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Galapagos : 10 Days Of Darwinian Delights

Updated: Feb 2

Imagine stepping onto volcanic soil still warm from its fiery birth, feeling the spray of playful sea lions on your face, and gazing into the wise eyes of a giant tortoise who remembers the world before Charles Darwin. This isn't a fantasy novel – it's the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago where evolution pirouettes on volcanic stages and every day is an adventure straight out of a naturalist's notebook.

We spent 10 glorious days in this living laboratory, where iguanas sunbathe on black lava flows, penguins waddle along equatorial shores, and marine iguanas sneeze salt crystals, transforming themselves into living gargoyles. My journey was a whirlwind of volcanic hikes, snorkeling expeditions teeming with technicolor fish, and close encounters with creatures so unique they seem like figments of an eccentric artist's imagination.

Galapagos through my lens

In this blog, I'll be your guide on a virtual voyage through my 10-day Galapagos odyssey. We'll hop from island to island, dive into turquoise waters, scale volcanic peaks, and meet the eccentric characters who call this enchanted archipelago home. 

So, buckle up, fellow adventurers! We're about to embark on a journey that will leave you breathless, bewildered, and forever changed by the magic of the Galapagos. Get ready to witness the living legacy of Darwin, where evolution isn't just a theory, it's a breathtaking reality unfolding before your very eyes.

 

>> Got a question about this blog that you need answered quickly? DM me on Instagram @SolaraStills and I’ll be happy to help! I only accept DMs from followers, so hit the follow button before sending.

 


Best Time To Go

Being on the Equator, Ecuador (and the Galapagos islands) has two main seasons, cool and dry (June to November), and hot and wet (December to May). When we went in December, it was shoulder season, with temps in the mid 70s, and it rained only one evening out of 10. Ultimately, the best time to visit Ecuador is whenever it fits your priorities and preferences. No matter when you choose to go, you're sure to have a fantastic experience!

Land-based vs cruise vs travel agent

Based on your budget (The Galapagos Islands is one of the most expensive destinations in the world), you can choose either a land based tour or a cruise. We decided to get the best of both experiences and chose a combination of land based and cruise for our trip. Although most of our travel itineraries thus far have been DIYs, based on the complexity of visiting Ecuador and numerous island hopping in the Galapagos, we decided to entrust our travel planning to a well recommended travel agency, Galaper Travel.

Galaper Travel offered a personalized package based on our interests and preferences, to suit our budget, desired activities and preferred pace. They ensured we had a smooth, unforgettable experience via their excellent service, knowledgeable guides and commitment to sustainable tourism. Our package included all transportation and park entry fees, hotel accommodations, transfers and guides. I highly recommend them if you are looking for an unforgettable Ecuadorean experience.



Ecuadorean Currency And Other Info

The official currency of Ecuador is the United States Dollar (USD). This means that in Ecuador, you will use the same bills and coins that you would in the United States. Ecuador adopted the US dollar in 2000 to stabilize its economy after a period of high inflation and currency devaluation.

Ecuador mainland follows Eastern Standard Time (New York time), whereas the Galapagos islands are an hour behind and follow Central Standard Time.

There are no visa requirements for US citizens.


Day 1: Quito

Where To Stay

Nestled in the heart of Quito's historic district, Adamas Hotel is a haven for travelers seeking an immersive encounter with Ecuador's rich cultural tapestry. Rooms are tastefully furnished and the morning breakfast is quite substantial with continental and Ecuadorian delicacies.

If you prefer to stay close to the airport, Wyndham Quito Airport is an excellent choice. Located just 5 minutes from Quito Airport, it is an ideal spot for travelers who prefer quick in and out access to the airport. With free shuttle service and a HUGE breakfast spread, you cannot go wrong by choosing this hotel.


On our arrival in Quito, we were whisked away by our able and efficient guide, Stalin from Galaper Travel, to start our city tour. Here are some points of interest in this UNESCO World Heritage city:

Middle of the World: This is where the equatorial line runs through Ecuador. Stand astride the equator at the Mitad del Mundo monument and explore the museum showcasing unique equatorial phenomena.

Top L: Standing on each of the hemispheres; Top R: Straddling the Equatorial line.

Bottom : At zero degrees latitude.


El Panecillo: Hike, drive or take the teleférico to this iconic hill for panoramic city views, explore the colonial church and museum within, and marvel at the Virgin of Quito statue.


Old Town Quito: UNESCO-listed, wander cobbled streets, admire baroque churches like La Compañía de Jesús, and delve into colonial plazas like Plaza Grande.


L: Old Town Quito all lit up for the holidays, with a lighted Virgin Mary atop of the hill in the background.

R: The steep cobblestone streets of Historic Quito

San Francisco Church and Convent: Explore this sprawling complex, marvel at the intricately carved altarpieces, and discover colonial treasures in the museum.


Independence Plaza: Stand where history unfolded, witness the monument commemorating Ecuador's fight for freedom, and admire the surrounding colonial buildings.

