“For anyone who’s dreamed of going to The Galapagos Islands, Avalon Waterways (of the Globus Family of Brands) crafted a perfect combination: Travel and Sightsee Ecuador’s diverse mainland for five days, then fly to the Galapagos Islands to board a 42-passenger luxury yacht to ply the waters around these magnificent islands!
A four-hour flight from Atlanta, Georgia brought us to Ecuador, proud “center of the world,” home to several interesting cultures, site of significant South American history and development. Quito itself is cosmopolitan and cultured, home to magnificent old churches and missions, excellent museums, modern hotels, fine food and entertainment — balanced by the other world of the Amazon River, Amazon Rainforest, various provinces, mountains and lowlands, being a center for commercial flower growing (because they grow straight up toward the sun), of course, the Galapagos Islands, and much more…
The Imbabura Province north of Quito offered a magical landscape of snow-covered mountains, glittering lakes and expansive farmlands, where we observed the handsome Otavalo people in their bright attire, shopping in their own native market.
Inside the market, a “one-man- band” danced up and down the aisles making music with pipes, shakers, and a drum on his back that struck when he walked.
Booths included roasted meats, pig head and all, grains, vegetables, fruits, and the usual fare you find at markets. Plus live cockroaches ready for roasting.
At the market, I noticed one of the most handsome and pleasant women I’ve ever seen — at a grain booth. I asked if I could take her picture…. and she obliged:
we visited the tourist market known for its weavings, Alpaca hangings, and other local crafts. I bought some scarves and a lovely handmade silver necklace.
On another outing from Quito,
We took a thrilling ride through the Andean countryside on the Chiva Express (“train”), where we sat on top (in chairs with seatbelts and all), and watched the world, including snow-capped Mount Cotopaxi, go by.
We also took an excursion to lovely Sacha Lodge in the midst of theAmazon Rainforest jungle, home to monkeys, kinkajous, jaguar?, insects, water, plants and high humidity. (A place where boots and ponchos are provided by the lodge, to help you maneuver in the rain and mud you’ll encounter if you step into the rainforest).
(See more stories in Piranhas, prickly trees, canopy, birds, monkeys, and melted candy.)*
After our land-based adventures in Ecuador, a ninety-minute flight out of Guayaquil brought us to the mystical Galapagos Islands.
Comprised of 19 islands, 42 islets, and 256 rocks spanning a 20,000 square mile area on the equator, the Galapagos have been an Ecuadorian National Park since 1959, and a Marine Reserve second only to the Great Barrier Reef, since 1986.
Upon landing at Galapagos National Park’s point of entry on Baltra Island, we were immediately greeted by the staff of our luxury yacht, Isabela II.
During the short bus ride to the dock, we received a quick safety lesson, then boarded a waiting Zodiac inflatable vessel for a quick ride to the anchored yacht.
Onboard presentations provided orientation and superb preparation for the various sights and sounds ahead.
Rooms were comfortable and well-appointed, with excellent meals from extensive breakfasts to impressive dinners.
When we stepped ashore on North Seymour Island the first afternoon, three sea lions waddled through our group. A little further on, lizards piled on top of each other in the warm sand to absorb the sun’s waning heat, while crimson-throated frigate birds flew overhead to their mating rookery nearby.
Because of the Islands’ location — 600 miles (yes, 600 miles!) west of Ecuador — the Galapagos are affected by unusual Pacific Ocean currents that bring unique climate and nutrients to the birds and animals, which have, in turn, adapted to fit these conditions.
With no natural land enemies, the animals and birds of these volcanic islands are unfazed by people. Our main responsibility was not to disturb their natural behavior.
Each island is a little different than the next. On our guided outings we saw blue-footed boobies; a young albatross testing its wings; a brackish lake populated by flamingos; iguanas piled up together for warmth (as well as “snot rocketing” the seawater out of their systems), and countless sea lions absorbing sun-warmth, including newborns with placentas still attached.
We waded with sting rays, sea kayaked (where we saw the only penguin species that lives in tropical waters); viewed fish and sea life from the yacht’s glass bottom boat; snorkeled among the seals (Avalon provides the wet suits and equipment); and star-gazed from the yacht’s upper deck.
At the end of our tour
Our tour culminated at populated Santa Cruz Island, to see the giant land tortoises for which the Galapagos are famous, plus a visit to the Darwin Research Station on busy Santa Cruz Island.
Visits to the Galapagos are favorable year-round because different species mate and birth throughout the year.
Although the islands were quite dry when we visited in November, we were told they’d soon be green and tropical with upcoming wet-season rains.
Our vessel featured 21, air-conditioned cabins and every amenity you would expect on a fine cruise, including gourmet cuisine. The entire staff, including captain, crew, and onboard naturalists, had an impressive range of experience. Each was unfailingly polite, congenial, unobtrusive, and totally committed to their guests’ comfort.
At the end of our Galapagos stay, we flew back to Quito for an overnight and a day at leisure before connecting to flights home.
I wasn’t the only guest sorry to leave this exotic adventure. Avalon Waterways has found a perfect way to combine just the right amount of sightseeing with time to contemplate this magical place on one’s own.
A version of this story originally appeared in TravelAge West.