Set Sail for the Galapagos: Island Adventure

As your boat cuts through the choppy Pacific waters near the equator, you pass through occasional bouts of rain and drizzle before entering a low fog bank clinging to the water. It is summer in the northern hemisphere, and you expected it to be hot in these equatorial latitudes, but the air and the salt spray is surprisingly cool on your exposed skin. Ecuador Oct 2007 115Then, as you continue onward, the fog begins to lift, and before you is the shore of a rocky island, sloping upwards to higher peaks in the interior. You smile with wonder at the sight unveiled to your eyes. At last you have reached your destination! The unique ecological wonders of the Galapagos Archipelago are spread out before you, ready to be explored!

The Galapagos Islands are of volcanic origin and sprawl out comfortably on either side of the equator. Located about six hundred miles due west of the South American mainland, they are cooled by the chilly waters of the Humboldt Current coming up from Antarctica and range in elevation from sea level to a height of more than 5,600 feet. The islands are part of the Republic of Ecuador, and have been visited by European explorers since the mid-16th century. At one point in their history, the Galapagos were used as a base for pirates who would raid the rich Spanish treasure galleons bringing gold and silver from the mines of Peru.

Today, most of the islands and their surrounding waters form a nature reserve and national park as well as a UNESCO world heritage site. One of the most famous visitors to the Galapagos was Charles Darwin on board the HMS Beagle during the 1830’s. The information Darwin collected here and his examination and drawing of the various plant and animal species on the islands led to the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859 and Darwin’s groundbreaking theory of evolution. During their millions of years of isolation each island has developed its own unique flora and fauna; many species are found nowhere else in the world.

A visit to these unique islands may be the ultimate experience in eco-tourism. There are still many active volcanoes on the Galapagos, and they have erupted a total of 24 times between 1961 and 2011. In total, the chain consists of 18 main islands, 3 smaller islands, and over 100 protruding rocks and islets. The youngest islands in the chain, Isabela and Fernandina, are still growing in size as periodic lava flows from local eruptions add to their size. Each island in the Galapagos has its own character; some are dry and arid, others are mountainous and very wet. To truly appreciate the ecological diversity of the Archipelago, you will have to visit numerous islands.

The species that can be found here include the Galapagos land and marine iguanas, the Galapagos green turtle, sea cucumbers (a delicacy in Asian food), the flightless cormorant, Ecuador Oct 2007 083Ecuador Oct 2007 078Blue-footed booby, Great frigatebird, the Galapagos penguin (the only living tropical penguin species) and the Waved albatross. There are also four

Frigate Bird
Frigate Bird

species of mockingbirds that are endemic to the islands and thirteen native species of tanagers, Ecuador Oct 2007 074known colloquially as “Darwin’s finches”. There is also a subspecies of sea lion found only on the islands and two unique species of cacti. penguinOf course the most famous and iconic animal on the island is the Galapagos Sea Tortoise, the largest living Tortoise and the creature that gave the islands their name. These giant reptiles can live to be up to 150 years old and are found nowhere else in the world outside of zoos.blue footed boobySea Lion

There are limited options for air travel to the Galapagos, and truly the best way to see the islands is by boat. Do not expect to be ferried out to the islands on a giant cruise ship; these will be smaller yachts that may hold up to a maximum of 100 passengers. The sleep-aboard vessels will allow you to explore more remote islands and spend a greater amount of time in the area. Remember, each island has its own unique ecology and animals! However, for those prone to sea sickness or wanting a quicker trip, there is the option of flying to the only airport on the Isle of Baltra and taking an excursion vessel from there to explore some of the nearby islands. Are you entranced by the prospect yet? Give us a call at Condor Tours and Travel at 800-783-8847 or email us at info@condortoursandravel.com today! We can start making your dreams a reality and help you plan your exotic vacation to experience the wonders of the Galapagos!

Stop one on our tour of Peru… Lima

Peru has become a ‘go-to’ travel destination for those interested in exploring the archeology of the Incan Civilization, the beauty of colonial churches or the one-of-a-kind natural wonders of the Andes. Peru has two official languages, Spanish and Quechua, the ancient language of the Incas. Although Spanish is dominant in Lima, Quechua is dominant in the Andes.

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To introduce these wonders of Peru, Condor Tours and Travel took a group of travel agents from Atlanta, Virginia and New York on a tour of some of the best of what Peru has to offer. We were hosted by Condor’s local partner, Condor Travel, which provided transportation and expert guides.

Most travelers enter Peru through Lima, a sprawling metropolis of 11 million that hugs the Pacific Ocean. Non-stop flights are available from Atlanta, Washington D.C., and Houston, as well as other US cities.

