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Trip Report-Galapagos-December 2021

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Trip Report-Galapagos-December 2021
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After rescheduling our trip to the Galapagos two times due to Covid, my spouse and I were finally able to visit in December 2021. The total trip, including travel days, was 13 days. We landed at the Quito airport on Saturday night and stayed at the Zaysant Ecolodge before returning to the airport the next morning. Zaysant is approximately 20 minutes from the airport. They arranged for a taxi driver to meet us when exiting the airport. Fare was $15 plus tip.

The next day we had a free breakfast at Zaysant (very good) and they arranged a taxi to take us back to the airport. The airline suggested we be at the airport 2 hours before our departure to the Galapagos. Once entering the airport, we turned right to go thru health screening where they reviewed our vaccination cards (and with recent changes in the rules, I assume proof of a Covid test will be required as well).

After health screening, we had our baggage x-rayed, then went across the room to purchase our Transit Control Cards ($20 cash per person). Next we obtained our boarding cards from a LATAM kiosk and dropped off our checked bags at the LATAM counter. Our bags were zip tied shut at x-ray so make sure you have access to something to cut the ties once you arrive at your destination. Going thru airport security was fairly standard - PCs and tablets out of your bag, no shoe removal required.

Once we arrived at Baltra, we went through immigration where we paid the $100 per person park fee in cash. There is an area at Baltra where luggage is dropped. You have to wait for a canine to sniff the bags (looking for fresh food I assume) before you can grab your bag. Once outside the airport, there is a ticket booth on the right that sells tickets for the bus ($5 per person). The bus then takes you to a water taxi where you must pay $1 per person to cross the channel to Santa Cruz. Then you will have a choice of taking the public bus or a white pickup taxi to drive to Puerto Ayora.

We booked all of our transportation and day trips through www.book-ec.com. I cannot recommend them highly enough. For example our taxi driver met us at the airport to make sure we manuevered through the bus and water taxi ride. We paid extra for a Highlands Tour on the way to our hotel which included Los Gemelos and Reserva El Chato. Los Gemelos is two collapsed craters/sinkholes that were formed by a series of eruptions when the islands were still active. Very pretty and nice for a short hike.

Reserva El Chato, open 8a-5p. Highly recommended. $5 pp fee plus $5 pp tip to the guide. We saw giant land tortoises in the wild and an array of birds. We also walked thru a lava tunnel which has lights (no flashlight required). As with all of our tours, comfortable shoes are required that provide good traction on rock. We wore tennis shoes which were fine.

The taxi driver then dropped us off at our hotel, Estrella de Mar. My hotel review - pros - excellent location close to the pier, great view of the sea if you get a room facing the ocean, very clean, comfortable beds (if you like hard beds-which I do), reasonably priced and accepted credit cards (we use booking.com for reservations, always looking for free cancellation). Cons - the air conditioner did not work. This wasn’t a huge deal due to moderate temperatures but I like it cold to sleep. Bathroom was in pretty bad shape- took 5-10 minutes to get hot water. Internet coverage was poor but I think that is true for most places in the Galapagos. Doors and windows didn’t seal so all of the smoke from a guy on the balcony went into our room.

The next day we walked to the Darwin Research Center about 1.5 km or 20 minutes from town. On the way, we stopped to look at a very interesting cemetery and the ceramic alley. The Darwin Center opens at 7 am, and as of November requires you to take a guide for $10 each. The center is a Tortoise breeding center which has the body of the last Pinta Island Tortoise is here, the famous “Lonesome George”. They suggest getting there early on Monday, Wednesday or Friday for a chance to see them feed the tortoises where they are much more active. You can buy souvenirs, purchase a snack and get a Galapagos stamp on your passport at the museum. Open every day at 8am-12:30pm and 2:30pm-5:50pm.

On the way back from the Darwin Center we stopped at the “Playa De La Estacion” (Station Beach). It had a nice view but the beach is rocky and the waves were strong. I would not get in the water there.

