We returned yesterday from an 8 day trip to Quito Ecuador and The Galapagos booked through General Tours. We flew from Charlotte, NC to Miami to Quito.
Something to consider-the trip is all about hiling and snorkeling. If you have trouble walking,climbing up uneven steps and pathways over rocks etc. this is not the trip for you. I am out of shape and had no trouble. My father is in excellent physical condition but struggled with the footing.
Also, Ecuador uses the US dollar which is great. There is no effort in trying to figure out prices since everything is tax included and in US dollars. English is widely spoken but try your Spanish--the friendly locals appreciate it. Don't forget that Quito is at 9000 ft-altitude can be rough for some-headaches and dizziness are common. Drink plenty of water (and avoid the street vendors offering cocoa leaves to chew).
Background-we were a family of 5 two seniors, me and my teenage boys. The ship was shared by groups from multiple tours-Disney (families), people who had been to the Amazon or Machu Pichu or other tours. Out of the 80 or so people on board, there were probably 30 kids ages 8 to 17.
Quito, late night arrival, city tour, view from Lady of Quito, museum, dinner at La Rhonda. Very good experience with General Tours in terms of transfers and guides. We had "Henry" who was fantastic. We stayed at the Swisshotel which was fabulous and very well located.
On Friday we flew from Quito to Guayaquil (1 hour pick up stop) and then on to Baltra. (Be prepared to pay $100 pp National Park fee-we had already paid through the travel agency and also be prepared for someone boarding the plane in Guyaquil to spray all carry on luggage with insecticide while you are in the plane).
At the point we landed in Baltra, we were questioning the trip--is all of the drama getting to Galapagos worth it? The hours spent traveling are as much as the trip itself. (It was!) We ferried to a bus on a bumpy road (about 45 minute ride complete with simple bag sandwich lunch) and then to Charles Darwin Center on Santa Cruz. Our guide (Park Naturalist contracted to the Explorer II) was Remy and he is excellent. (FYI Lonesome George passed away June 24th-he has been embalmed and should be displayed soon). CDC was a very good starting place to orient us to the special nature of the species you will see on the Islands. Don't waste too much photo time here...just wait to see the creatures in the "wild" on the islands. We had about an hour to walk through the "town" for a chance at souveniers or refreshments (cheap frosty adult beverages and $1.25 coca colas) . This is a last chance for several days to pick up hat/toiletries or other must haves :)
4 night/5 day B itinerary, plentiful buffet breakfast and lunch, dinner is plated.
Back on the bus and then we experienced our first Panga (Zodiak) ride and boarded the M/V Explorer II. Life jackets are issued and the crew ensures that all get on and off with no mishaps.
With only 100 passengers and a crew of 72, service is impeccable. Staterooms are standard, 250 sq feet-some with balconies which are worth it on this trip.We were a triple which is always a challenge on a ship. Life boat drill was actually timed, we came to the main lounge and then were dismissed to retrieve life jackets, come back to the lounge and crew out to the deck for life saving instructions. The crew takes this very seriously but made it fun-they have never had a power outage or evacuation and are proud of this record. Dinner was about 8pm that night-normally it is at 7:45 for everyone. There are 3 main course choices, a vegetaqrian option and a childs option. I will say the food was excellent. Local Shrimp and Sea Bass options appear regularly at lunch and dinner. Try the daily Ceviche (seafood soup with popcorn) it is different and yummy. We had an early night and were refreshed for our 6:30am wake up announcement over the intercom.
Day 2, we assembled with our group of 11 at 8am as the Flightless Commorans and were introduced to our 4 day naturalist Cesar. After a quick panga ride, Cesar walked us on Santa Cruz beach- we saw Sally Lighfoot Crabs, Four Flamingos, Herons. and our first Marine Iguanas. Back on the Pango for lunch and a quick rest. There are daily midday demonstrations on the jacuzzi deck where beverages are available for purchase.
At 3pm we took off for Santiago. Santiago had a tremendous number of marine iguanas as well as our first opportunity to enjoy Sea Lions. The walk on Santiago is difficult-lots of walking on lava rocks. My Dad fell on the rocks, Cesar quickly patched up his gashes and we continued on.
Each night there are briefings about the upcoming day--we attended one which was confusing based on a mixup between the morning and afternoon activities so we started trusting our printed daily itinerary and listened to our naturalist about what to wear and prepare for each day.
Day 3 was Genovesa which has never been inhabited and is a pristine environment. More Sea Lions-up close opportunities for photos, nesting birds, (Galapagos gulls, Frigates, Red Footed Boobies with chicks). It was an easy walk and one of our favorite hikes. After the walk we snorkled off of the beach-sting ray, parrotfish, lots of colorful fish. We hunted for sharks but found none here. Back on the panga for lunch and rest. The water is about 70 degrees but we did just fine without wetsuits.
Day 3 afternoon was a more strenuous hike along a trail and cliffs. Here the footing is uneven and it is a fairly difficult ascent to the top. We saw Blue Footed Boobies and more in flight birds than I have seen in my life at the cliff. Cesar actually located two barn owls- the only predator on the island. Back to the pangas for a ride next to the cliffs. (Sealions, marine iguanas, nesting birds).
Day 4 morning-North Seymore.After a difficult climb to the top of the Prince Phillip Steps, Blue Footed Boobies, Nesting and Courting Frigates were everywhere. We also saw land iguanas. There were Sealions along the beach area and a beautiful ocean view. (A glass bottom boat ride was offered for those who were nervous about the hike difficulty). After a quick change on ship, we rode a panga and were guided for a snorkle along the cliffs. Here we swam with a sea turtle but were disappointed not to see hammerheads.
Day 4 afternoon, we rode a bus on Santa Cruz to a private family ranch/farm where we saw wild tortoises everywhere. You Coffee was grown on the property as well as corn. There was also a hike into a lava tube--not much to see as it is empty. If you have seen one lava tube....well you get it. There is a small souvenier area--hold off if you can for more selection and better prices tomorrow.
Day 5 disembark. Bags out by 6:30am and leave the ship for San Cristobal at 8am. We rode a bus to the interpretation center and then had about an hour for shopping in town. The interpretation center gives a history of people (and the effect) on the islands as well as information on where things are today. It is actually very good.
Short bus ride to San Cristobal airport, long wait then retrace the flight to Guayaquil (one hour) and then Quito. We arrived in Quito about 4pm. In Quito our reps picked us up and delivered us to Swisshotel. We arranged for a van to take us to the Equator Museum (not the monument) which was about a 40 minute ride from the hotel. It was a good decision. We stopped by the Artisans Market before heading back to the hotel to prepare for our overnight flight home.
If anyone has questions about the ship, please let me know. Activities were small, Latin dance lessons, star gazing ( you can see the Southern Cross AND the Big Dipper from Galapagos), karaoke. I must say the towel animal/things were the most inventive I have experienced. Loved the trip, the people of Ecuador, the ship and crew and had an amazing experience.