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Ecuador/Galapagos Travel Tips

Visited:  May-June 2012

Hello:  ¡Hola
Thank You:  ¡Gracias
Currency:  U.S. Dollar


This was one of the most incredible trips I have ever taken for its blend of culture, activity and wildlife.  I recommend spending a few days in Ecuador and the highlands to see the mountain forests and the spectacular hummingbirds.  Because I like to have lots of activity on a trip, I enjoyed the kayaking, biking, snorkeling and hiking to see the animals and islands of the Galapagos.  


What to See and Experience:

Quito:

  • La Mariscal is a good area to stay and there are plenty of restaurants and shops within walking distance.  It’s just a short taxi ride to the Centro Historico where you can see some of the historic churches and buildings.  There is a tourist information center off the main plaza area and they even have free Wifi in the plaza.

Highlands:

  • Hummingbird and orchid reserve - Located in the highlands, this reserve has feeders set up enabling you to see a wide variety of hummingbirds and enjoy the iridescent feathers and beauty while they feed.
  • Papallacta Hot Springs Resort - Right outside your room, you can immerse yourself in the hot springs for a thermal bath after spending the day hiking.
  • Laguna Cuicocha - You can spend the best part of a day hiking along the crater rim around the lake.  The landscape is beautiful and it is a day well spent.  It can be strenuous because of the altitude but it is a very achievable hike. Pack a lunch!
  • A stay in a hacienda - We stayed at the Hacienda Pinsaqui, a gorgeous historic estate, complete with horses.
  • Ecuadorian Indian market in Otavalo - This is one of the best places to shop the local crafts.  You can buy an alpaca blanket/throw for about $20 and remember your trip every time you wrap yourself in it while watching a movie on your sofa at home.

Galapagos:

  • Swimming with sea lions - I was with a small group so when we went snorkeling, the curious sea lions would appear and literally swim circles around us, investigating the new water creatures.  You are not allowed to touch any animals in the Galapagos, so the sea lions seem completely unafraid and come very close, even extending their investigations to pulling gently on a fin.
  • Charles Darwin Research Center - This was the home of Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta tortoises and I was there just a few weeks before he died.  This is a good place to learn about the conservation efforts on the islands and see animals that you may not encounter as you travel.
  • San Cristobal island - Watch blue footed boobies, frigate birds and the various finches.  We went for a swim at one of the lagoons and were joined by some curious sea lions.  
  • Kayak - A great way to enjoy the water and get closer to some of the birds, sharks, rays, pelicans and iguanas.
  • Kicker Rock - A famous rock formation in the ocean.  We went snorkeling around the rock to see Galapagos and hammerhead sharks and eagle rays.  
  • Snorkeling - Swim with sea lions and watch for blue footed boobies dive bombing the water around you as they fish. 
  • Isabela Island, Las Tintoreras - A landscape of lava rocks crowded with marine iguanas and various species of birds. 
  • Sierra Negra Volcano - You can hike about 10 miles in this area, starting out wet and lush with vegetation and culminating in an arid lava rock landscape.
  • Biking to the Wall of Tears - A great way to enjoy the island and see a wall built by prisoners for no reason except to keep them busy.
  • Santa Cruz Island - Visit the El Chato Reserve to see the giant tortoises.
  • Shop: There are lots of handicrafts to invest in but many are much more expensive in Quito.  The overall quality is worth the price so don’t expect to bargain in the city at the shops.  For bargains, you will need to go to the market in the Highlands.  Also, take note that the “Panama” hat is from Ecuador and there are plenty to choose from.  


Good to know:

  • The currency they use is the US dollar.  In fact, the ATMs deliver dollars.  
  • There is great chocolate which you can buy at any grocery store for civilized prices.
  • Many meals include a popcorn appetizer.  For a popcorn lover, this was awesome! 
  • Wifi is available almost everywhere.
  • Pay attention to weight limits for flights.  


How I traveled: I booked this trip with REI Adventures (The Galapagos Island and Otavalo Highlands Multisport trip) and a friend from Australia met me in Quito for the trip. It was one of the best planned trips I have ever encountered.  Our guide, Tomas, was from Ecuador and his overall knowledge gave us an excellent experience. He took us to small quality restaurants away from the other tourists where the food was incredible.  He even brought us fresh fish while we were on Isabela Island which the hotel chef prepared as sashimi.  

This was a land based trip which gave us an opportunity to explore the islands on foot and by bike.  We had very good quality accommodations.  One of my favorites was the Iguana Crossing hotel on Isabela Island.


Memorable Moment:  One afternoon, after spending the morning snorkeling with blue-footed boobies dive bombing fish around us, and curious sea lions swimming alongside, we took the boat out to an area known as Kicker Rock.  It was a huge rock formation dropped in the ocean, but split to create a long channel between rocks, reminiscent of a canyon.   And it was massive.  It took several minutes to swim through the opening and I felt as if I was entering a long tunnel hollowed out by dinosaurs.  

The boat deposited us on one side and as we milled around in the water waiting for our small group to assemble and begin our journey through the canyon, we could see hammerhead and Galapagos sharks swimming about 50 feet below us.  We thought that was the moment of excitement.  But as we began our swim through the channel, I spotted several eagle rays in front of us.  The sun acted as a spotlight, illuminating the seven rays swimming in a staggered triangle formation in front of us as if leading us through the water logged canyon.  Just watching their soft grey speckled bodies and the fluid beauty of their movement, while glowing in the sun, was peaceful and surreal.  It was amazing to be part of the raw beauty of nature.