“Tourist Class” in the Galapagos
(Location: The Galapagos, Equador)
Simply put: a trip of a lifetime. The Galapagos has been on our list since I can remember, but for some reason this year we just decided to go for it. We shot 2.25 gig of images (28 movies and 1349 images) and 4 pathetic rolls of film (underwater). This trip sets the bar pretty high for future adventures.
We originally started looking into the Galapagos when we received an email from Celebrity Cruises announcing their new Xpedition boat in the Galapagos. We are fans of Celebrity after our Thanksgiving cruise, but the Xpedition was way beyond our price range. After a bit of searching we learned that there were plenty of other options, however most were already booked (in July, for Christmas). After a few dozen emails to various travel agencies, we decided to go with Adventure Life Travel. They specialise in Central and South American travel, are oddly located in Montana, and we’d highly recommend them.
We’re used to traveling light (25 lbs/person for Costa Rica), but were a little worried about exceeding the 44 lb/person limit with the additional weight of our dive gear. Our luggage was checked as a group, and no one seemed to mind that we might have been a few pounds over. At the last minute we bought a Lowepro Roller Mini – perfect size for carryon and fit all of our gear.
We flew American Airlines from Chicago to Quito (connecting in Miami) on Christmas Eve. Although we were expecting holiday chaos, and actually hoped to get bumped, this was the most hassle free travel we have had in seven years. One note – in our opinion, connecting in Miami requires at least an hour on the outbound and at least an hour and a half on the return (since you have to clear immigration, retrieve your bags, clear customs, recheck your bags, go through main security again, and trek to your gate). Arrival in Quito was painless – bags arrived within minutes from deplaning and customs and immigration was efficient and fast.
The flight from Quito to the Galapagos was arranged as part of our tour. Our TAME (the national airline of Ecuador) flight was on a new A320 plane and stopped in Guyaquil in both directions. From Quito to Guyaquil was about 40 minutes and we had a great view of the volcanos from our seats on the left side of the plane. From Guyaquil to Baltra (Galapagos) was about and hour and a half and we even got a meal. The luggage retrieval process was somewhat interesting; you wait around while they move the luggage from the plane to a staging area, and then they let the crowd into the staging area to wander around and find their bags. I guess it’s no less efficient than the more traditional conveyer-belt method, but our bags were all there so we were happy.
Because Ecuador uses US currency there was no need to exchange money. Sometimes we were given Ecuadorian coins as change and told that they were equivelant to US coins. Not sure if this is true, but since we collect foreign coins and it was only a quarter or two, we didn’t care. We brought a large amount of $1 bills, some 5’s, 10’s and 20’s, two $100’s (for the Galapagos entry fee) and traveler’s checks as a backup. The only issues we ran into were: the Marriott would only cash $100, a lot of places do not accept credit cards, and the ATM’s in the Galapagos are Cirus (and our banks are Plus). The ATM’s at the Quito airport DO accept Plus cards. Next time we’ll be sure to bring one of each 🙂
We stayed at the Marriott ($90/night including full breakfast buffet through Expedia) for our first two nights in Quito. It is very new, excpetionally clean, and has a great pool area. For the third night in Quito, and one night after the Galapagos, we stayed at the Hotel Sierra Madre (included as part of our tour). The Sierre Madre is centrally located, within walking distance to El Ejido park (which had an outdoor market on Sunday) and an Indian Market (in case you need Ecuadorian souvenirs).
The Seaman is a 76 foot “tourist class” yacht that accommodates 16 passengers in 8 nearly identical cabins that have private bathrooms (sink, shower, toilet) and air conditioning. These two features (private bath and air conditioning) are an absolute requirement in my opinion. There are 6 cabins in the forward section and 2 cabins in the rear section, although all are on the bottom level of the boat. The main level includes a sunny spot on the bow, the dining room & kitchen, and an open area in the aft (used as a crew dining area, snorkel/dive gear storage area, and also as a place to remove/put on shoes and life jackets for trips ashore). The back of the boat has a large platform for getting in and out of the water and boarding the pangas (dinghies).
We’re very glad that we didn’t go one one of the larger/posh ships. A smaller boat is definitely the way to go in the Galapagos. In addition to being able to sail right through the split in Kicker Rock, it’s much easier to snorkel and go on shore excursions with only 14 other people.
