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A Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

For many visitors, a cruise is a popular way to see the marvellous Galapagos islands. There are lots of options available, from bigger ships (up to around 100 passengers) to smaller motor yachts. But what if cruising isn’t for you? Mitch is a pathetic sailor and gets incredibly seasick, even on seas that aren’t very rough. We had long wanted to visit the Galapagos but were put off for a long time by the prospect of travelling in boats. Sleeping in a bed that didn’t move was a high priority! So we explored options for a Galapagos land based itinerary.

While it is possible to take a predominantly land based trip to the Galapagos we do recommend some boat excursions as there are many islands to visit and each has different characteristics and a diverse array of wildlife. There are quite a few that are reachable within a couple of hours’ boat journey from the large island of Santa Cruz so it is possible to do a number of day trips, which means you can explore some of the other islands without spending too much time on a boat. It is possible to fly between some of the islands (Baltra, which serves Santa Cruz, San Christobal and Isabela) but flight prices can be expensive, luggage size restrictive and the flight times aren’t always reliable.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

Where Are The Galapagos?

The Galapagos are an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean and a province of Ecuador. Located around 1000km from the west coast of Ecuador, these volcanic islands are located in the Pacific Ring of Fire and formed over several millions of years due to the immense volcanic activity in the area. They are still geologically active, with some 13 active volcanoes.

Naturalist Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos islands in 1835 on the second voyage of the Beagle and his study of the local finches formed the basis of his work The Origin of the Species. He observed that the finches from each island had noticeable variations in the development of their beaks due to the different types of food available and variation in the living conditions. This led to him developing the theory of evolution.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

The islands are rightly famous for their unique wildlife. What is magical about visiting the Galapagos is that the animals haven’t learned to fear humans so you can get really close to them. In fact, you really have to look out to make sure you don’t accidentally step on an iguana! The Galapagos were established as a national park in 1959 and the wildlife and ecosystems are fiercely protected. They are a UNESCO world heritage site.

We made our own way to the Galapagos via Ecuador’s capital, Quito, but found a local company that could arrange excursions for us. We recommend booking hotels and day trips in advance of travel to be sure of getting a place on the tours.


Most people fly into the Galapagos from mainland Ecuador, either Quito or Guayaquil. There are airports on Baltra and San Christobal. Before leaving the domestic terminal your luggage will be checked for restricted items by Tourist Control and Certification. This will cost $20 US.

The aim of this check is to protect the wildlife of the Galapagos. Therefore it is important to ensure that you aren’t carrying any animal products, plants or seeds into the islands. It’s inadvisable to bring food. Pre-wrapped snacks will probably be okay but don’t bring things like sandwiches with meat/cheese products.

We flew into Baltra airport. On arrival you will go through immigration and pay the $100 entrance fee.

Luggage usually isn’t collected straight away – when we arrived the whole plane’s worth of luggage was placed inside the terminal building and no one was allowed to pick up their bags until a sniffer dog had had a really good snuffle to smell for restricted items. After the security guards give the okay, it then turns into a bit of a scrum as everyone dives for their possessions. It’s definitely worth waiting for the chaos to subside.

Then everyone boards a coach which transports you across the stark island of Baltra to a ferry for a very short journey across the Itacaba channel to Santa Cruz. The crossing takes around 5-10 minutes. Then it’s a 45 minute bus ride to the main town of Puerto Ayora. After a quick lunch, we headed directly to the port to catch a boat to Isabela.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary: A Couple of Days on Isabela

Isabela is the largest island and also the youngest, a mere one million years old. We had arranged a couple of nights there, travelling from Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. This was the worst boat journey and, frankly, it was an endurance. The total travel time is a couple of hours but it was the most bumpy we experienced. When the crew handed out sick bags to all the passengers we knew the trip was going to be rough. And indeed it was. Mitch became reacquainted with her lunch as we bounced across the relentless waves.

If you are prone to seasickness we recommend sitting at the back of the boat, outside where you can see the horizon, and where it is more stable and less susceptible to bouncing. Sit on the right-hand side on the way out and the left-hand side on the way back if you can. That way you’ll avoid getting wet – the waves are quite relentless and the spray regularly sloshes over the side of the boat. It does depend on where other passengers are sitting though – seats aren’t guaranteed, so you might want to arrive at the dock early and get to the front of the queue.

