A Travellerspoint blog

General Thoughts on the Galapagos Cruise

8 days was a great length for us. If it was any shorter, I would have felt like I missed something. However, if you are not very interested in wildlife and nature, 5 days would probably be better for you just to get a taste of the islands. 4 days seems too short since you spend a day arriving and another day departing. I would not have minded 5 days on the boat and 2-3 nights at a hotel on Santa Cruz Island.

You do not have to be athletic at all to do the daily excursions. However, you do have to feel comfortable getting in and out of the boat that is in shallow water on a beach (with help), and you have to be comfortable walking from rock to rock. These are things you get used to with practice  Hikes were 100 yards to 1 ½ miles long, but most of them on the shorter side.

If you are a very active person, a multi-sport island hopping tour might be better for you. Our “hikes” were very short and very slow. We were able to snorkel every day, and kayak twice, so that definitely helps, but for me there is not enough activity to offset all the sitting around on the boat.

We did not schedule any scuba diving on our trip mostly because I thought we would miss something on the islands if we did. It would have been alright with me to replace a couple of the snorkels with diving. However, diving is only offered in certain places, it’s very expensive (budget $250/person for a 2-tank dive), and you typically have to have a minimum of 4 divers.

The diving is also for advanced divers. One couple on another boat did a dive at Kicker Rock where the current would get so strong, they would have to hold onto the rocks tightly until it passed. Even though it was March, the warmest month, they were in 5mm wetsuits, and they were still a bit cold.

I thought there was more than enough food served (no one lost weight on this trip!). However, we would save a little extra food from breakfast and lunch for our son, who would get hungry in between meals. The kitchen people were good at giving us a sandwich at odd hours as well.

Our very first excursion, to Ochoa Beach, was not the best but maybe because the water was so rough. The excursion to Phillip’s Steps was also not great, but maybe because it was so hot and we walked so slow. I really liked all the other excursions, and I wished we had more time in Puerto Ayora.

Snorkeling equipment, wetsuits, and all soft drinks were included on our cruise, but that is not the case on all cruises, so be aware of that expense.

Bring books and games as there is a lot of down time on the boat.

Posted by bolderwork 20:57 Archived in Ecuador Tagged cruises Comments (0)

Day 23 – April 3: Quito-Home

QUITO AIRPORT:

4:00am sure comes early! We were mostly packed, so we were checking out by 4:30am.

I saw no taxis on the road, so I think it would help to pre-arrange a taxi. In our case, the Swissotel shuttle bus drove us to the airport for $8 for all three of us. I think a taxi would have been $5-$7 anyway. This time, we are headed to the “international” terminal.

They aren’t lying about getting to the airport early. It took us almost 1 ½ hours to go through the process and board the airplane!

1. Inside the airport, you have to show your passports before you even get to the ticket counter.
2. At the ticket counter, they also give you a departure form for immigration control.
3. There is another counter to pay for the airport departure fee. This is $40.80/person (adults and children). There is an ATM machine right next to the desk, but it was broken, so my husband had to go back outside to a working ATM. It looks like there is a separate counter with a shorter line for paying for your departure fee with a Diners Club card.
4. Then you go upstairs through twisty rows of shops to security. You can take liquids through security and immigration, but not actually onto an airplane heading to the U.S.
5. After security is immigration where you show your passport and give them the form that you got at the check-in counter.
6. Through the gauntlet of duty-free shops and to a final checkpoint where they look in your carryon bags for liquids.
7. Finally, a long walk on the tarmac to the airplane.

All in all, we stood in 5 different lines. Luckily, we got our lattes by the ticket counter, so we were able to drink them before getting to the final checkpoint 

FLIGHT TO HOUSTON AND DENVER:

Our flight to Houston was delayed 30 minutes because of fog. This is why it is good to have at least 2 hours between flights. We had to go through customs in Houston, and the delay might have caused us to miss our next flight if the connection time was too short….

It’s a 5-hour flight, and they served breakfast.

In Houston, we went through immigration, which went pretty quick. Then picked up our bags and went through customs. On the other side, we just put our bags back on a conveyor belt.

An hour of snacks and window shopping later, we were on our flight to Denver, which was another 2+ hours.