Independence Plaza


The Basilica of the National Vow is a Roman Catholic church located in the historic center of Quito, Ecuador. It is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. It provides stunning view of Quito city and the surrounding hills.

View of Old Quito from atop the Basillica

Where To Eat:

Hasta la Vuelta Señor: Conveniently located in the historic city centre, the upper floor restaurant has a great view looking down at the courtyard like main floor. The food was authentic and delicious, with vegetarian options, and the service was amazing.


Nuema : Located in the northern part of Quito, Nuema has been recognized as one of the 100 best restaurants in the world, and one of 50 best in Latin America. The food did not disappoint, with flavorful Andean and Ecuadorian tasting menu specifically for vegetarians. This was by far our best culinary experience of all time!

Nuema - Rated amongst the 100 best restaurants in the world




Day 2: Cotopaxi volcano

We started Day 2 of our Ecuadorean adventure early in preparation for a thrilling adventure with horseback riding around Cotopaxi, Ecuadors highest active volcano. We departed from Quito at 7am and enjoyed the scenic drive, admiring the majestic peaks like Cotopaxi and Chimborazo. Upon arrival at the Cotopaxi National Park, we were greeted by the breathtaking view of Cotopaxi's snowcapped peak.

Snowcapped Cotopaxi

We soon arrived at the Hacienda offering horseback riding adventures, got acquainted with our horse, put on our "fancy" riding gear, received safety instructions and were on our way! The guide and our horse took us through rolling hills, volcanic slopes and stunning landscapes with Cotopaxi as our backdrop. The panorama of the Andes and the unique Andean flora and fauna were truly breathtaking.


After the horse ride, we enjoyed a delicious meal of authentic Ecuadorean dishes at the Tambopaxi hotel closeby, before starting our long and rocky drive back to Quito, passing by scenic rural landscape.



Day 3: Santa Cruz (Galapagos Island)

We had an early start on Day 3 to catch the first flight out of Quito to Santa Cruz Island. Traveling from Quito to Santa Cruz Island involves some exciting transportation changes! While there's no direct connection, using a combination of plane, bus, and ferry will get you there.

Flight:

From Quito Airport (UIO): This is the most common starting point. Several airlines offer flights to Baltra Island Airport (BLT), the closest airport to Santa Cruz Island. Expect flight times around 2 hours.

Buse:

From Baltra Island Airport: Once you land, take a short bus ride (around 10 minutes) to the ferry terminal. You need to buy a separate bus ticket before getting into the bus.

Ferry:

From Baltra Island Ferry: Board a public ferry to Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island's main town. Public ferries take around 15 minutes. Ferry charges apply.

Puerto Ayora is a charming town on the southern coast of Santa Cruz Island, the largest island in the Galapagos archipelago. It's the most populous town in the Galapagos, with a laid-back atmosphere and a vibrant mix of locals, tourists, and scientists. It has numerous options for lodging, dining and souvenir shopping. The Main Street is lined with all kinds of shops and eateries. This is the best place for souvenir shopping in all of Galapagos.


Where To Stay:

Hotel Mainao, located a block from the main shopping and dining street in Puerto Ayora, was a charming option for our Santa Cruz stay. With only 10 rooms and a unique architecture similar to those in Santorini, Greece, we were extremely happy with our spacious room with balcony, and the scrumptious breakfast in the morning.


Hotel Mainao

Top things to do:

El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve:  Located in the Santa Cruz highlands, El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve is a renowned spot for observing these gentle giants in their natural habitat. You'll see these magnificent creatures grazing in pastures, resting under trees, and lumbering along the trails. The lush green pastures, volcanic slopes, and muddy pools, create a picturesque backdrop for your tortoise encounter.



Tortuga Bay: Located about 3 miles, on the outskirts of Puerto Arroya town, Tortuga Bay is a pristine white sand paradise, with turquoise waters and a vibrant symphony of Galapagos life. It can be accessed by a flat, long winding trail bordered on either side by tree cacti. Small and colorful lava lizards run between your feet as you approach the beach where the path ends. This is also a "mini dragon" paradise - you will find hundreds of marine iguanas soaking up the sun on the volcanic rocks. As you walk further past the mangroves, you will reach a turquoise blue lagoon with shallow waters good for beach snorkeling to see white tipped sharks. Spend the afternoon here with the marine life and birds local only to Galapagos, before taking the long walk back into town.

PRO TIP: If you plan ahead, you can avoid the hike by taking a speed boat from the docks in town to Tortuga Bay and back again.


L: Lava lizard; M&R: Marine iguanas

Charles Darwin Research Center: The Charles Darwin Research Center (CDRC) at the edge of town, is a haven for science, conservation, and exploration. It  is more than just a tourist destination; it's a gateway to understanding the Galapagos Islands' significance in our planet's history and its critical role in preserving biodiversity for future generations. It is a great place to see rescued Galapagos tortoises up close, in various stages of their recovery journey, learning about their unique needs and the threats they face.




