Kayak Camping in Baja Mexico

A kayak trip in Baja has been on my bucket list for quite a few years now.  So, when I decided to make it happen, I first turned to my favorite adventure outfitter, OARS.  Having used them on 4 previous trips, I always check their catalog first!  OARS is a whitewater company, but they also contract in other countries for various adventures like the Galapagos trip I took a few years back.

The trip is billed as the Quick Getaway by Mar Y Aventuras, and by OARS as Sea Kayaking Espiritu Santo Island.  The OARS package was more comprehensive and included a night before and after at Posada Luna Sol, the guesthouse associated with Mar Y Aventuras, as well as some additional meals.

Trip Orientation

The trip kicked off with an orientation and equipment fitting at the inn.  Due to high winds, we shuttled to a farther beach (Pichilingue) for a shorter boat ride to Espiritu Santo Island.  It was about an hour ride before we entered Candellero Bay, our home for the next 4 nights.

When I first heard there would be 17 guests on the trip, that sounded like a crowd, but it was a great group.  There were 3 of us solo ladies, 2 travel buddies, 2 families with 2 kids each, a father/son and one married couple.  Many people are wary of group travel, but I find that adventurous, rugged trips like this tend to weed out the high maintenance types, and you meet people who have some incredible travel tales.  I’m always adding to my bucket list after meeting these explorers!

Candellero Bay Camp

My tent

We all settled in to our cabins, enjoyed the first of many meals, and had a practice kayak run.

More cool rocks!

Each day had a nice rhythm, with what I thought was the perfect balance of activity and down-time.  If you are looking for a full-on adrenaline packed week, I’d suggest one of the circumnavigation trips rather than the base camp option I chose.  (Options vary by time of year)

Coffee was ready each morning at 6am, breakfast by 8:00.  The first morning activity (a kayak or snorkel outing) started around 9am.  We’d then return for lunch and a few leisurely hours before the afternoon activity around 3:00.  Upon our return, Happy Hour snacks and cocktails were served around 6pm, followed by a delicious dinner.

Happy Hour ceviche

Activities included a snorkel, hike or kayak outing, sometimes a combination of those.  We visited the sea lion colony twice, and were amazed at how friendly and playful the sea lions were!  A little too friendly for my taste – I kept my distance!

This trip was a great little getaway from work, winter and internet.  I found it to be the perfect combination of down-time and activity, although 1 more day would have been great!  I highly recommend this trip!

Trip Cost:

  • OARS cost: $1282 (includes single supplement for hotel and camping)
  • Airport Shuttle from Cabo: $47
  • Guide Tips: $100
  • Snorkel Rental:  $15 (wetsuit and sleeping bag rental also offered)

For all of my pictures from this trip, click here!

To read about my time in La Paz, check out my post on Travelettes!

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Kayak Camp Baja

11 Days of Grand Canyon Whitewater

Grand Canyon whitewater rafting has always been a bucket list dream of mine.  Given the cost and time, I sort of assumed I’d be retired before I did it, but for whatever reason, I decided to take the leap for my 40th birthday. I had already taken 3 trips with OARS, so there was no question which outfitter to use for a Grand Canyon whitewater trip.  Spots on any Grand Canyon whitewater trip are highly coveted and must be reserved months in advance. I booked mine as soon as the 2015 dates were available, 20 months pre-departure.

I flew into Phoenix and then caught a shuttle bus up to Flagstaff, where I booked a room using points at the Holiday Inn Express.  I met some of my fellow boaters on the shuttle bus, and they kindly invited me to join them for dinner before our trip orientation that evening.  Soon, it was time to meet our trip leader at a nearby hotel, get a brief orientation and receive our dry bags for packing.  Then back to our rooms to figure out how 11 days of gear could fit into 1 large drybag!

11 days worth of stuff into 1 giant dry bag!

The next morning, we gathered again to board our shuttle vans to Lee’s Ferry, where we met the rest of our guides, and began our journey down the Colorado River.  There were a few other trips loading at the same time, including these monstrous blue motor boats which held a small village of passengers.  We were all glad we chose the OARS trip and didn’t have to listen to a motor or smell gasoline the whole trip.

Sunday 9/6Launch at Lee's Ferry

We quickly settled into the rhythm that became our daily life for the next 11 days (or 5 days, for some of us.)

Sunday 9/6

Each morning, the coffee call comes, which I treated as my snooze button since I don’t drink coffee.  A while later, the breakfast call finally gets me moving.  After breakfast, it was time to break down camp and re-load the boats.

Saturday 9/12Camp 6 - Garnet

The guides had so much work to do each morning, that we were never rushed in packing our tents and personal belongings.  One of our guides, Galena, often led us through a morning yoga practice, which was the perfect way to start our day!

Tuesday 9/8Morning Yoga

Mid-morning usually brought us to a hiking spot or scenic stop. The guides were super great about setting expectations – they’d let us know the length of the hike, whether we might want hiking boots vs water shoes, snacks, etc.