That afternoon we walked to Tortuga Bay beach. Be prepared for a long walk. Take plenty of water and sunscreen and wear comfortable shoes. The beach is open from 6am to 5 pm. Walk to the end of Charles Binford St (kiosks st) until you reach the registration point at the entrance (last chance to use the toilet). The 1.5 km walk is fairly flat and you are walking on paver stones. The first beach is beautiful but the waves are too strong to swim there. Keep walking down the beach (approximately 1 more km) until you reach the lagoon where you can swim or rent kayaks. The kayak rental was $10 per person per hour. Lots of marine iguanas and birds. If you don’t want to walk the entire way you can also take a water taxi to and from the bay but they don’t run very often so check the schedule at the pier.

The next day we took a day trip to North Seymour. We met at the pier at 7:30 am, then took a small bus with 15 other people to the boat at the Ithaca channel. We wore our swimsuits under our clothes and took baseball caps and sunscreen and sunglasses and wore comfortable shoes. The tour provided snorkel gear and you could rent wetsuits for $5 once on board the boat. Drinking water was provided on the boat, along with a light snack and lunch.

Our first stop was North Seymour Island where we saw nesting frigate birds, blue footed boobies, large land iguanas, and various plants (1.5h walk). Note: there is no dock on North Seymour so be prepared to step from a dingy onto the rocks. Later we stopped at Mosquera beach for snorkeling with sea lions. The sea lions were very curious and kept nibbling at the snorkelers feet. Great experience. We returned to the hotel at 6 pm.

The next day we walked on Darwin street away from the pier to see the Puerto Ayora Fisherman’s Market. We saw sea lions, marine iguanas, pelicans and herons. In the early morning the trees are full of pelicans. Very interesting place. We then walked over to Lagunas de Ninfas which was closed for repairs.

That afternoon we took a Bay Tour which costs $30 per person plus $10 to rent a wetsuit (which I recommend as it makes the cold water bearable). We hadn’t planned this trip ahead of time but scheduled it last minute from one of the vendors along Darwin Street. The boat first took us to La Loberia to see sea lions from the boat, then to a spot to snorkel. It was good snorkeling (not great like the Caribbean) and at 60 I am no longer keen on snorkeling in choppy water. Next we stopped at Las Grietas for a short walk to a beautiful place to snorkel. The water was calm here, fish were ok to look at, but a beautiful location. Then we took a short walk to see marine iguanas everywhere, blue footed boobies on the rocks and a viewing point for many, many white tipped sharks. A very enjoyable tour for not a lot of money.

After we returned from the Bay Tour we walked the pier after dark and once again saw many white tipped sharks in the water.

The following day, we took the 3 pm ferry from Santa Cruz to Isabela. The trip takes about 2 to 2.5 hours. Pre-buy your tickets ($32 per person one way). Approximately 30 minutes to an hour prior to boarding time someone will setup a lectern in the concrete area in front of the pier. There will be two lecterns - one for San Cristobal and one for Isabela. A man will check your name off the list and ask for $1. He will then give you a lanyard and boarding ticket. You will then stand in a line until someone tells you to move forward. It is very unorganized so be patient and follow the crowd. The crowd will go through a very small building where your luggage will be x-rayed (I am assuming for fruit) and your suitcase will be zip tied. Then you will take your suitcase and wait in another line for the water taxi. Once you are in the water taxi, they will ask for an additional $1. The water taxi will take you to a bigger boat where you and your luggage will board.

I had heard nightmares about traveling on choppy seas so I was prepared with a Scopalomine patch from my doctor plus some non drowsy dramamine. We were also lucky enough to get seats on the back of the boat. The water was fairly smooth that day and no one got motion sick. It was very cold on the back of the boat so I recommend a rain jacket and a waterproof covering for things like camera bags.

When you arrive at Isabela you will take a water taxi to the pier (have your dollars ready). Passengers unload first, then bags. Once you have your bags, go to the desk to pay an additional $10 per person “entrance fee”. While you could walk to town there were taxis waiting.

We stayed at Hotel Starfish. It is not on the beach but otherwise was very nice. It appears to be new. No TV but ok Wifi. The bed was comfortable and the air conditioner worked great. The owner was very friendly and there was fresh water in the lobby. They only take cash but the room was very reasonably priced. I would definitely stay here again.