We had to scrape snow off our windshield in the Denver Airport parking lot. Take me back to the beaches of the Galapagos!!

CLOTHING:

I’m back in my traveling clothes that I got washed in Otavalo – long pants, light long sleeve shirt, and a jacket.

FOOD:

We bought large lattes at the Quito Airport for $2.30 each. My son wanted a hamburger at 5:00am (are you kidding me?). It was $5.50.

The flight from Quito to Houston served an egg/ham/cheese sandwich, fruit cup, and muffin.

Posted by bolderwork 20:53 Archived in Ecuador Tagged transportation Comments (0)

Day 22 – April 2: Otavalo-Quito

OTAVALO:

The market in Otavalo opens at 8am, and the stores in Cotacachi open at 10am, so Otavalo was our first stop of the morning.

We had a nice breakfast in the lovely breakfast dining room at the hacienda and packed up our bags. Our taxi driver, Santiago, drove us into Otavalo about 8:30am. It was Good Friday, but the market was in full swing. Many people were still setting up their booths, and there weren’t many shoppers yet. The sun was out, so I tried to get a few photographs of the colorful wares.

The main products in the market are knit sweaters, blankets, knit hats with ears, alpaca fur wall hangings, woven rugs, jewelry made of silver/shell or seed beads or red coral, panama hats, hammocks, chess sets, t-shirts, baggy pants, white embroidered shirts, purses and bags of various sizes and shapes, and woven ponchos.

Bargaining is the norm. I was able to bargain down about 20%. My husband does better – more like 30-40%.

COTOCACHI:

Santiago drove us to Cotocachi next, which is about 10 minutes away ($4 for a taxi). Since it was Good Friday, we could see part of the parade and the beginnings of a festival. The town has a pleasant central park with a few shopping stalls and would be a nice place for a picnic lunch.

Cotocachi is known for leather, and no wonder! The main shopping street is lined with leather shops. We walked 4 blocks of it, and still didn’t make it to the end.

The main products sold are leather jackets, purses, bags, and belts. I had read in an old travel book that you could buy leather jackets for $35. There may have been bargain bins with jackets for $50, but most were $65 and up. Great quality though, and it was hard to chose!

We ended up with 3 jackets ($65, $80, $100), 5 coin purses ($1 each), and 1 belt ($8). There is no bargaining, but you get a 10% discount if you pay with cash.

I also have to mention that the people everywhere in Ecuador are so nice. We had a miscommunication about when our driver was to pick us up. A woman at one shop went to another shop to use their phone to call the Hacienda Pinsaqui for us. Both shops helped us get a hold of our driver, and we didn’t even buy anything from them. They really went out of their way to be nice, and we encountered that around the country.

I was glad we pre-arranged a taxi to pick us up in Cotocachi. Athough we saw taxis, they were all occupied, so it would have taken quite a while to get out of there ($3 back to the hacienda).

QUITO:

We had a driver and a minivan with DVD player for the drive back to Quito ($60). The Swissotel is nice, but wow, what a contrast to the hacienda!

The night before our arrival, the rock band “Guns and Roses” had played a concert in Quito. We saw a couple of the band members working out in the gym, and my husband actually rode in the elevator with Axl Rose and two of his tall, blonde, gorgeous “friends”.

My son could not wait to get to the swimming pool, but unlike our last visit, they were requiring everyone to wear swim caps in the pool. This is a new one on me – I have never been to any pool that “required” swim caps. They sold swim caps there for $3 each. I must admit this really annoyed me…. It cost us $9 to go swimming with our son, and we looked ridiculous!

It was our last night in Ecuador, but my son was not feeling well, and we were all pretty tired (plus we have a 4am wake-up call!), so it was room service pizza and repacking for the evening.

CLOTHING:

It was a bit chilly in the morning in Otavalo, but for most of the day, I wore cropped pants and a sleeveless shirt.

It was a bit rainy in Quito and colder, so I needed warmer clothes for the evening.

I liked having my swimsuit cover up to wear to the pool at the Swissotel.

FOOD:

Breakfast at the hacienda was table service (included), and you had a choice of eggs, pancakes, fruit, juice, rolls with jelly, coffee, and hot chocolate.