It was such a rough voyage that neither of us were having a fun time at all. (A couple of days later we bumped into some people who had been on that boat. They mentioned that it was good to see us enjoying a hearty meal and looking much happier!)

However, on arriving at Isabela, the seasickness vanished as we stepped onto the landing platform, carefully avoiding a couple of iguanas, before spotting some sea lions snoozing on a seashore bench.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

Day 1 Isabela

A full day trip to Los Tuneles is a perfect introduction to the island. This involved a short boat ride, in inshore waters, to the lava formations on the south coast of the island. The area looks mysterious as the lava has formed tunnels and arches along the shoreline. Cacti protrude defiantly from the stark rocky lava.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

It’s possible to disembark and walk on the lava. We were delighted to encounter the famous blue boobies engaged in their courting ritual. So absorbed by each other, they were totally unperturbed by onlooking visitors.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

He shows her his blue feet and she admires them.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

If she is satisfied with the blueness of his feet, she will honk her approval and they will form a pair. They are just adorable.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

Then it was time to return to the boat, sail along the coastline and then jump into the sea to go snorkelling. Our first encounter with marine life was coming face to face with a turtle.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

We also saw some sharks snoozing in an underwater cave.

galapagos shark

Tip: If you are not confident jumping out of a boat and swimming in open water, the boat company will provide lifejackets which you can wear while snorkelling to give you buoyancy. They are really effective and mean that even those who aren’t strong swimmers can still enjoy wildlife encounters in the water.

You might want to hire a wetsuit for the snorkelling. We hired one on the first day but found the water to be really warm so just wore our swimsuits for all the other water-based activities.

Day 2 Isabela

The day started with a quick trip to see the flamingos at the Puerto Villamil salt lagoons. These reminded us of the Three Graces.

Then it was onto Las Tintoreras, an islet located on the eastern side of the island, which was a very short boat ride across the bay. There is a path to follow around the island.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

Lots of marine iguanas reside here. These are the only lizards that spend time in the water. They feed on algae at low tide and need to warm up in the sun. So they regulate their temperature by sunbathing.

You can also watch them sneezing salt. Because they feed in the sea, they take in a huge amount of salt water, so they have special glands that remove it. They need to retain the water but expel the salt, so have developed this sneezing/spitting mechanism.  

There is a bay where more tintoreras sharks hang out.

And some sea lions on the beach, some of which were feeling very vocal.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

It’s possible to enjoy snorkelling in the shallow bay. If you’re lucky you’ll chance upon a turtle in addition to colourful fish and starfish.

Then in the afternoon, we hired some mountain bikes and enjoyed cycling around the Humedales complex. This comprises a series of trails that you can explore. Be careful not to cycle over an iguana, they don’t really care for observing the trails as they sunbathe.

Other Things to Do on Isabela

A popular activity is to hike the Sierra Negra volcano. The name translates to ‘black mountain’ and this is an active volcano. Apparently it has the second largest caldera in the world. It’s around a 10km walk through volcanic landscapes with some interesting plants to see along the way.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary – Five Days Based on Santa Cruz

We caught an early morning bumpy boat back to Santa Cruz. We managed to get a seat at the back of the boat this time, but it was on the right hand side, so got a thorough soaking. Still, it was better than being sick. Our itinerary allowed for a couple of days to explore Santa Cruz island itself and then enjoy day trips to other islands over the next three days.

We were based in Puerto Ayora, a compact town with plenty of choices for hotels and restaurants.

Day 3 On Santa Cruz

This trip took us to the centre of the island. First we stopped off at Los Gameles, twin volcanic craters that were once underground magma chambers following an eruption. Over the years they caved in, leaving these dramatic hollows.

The interior of Santa Cruz is one of the locations where the famous Galapagos tortoises live. Indeed the archipelago was named for these remarkable creatures, ‘galapago’ meaning tortoise in Spanish. The tortoises are amongst the longest lived animals in the world; they can live for over 100 years in the wild and up to 177 years in captivity. There are tortoises to be found on seven of the islands and the differences in their observed shape and size contributed to the development of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

The tortoises are slow moving and spend much of their time grazing and also bathing in mud, clearly a very pleasurable life for them.

