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Trip Report Galapagos and Ecuador - Thanks Groupon!

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Just returned from a quick trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos. It was amazing and at times magical. The ratio of traveling to touring was a little high though. I counted 9 flights in a week - my ears still haven't popped.

Our itinerary was:

Bellavista Cloud Forest day trip

Galapagos on the ship Legend for 3 nights: islands Santa Cruz, Santiago, & Bartolome'

Otavalo market day trip

My first impression is that we should have been on the ship a full week. 3 nights wasn't enough. And the whole trip is better as a two week trip. It will take me a week to recover from lack of sleep. Two red eyes and several mornings of 5am alarms. Totally worth it of course.

I'll describe the trip in more detail - and what I'm glad I packed and what I missed.

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    We are going to Ecuador in January and will be visiting Bellavista for 2 nights and Otavalo for 2 nights. Any tips on either of these places, especially for Bellavista? Wondering how to pack for that trip, and whether they have binoculars and spotting scopes, etc. for the hikes or to see birds near the lodge?

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    People seemed to have their own binocs and scopes. Unless you're a life-lister, I'd skip the scopes and just have binocs. The hummingbirds you don't need anything, they're so close. I'd rather have a great camera than a scope. I wished I'd had the nifty binoc harness. The long hikes need it.

    Wear red to see if they buzz you!

    A poncho type rain jacket is best. One that goes quickly over your head and covers your pack is best. They have rubber boots there in case it's muddy. I hiked for 3 hours in them and they didn't hurt my feet.

    A serious sun hat is recommended. My brim wasn't big enough and my face burned a little despite some extreme caution on my part.

    The only thing you need for Otavalo is small bills. Watch out for them giving you change using sucres. One got passed to my sister.

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    So, more information on the Groupon part:

    It was offered in August through Pacific Holidays. Price for two was $5000 and included RT flight Miami - Baltra, standard ship cabin for 3 nights, and hotel in Quito w/ some meals included. Also a half day tour of Quito. I forget how many dates they offered - two in Sept and two in Nov I think.

    My traveling partner was my sister, and we changed some things. We upgraded the hotel, and asked for twin beds on the ship which upgraded the cabin (but not noticeably!).

    Since we live on the west coast, we tried to change the Miami flight, but it was impossible which made sense but was worth the try. When we landed in Quito at about 7pm and slowly made our way through immigration and customs, our tour guide Yamandu was waiting for us with a big Pacific Holidays sign. Yamandu Almeida was our rock the whole trip, providing excellent advice and covering every aspect of the journey.

    There were ultimately 15 of us from the U.S. and Canada that took advantage of the Groupon for the Nov. 3rd trip. We were expecting 17 total in Quito but one couple never showed up. Odd.

    From the Quito airport, the Groupon Group was transported to the hotel(s). Most went to the Quito Hotel, and my sister & I went to the Swissotel. I think the Quito would have been fine, but the upgrade price to the 5 star Swissotel was hard to pass up. If I had to do it again, though, I'd just stay with the group. The drive from the airport was pretty fast.

    HOWEVER, the Quito airport is moving, perhaps in February, to an area outside the city. The airport is just about ready, but the road isn't. It will take about 40 minutes at least to get from the airport to the city. But at least the planes won't be dropping out of the sky to land in the middle of the city. Because of the altitude (~9,000ft) the planes have to fly a faster speed to maintain lift, even while landing. Soon that won't be so ... exciting. (I know nothing about flying; I'm quoting a pilot we met there from Alaska.) Some think that more people will begin flying to Guayaquil for Galapagos trips and bypass Quito altogether.

    The next morning, the group was going for a half day tour of Quito (on Sunday, which meant no going inside the churches). We had declined this half-day trip to have a day trip to the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve.

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    Thanks for the Groupon info. Probably we'll see more of that. It worked well for you and your sister. Great point on the wide brimmed hat. Equatorial sun is unforgiving. I've been burnt sitting in the shade.

    Your travelmates brought their own scopes? These were serious birders then.

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    My group didn't bring scopes, but some visitors to Bellavista did.

    We had a 6:30 am pickup. Bellavista had left a note at the hotel confirming the time and telling us our driver's name (Jhony). Pickup was right on time. The only other people in the van with us were Brits who had just returned from the Galapagos, so we peppered them with questions.

