Remember OARS, the rafting company I love so much? I pore over their annual glossy catalog every year! After a few U.S. river trips with them, I decided to check out their international offerings. I chose the Galapagos Adventure Sailing Multi-Sport trip in the Galapagos Islands, and I somehow talked my mom into going with me, despite the fact that she doesn’t kayak, swim or snorkel.
Thus began a year of anticipation and preparation. We started with our flights, which we booked using American miles for the departure and United miles for the return. This trip required evacuation insurance, so we purchased the policy offered with our flight, from Allianz. Fortunately, we didn’t need it, but it wasn’t expensive for the small policy we purchased. Better safe than sorry, since we don’t have Jeff Bezos’ money! (he was airlifted out of the Galapagos with kidney stones recently)
Our trip began in Quito, Ecuador and in hindsight, I wish I had booked more time on mainland Ecuador after the cruise. We stayed at a wonderful hacienda near the airport, Casa de Hacienda/”La Jimenita” and spent our free day on a trip to the hot springs pools at Papallacta, at 10,800′ in the Andes mountains.
After two nights at the hacienda, it was time to board another flight to the islands! It’s a 45 minute flight from Quito to Guayaquil, where we stayed on the plane for about an hour layover, then another 2 hours to Baltra in the Galapagos Islands. As soon as we landed, we were met by our nature guide, Carlos, and transferred to the dinghy which took us to our boat, the Nemo III.
Ahead of us were 8 days of luxurious sailing the Southern route of the Galapagos Islands.
Most days were structured the same, so we had a nice routine. At dinner each night, Carlos gave us the run-down of the following day’s activities. We pestered him with questions like what kind of shoes to wear and how much water to bring, but he was very patient with all of us!
Each day began at 7am with fresh juice and a breakfast buffet, usually including eggs, meat and cheese, granola and yogurt. At 8:00 we’d jump in the dinghy for our first hike of the day. We would then return to the boat, usually to some waiting snacks and juice, then change into our wetsuits for a snorkel outing. Lunch is served at noon, starting with soup. Lunch was more like dinner portions – pasta or meat, always with fresh fruit for dessert. Afternoons included another snorkel and another hike, another snack, followed by some downtime before a 7:00 dinner. Needless to say, we were well-fed on Nemo III!
Galapagos Islands Wildlife
The Galapagos Islands are best known for wildlife. It’s funny that the passport stamp and the guide logo are a Giant Tortoise and a Hammerhead Shark – both of which were less common than you would think. I guess those look better than a lizard and a sea lion as the official mascot! However, the overall diversity of wildlife was really impressive. I think the only thing we didn’t see was a hammerhead shark! It wasn’t enough just seeing a bunch of species, but the interaction between them, the diversity you might see all in one photo opp, as well as some pretty special experiences.
Early in the trip, we saw a sea lion with a bloody tail and thought it had been in a fight. As it turns out, she had just given birth! Nearby was a squawking little pup, crying for mama.
This sea turtle looked dead on the beach, totally motionless – we could see she had laid her eggs overnight, but just couldn’t go any farther. We all gathered around to see if she was alive. I don’t know if it was our annoying presence, but slowly and surely, she got herself turned around and began a very slow crawl back to the ocean, to the cheers of ours and another group.
Of course, there are the famous Galapagos Tortoises, which we saw only on Santa Cruz – first at a farm/sanctuary and then again at the Darwin Research Center.
The most colorful inhabitants were the Sally Lightfoot Crabs. The bright color on these guys is a defense from birds – bright colors usually means POISON!
And then there’s the birds….so many birds. Oddly enough, the famous Darwin finches are mostly all black and the diversity there is more in diet and habitat, not appearance.
Magnificent Frigatebirds (their name, not my adjective)
Blue Footed Booby – their feet are so blue, it’s actually reflected on their feathers!
Nazca Boobies (with babies on the way!)
The last full day we finally got to see penguins, which I was most looking forward to. Aren’t they cute?!
And last but not least, our cold-blooded reptile friends. So many iguanas (land iguanas and marine iguanas), lava lizards, chameleons, etc. There were places where you really had to watch your step because they were just everywhere! Way worse than Chicago rats, which will scurry when you get close!
Other than the first and last day at the airport, we only visited 1 town, Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. That meant no wireless or cell for pretty much the whole week!
All in all, this was absolutely the trip of a lifetime! At about $6,000 all in, it was the most expensive vacation I’ve taken so far, but definitely worth every penny. Aside from the trip cost, flights and tips, there really wasn’t much to spend money on – I bought 1 T-shirt and a tote bag at the airport. Definitely not a shopping kind of trip.
Given the isolated location, I can’t say I’ll ever go back to the Galapagos Islands, but I can’t recommend this trip highly enough!
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Recommended reading for a Galapagos Islands cruise:
- Galapagos: A Novel, by Kurt Vonnegut
- Galapagos Wildlife: A Folding Pocket Guide
- Darwin’s Journal: The Galapagos