Earlier this summer, the Boy and I went on what was a trip of a lifetime for our honeymoon. We’re both really interested in science, and in more active travel if we can help it, so when we began to discuss destinations that could work, somehow the idea of visiting the Galapagos came up. This would be a special occasion, and we wanted to splurge a little bit, so while it’s not a “cheap” destination, it’s definitely a memorable one – and one we were really able to actively enjoy since we are both “young” and relatively fit.
Preparing for the trip, I did some reading, and the general consensus is that if you want to spend the most time seeing the amazing locations, and less time in transit, a cruise is the way to go. But it’s important to remember that when you’re doing the cruise, you really get fewer days than advertised – the first day is half transit and settling in before any activities start. The last day may have activities too, but the bulk of the day is about disembarking. So anything less than 5 days (which is 3 days + 2 half days) might not feel like you’re getting bang for your buck. It’s definitely possible to fly into the Galapagos, and stay at a hotel and do day trips, which can make it a cheaper trip – but if it’s your first and only time visiting, perhaps cheaping out on your experience is not going to be worth the savings. So I was looking for a cruise. Due to childcare duties with the girls, we knew we had a very limited window of cruise dates that would work for us. I had browsed different trips on the web, but was having a hard time finding one that fit our needs. So I ended up messaging Adventuresmith Explorations – an exploration and adventure travel agency – to see if they could help us narrow things down.
I gave them a range of dates we were looking at, the times when we would be available to fly into Quito and onto the Galapagos, our ideal cruise length (as long as possible within our timeline!), our budget, our hope that we could be placed on a smaller boat that was more active and science/naturalist focused, and a desire to not be the youngest persons on the cruise. Our “adventure specialist” came back with options, and we helped him narrow it down based on what we most wanted. We ended up doing 6 days of an 8 day cruise, which filled our time perfectly. It also meant that we would have to catch up with our vessel, and that meant taking a small plane, which the Boy was actually thrilled about doing. Me? Not so much.
We managed to get all our hotels and flights done on points and miles, which helped save a lot of money. We flew in through Miami and arrived in Quito in the early evening. We gathered our bags, took a fixed rate taxi from the counter near the airport exit into downtown (heads up – it’s about an hour ride to/from the airport), and got to our hotel which was nestled in the historic district. We were exhausted, so pretty much had ourselves a cup of tea, and then went to bed. We woke up early because of the time difference (mainland Ecuador is an hour behind EST), and bailed on the hotel breakfast because we weren’t interested in paying $20 USD per person. [NOTE: the official currency of Ecuador is the US dollar. Make sure you have enough when you go down to visit, but smaller bills are more welcome – think 10s and 5s.]. We ventured out into the city and found a hole-in-the-wall restaurant serving complete breakfasts to mostly locals. I used my middling Spanish to get us our food which was quite a lot (eggs, meat, fruit, smoothies, coffee/tea), and ended up costing us $5 total. It was amazing. We walked around a little bit more through the historic district before it became completely overcome with tourists, and found a shop selling chocolate to take some home as souvenirs, and then went back to the hotel to rest because I do not do well with the altitude (it’s the second highest-altitude capital in the world at 9350 feet).
After a nap and more tea (hydration and sleep are important to combating altitude sickness), we went back out to the Plaza Grande and visited a couple of the more interesting and historic churches – the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús (Church of the Society of Jesus – the Jesuits) which was covered in gold in the interior, and the Catedral Metropolitana de Quito (Metropolitan Cathedral of Quito) which had some beautiful displays of artwork, Bishop’s vestments and very very old books just sitting out. We also stopped at the Café Galletti near Teatro Bolivar (just two blocks from the main square), and enjoyed beverages, a quiche and some cake while people watching. Quite decadent. I was still exhausted from the altitude, and it was also pouring rain out, so we decided to cash in vouchers the hotel had given us for a free drink, and ate at the hotel restaurant which was quite good. And besides – we needed to be up super early to get a taxi to the airport for our flight out.
Getting to the Galapagos is a bit of a slog. There aren’t any direct flights from Quito, so you’ll have to stop in Guayaquil, the second largest city in Ecuador. Thankfully you don’t need to get out of the plane, but it’s usually a 45 min or 1 hour layover to offload some passengers and pick up others. This flight will be in a full size jet with a 3-3 layout, so will be familiar. The flight to the Galapagos will take about 2 hours, and the last twenty minutes is very exciting when the islands come into view. The airport of the Galapagos is located on Isla Baltra – an island that was converted into a military installation during WWII – and is the first LEED Gold certified airport in the world, which makes perfect sense when you consider the fact that they are trying to preserve and conserve the Islands for future generations. It is a sort of indoor-outdoor airport, and every bag brought onto the island is thoroughly inspected, and checked baggage is sniffed by professional dogs who will know if you try and smuggle fruit or other prohibited items onto the Islands.
We waited a few hours for our tiny plane to be ready to fly out to Isla Isabela and it’s even smaller airport at Puerto Villamil. I was not excited, and distracted myself by practicing my Spanish by reading the bilingual in-flight magazine.
I could easily spend lots of time describing every activity we did over the course of our 6 day cruise. But instead I’m going to say here that it was everything we could have wanted. The vessel’s crew was amazing, especially our guide, David. The food was incredible. We got to hike a lot, and I learned to snorkel, which was very helpful as we went snorkeling everyday – sometimes twice a day! We did have a suite with twin beds, but you know what? Who cares. We had an amazing time, and at the end of the night, all we wanted to do was crash and fall asleep at 8:30pm anyways. The water in our showers was always hot, the activities were amazing, and we met some really nice people. It was an all-around amazing experience, and if you want to see pictures of animals and landscapes, I’m including a lot of them in a slideshow above.
We flew back to Quito at the end of the trip tired and smelly. We spent a night in a hotel at the north of town, and since it was so far from many of the historic sites, we decided to just relax. We even go to watch a Spanish language telecast of the Nationals, so that was fun. We caught up on emails on hotel wifi, and ate food from the lounge. The flight back went through Panama City and landed us back in DC very late at night.
We had an amazing trip. It was definitely worth our time and effort to make it happen. I feel so lucky. And I definitely want to go back.