You are allowed to get within a couple of metres of the tortoise but no more. They are fascinating to watch.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

Day 4 on Santa Cruz

The morning involved enjoying a good walk and some beach time on the snowy white sands of Tortuga Bay Beach, just 45 minutes away from the centre of town.

Brava Beach has a wide beach to walk along where you can see marine iguana…

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

…and Playa Mansa has a natural pool surrounded by mangroves. It’s perfect for bathing.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

Later, we enjoyed a short boat trip around the bay. Then we visited the Canal del Amor view point and onto Punta Estrada where we could view the wildlife at Playa de los Perros.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

Three Islands to Explore From Santa Cruz

The next three days were dedicated to day trips to explore some of the islands closest to Santa Cruz. This involved a hotel pickup, and then a 45 minute drive to the Itabaca channel to our boat, the Queen Karen. This was a 16-seater boat which was perfect for the day trips – not too many people, just a nice group size for exploring the islands and enough to enjoy the company of other wildlife enthusiasts, for the day.

There are rules for visiting the islands in order to protect the wildlife and eco-system. You must stay with a registered guide and it is very important to remain on the paths, particularly during the breeding season because birds and other creatures may be nesting.

Day 5 North Seymour

North Seymour is a very short boat ride from Santa Cruz, just beyond Baltra (where the airport is located). This fabulous little island was a great place to see blue-footed boobies nesting.

This lady was sitting on her egg, totally unperturbed by the plethora of people parading past.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

It was also the perfect time of year to see the Great and Magnificent Frigate Birds strutting their funky stuff. The males have a scarlet neck pouch which they inflate and parade about in the hope that the ladies will admire and choose to mate with them. One female was clearly enamoured!

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

Day 6 Bartolome

Bartolome is a tiny island just off the coast of Santiago island. This was the longest day at sea – it took around two hours to reach this picturesque island from Santa Cruz. We were lucky that the sea was incredibly calm.

As we hopped off the boat to climb to the viewpoint we had to step over some Sally Lightfoot crabs and an obstinate but friendly sea lion.

The climb to the top isn’t challenging and the view of Pinncale Rock from the top is lovely.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

Then we hopped back on the boat to cross to Sullivan Bay to visit the lava fields on Santiago itself. You can really get a feel for the dynamic flow of the lava. This is relatively recent lava, believed to have flowed in the late-19th century. It appears frozen in time.

There was always an opportunity to go swimming/snorkelling and we enjoyed a couple of hours in the bay. The Galapagos are home to the world’s northernmost penguins, in fact, the only penguins that can be found in the northern hemisphere. The cold Humboldt and Cromwell sea currents mean that they are able to survive in the relatively warm temperatures. They are the second smallest penguin species.

It’s a terrible photo but we did manage to capture a shot of one having a swim in the clear blue water.

Day 7 South Plazas

North and South Plazas are located to the east of Santa Cruz and we travelled along the Itabaca channel to reach them.  The tide was perfect for us to land on South Plazas.

The landscape is gorgeous and the plant life here is very interesting. The ground is covered with the deep red of sesuvium and the prickly pear cacti provide a wonderful contrast.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

We saw land iguanas…

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

…Nazca boobies…

…and Swallow-tailed gulls making a nest. He is gathering stones as she looks on with approval.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

Along the shoreline we saw some sealions, including a baby. They were all very conscious of the local sharks patrolling the area.

Galapagos Land Based Itinerary

After the island visit we went snorkelling close to the Itabaca Channel to find some tintoreras sharks for ourselves. These sharks aren’t dangerous to humans and it was wonderful to bathe in the warm water and watch the sharks swim underneath us.

Galapagos Travelling Tips

Avoiding Boats Altogether

It’s impossible to avoid boats altogether if visting Santa Cruz as you need to cross the Itabaca Channel from Baltra island when you fly in. But that’s a very short and serene 10 minute journey. There are plenty of things to do on Santa Cruz – you will certainly see sea lions, iguanas, loads of birds and, of course, the giant tortoises. It is possible to fly between Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Christobal but costs are expensive.