Wednesday 9/9Hike at Tanner

Friday 9/11Hike at Shinumo

Sunday 9/13"Patio" at Deer Creek

Somewhere around mid-day, the guides would look for a good lunch spot and set up the lunch table and a snack table with fresh fruit and any breakfast leftovers.  PB & J on pancakes made for a pretty excellent snack!

Friday 9/11Lunch at Shinumo

After lunch, we’d have more rafting and sometimes another hike, or we’d paddle on to our next campsite, depending on the day.  Upon arrival in camp, we would disperse and set up our campsites, while the crew set up the common areas, like the toilet and the kitchen. There was usually time for relaxation – reading, napping, “laundry”, horseshoes, bocce ball, or enjoying some adult beverages.  Every meal on this trip was top notch – you can’t imagine the delicious food you are being served miles from any civilization!  Not to mention fresh avocados every day!  How do they do that?!

Sunday 9/6The first of many exquisite meals on the beach.

As we settle in to eating our dinner, Ryan, our lead guide, gives us an overview of the following day’s activities so we know what to expect and can pack our daybags accordingly. On several nights, we were treated to a campfire, guitar-playing guides and even a group pedicure one night!

Sunday 9/6The Living Room

Many people slept out under the stars each night.  My tent was mostly mesh, so I got the same effect, but one night (my 40th birthday) I chose a little ledge for my campsite.  No room for the tent, so I slept out in the open.  I loved it!

Friday 9/11Camp 6 - GarnetCowboy Camping on my 40th birthday!

Midway through the trip, we reached Phantom Ranch, where 13 of 16 travelers would hike out and head home.  10 new travelers joined us for the remainder of the journey.  It was bittersweet to bid goodbye to my new river friends so soon, but the 2nd group was just as great to travel with! (If you aren’t going to do the whole trip, it’s worth considering whether you want to hike down to meet the group or hike out of the canyon…it’s seven steep miles! I think the rapids in the second half were better, and personally would prefer to do the downhill hike at the start of my trip)

Thursday, 9/10Group photo from the 1st weekFront:  Maddie, Leigh, Kirby, Linda, Sophia, BruceBack: Ralph, Carol, Stuart, Karen, Cynthia, Kate, Chris, Encie, Joe

In addition to magnificent scenery, geology, history, we had amazing night skies, shooting stars and one day were treated to a rainstorm which created thousands of waterfalls all around us.

Monday 9/14

After 10 nights in the canyon, I was sad that my journey was drawing to a close.  We said our goodbyes at the last beach and hopped a helicopter, which was another highlight of the trip!

Wednesday, 9/16Group Photo at our last camp - 185 mileFront:  Joan, Nathan, Kathy, Shelly, Encie, Kelli, LeighBack: Scotty, Brandon, Runar, Aurelie, Stan, Randy, Eric, Joe, Adam, Sean, Kim, Mike, Joe, George and Ryan

Encie and Joe were the only other 2 passengers who were on the whole trip with me!  They are avid train travelers so I hope to see them again as they pass through Union Station in Chicago!

Wednesday, 9/16Encie, Joe, me and Sean

Wednesday, 9/16Bar 10 Ranch

After showers(!) at the Bar10 Ranch, we boarded a charter flight to Vegas.  Again, pretty spectacular scenery!

Wednesday, 9/16Cessna Flight to Vegas

The “river blues” are no joke!  I was so sad to see this trip come to an end, especially when I was dropped into tacky Las Vegas!  Luckily, I had a few more days to unwind in Zion National Park before I had to rejoin the real world.

I can’t recommend this trip highly enough!  I would do it every single year if I could afford it.  I know I will be back to finish the last leg of the trip from Whitmore Wash to Lake Mead, hopefully sooner than later!

  • Total Cost for this portion of trip ~ $5000 (does not include the time in spent at Zion)
    • $4636 to OARS – included all meals, shuttle to Canyon, helicopter and charter flight!
    • $43 PHX to Flagstaff shuttle
    • $300 Guide Tips (whatever I budget, it never feels like enough – amazing guides!)
    • My flights and Flagstaff hotel were paid with hotel points and airline miles

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Grand Canyon Whitewater

For more photos, click here!

7 Days Sailing the Galapagos Islands

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)

Quito, Ecuador

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.

Courtyard at the hacienda

Saturday, 12/20 we were taken up to Papallacta Hot Springs.  Swimming caps mandatory!http://www.termaspapallacta.com

Galapagos Islands

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.

Nemo III waiting for us near the airport (another Nemo inthe background)

Ahead of us were 8 days of luxurious sailing the Southern route of the Galapagos Islands.

Flock of birds feeding

Daily Routine

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!

Galapagos Islands Nature Guide

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 Cruise

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.

Galapagos Sea Lion Pup

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.

Galapagos Sea Turtle

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!

Sally Lightfoot Crab

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)

Magnificent Frigatebird

Blue Footed Booby – their feet are so blue, it’s actually reflected on their feathers!

Galapagos Booby

Nazca Boobies (with babies on the way!)

Galapagos Island Booby

Albatross

Galapagos Island Albatros

The last full day we finally got to see penguins, which I was most looking forward to. Aren’t they cute?!

Penguins

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!

Iguana

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:

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