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Natural Wonders of Ecuador and the Galapagos - 11 March 2019
Post: #1
What an amazing Tour.  This truly was a wonderful holiday, made even more memorable by our Tour Manager, Patrick Twomey and the local guides.  Patrick is truly a great TM and has an amazing knowledge of South America.  One could not wish for a better TM for this inaugural tour.  There were 15 of us - 14 female and one male.

We had a long wait at Bogota Airport since the onward flight to Quito was delayed.  On arrival in Quito, Patrick took us on a short orientation tour of Quito followed by lunch.  We took taxis back to the hotel.  Cost of each taxi was only $3-4.  Unfortunately a lot of us either suffered from a virus or altitude sickness - it was hard to tell as the symptoms for both are very similar.  I had a 24 hour virus, which meant I had to miss the colourful fresh fruit and vegetables market and the historical tour of Quito on Day 3.  I think 3 of us decided not to go and a couple of ladies had to be brought back to the hotel as they started feeling ill.

We were given holdalls to use for our one night stay in Mindo and for Galapagos, which made life a lot easier!  On the way to Mindo cloud forest on day 4, we first stopped to see the hummingbirds followed by a visit to the butterfly garden.  We did not visit the orchid park as apparently most of them were not in bloom.  It was raining when we visited the working chocolate farm.  It was interesting to find out how chocolate was made from the cocoa beans and the best bit was tasting the chocolate and we were also given a slice of gooey chocolate brownie made from their own chocolate at the end.  It was really delicious.  In the evening we went to Lago Mindo to 'hunt' for the frogs.  It was raining a bit and we only saw 2-3 frogs.  The next day we had a chance to walk through the cloud forest before leaving for Quito.  On the way we posed for a photo on the Equator Line.  Mauro, our local guide briefed us on Galapagos on the way to Quito.

On day 6 we flew to Santa Cruz Island.  All luggage is checked so best not to lock the holdalls.  It is very safe and nothing went missing.  On arrival we had a short boat journey to the pier where the coach was waiting to take us to the ranch where we first had lunch and then went in search of giant tortoises.  We were not disappointed and saw several.  In the evening transport was provided for those wishing to go to Peurto Ayora for dinner or just look around.  It was easy to walk there and back.  I did not want any dinner and walked there with Lesley.  We first visited the harbour to see the sea lions who had already occupied the benches!  We then strolled around the town before walking back to the hotel.

On day 7 we transferred by boat to Isabela Island.  The journey, which was around 2 hours was very pleasant.  We first visited the tortoise breeding centre followed by a visit to the wetland where we were lucky to see the pink flamingos and pintail ducks.  After lunch, those of us who had booked the optional excursion went to Tintoreras.  First we had a short hike where we saw marine iguanas, sea turtles, sharks, rays and then it was time to snorkel.  Unfortunately for me, it was a disaster!  The first hurdle for me was jumping in the water from the boat.  I think my mask was loose and water kept getting in so I was in a bit of a panic and gave up.  Patrick did his best to guide me, but without success!  I am pleased to report that I did master snorkelling from the beach before we went to Kickers Rock on day 11.

On day 8 we hiked up the Sierra Negra volcano to see the massive calder.  We were very lucky with the weather.  It remained cloudy all the way up and down.  It would have been a 'torture' if the sun was out!  On day 9 some of us had a morning of leisure whilst some went snorkelling to Los Tuneles.  Apparently this optional excursion did not only involve snorkelling - there was a hike as well.  Perhaps description needs to be changed as maybe some of us who did not go would have done so.  There were some who came on the optional excursion to Tintoreras and did not snorkel.  Those who did not go on the optional excursion walked up to the harbour where we saw penguins, pelicans, sea lions and swimming iguanas.  It was very relaxing to watch the wild life.