The next day was a day trip to Los Tuneles. We were picked up at the hotel at 7:15 am and taken to a place to try on wetsuits and get snorkel gear. We then drove to the pier and took a 45 minute boat ride to the tunnels. We floated through the area, then got out of the boat to walk around and see white tipped sharks, sea turtles and blue boobies. We then got back in the boat and went to another location to snorkel for 1.5 hours. Snorkeling was incredible-we saw manta rays, white tipped sharks, sea turtles, seahorses, octopus and lots of fish. Then we got back on the boat where we were provided towels and a typical tortilla lunch. Then we were dropped off at our hotel around 12:30. Our guide, Darwin, was great-he took pictures with his go pro of everything we saw and uploaded the pictures to our phones before we left the boat.

In the afternoon we walked by Laguna Salinas where we saw a few flamingos, feeding in the distance. Then we walked the boardwalk trail to “Centre de Crianza Arnaldo Tupiza” (Tortoise Breeding Centre). It is a nice trail and we saw several flamingos close to the walkway. Once at the Breeding Center we had to register and pay $10 per person for a guide. This Centre is very small and probably not worth a visit if you already visited El Chato or the Darwin Research Center on Santa Cruz.

The following day we rented bicycles to ride to the “Muro de las Lagrimas”. There are several bike rental places in town and all charge $10 to rent for a half day. Just ride west along the beach and you will see signs for the trail. There are several well marked trails off the main trail where you can look at the ocean or look for animals. The only animals we saw were giant tortoises and marine iguanas. One of the stops was at “Pozas De Las Diablas” (Pools of the Devils). We heard there might be flamingos there but there were none today. The place we found the most flamingos was on the trail to the Tortoise Breeding Center.

At the end of the trail is the wall of tears. Definitely worth going to the end of the trail. It look us two hours to get to the wall (due to all the stops) and one hour to return (only one stop and more downhill). When the trail was close to the beach, the sand got pretty deep and we had to stop and walk the bikes. Definitely take plenty of water with you.

The next day was a half day trip to Las Tintoreras. We were picked up from the hotel at 9 am to take us to the pier. During a 40 minute boat ride (round trip) we circled the bay and saw penguins, blue footed boobies, sea lions, marine iguanas in the water, sea turtles, etc. Then we stopped at Tintoreras island to walk around. We saw many white tipped sharks in a channel, marine iguanas, sea turtles, rays, etc. On the third part of the tour, the group snorkeled. Water was very cold-wetsuit recommended. The water was a little murky this day, but it was worth it as penguins and sharks swam alongside us as we snorkeled. The tour took about 3 hours-no food provided.

Instead of taking the free ride back to our hotel, we stopped at Laguna Conches y Perla. It’s easy to see the sign from the waiting areas for tours on the pier. This is a great place to snorkel as the water is very clear and there are steps leading into the water. A Galapagos guide was at the entrance to remind us to wear masks and get our names and passport numbers. We saw several sea lions and iguanas on the way. One sea lion even crawled upon the boardwalk to sniff my leg. We stopped to get empanadas and ice cream afterwards but the prices were more than in town. Then we walked back to town.

The following day, we took the 6 am Ferry from Puerto Villamil to Puerto Ayora.

As before there are multiple ferries leaving at the same time so make sure you are in line for the correct ship name. Arrived back in Puerto Ayora at 8 am. Killed time until our prearranged taxi picked us up at 11 am to go to the airport. We flew back to Quito on LATAM and Zaysant Ecolodge scheduled a taxi to take us to the hotel.

The next day, we took a private tour of Mindo Cloud Forest outside Quito with Guidecuador. After a three hour drive from our hotel we got to the Mindo area to the waterfall sanctuary. Usually the guide takes the cable car to the hiking trailhead, but the cable car was out of service. I was happy because I have a fear of heights and wasn’t keen on taking a cable car. Instead we hiked to the first waterfall about 2 miles round trip. The hike was up and down and difficult for a 60 year old not in good shape. If you are fit and enjoy hiking there are lots of trails to hike there. Take a light rain jacket as it frequently rains there and take plenty of water.

