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Volcanoes & Galapagos GPS
2 reviews for this tour
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Perhaps we took a chance booking early for the last tour of the season, the only one not shown as guaranteed to run, but we were to be rewarded for our patience. The weather remained fine and the skies were mostly clear for the whole of this November trip. On arrival our small group (5) was met by award-winning Tour Leader Diego Garzon and conducted on a bespoke journey though Ecuador and to its far off isles. The modesty of this man belies his professional organizational skills as he so willingly shares knowledge of his country and of its flora and fauna and becomes an enthusiastic group member.
For anyone researching this holiday for the benefit of a land-based trip to Galapagos, go ahead, the accommodation there is great and you will not pass up on the marine spectacles. However, be prepared to fall in love with Ecuador first. It is an easy going country, the people are hard-working and friendly and the scenery is stunning.
Yes, we felt the altitude a little in the highlands but an easy period in Quito at the start helped acclimatization and the whole group, including pensioners, readily participated in the organized walks which often gained height for spectacular views. It's not easy to choose a highlight of Ecuador as even this small group’s views were diverse, but I know we were all in total awe when Diego decided that conditions were right to detour high above Banos and look across its lava strewn plateau to the close majesty of Tungurahua (5000+ metres) jetting steam from its frozen crater into an otherwise clear blue sky.
Perhaps I had read more of the Galapagos as not to be too surprised, for it was everything we had imagined. I had not however expected the 20 knot cruiser trips between Santa Cruz and Isabela Islands which were highlights in themselves, and not just for the sheer fun of speed travel. On the outward trip we spotted dolphins that then privileged us with their playful company for part of the passage, riding the bow wave and breaking surface.
Our numbers swelled to seven on the islands with the addition of local guide Marlon to whom we related immediately. I have never persevered with snorkeling and at age 68 was prepared to give it a miss but with his and Diego’s encouragement, equipped with hired wetsuit and buoyancy aid, I joined structured opportunities to develop and to view a very different world. The ultimate thrill was when the now accomplished group was snorkeling in the open sea and a 2-metre whitetip shark lazed by. Harmless we were told, but hey! Still a bit special!
Altitude in Ecuador mitigates the tropical heat but personally I did not find the highlands as cold as expected and did not use my outer fleece once out of Heathrow. We found lighter layered clothing useful, especially in the evening. However it is always worth remembering the sun is fiercest at the Equator and to heed warnings to cream up and cover up. Loose fitting long-sleeved tops are useful with longer pants that also repel insect bites from the undergrowth. Skimpy tops and shorts may seem sexy on the beach but the lobster-chested, spotty-ankled tourist is also endemic to the islands. We did not spend as much as expected on food or drink being happy with local fare and, as no mains water is potable, most establishments provided water and delicious fruit drinks as part of the service. One of our more expensive adventure trips but well worth the money. (GPS - 12th November 2011)
I imagine most people book such tours to see the Galapagos Islands, and it is tempting to see mainland Ecuador as the 'warm up' to the main event, when in fact this part of the holiday was just as fascinating and enjoyable. The first week of this trip is spent in Quito and the Andes, with its distinct Highland culture. Unlike Peru (from memories) volcanoes dominate the landscape, seeing a smoking volcano from my bed was a stunning sight, and the after effects of eruptions are a reminder of nature's power. This part of the trip is at altitude, so expect to be short of breath and more tired than you would expect! Ecuador is on the equator though, so wear lots of sun cream, even though the temperature up here at altitude is surprisingly cool.
From here you fly to the Galapagos, definitely a must visit destination for wildlife lovers. This trip is hotel based, staying on two islands, then relatively touristy Santa Cruz and the very quiet Isabela; the former is more geared to tourism (a decent choice of places to eat and drink) while on the latter you feel much more off the beaten track. Being land based you see fewer different islands, but can explore these two in more depth. The boat based trips tend to spend more time swimming and snokeling than this trip, there were 3 opportunities to snorkel, but one snorkel (where I saw a turtle!) was enough for most of us. I managed to hire prescription snorkel equipment, but was probably lucky. I won't go through all the wildlife you'll see, but suffice to say you'll see most of what you'd hope to see...giant tortoises, iguanas, finches, boobys etc The final day is spent back the mainland, but down at sea level, in the 2nd city Guayaquil. This city to me had a more Latin feel to it than Quito and the highlands, with that exciting blend of liveliness and slight hint of danger...
Overall, an excellent trip, and expertly led by our guide the award winning Diego Torres - search this site for details on his prize! Everyone on the trip had an excellent time, and I'd definitely recommend Ecuador as a holiday destination and this Explore tour.(GPS 12th February 2011)