Before dinner each night, our guide Daniel held a briefing where he explained the itinerary for the next day. The most important part of the briefing usually centered around what type of shoes to wear. There are “wet landings” (where the panga drops you off as close to the beach as possible) for which you need tevas, and “dry landings” (where you exit the panga onto a rock formation) for which tevas are not necessary. It was also important to note the activity – for example, a wet landing followed by a hike would mean that you needed to wear tevas and bring hiking shoes and something with which to dry your feet. Other times a hike might be followed by snorkeling from the beach, so you’d have to wear a swimsuit under your clothes and put your snorkeling gear at the back of the boat.
Breakfast was usually around 7, however some days there was pre-breakfast activities such as panga tours, hikes or dives. When it was time to eat, or leave for an activity, the crew would ring a bell. By the end of a week aboard the Seaman, we were like Pavlovian dogs.
CREW AND PASSENGERS
The crew of the Seaman was fantastic and went out of their way to make sure that we had a memorable vacation. We lucked out and wound up traveling with a really great group of passengers from all over the US.
- Day 1 – Arrive Galapagos, board boat on Baltra, lunch followed by dive at Cousin Rock, hike to the viewpoint on Bartolome Island. Overnight sail to Genovesa.
- Day 2 – Morning hike followed by snorkeling in Darwin’s Cove, panga ride followed by hike from Prince Philip Steps. Overnight sail to Santa Cruz Island.
- Day 3 – Early morning panga tour of Black Turtle Cove, boat sailed to Plaza islands, snorkeling at South Plaza Island, hike on North Plaza Island, boat sailed to Puerto Ayoro, Santa Cruz Island. Ashore after dinner. Overnight in Puerto Ayoro.
- Day 4 – Morning trip to the highlands of Santa Cruz Island to see the giant tortoises, afternoon visit to the darwin Research Station, free time in Puerto Ayoro. Overnight sail to Floreana Island.
- Day 5 – Early morning dive at Enderby, panga tour followed by hike in Post Office Bay followed by snorkeling from the beach, afternoon dive at Devil’s Crown followed by hike at Puerto Cormorant. Boat moved back to Post Office Bay for dinner. Overnight sail to Espanola Island.
- Day 6 – Morning hike at Puerto Suarez followed by snorkeling from the boat, boat sailed to San Cristobal, afternoon trip to the Interpretation Center followed by time to explore the town of Puerto Boquerizo Moreno. Early morning sail to Kicker Rock.
- Day 7 – Early morning arrival at Kicker Rock – the captain sailed the Seaman through the two rocks THREE times – hike on Sea Lion Island followed by snorkeling from the boat, boat sailed to Santa Fe Island, hike on Santa Fe Island followed by snorkeling from the boat. Overnight sail to North Seymour Island.
- Day 8 – Early morning hike on Sea Lion Island, boat sailed to Baltra. Transfer to airport for flight to Quito.
We were pleasantly surprised by the food aboard the Seaman. The meals were nutritionally well-balanced with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. The portions were ample, and if you wanted more all you had to do was ask. I had requested “no fish except shellfish” and they went out of their way to accommodate me. When the rest of the passengers had ceviche, I had broccoli soup. When the rest of the passengers had fish, I had either a chicken breast or a mysterious vegetarian entree I later learned was Seitan.
This is the most out-of-touch we’ve ever been! No worries though, there are several internet cafes in Puerto Ayoro on Santa Cruz Island and Puerto Baquerito Moreno on San Cristobal Island. We spent about 30 minutes online in Puerto Ayoro and it cost around 50 cents.
Part of the reason we selected the Seaman was because it offered diving but wasn’t a 5-6 dives/day diving enthusiast cruise. As noted in the itinerary above, we did three dives: Cousin Rock, Enderby, and Devil’s Crown.
The only problem we had was that the weights weren’t labeled, so on the first dive I thought I had 22 pounds of weight while I only had 12. This meant that, with my super buoyant 5mm wetsuit there was no way in hell I was going to be able to descend and had to request more weight. By my calculations I had close to 40 pounds for the first dive. At the next snorkeling stop, we all tested our weighting and I learned that I had only 12 pounds – no WONDER I couldn’t descend.
We were in the Galapagos from 27 December through 3 January and had fantastic weather. When it wasn’t 80’s and sunny, the passing clouds provided much needed relief from the blazing equatorial sun.