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Thursday 25 Feb 2010
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Off on a 3 day Galapagos cruise!

I've decided I'm going to defy all backpacker convention and actually splurge a bit while I'm here.

Lee convinced me that if I could get a good deal with a cruise, it's more than worth it as you learn so much from the guides on board, and get to see animals you otherwise wouldn't see on the two main islands.

So yesterday, after arriving back from Isabella, I visited a local dive shop to initially see if they had any good dives going. "George Rock" is supposed to be a particularly cool dive amidst shoals of hammer-head sharks!), but there weren't any tours going out until about 3 days later so I'd just be sitting around Santa Cruz until then. I then asked if there were any last-minute deals on cruises. Often times a boat will have one or 2 spaces left on the boat that they urgently want to fill so you can sometimes get them at rock-bottom last minute prices (particularly nowadays with the recession when most tourists are avoiding the costlier options and instead going to places like Colombia! *cough*).

As it happened he had a last minute deal going on a 3 day snorkling tour around Santiago island going for only US$ 465 all in! The normal price would be around US$700 for the same trip had it been booked from abroad... nice! It's not exactly UBER-cheap, but it should be great as I get a room with private bathroom (may have to share the cabin with one other though) and the boat has A/C plus full meals and tours included.

Hopefully I'll finally get my baby-seal photo!

After booking the tour yesterday I went to visit the Darwin Centre in Puerto Ayora which has a huge collection of Giant land-turtles that they are trying to breed to increase the population, including a famous one called "Lonesome George" who is 80 and is the last of his kind.

Unlike the place on Isabella, you were able to walk amongst the turtles, but not ride em (although I'm sure some kids try).. I think that might be crossing the line a bit.

I imagined the place would have been like a museum, with turtles in glass enclosures, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it was essentially like walking through a wild forest populated solely by turtles. There were a lot of tour groups passing through later on, but I was glad I went on my own as the turtles were exposed out in the open and I had them all to myself, then they retreated (well a SLOW retreat anyway) once the crowds arrived.

So I recommend visiting the Darwin centre alone, and early, if you can.

Got some really cool pics and I'll upload all when I'm back from the cruise!

Ciao!

...later...

I didn't write much about what I did on the 25th. Basically the whole day was spent firstly writing up my blogs for Quito (Blog writing is really quite a time-consuming process).

I then planned out the rest of my trip in South America. I had a better idea of what I wanted to get out of the rest of the time covering the remaining countries on my list: Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. After 3 or 4 hours sitting in the sweaty hostel lobby, a veritable feast for the mozzie infestation, I came up with a solid plan, including specific dates! The relief was immense. Until now I've been stressing about booking flights ahead to save cash etc, but I didn't have any solid dates. With specific dates set out, I was then able to relax. I could also plan around using buses instead of flights everywhere. From Peru onwards I'll be taking buses most of the way.

Our yacht   The Aida...
Our yacht The Aida...

At 6pm I was met by a cheerful man wearing a white shirt with an "Aida Maria" logo on it. Clearly any boat that has it's own logo is gonna be classy, not to mention with it's own dedicated crew, and I wasn't wrong: the Aida Maria is a "Superior Tourist class" boat and as I was later to find out, most of the other occupants had paid almost triple what I had for the same trip!

As we travelled on the dingy toward the yacht, the crew member let me on to a tip that seems quite obvious now: go directly to the office of the boat for the BEST last minute deals. The offices are usually located down at the dock in Puerto Ayora. He reckons that I probably paid about $65 commission and could have gotten the 3 day cruise for $400 if I'd gone directly to the office the day before. Doh! ... but of course, this assumes that you know which boat you want to go on, which can be a hit & miss decision. I know for next time! Last minute deals are demand-dependant though, so may not always exist. You've been warned.

Unfortunately I didn't get a cabin to myself, but thankfully the 14 other people on the yacht were a nice bunch and noone was particularly annoying (there was a Swiss family who rarely smiled, but otherwise I got on well with everyone). Mainly a lot of couples on the cruise as it's a really nice way to spend time together, and I intend to do the same with my gf when I go back next time (which I definately will) Smile

The food was incredible. I ate so well on this trip, and on the first evening as we waited in Puerto Ayora harbour before our overnight cruise to our first port of call (Rabida Island), I ate the first of many delicious dinners. The cook was a genius considering the small kitchen he had to work in. There was always enough food left for seconds (although, rather embarrassingly, the crew identified me as the one with the greatest appetite and so would always throw any leftovers onto my plate whether I asked for it or not!)

Aida Maria dining area
Aida Maria dining area

The boat was like a mini-hotel. The cabins were small, but had AC and our sheets were changed daily. We were given towels and soap. Each cabin was ensuite with a poky shower and toilet. Get this... the shower had HOT WATER! I kid you not. There was also NO QUOTA on water usage (all drinkable I might add) which I thought was bizarre, yet during the whole 3 day period we never ran out, and water was plentiful. The interior of the boat was stained redwood. The staff all had a uniform of white golf tee with blue bermuda shorts. There was even an expected "etiquette" as I was to find out fairly promptly when I was "corrected" for being topless at the dinner table. Hmmm ok so not quite like the dive boats in Oz in those terms.

Educating oneself
Educating oneself

Each day we would be given a briefing of where we were heading and at what times. Any hours between trips, we were left to our own devices and I would typically sit out on the solarium, enjoying the great views of the volcanic islands, while reading up on the natural history. It was so enjoyable to be able to sit back and do NOTHING, as it seems I've been constantly busy on this trip so far.

All in all, a high class trip, making a nice break from the backpacker life, and a particularly good boat which I recommend you check out. Here's the website.

2 Comments for this Travel blog entry

sis Says:

28 February 2010

Hey Pete - you ok on Galapagos islands after earthquake??? looking forward to see turtle pics. Mum dad arrive tomorrow evening... yippie! :)
N xx

Mum Says:

28 February 2010

Hi Peter, hope you are having a great time on the 'cruise' - no doubt you'll get some fantastic pics. We are getting a bit concerned about your safety after the Chilean earthquake! So hope to hear from you that all is ok, we go Dubai in am 1/3/10 luv

peterforan Replies:

1 March 2010

We had a scare when the Tsunami took place yesterday, but all was ok.. phew!

South America Twenty Ten

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  • Santa Cruz ...

    Galapagos...

    Ecuador

    Santa Cruz   Tame iguana everywhere
  • Santa Cruz ...

    Galapagos...

    Ecuador

    Santa Cruz   Marine iguana
  • Santa Cruz ...

    Galapagos...

    Ecuador

    Santa Cruz   Baby sealion
  • Las...

    Galapagos...

    Ecuador

    Las Tintorellas   Marine iguanas