After the hike we went into Mindo town to eat lunch at El Cheff (very good food and reasonably priced). Then we went to the orchid/butterfly/hummingbird place. Only a few orchids were blooming (prime season is September) and the butterfly house was ok, but not as good as many in the states. The area for hummingbirds and other small birds was very nice however and worth the $5 entry fee.

Next we went to a small shop that makes chocolate bars. For $8 pp we were shown the process of making chocolate from beans. The best part was hot chocolate to start the tour and tasting samples to end the tour. The entire trip to Mindo was 10 hours.

The next day, the hotel manager at Zaysant arranged to have a doctor come to the hotel for our Covid-19 test in order to return to the United States. We showed our passports, the doctor administered the test and we got the results in our email 12 hours later. Flew home the next day. Wonderful trip – definitely worth the wait!

Advice

• USD is standard currency of Ecuador. Take lots of cash, especially smaller bills (10s, 5s, 1s). Lots of places (especially restaurants) don’t take credit cards, even if they advertise that they do.

• We did see an ATM on Isabela even though we had heard that none existed.

• Use book-ec for your transportation and day tour scheduling. Due to Covid this trip was fully rescheduled three times. Johanna at Book-ec rescheduled everything for us and made sure any credits transferred.

• Be prepared to speak at least a few sentences in Spanish as some vendors speak no English at all.

• Getting in and out of boats can be tricky. My advice is to do balance and upper body strengthening exercises months before vacationing here.

• If you are worried about things getting wet, use a dry bag.

• Get clarity upfront on which day tours with snorkeling provide wet suits and which do not. Some said they did not provide wetsuits, yet they did and vice versa.

• Don’t plan on snorkeling the last day of your trip unless you are prepared to deal with wet clothes

• Pack light.

• Don’t drink the water.

• Apply reef safe sunscreen liberally and often Don’t forget the back of your neck as it is very easy to burn here

• Internet is very slow everywhere. Plan ahead to have all trip info, books,etc on paper or downloaded locally to your phone.

• Take tissues with you to use if bathrooms don’t have toilet paper. Some charge for toilet paper but you need exact change.

22 replies to this topic
Tucson, Arizona
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for Quito, Ecuador
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13,704 posts
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1. Re: Trip Report-Galapagos-December 2021
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Great trip report, lots of good details and advice. I'll add it to the Top Questions. It will be helpful to future travelers.

San Francisco...
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2. Re: Trip Report-Galapagos-December 2021
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Indeed a superlative report worthy of special thanks to the author.

We plan to stay much longer than you did and will go diving. Bringing your own wetsuits and snorkeling gear is a must.

Is the food inspection for EVERYTHING? No snacks or foods at all allowed or just no fresh fruits? We like to do self catering and stay at Airbnbs and bring lot of foods from US.

Vienna, Austria
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3. Re: Trip Report-Galapagos-December 2021
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Hi Carol,

special thanks for your super trip report.

Greetings Günther

Orlando, Florida
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4. Re: Trip Report-Galapagos-December 2021
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Hi Carol

Thank you for the detailed report.

New York City, New...
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5. Re: Trip Report-Galapagos-December 2021
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So much great info here! Thanks.

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6. Re: Trip Report-Galapagos-December 2021
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Hi Carol, how much did you pay for los tonneles?

San Francisco...
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7. Re: Trip Report-Galapagos-December 2021
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Great trip report! I am not a good swimmer, but I do want to snorkel for a bit. Do the tours provide life vests?

Thank you in advance!

Estero, Florida
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8. Re: Trip Report-Galapagos-December 2021
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Thanks for great details!

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9. Re: Trip Report-Galapagos-December 2021
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Carol Bock, thanks a lot, but one more intresting question - did you show your vaccination card and Covid test on pater or in electronic form on screen?

Saint Louis...
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10. Re: Trip Report-Galapagos-December 2021
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You will have to check the official rules but we were able to bring lots of prepackaged snacks with no problem

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