We grabbed a sandwich for the drive back to Quito. The driver stopped at a sandwich shop in town, which seemed to be a health foods store as well. We got large ham and cheese sandwiches on baguette-like bread for around $2 each. They also had some Ecuadorian coffee beans for sale there for $5/pound.

Dinner was room service Hawaiian pizza. They claim is the “best pizza in town,” but I am guessing that isn’t quite true. It was pretty good though.

The Swissotel rooms also come with some complimentary fresh fruit, juices, and candy bars.

Posted by bolderwork 20:46 Archived in Ecuador Tagged shopping Comments (0)

Day 21 – April 1: Sacha Lodge-Quito-Otavalo

SACHA-QUITO

We got to sleep in today until 6:30am – wow!

We packed up, ate breakfast, and started the journey back. First the dugout canoe across the lake, then the 20 minute hike through the forest, then the 2 hour motorized boat ride up the river, 1 hour for lunch at the Sacha Lodge building in Coca, 5 minute drive to the Coca Airport, 1 hour in the airport, 30 minute flight, and then we were in Quito!

I couldn’t believe how different the Napo River was on this trip compared to the first trip. We had a couple of rains while at Sacha, so all the sandbars and logs were now hidden beneath the surface. Our path was much straighter than before but the driver still magically turned now and then to avoid the invisible sandbars. There were countless logs floating on the river. That is definitely a tough job.

DRIVE TO OTAVALO

A driver met us at the Quito Airport, and it was another 2+ hours to Otavalo. Because of Easter weekend, traffic was pretty thick. We paid $80 for the car and driver one-way.

OTAVALO

We went directly to our hotel, the Hacienda Pinsaqui. On the back porch of our room were two peacocks!

The first order of business was getting some laundry done so that we would have clean clothes to wear for the flight home. Laundry was pretty reasonable, and it was done that night even.

The Otavalo outdoor market stays open until 6pm, so by 4pm, we were headed into town . The taxi was $3 one-way.

The market square was full of stalls and salespeople, but very few tourists, as it was late on a Thursday afternoon. It is such a colorful sight! It’s a little hard to get photographs, however, because the stalls are so close together.

We were planning on doing some shopping the next day, so this was mostly a reconnaissance trip, looking at what was available and gauging the prices. We did purchase some cheap “seed” jewelry and a hand knit sweater. They were gifts, but we ended up wearing some of both that evening 

The market is a maze of stalls. It is easy to get turned around and to lose companions, so it’s important to designate a meeting place.

We got a small latte from a fast food restaurant on the corner ($1.25). It was actually made from an espresso machine, which I thought was amazing considering they mostly sold hamburgers and fried chicken.

The market shuts down promptly but slowly at 6pm. Our taxi driver, Santiago, was waiting for us at 6:30pm to take us back to the hotel.

HACIENDA:

The Hacienda Pinsaqui has a welcome cocktail at 7:00pm. Our son was absolutely exhausted, so we set him up with a movie in the room and went down to the bar. We were greeted by a local folkloric band, which was quite lively. The bar is warm and cozy, and many guests were there to enjoy the show.

They first served tea brewed from herbs from the hacienda and empanadas with salsa. Then they came around with the local cane alcohol, which you could drink straight or put in your tea.

The hacienda has been in the same family for 7 generations – 300 years. The lady of the house interrupted the music to give a brief talk about the history of hacienda, which was fascinating.

Dinner was announced at 7:30pm, and the bar emptied out to the dining room. We ate a nice dinner in the very pleasant dining room, and we had dinner delivered to our room for our son, who was quite happy to have a night off.

LODGING:

The Hacienda Pinsaqui is 5-10 minutes north of Otavalo depending on traffic. It was written up in a local magazine as one of the top 5 “classic” haciendas in Ecuador. It is here that Simon Bolivar signed the treaty separating Ecuador from Columbia, creating Ecuador as a separate country.

The hacienda is a bit of maze, but it is fun to explore all the nooks and crannies!

The main building has a couple of nice sitting areas, the dining room for dinner, a small shop, a computer with Internet, an office, a reception office, and a few guest rooms. Guestroom #1 is where Simon Bolivar used to stay.

Out the back door of the main building and down to the left is the bar where they serve a welcome drink with live music daily at 7:00pm. It looks like an old tack room but decorated beautifully and with a warm fire burning. It’s easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it….

