Inside The Lava Tunnel at the Royal Palm Hotel, Santa Cruz, Galápagos

As we left the warm, desert climate of the coastal regions behind us, journeying ever up into the the cool, luxuriant greenery of the highlands of Santa Cruz, it was easy to forget the explosive, cataclysmic origins of these volcanic islands. We were filled with anticipation for what was to come: a chance to journey down inside the most incredible lava tunnel in the whole of the Galápagos Islands.

Around twenty-five minutes after leaving the hub, when we were close to the highest part of Santa Cruz, we could see that many of the distant trees were shrouded in the heavy fog that persists in much of the highlands. Our coach driver turned onto a private road leading to the Royal Palm Hotel. We continued for a couple of hundred metres before pulling into a lay-by.

We were met by our guide and another man who gave out construction hard hats and torches for our journey under the earth. The terrain was grassy but not flat, and covered in fern bushes that gave the area a very similar feel to parts of the New Forest near my home back in England. Once we were all kitted-out, our guide made a quick head count and we set off for the entrance to the tunnel. At almost one kilometre in length, the lava tunnel has both its entrance and exit on private land, and as such, this incredible natural treasure is not open to the general public. It was our very good fortune that the land belonged to Maria’s brother, Xavier, who kindly offered to share its beauty with our group of families.

We didn’t have to go far before we came across some steps leading down to the mouth of an opening much larger than I had expected. Having experienced other lava tunnels in the Galápagos, I wasn’t expecting the explosion of colours on the walls, floor and roof of this tunnel. Blue, green, yellow and purple patches shone vividly in the light of our torches.

The tunnel became cavernous in some places, diving and twisting in others, and splitting into two, one passage above the other, quite frequently. There were bridges to cross over the deep, wide spaces, and metal stairs to climb or descend from one level to another, and I felt like we were the ring-bearer’s party in The Lord Of The Rings, travelling through the mines of Moria.

At the end of the lava tunnel we climbed a staircase through a more modest opening, to emerge once more into the moist heathland of the Santa Cruz highlands. We took a short walk to where our hosts were waiting for us with refreshments, before beginning our return journey.

It wasn’t difficult going in the lava tunnel, and the scale of it didn’t cause me any claustrophobia. As we traveled back to our hotel I reflected on how privileged I felt to have experienced this natural marvel. I left the lava tunnel in awe not just of the power of nature to shape our planet, but also of the beauty of her work

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