighted by a 45-minute boat ride to “Los Túneles,” The Tunnels, for an epic snorkel session.

The Tunnels are a series of lava flows and lava tubes that reached the coast, resulting in a maze of sharp black rocks conjoined by arches, tunnels, and submerged pathways that have created a haven for wildlife and thus for the snorkelers that hope to see them.

The group split into three groups - the Rays, the Turtles, and the Seahorses - and boarded three boats for a bumpy ride along Isabela’s south coast.  A hike through the land bridges connecting many of the islets in the archipelago revealed many nesting blue-footed boobies, where the group’s guides recounted how these amazing fish eaters nest and raise their young. Like many species, these iconic birds are being squeezed by global climate change and habitat loss.

After a brief shuttle to the next bay over, the groups plunged into the chilly water, wetsuits on all, to scour Los T
úneles for marine life, and the bounty was astounding. The Galápagos lived up its reputation.

The sights were many and varied: black-tipped reef sharks, white-tipped reef sharks, octopus, sea lions frolicking among the swimmers, giant parrotfish, coronetfish, spotted eagle rays, giant manta rays, surgeonfish, and more.

Many of the group had never been snorkeling before this trip, or not since they were very young, and it didn’t take long for the wonder of what they were seeing to override any nervousness about the trip itself.

“I was nervous at first but really felt comfortable very quickly,” said WWU student Adrienne Rugg of Santa Fe, New Mexico. “I wasn’t just comfortable, I actually just felt really at home. It was incredible.”

Student Jordan Baron, after swimming next to a 400-pound green sea turtle for a few minutes, was blown away by the gentle giant.

“If I could be reincarnated I would come back as one of these turtles,” she said. “They are so amazing.”

Student Lydia Tibbott of Bellingham said the morning was one of her favorite activities of the trip.

“No pun intended but that was such an immersive experience,” she said. “And the nature of snorkeling means you are sort of in your own little zone, with just you and your thoughts. I really enjoyed it.”

The group returned to shore exhausted but happy, and ready for the next day: a long day and overnight of travel that would get them back into the arms of their families and friends Friday morning.

Coming Monday: A trip recap and thoughts on the great adventure from the students


A sea turtle swims by as students admire it during a snorkel session in the Galápagos.
A boat full of students heads off for a snorkel session in the Galápagos.
Students pose for a photo on one of the land bridges that connects Los Tuneles off Isabela Island.
A blue-footed booby walks along the land bridges near Los Tuneles.