Galapagos – Day 1

4 Day or 8 Day Cruise?

To tour the Galapagos Islands typically takes 7 nights /8 days, but it is often broken up into a 4 night/ 5 day and a 3 night/ 4 day tour. Two years ago Don and I did the 4 night/ 5 day tour and were returning with my parents to complete the circuit.

Many people say that the islands are very different from one another and that if you are going to experience the islands you should do the full tour. Like most things, I think this very much depends on the individual. For naturalists and animal enthusiasts it would be worthwhile do the whole thing. However, if you have other things on your itinerary and just want a taste of the Galapagos most of the animals can be seen on either of the shorter tours. While some species are specific to a particular island, most of the wildlife repeats throughout the islands.

Tour Operator

I chose Klein Tours because their tour was moderately priced with a maximum of 36 passengers. I booked the same boat that we had been on two years ago and while I wasn’t totally happy with the quality of their services, especially their ground service, I knew what to expect and that their island excursions were well done.

Getting to the Galapagos

Our trip started with an early plane from Quito to Baltra, Galapagos, with a short stop in Guayaquil. As happened last time, the tour organization at the Quito airport was a chaotic mess. It’s no wonder they have you get there two hours ahead of time. It takes 30 minutes just to find your unidentified tour representative. Then you have to fight your way through the crowd to have your checked luggage screened and find the representative again to get your boarding pass.

It was not much better once you land in Baltra. The representative in Quito told us that the taxes were paid and that we would just have to show the stamp on the envelope that she had given us, but somehow this doesn’t work out and we are told to wait while they sort out whether our taxes were paid or not.

Finally they let us through and we board a crowded public bus, the aisle filled with large bags of who knows what leaving no room to pass through to the back of the bus. We are not told that this is a just a short ride to a dock where we transfer to a public ferry and then finally to the company bus that will take us to the port on the other side of the island. A little explanation would go a long way to make the process more tolerable.

Once we’re on the company bus the tour is more relaxed. The bus climbs over Santa Cruz Island up into a lush rainy area before descending into Ayora Port where we board the dingy for the first time and head to our ship.

The Boat

There are a comfortable 26 of us from various countries on a ship that holds a maximum of 36.

This is not luxury cruising. This is about enjoying the animals and the outdoors. So while the ship is clean and comfortable, quarters are tight, especially in the cheaper rooms.

On the plus side the small size of the boat with only two dinghies to fill makes embarking and disembarking a relatively smooth, quick process. Meals are all served buffet style in the ship’s dining room.

While the food is not great, there is an adequate selection of proteins, salads and other vegetables as well as fruit and desert.

 First Stop Darwin Station

Darwin station is a breeding center and mini zoo for the giant tortoises and related species.  I have to admit this is my least favorite part of the Galapagos experience and the excursion is included on both the 3 night and 4 night tours.

Sure the tortoises are fabulous, gotta love’m, and the facilities are well maintained with very natural looking pens that wind through a desert landscape on the outskirts of Port Ayora, but still it feels like a zoo and nothing like the other expeditions on the rest of the islands.

On the way back to the port we are given free time to shop in town. Keep in mind if you are a shopper that this is the only shopping opportunity on the trip other than a few items available on board ship and at the Baltra Airport.

December 11, 2011

For links to all the posts in this series see the Ecuador page.