    The ride was about 90 minutes but went fairly quickly except for the last 20 minutes of jarring dirt road. The lodge is low key and beautiful. We had a few moments to meet our guide (Jorge), drool over the scenery and the hummingbirds, and then went into the lodge for breakfast. The room is round-ish with windows, so bird sightings are common. We had a creeper on the tree right by our table, providing entertainment. Jorge came to the table and explained the hiking options (easy, intermediate and difficult). The options had different lengths as well, with intermediate being about 2.5 hours. They also offered rubber boots for the muddier parts of the trail. The boots fit amazingly well.

    My sister had wanted the easy hike since the altitude was still over 2,000 feet, but went with intermediate because she knew that was the one I wanted to do but wouldn't say so. Our British friends picked it too.

    On our hike we were joined by two women from Alaska. One is a pilot and one is a wetlands reclamation expert preparing to move to DC. I have a biology and ornithology background so this group was a great match for my own interests. Everyone was very interested in all the information Jorge had about the flora and fauna. His depth of information was extensive and he obviously liked his job a lot. Our bird sightings were disappointing, despite his sharp eyes and iBird phone app. But we did see a number of tanagers and a "cock of the rock.". While the hike wasn't easy, the pace was pretty slow so it wasn't hard. My sister vehemently disagrees and says it was very hard. So, your fitness level matters a little.

    After the hike they fed us lunch. The fish was delicious and freshly caught from a fishing pond on the same road. We had a lovely conversation with the Brits, who we were very fond of now.

    Too soon it was time to go. Our other hiking partners were joining us, as well as one of the interns who was taking the weekend off. The day trip was $99 total per person and we tipped the driver $10 and the naturalist $20 (for both of us, not individually).

    I loved this peek of a subtropical cloud forest and was sorry to leave.

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    We went to Ecuador and Galapagos in September of this year. It was the most expensive vacation we've eve taken. Flew from NY - Quito and stayed for about 5 days, then flew to Galapagos for a 6 day cruise. Can't imagine doing only a 3 day cruise as half your time is spent just arriving there and going home. We also went to the Bellavista Cloud Forest, but stayed for 3 days/2 nights; had a room in the tree tops, private bath; all meals and guides included. Fabulous experience. $480 total for both of us including the pick up and return to Quito. This was the "cheap" part of our vacation.

    On our own, we took a day side trip out of Quito to Papallacta Hot Springs with a guide. Hiking and then dips in incredible, beautiful hot springs pools. Another great day.

    All together with all flights, hotels, food, cruise, side trips, & guides it cost us $9,000 for two people for 13 days weeks.

    snorkeluivan - Yes, bring binoculars!

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    Yes, as they say in the Galapagos, however long you've stayed, longer is better. This trip was an unexpected blessing, and I was happy for every day I got, short or not. And, of course, the value was outstanding. Next time, I'll stay longer. And with my husband and child.

    We were still very sleep deprived, and were told to be ready for an airport pickup to the Galapagos of 5:40am! So instead of exploring, we went to the hotel restaurant Locanda, a Peruvian restaurant. We just ordered starters: ceviche and sole carpaccio. We wanted wine but you can't get wine on Sundays after 4pm. The couple next to us flipped out at that and the waiter brought them coffee and they settled right down, talking about how good the coffee was. We realized that the "coffee" had to be alcohol. Sneaky.

    On Monday, we woke at 4:30 for 5:40 pickup to airport. We had breakfast delivered to our room at 5am and they said it was complementary. It turned out they were obligated to give us breakfast each morning per tour promises. We got to the airport, and immediately got in line outside to have our bags searched. They put on a tag on searched luggage and we took the bags with us inside. Yamandu thought we needed to pay the $10 tax like others on the tour, but we had apparently already paid somehow. We got the feeling we were originally on our own, and then added to a larger group. He then had everyone get their luggage checked and said we'd see them next in our ship cabins. He gave us envelopes that had boarding passes, tour stickers for our shirts, ship cabin assignment and proof of tax payment.

