I recently had discovered expedition cruising on a trip on board the Aqua in the Peruvian Amazon a year ago, it was an eye opener, I practically had been dragged into it by my aunt who wanted me to go with her... I cant believe I almost missed that trip. Well that is another story. This time I decided to go with my husband, we had spoken about visiting the Galapagos Islands for about a year or two, i always put him off and gave excuses or alternative trips. I have never had been an expedition cruiser and did not know what to expect... As I mentioned my last years trip enlightened me.
We finally decided on traveling this spring, the travel agent was an easy pick, my aunt used Voyagers Travel in Peru for our Amazon trip last year, since they did such a great job I decided to contact their Ecuador office for our Galapagos trip, I am happy we did. Andre Robles and his staff did a wonderful job in planning our trip, they took care of every detail and looked after us throughout the whole journey. I cannot thank them enough for choosing the Evolution for our trip, the staff on board and the guide are true gems.
I do a lot of business travel and since it was an adventure trip, I did not want to be stuck in a large chain hotel, so we decided on a boutique hotel in downtown Quito for our first 2 nights, the Plaza Grande, it was very nice and located right in front of the Cathedral and a short walk from other plazas, churches and museums. Since we had 12 altogether for our vacation, we decided to do some side trips around Quito. Unfortunately it was not the best time to visit the Andes, it rained every afternoon, I appreciate the advise from our agent to visit the cloudforest instead. We were booked for a 2 day tour to visit Mashpi lodge, what an amazing place, it is quite luxurious and in the middle of nowhere perched on a hill top surrounded by green lush trees. We enjoyed visiting the Tulip archaeological site and the trails were quite nice.
Our highlight was definitely the Galapagos Islands, we did the 8 days Western Islands itinerary, yet it also included Espanola. I am prone to being sea sick, yet I would hate visiting a nature destination on a large cruise ship it would take so much away from the experience. I am glad we were suggested the Evolution, the boat is not too small as we thought and it only carries 32 people, we were lucky enough to only have 20 passengers on board. The boat is quite spacious and it has some really nice outside areas, which were great for enjoying the breeze as the boat went from Island to Island. We purposely chose one of the lower deck cabins as Andre our agent advised that there is less movement at the bottom part of the yacht. Our cabin had its own private bathroom and was adequate. Crew kept it clean, we always found a surprise - towel design or chocolates on our pillow - all in all Quasar runs a tight ship.
The best were the excursions and our guide Jorge Garcia was a true walking library, he explained in detail the adaptation of species to each Island, how finches and even turtles varied from one Island to another. He answered all our questions, we are quite ignorant in terms of biology and volcanos, yet he gave explanations in a simple yet respectful way that we could understand. Evening briefings were life savers, apart from explaining the natural history of the Islands and talking a lot about Charles Darwin, we were advised on what close or shoes to take on next days excursions.
My favourite Island? hard to say, my heart is split between Espanola and Fernandina, totally diferent and in opposite sides of the archipelago. We were lucky to see the waved albatross, the bird migrates and is not present from December - March, April was just right as they were returning and you could see quite a few pairs. The Nazca boobies put on a real show for us and I loved swimming in Gardner bay, although I almost got a heart attack when I saw a shark sleeping at the bottom near turtle rock. Fernandina was totally amazing as well, a volcanic landscape where you expect to find nothing... then a field carpeted with hundreds of black lizards, marine iguanas, I almost ran back to the zodiac, yet Jorge explained that they only eat algae, the wierd thing is that they lay on the rocks cooking it in their stomachs. I also enjoyed seeing flightless cormorants and we were luck to spot penguins too.
Our cruise ended and we flew back to Guayquil a large port city in the coast of Ecuador, we had a tour of the renovated area by Santa Ana hill, it was colorful yet not my type of scene, I prefer Quito. But it was for the best since the flight to Quito always stops in Guayaquil and our international flight was direct from Guayaquil to Miami.
We used American Airlines, the service was good. The flight from Miami to Quito or Guayaquil was just 4 hours.
All in all one of the best travel experiences in my life. I am sold on expedition cruising and I am looking into Alaska or perhaps the Mekong river in Cambodia (I just got a newsletter from Aqua Expeditions about their trips to this area). My travel tastes have changed forever, I will jump on a small boat over a cruisliner anytime.