Straight out back is a nice garden area with hammocks and a fountain for relaxing or taking a short walk near the horses.

To the right of the main building is a separate building with more guest rooms, the breakfast dining room, a huge sitting area, and a small beautiful chapel.

The rooms are all different and in classic hacienda style. They have extremely high ceilings, unique decorations, and some have fireplaces. Since ours was a triple, we had 2 full bathrooms, one room with a queen bed, and one room with a settee made into a bed. The Simon Bolivar room (#1) had 2 double beds and then a very large separate living room.

At the hacienda, you can go horseback riding and do some hiking in the foothills of the highlands.

CLOTHING:

It was a bit chilly on the boat ride from Sacha to Coca, so I was happy to be wearing my long sleeve shirt. Then it was hot in Coca, so it was nice to be able to zip off my pant legs.

Otavalo was chilly in the evening, so a light sweater or jacket is nice.

FOOD:

Breakfast was a buffet of scrambled eggs, pancakes, sausage, bacon, potatoes, custom omelets, fruit, granola, cereal, rolls, and juice.

On the river, we were given a box lunch, which most of us ate at the Sacha house in Coca. It had a sandwich with ham, chicken, cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo plus an apple, cookies, and juice. My son was not crazy about the sandwich, so we went next door to the Sacha house in Coca to a restaurant that has a fruit salad bar, smoothies, and ice cream. He had a fruit salad (you pay by the weight, and his very large bowl was $1.74) and a popsicle ($.50). My son got sick the next day, and we think it might have been from the fruit even though everything looked very clean in the restaurant.

For dinner at the Hacienda Pinsaqui, we both started with salads. Mine had field greens with bacon, parmesan, tomatoes, and vinaigrette with passion fruit. My husband’s was an avocado with shrimp and tomatoes on greens. He said it was the “best salad he ever had.” We then split the Steak Pinsaqui as recommend by the waitress. It came with a fresh tomato sauce, mashed potato patty, plantain, and small salad. Good, but not great.

Posted by bolderwork 17:54 Archived in Ecuador Tagged transportation Comments (0)

Day 20 – March 31: Sacha Lodge

MORNING HIKE:

Well, our vacation caught up with us today, and my son was just too tired to answer the 5:30am wakeup call. In the end, it was a blessing because it rained most of the morning, so instead of boating downriver to see the parrots as planned, the group did a very long hike. This was great for my husband, the hiker, but it would not have been good for the 8-year-old.

My son and I spent quite a bit of the morning at the butterfly house, which is a dry haven out of the rain. We also enjoyed reading in the hammock at our room as well as catching up on homework and journaling.

It seemed like all the groups came back earlier than usual to dry off, although many people did have good stories of interesting animals and birds that they saw.

My son spent about 2 hours at the swimming dock and made great progress in his diving technique. Needless to say, I was really happy to be at a lodge with swimming!

AFTERNOON:

Our afternoon excursion was a canoe ride up Anaconda Creek. This is another beautiful narrow waterway covered by palms and hanging vines.

Just listening to the “opera house” of the Amazon rainforest is an experience in itself.

We saw some great birds, a huge lizard in a tree, some monkeys, and my son even saw fish in the water. It was a gorgeous, pleasant trip.

Back on land, my husband and son saw a pygmy monkey, a brown tarantula, and a black tarantula. I somehow missed all of them….

EVENING

Tonight was our last night at Sacha, and we had a special treat – a barbeque out on the dock. All the picnic tables were set, and it was a very festive atmosphere with everyone chatting with new friends.

CLOTHING:

For hiking, this was a poncho and rubber boots day. Around the lodge, an umbrella and sandals were fine. For the canoe ride, shorts or pants were fine with walking shoes or sandals (ponchos close at hand).

FOOD:

Breakfast was another amazing buffet. For those of us who slept through it, they are happy to provide a separate breakfast to your order.

Mid-morning was a snack of apples, bananas, and chocolate squares.

The dinner was wood grilled chicken, steak, pork, and 2 kinds of sausage with several sauces plus salads, potatoes, and vegetables. For dessert, there was white cake, flan, and fruit.

Posted by bolderwork 17:43 Archived in Ecuador Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

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