First thing on Day 10 we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station where we saw the preserved body of Lonesome George.  We also saw different species of giant tortoises.  On the way to the restaurant where we were having lunch, we saw a gathering of pelicans and one lone heron who were waiting to be fed with fish heads!  A couple of women were gutting the fish and feeding the heads to the waiting birds.  It was amusing to watch this spectacle.  After lunch we travelled by boat to San Cristobal - the island of sea lions.  They were everywhere!  Day 11 was a cruise along the coast before heading to Kicker Rock.  First stop was at a beach where a couple of us had a go at snorkelling.  It was a lovely sandy beach and I personally enjoyed learning how to snorkel.  Lunch was served once we were back on the boat.  After lunch it was snorkelling at Kickers Rock - some of us not doing the snorkelling stayed on the boat.

We had a free morning on Day 12 before flying back to Quito.  A few of us went for a walk with Patrick.  We wanted to go to Frigatebird Hill but ended up on a beach!  It was a pleasant walk and we saw black marine iguanas basking in the sun on the beach.  We had flight delays, both from San Cristobal to Guayaquil and from Guayaquil to Quito.  From Guayaquil the delay was 6 hours.  Patrick was able to arrange for a coach and a local guide in Guayaquil and we were lucky to have a walking tour of Guayaquil (an added bonus).  We had dinner before heading back to the airport for our delayed flight.  We did not get to the hotel in Quito till 3.00 a.m. on Saturday morning (Day 13).  Despite this, apart from one person, we all departed at 09:30 for Otavalo.  The market was interesting full of colourful textiles, pottery, silver jewellery etc.  After visiting the market we had lunch in a local restaurant.  After lunch we visited several shops selling leather items and some of us picked up bargains!  In the evening we had a farewell dinner of tapas.

On day 14, before heading to the airport for our flights back home, Patrick had kindly arranged for us to take the cable car up to Pichincha.  We walked up to the viewing point where we had lovely views of Quito and the amazing thing was that there were swings right on top.  Some were brave enough to swing, whilst I was a bit timid and just sat on one!  We spent quite some time before taking the cable car back to the bottom and heading to the airport.  After checking in, we all went across the airport to the food hall to have some lunch.

Unfortunately our flight from Bogota to LHR was delayed by 2 hours.

Food was delicious, especially the soups and the portions were big.  Most hotels had fresh fruit juice available at Breakfast.  Breakfast in Mindo was served and not a buffet.  All hotels were good apart from Miconia in San Cristobal.  It was dreary and tired looking at first glance - we had arrived late evening but on the next day it did not look so bad!

I have done a brief review and may have missed certain things, which hopefully one of my fellow travellers will be able to add.

This truly was an amazing trip and for me personally it was a dream come true.

Best wishes

Jaya
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Post: #2
Hi Jaya

It sounds like you had an amazing time, I am very jealous.

Kind regards

Matt
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Post: #3
Hi Jaya, thanks for excellent review.  I only have one word. ‘WOW’
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Post: #4
Thanks for the informative review Jaya. Can you confirm that the only currency required is US dollars or do we require the local currency as well. It whets my appetite for my May departure. You mentioned that some were ill (possible altitude sickness). Did anyone take medication with them for this problem? I have booked the Tintoreras trip but not the Los Tuneles one as it seemed to be more for snorkellers.
Glad you had a good time
Peter.
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Post: #5
Hi Jaya,
An excellent review from you as usual. Glad you had a fantastic time.
Thanks for taking the time to write it. Hope to meet up with you again sometime. It's been a while since Namibia.
Regards,
Roger
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Post: #6
Thanks Jaya for your review.  The only things I wish add for follow on travellers is the domestics:

Currency for Ecuador and Galapagos is US$.  Bogota has the Colombian Peso, but accepts US$.

At the Septimo Paraiso Hotel in Mindo, keys are placed on the reception desk and as your name is called, you randomly select a key.  Not all rooms were good.  I selected Room 24 which is a large cabin a walk away from the main Lodge.

The accommodation at Miconia Hotel on San Cristobal was absolutely awful, but apparently the "best" on the island.  At least the breakfast was fine.

For entry to Galapagos you have to pay $120 in cash.  We paid $20 to the local guide to obtain our Transit Control Card and $100 to Park Authorities at Baltra airport.  You receive a receipt for the $100 and your $20 two part Transit Control Card on arrival at Baltra.  Do not lose the Transit Control Card as one copy to be surrendered on departure from Galapagos.

