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.

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