The Galapagos Archipelago

The Galapagos archipelago is a chain of 18 major islands about 1000km west for mainland Ecuador. You can reach the island via commercial jet service from Guayaquil or Quito. Both cities have modern efficient airports and the islands have 2 airports that receive flights from the mainland. Getting here is no problem.

There are two ways to properly see these islands and experience the unique wildlife that can only be found here. There are many small hotels on the occupied islands of San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabela. These hotels offer day boat trips to sites to see the endemic species or just to visit a beach. We stayed at a wonderful Tented Camp for just 2 nights – called the Galapagos Safari Camp.  Or take an island hoping cruise on many of the small (all of the cruises are on smaller boats or ships) cruise vessels that will take you to a different island every day (sometimes 2 islands in one day) and go to the further away islands as well. The smaller cruise boats accommodate 16 passengers the largest up to 100 with choices in-between. Be sure to wear a motion sickness patch if you’re prone to motion sickness. We found some great options and booked using an expert agent to make sure we got what we wanted.

We chose to take a 5 night cruise on the Galapagos Sea Star . This is a 16 passenger yacht (8 cabins). There are 3 night, 4 night, 7 night, 10 night options as well. The price of the cruise included everything except alcohol and wet suit rental.  We recommend the wet suit as the Galapagos is on the cold water Humbolt current and the waters can be chilly. This year is an “El Nino” year so the waters were comfortable every time we swam. Anyway, our first day we had lunch and then went back to land for a visit to the tortoise reserve on San Cristobal Island. Then back to the boat for a meeting on the next days activity. Here is what you can expect…

  • Breakfast anywhere from 6:30 to 7:00 depending on the morning activity.
  • Morning excursion to a new island (everyday was a new island) Everyday this was a walk of between 1:30 hours and 3 hours. The thing that makes the Galapagos so interesting is the islands are each an individual eco-system. They each have distinct animal life. One day you’ll visit an island where you’ll see marine iguanas or a species of bird that you won’t find on a neighboring island.
  • Then back to the boat for lunch and maybe a swim depending on sea conditions. Also everyday we had some free time after lunch for a nap or just to relax.
  • The afternoon excursion was either another hike or snorkeling or both.
  • After the afternoon activity everyone gathered for a meeting where our guide previewed the next day and gave us the breakfast time. We usually had a glass of wine or an Ecuadorean beer at this time.
  • Finally dinner and maybe some game playing.

The boat had two hot tubs and with 3 hours notice the crew would make one ready for use. I guessed that the time was needed to get it up to temperature.

At night one of our favorite activities was to go up to the top deck and watch stars. If we weren’t moving the boat would have its top lights off and in total darkness you can see unbelievable numbers of stars. We just never get that dark in the city.

With your landings on the islands you’re either landing on rocks or a small manmade landing or most often on a beach. This means there are 3 different kinds of landings. A dry landing is on a pier or manmade landing spot. This is pretty easy with assistance from a crew member. A wet landing is on a beach and you’ll get your feet and lower legs a bit wet but you shorts will stay dry (usually). And then there is the acrobatic landing. This happens when you mess up the timing on a wet landing and it can be funny, unless you’re the acrobat. We also had one wet landing on a beach where the waves were breaking right on the beach, everyone got wet on that one as we were all acrobats trying to get out of the zodiacs.

The Sea Star cruise also included a naturalist/guide on every activity. Ours, Mira spoke perfect unaccented English and took time to explain everything we were seeing.

After 6 days of hiking and snorkeling we were ready for some relaxation. Of course we also wanted to see some of mainland Ecuador.

Land Tortoise

We choose 2 nights at Hacienda Zuleta, a hotel and eco-lodge in the Andes about an hour and a half from Quito airport. The main buildings of this hacienda were completed in the 1690s and the house and staff are amazing. We took a horseback ride to a local Condor rescue facility and also a short hike to a nearby water fall. This was the perfect way to end our Ecuadorean adventure.

Cuba Tour: Experience Its Rich History

Picture courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org
Picture courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Cuba has always been a mystery due to the ban on tourism. Today, the tourism ban is now lifted, and you can experience Cuba for the first (and hopefully not the last) time.

Cuba, also known as “El Caimán,” is located in the Caribbean Sea. It is surrounded by the North Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Gulf of Mexico to the east, the Straits of Florida to the south and the Windward Passage and Yucatan Channel to the north. Cuba is the main island and takes up the majority of the land area; it is the 17th largest island based on its land area. In addition, Cuba is located west of Haiti, north of Jamaica, south of the Bahamas and Florida and east of Mexico.

Over 4,000 islands and cays are located in and around Cuba’s bays and surrounding seas. Some of those island groups are Jardines de la Reina, the Canarreos, and the Colorados Archipelagos. When visiting Cuba, you will notice that the land is mostly flat and then becomes mountainous in the southeast portion, including the Sierra Maestra, Sierra Cristal, Sierra del Rosario and Escambray mountain ranges. Besides many mountains, Cuba also possesses beaches and marshes located in its coastal area. Zapata Swamp is the largest marsh, which is approximately 1,750 square miles.

While visiting Cuba, you will find enjoyable tropical temperatures. In fact, the average temperature in January is 73.6 degrees while July’s average temperature is 80.6 degrees. November to April is Cuba’s dry season while May to October is Cuba’s rainy season. Its location is also in the path of hurricanes that are most common in September and October, Cuba’s rainy period.

It is an exciting time in Cuba’s history now that the tourism industry is open. Visitors can now experience Cuba, its people and its history first-hand. Condor Tours and Travel has an amazing eight-day Cuba tour coming up June 15-22, 2016. Lori Snow, Latin American touring expert, will be leading this trip. The following are some of the exciting excursions on this tour’s itinerary:

  • Parisian dinner show in Havana, the capital of Cuba;
  • Walking tour of Old Havana (La Habana Vieja);
  • Museum of Rum
  • Tour of Havana’s four major squares: Plaza Vieja, Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de Armas, and Plaza San Francisco;
  • Sierra del Rosario Nature Reserve;
  • Buenavista Coffee Plantation;
  • Tropicana Caberet, Cuba’s world famous nightclub;
  • Che Guevara Memorial; and
  • Las Terrazas de Cojimar, the fisherman’s bar that Ernest Hemingway wrote about in his novel The Old Man and the Sea

These are just a few highlights that Lori will show you on this tour. Along the way, you will get to enjoy Cuba’s cuisine. Cuban food is a combination of Native American, African, Spanish and Caribbean-type cuisine. Meals consist of staples like rice and beans, tamales, black bean soup and rice with chicken. Citrus, garlic, onion and peppers can be found in Cuba’s food as well.

Depending on your budget, Condor Tours and Travel also offers four other Cuba tour packages that concentrate on Colonial Havana or Cuba and its beaches. These tours range from five days to eleven days.

For more information on these tours, please visit Condor Tours and Travel’s website today.