The "duffle" bags are more like large sports bags and you don't have to do too much carrying of them.  They are each numbered so please remember your number of take a photo and check the zip is not broken before you pack! Your hold and hand luggage will be screened at Quito and Baltra airports.  Two travellers had to open their bags at Quito security screening, one for an unusual snorkel and the other a fizzy drink. At Baltra, hold luggage not to be removed before the sniffer dogs have done their work.

Travellers might like to take a couple of nail or tooth brushes to ensure footwear is free of mud, seeds etc.  I am not aware that any of our fellow travellers had their footwear examined but best to be safe....

I took walking shoes and walking sandals and asked the TM what footwear to use for any hikes.  

On San Cristobal bug spray for the vicious horse flies will be required.

On all islands, no toilet paper in the loo.  A receptacle is placed beside the loo.  Not all had lids - JY to be aware.

The majority of the group fell victim to the virus and/or altitude sickness from day 2 onwards, so be prepared with appropriate medication and hand wipes/sanitisers.

Lastly, I am not a swimmer but wanted to snorkel.  After a panic attack at Tintoreras, I was coaxed into the water and snorkelled for about 10 secs!  At Kicker Rock, you arrive at a beach where you can walk into the sea and practice snorkelling before arriving at the deep ocean.  Wet suits, flippers and flotation jacket provided and you can hold onto a ring in the sea whilst the local guide drags you around.  I spent an hour in the 83 metres  sea and enjoyed every minute of it!

Regards
Sylvia
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Post: #7
PS. See Patrick Twomey's blog entitled "Ecuador & Galapagos - a tour!" on his website:
http://www.twomeytravel.com

Sylvia
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Post: #8
(27/03/2019, 10:23 AM)Peter G Wrote: Thanks for the informative review Jaya. Can you confirm that the only currency required is US dollars or do we require the local currency as well. It whets my appetite for my May departure. You mentioned that some were ill (possible altitude sickness). Did anyone take medication with them for this problem? I have booked the Tintoreras  trip but not the Los Tuneles one as it seemed to be more for snorkellers.
Glad you had a good time
Peter.

The Equadoran currency is the US dollar, any change you get could be "proper" US dollars (usually notes), but coins are locally produced so need to be used while you are in Equador.

A few people were affected by the altitude, but the main cause of sickness seemed to be some sort of tummy bug, possibly made worse by the altitude. Once I had got over the "bug" the altitude caused me no problems, but whether you suffer from the altitude or not is a matter of your body's response and you won't know until you get there. 

As Jaya mentioned on the last morning we went up the cable car and were up at just over 4000m ( over 13000 ft) and if you took it steady walking around and uphill was not a problem for most.

Peter
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Post: #9
Jaya,
When I saw in earlier threads that you were signed up for the inaugural Galapagos Tour I was hoping on your return you would post your usual good, thorough and enlightening Review. Glad to say you haven’t disappointed !
Galapagos has always been of interest to me because of its history and above all wildlife.
Having researched various itineraries there are a couple of reservations for me though, both of which you have picked up on.
Firstly, Quito and the altitude. A year ago I spent 3 days in the Costa Rica Cloud Forest at altitude and found it took time to acclimatise, especially at night. On the Ecuador part of this Tour much of it seems to be at a higher altitude than CR. Not quite a Mrs. May type of ‘red line’, but certainly a question mark. And then there’s always the humming birds (love ‘em) ...
Secondly, as good as the land based wildlife on Galapagos is, there is probably as much, if not more, to see under water. Having a ‘head under water’ phobia, I’m afraid snorkelling is a definite no, no for me.
From your recent experience Jaya, how do you think a non swimming, low altitude creature like me would get on ? ?
Roger
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Post: #10
Jaya

I am glad you had Patrick as your TM I have only ever heard great reports about him. Good for you doing the snorkelling, hope you saw some great things. Sorry to hear you were under the weather for a few days.sounds like you had a good tour despite the delays and a few niggles. Keep travelling.

Cindy
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