Day 4 - 5 : Isabela Island

We took an early morning ferry from Puerto Arroya to Isabela Island, the largest in the Galapagos archipelago.  This island, formed by six shield volcanoes, bursts with diverse landscapes ranging from lava fields and volcanic craters to mangrove forests and pristine beaches. It's a haven for wildlife, a tapestry of unique species that have evolved in this isolated paradise.

Be prepared for a two-hour rough ride in the open seas to reach the island. There are also small planes that fly between Santa Cruz and Isabela . But the timings did not work well for our itinerary. So we chose to do the ferry instead.

Pro TIP: If you have sea or motion sickness, come armed with Dramamine. If not for it, my husband and I would have been sick within a few minutes into our journey.

Where To Stay:

Casita De la Playa is a boutique hotel located on the beach in Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island, The hotel is located in a convenient location, close to restaurants, shops, and tourist attractions. It is just a block away from the famous Flamingo lagoon. The beach is right in front of the hotel, making it a perfect place to relax and soak up the sun.


L: Entrance to Casita De La Playa from the beach; R: View from our room

Things to Do:

Tintoreras Islet tour : One of the best activities on Isabela Island is going to Las Tintoreras, where there is a colony of white-tip sharks (also known as Tintoreras) that can often be seen resting in the lava channel. This area has diverse marine life, lava formations, mangrove forests, and coral reefs. Also, this is a great destination for snorkeling. 


You can only access Las Tintoreras via a boat tour. During the boat tour, you will meet blue-footed boobies and penguins, and while snorkeling, you will catch sight of manta rays, reef fish, sharks, sea lions, and other species.




Los Tuneles: Los Túneles in Cabo Rosa is another fantastic natural formation that deserves to be visited during your stay on Isabela Island. Los Túneles are lava tunnels that have formed arches and bridges over the water, making it a unique landscape. This is another ideal place for snorkeling since abundant marine life exists. In addition, the clarity of the waters will allow you to appreciate a great variety of tropical fish, sea lions, sea turtles, reef sharks, and even seahorses.



Flamingo Lagoon: This is a saltwater lagoon very close to Puerto Villamil, where flamingos can be seen in all their splendor. The highest flamingo concentration in the Galapagos Island can be seen in Isabela.



Puerto Villamel Beach: The town of Puerto Villamel is surrounded by a charming beach of fine sand and crystalline waters, approximately 3 km long, where you can sunbathe, swim, surf, or relax. The lava rocks exposed on the beach are teaming with marine iguanas and brightly colored Sally Lightfood crabs. In addition, this beach is the ideal place to enjoy impressive and unforgettable sunsets.






Day 6 - Day 9: Galapagos Islands Cruise

On Day 6, we headed back to Santa Cruz (by the dreaded ferry) to board out expedition boat which would be our home for the next 3 nights. Galaper Travel had booked us on the Aqua Yacht, which had a capacity of 16 passengers, 9 crew members and 1 naturalist guide. Being an expedition boat, it was a no-frills cruise, and included breakfast, lunch and dinner and lots of snacks and drinks inbetween.


L: Our expedition boat; R: snacks awaiting for us after each expedition

The boat took us on unforgettable journey through the heart of the Galapagos Islands. Each day was filled with activities - from snorkeling to kayaking to hiking.

Top L: All set to snorkel; Top R: Exploring in glass bottom kayaks

Bottom L: Our expedition team of 15 adventurers; Bottom R: Wildlife encounter on our hikes


We dove into diverse landscapes, encountered iconic wildlife, and witnessed the magic of evolution unfold before your eyes. We visited some of the uninhabitied islands like North Seymore, South Plaza, Santa Fe, Florena and Espanola islands all of which could only be accessed by boat.


We snorkeled aside playful sea turtles and sea lions, marveled at the blue footed boobies and the Espanola hawks, and spent the evenings under a canopy of stars, exchanging life stories with our newly made friends aboard the yacht.

We were really pleased with Galaper Travel for including this cruise in our itinerary, as a large portion of the Galapagos can only be experienced by boat.





Day 10: Transfer from Cruise back to Quito

After almost 10 days of being immersed in Ecuadorian culture and the turquoise magic that is the Galapagos islands, we bid farewell to our boat and the friends we made on it, and took our ferry, bus, flight back to Quito. Saying goodbye to the gentle hospitality of this beautiful country was bittersweet.

As we boarded our flight home, we carried with us, not just souvenirs, but a tapestry woven with laughter, kindness, and a newfound appreciation for the simple things that make life extraordinary. Ecuador, with its untamed beauty and welcoming spirit, had become a chapter etched in our hearts, a reminder to embrace life's adventures with open arms and an explorer's spirit. 



 

>> Got a question about this blog that you need answered quickly? DM me on Instagram @SolaraStills and I’ll be happy to help! I only accept DMs from followers, so hit the follow button before sending.

 


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