    We got on the plane and landed at Guayaquil but stayed on the plane. We finally land in Baltra after 2 hrs total on the plane to stand in line to pay the Galapagos entrance fee ($100). I noticed that citizens of Ecuador pay only $6 (seems fair to me). Then we had our hand luggage searched. I cant remember what the last guy did - double check we had paid? Then we were directed to get on a dilapidated bus.

    We waited on the dock for the panga (small boat) and took turns getting the pangas to the ship. We checked into our cabin, and I was pleasantly surprised. It was just a standard cabin, but one side had huge windows, and there was plenty of room for our suitcases and stuff. I was expecting something smaller, I guess, more crowded, and less sunny. The rest of the ship (Legend) seemed not new, but not creaky either. Real wood, lots of windows, and very comfortable.

    They fed us lunch, which had lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and chicken, something for everyone, and we left for Santa Cruz Island highlands to see the tortoises. This involved a panga ride to the pier, a 40 minute van ride to the highlands, and a 90 minute nature walk. I was already exhausted - the day had started at 4:30am - so the short excursion that day was perfect.

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    Thanks for the great description of Bellavista. I am very excited about going there for our 3 day, 2 night package. I was wondering if the lodge provides a digiscope, cuz when we went birding in Panama, we could put our camera lens onto the lens of the digiscope to get some awesome camera shots. But we will have binoculars, for sure! I'll bring my northface rain jacket as well as a poncho, I think. We have reservations in the Trailhead house. Kenav, we are also going to Papallacta hot springs and hope to have clear skies for our one-night viewing of the northern and southern hemisphere stars, with Antisana volcano backdrop, sitting in the hot springs!! Then we are also staying at Hacienda Cusin in Otavalo for a couple nights. Galapagos is a little pricey for us. That Groupon deal sounds outstanding, a great bargain. Thanks for all the great discussion. keep it coming, folks!

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    My own (female) perspective on packing for the Galapagos: There's plenty of lists online, so I'll just add a few that I think are missed.

    Most lists tell you to bring more than one swimsuit. This is true because you often wear it beneath your clothes so it needs to be dry. Even if you don't plan to wear a two piece swimsuit, it can come in handy as something to wear under a rash guard or wetsuit. I had a one-piece, and a rash guard and board shorts. A two piece would have rounded out that collection well. I really didn't want to show more of my Scottish ancestry skin to the equator sun than necessary, so I didn’t bring skimpier suits and then wished I had.

    A goofy sun smart hat with a chin strap really is the best. You will not be alone wearing one. The wind, especially on the panga transfers, blew the hat off my head more than once but was saved by the chin strap.

    I wish I had brought a nicer jacket/light cardigan to wear for the evening dinners. It could get cool at night.

    People didn’t wear formal, but they did try to look a little sharper. My black polartec or my bright red rain poncho with my skirt didn’t quite do it.

    Our ship (the Legend) provided shampoo and soap, but that was it (I’ve heard other ships provide conditioner and lotion). You may want to bring your own biodegradable conditioner, etc. I didn’t use the blowdryer, but other passengers complained how long it took to dry their hair.

    I brought my Tevas, but I didn’t need them. The wet landings were always sand and I was fine to land barefoot and then put on my shoes. A small towel to dry your feet is handy.

    If you have a nice snorkel mask, bring it. The ship’s collection is a mixed bag as usual. The ship’s wetsuit fit me fine, and at 3mm was great for one snorkel and really cold for another. It was also a short john, not a full wetsuit. I still don’t think I would have packed my own wetsuit - it would have taken up way too much space.

    Polarized sunglasses really will help you see more by reducing glare. I couldn’t figure out why my sister couldn’t see the fish in the water from the ship deck. I realized it was because my sunglasses were polarized and hers weren’t. The same was true for viewing skywards.

    Something I don't see mentioned much: Most excursions have no bathroom facilities of any kind. They are usually short enough to be no problem, but it’s good to be aware of this!

    I’m sorry I didn’t try harder to get an underwater camera, disposable or otherwise.

    I packed one pair of pants, two pairs of shorts, two skirts, six shirts (one long sleeved), flip flops, tevas and trail running shoes, one sarong, polartec fleece pullover and a rain jacket. Plus the swimsuit combo above. Add a nicer thin cardigan or jacket and the clothes would have been a perfect amount, and fit in a carry-on.

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