Our tour began at the Westin Convention Center located in the heart of the business district. IMG_4452 (4)The Westin offers a wonderful base for touring Lima, with luxurious rooms, an outstanding breakfast buffet and amenities expected from a top-tier hotel. There are other areas within Lima also with great hotels including the Miraflores area – home to the luxury hotel Belmond Miraflores and other properties from budget to luxury. The weather in Lima is virtually the same year around and they get little to no rain, so when traveling to Peru, the weather in Lima will not affect any of your plans. Other regions are affected by seasonal weather changes, so keep that in mind when planning your trip to maximize your time in Peru. If you are a foodie, Lima offers wonderful culinary experiences for you to explore.

Although modern, Lima’s winding streets offer hints of old world charm,
and parks that roll down to the Pacific. IMG_4468 (3)IMG_4465 (4)

 

 

 

 

 

 

On our first day of touring, we headed south of the city to visit Pachamamac, a pre-Incan site begun around 200 A.D. that eventually became an important Incan gathering place. IMG_4518 (4)

An archeological wonder, the site was first excavated in the 1890s by German archeologist Max Uhle. It covers an expansive area in the shadow of the Sun Temple.IMG_4525 (4)
Tours begin in the museum at the entrance to the site.IMG_4486 (2) It provides an overview of the history of the temple and the expanding Incan civilization, explained in detail by Condor tour guide Cecil.

 

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The museum also houses artifacts from the site, ranging from delicate artwork, IMG_4508 (2)

to more utilitarian pottery. IMG_4515 (3)

Tour buses are able to roam throughout the site, stopping periodically to view the incredible architecture.IMG_4529 (4)

As noted on the tour, archeologists are still working the site uncovering and discovering more information to help understand the purpose of these ruins.

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One of the most complete structures is the ‘Chosen Women’ site.

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This structure housed those women who served the temple as ‘hand maidens,’ some of whom were consorts of priests and military leaders.

Lima is a wonderful blend of antiquity and modernism. One must-see area is the central square adjacent to the presidential palace and the Cathedral.IMG_4564 (4)

 

 

 

Extending from the square are pedestrian walkways filled with shops and restaurants.IMG_4586 (4)
While the buildings surrounding the square are magnificent, a true gem sits several blocks away–the Convento Santo Domingo de Lima.
Built in the 1580s, the church and convent were home to one of the three Catholic religious orders that vied for control of conversion in South America–the Dominicans, the Franciscans and the Jesuits. In many places, churches built by the three orders stand facing each other across squares.IMG_4593 (4)
The convent is built around a beautiful courtyard, lined with mosaics and statuary.
The serenity of the courtyard is a respite from the bustle of modern Lima.

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For a break, visit the Larcomar shopping center in the Miraflores district. IMG_4548 (4)This multi-level shopping mall hangs above the Pacific, offering stupendous views and wonderful restaurants.IMG_4553 (4)

 

 

 

 

To quench your thirst, you might want to try a pisco sour. Pisco is the national drink of Peru. IMG_4443 (3)It is a brandy distilled during the winemaking process, produced either from a single grape variety or a combination of grapes. The clear liquid is most often served in sours and chilchano (ginger ale, lemon juice and bitters), but can be drunk straight as an aperitif. Its taste is somewhere between tequila and gin. At 80 proof, it is powerful and can be especially overpowering when served at high altitudes!

The highlight of an evening in Lima is Circuito Magico del Agua (The Magic Water Circuit), a park with 13 spectacular fountains that come alive at night, capped off by a wonderfullight and sound show. IMG_5940 (7)IMG_5970 (3)This amazing park was transformed by the Lima municipal government in 2007, and is a must-see attraction. It is the Guinness Book record-holder as the largest fountain complex in the world. Be sure to attend after dark in order to appreciate the beauty of the lights and lasers.

It requires several days to experience all that Lima has to offer, and it is a great first stop in a tour of Peru. Even travelers going into the mountains should spend a few days at the coast. From the wonderful dining to all the history this large city has to offer, you will be glad you spent time here.

Consider adding a cooking class to learn how to make their amazing ceviche.

Aside from the traffic, Lima is culturally a wonderful experience. By the way, English is spoken by many, so language barriers can easily be overcome. Lima is the starting off point to experience the remainder of this amazing country. You can do a day or overnight trip to see the Nazca Lines while based in Lima, or of course, head to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, Arequipa, Trulillo, or Lake Titicaca, as well as beach areas and Amazon experiences. For the more adventurous travelers – the Inka Trail and a trip to Rainbow Mountain would be worth it. The bio-diversity of Peru is limitless.

If you would like more information about the tours we offer to Peru, visit http://www.condortoursandtravel.com/ or email info@condortoursandtravel.com