Tortuga Bay is my favorite beach area in Galapagos. The Bay consists of two beaches, Playa Brava and Playa Mansa. Brava means rough in Spanish. There are two signs along the way warning unsuspecting swimmers of the danger of entering the waters of Playa Brava. Over the years, a number of people have succumbed to its strong currents. I enjoy swimming in the waves, so Playa Brava is my favorite. If you want to swim with the sea turtles (aka. tortugas) in the late afternoon, Playa Mansa is the place to go. Mansa means gentle. To reach the Bay, you start at the small Galapagos National Park hut, where you sign-in and out and can buy water and snacks. The walk from the hut to Playa Brava is ~20 minutes. The well-constructed path leads you through one of the many surreal landscapes of Galapagos. Once you reach the beach, Playa Mansa is a 10 minute walk on the powdery white sands of Playa Brava. Playa means beach.
The path was constructed by the National Park a few years ago to provide easier access to Tortuga Bay. The terrain in this area consists of rough lava rock, which is difficult to walk on. The path is fairly direct and takes you up and down a few small hills through the Galapagos arid zone. According to the fieldguide, Wildlife of the Galápagos, there are seven vegetation zones in Galapagos: littoral or coastal zone, arid zone, transitional zone, scalesia zone, zanthoxylum or brown zone, miconia zone, and the pampa or fern-sedge zone.
As you begin your walk, two plants immediately catch your attention, the Palo Santo (holy wood) tree (Bursera graveolens) and the tallest of the Opuntia cactus varieties, Opuntia echios var. gigantea, found only on Santa Cruz Island. The cool silvery-grey colors of the Palo Santo are especially refreshing on a hot day. Palo Santo wood is burned as incense and is known to ward off mosquitoes. The strange shapes of the Opuntias add to the surreal atmosphere. On my Saturday walk, several cacti were in bloom, revealing their brilliant lemon-colored flowers against the large stone-green pads. The fallen bark of the Opuntia is used to make lampshades and reminds me of the craftsman-style lampshades made of mica, only the Opuntia bark has a more rugged look.
Along the trail, you notice the various growth stages of the Opuntia echio var. gigantea. Inititially, there is a furry growth emerging from the rocky lava terrain, which then turns into greyish-green spine-spotted pads. The cactus then develops a trunk covered with clumps of small, thin, radiating needles, which eventually drop off, leaving a smooth, flaky, rust-colored bark.
You can already feel the cool breeze coming off the water as you walk up and over the last hill. The fresh smell of the sea and the sound of the waves rolling onto the beach are inviting as you descend down towards Tortuga Bay.
One last reminder as the path opens up onto Playa Brava.