Advantages of a Land Based Tour

If you can cope with going on a boat for a short time the day trips will ensure you get to experience the diversity of the islands as well as see lots of different species of wildlife. We managed to visit six islands whilst minimising our time on boats to a couple of hours at a time. The Santa Cruz to Isabela journey was definitely the worst trip but we were so pleased to have visited Isabela – it was amazing to see the wildlife there, especially the boobies.

Obviously budgets vary from person to person, but a land based tour can also be cheaper. We often find that local companies are able to offer good deals on accommodation and/or excursions. We do recommend booking excursions in advance though, especially if you are likely to be travelling in the busy season.

If you’re staying in Santa Cruz, there are lots of options for places to eat and plenty of hotels in Puerto Ayora. Enjoying excursions during the daytime means that there is time to explore the local area, dine out and enjoy a drink or two in the evenings.

Land-based tours are more flexible and you can change the itinerary if you wish (and there is availability). You can also schedule in some relaxation, especially if you wish to enjoy time on the beach.

Disadvantages of a Land Based Tour

The biggest disadvantage is that you won’t be able to reach the further islands. Cruises are pretty efficient in that you can sail during the night to arrive at an island in the morning and thus have more time to explore.

Another advantage is that, although cruises can be expensive, they are usually fully inclusive, so you know how much you will be expecting to pay for your trip, whereas with land based tours you will need to account for additional spending money.

When to Visit the Galapagos?

The Galapagos region has two main seasons: June to November are cool and dry whereas December to May are hot and rainy. High season runs from June to early September, then mid-December to mid-January.

There is not really a bad time to visit the Galapagos. The nature is simply spectacular all year round but if there is a particular animal or bird you wish to see it is worth checking when they are most likely to be observed.

If you are cruising, consider how rough the sea might be. August and September are likely to have the choppiest waters, although cruises will still be available at that time. (There might be discounts available.)

It’s also worth thinking about which creatures you might see at a particular time of year and what they are likely to be doing. We visited during the breeding season for many of the birds, so saw the males showing off to their mates – it was particularly lovely seeing the blue-footed booby courtship ritual. Other times of the year you will see young birds and animals. Different creatures will have different breeding seasons. And some migratory species will only visit at a particular time of year.

What Costs do I Need to Consider?

Aside from transport, accommodation, food/drink and excursions, there are a number of compulsory fees. Current costs per person are:

Galapagos Entry Fee (payable on arrival) $100 US

Isabela Docking Fee – $10 US

Migratory Control Card – $20 US

Transportation Baltra Airport – Itabaca Channel – $5 US

Transportation Itabaca Channel – Baltra Airport – $5 US

Water taxi from dock to boat (depending on the tide) – $ 1 US per person per ride


Ecuador’s currency is the US dollar, so no need to worry about exchanging currency if you are travelling from the USA.

There are cash machines on Santa Cruz but they are not always reliable, so we suggest taking cash. There are no cash machines on Isabela.

What to Bring

Aside from your usual clothes and toiletries we recommend:

Swimming gear as there were a lot of excursions where we jumped off a boat into the clear blue sea. We didn’t need wetsuits as we found the water to be delightfully warm, but then we are used to swimming in the cold English Channel. If you think you are likely to feel the cold you can usually hire a wetsuit from the tour company. But we did wear a t-shirt over our conventional swimwear so as to protect our backs and shoulders from the sun. (We tended to wear the previous day’s smelly old t-shirt in the sea then rinse it out in the hotel bathroom.)

If you wear glasses it’s worth considering getting prescription goggles for snorkelling. Colin was massively disappointed, not that a 2m long shark swam beneath him, but because he was too short-sighted to see it!

Sun protection – sunscreen (we recommend at least Factor 30+ and also consider using waterproof sunscreen that is kind to the marine environment) and a sun hat. The sun is strong in this part of the world and you can get burned easily, even on a cloudy day.

Waterproof/beach shoes/flip-flops. There are a lot of opportunities to spend time on beaches or rocky outcrops. Waterproof shoes are also useful when you are changing into and out of swimming gear when snorkelling.

Travel towels are useful, although some tour companies can provide towels.

Camera with a decent zoom. If you have a waterproof camera bring that along. If you don’t have a waterproof camera we reckon it’s worth investing in one, even if it’s a cheap one. We enjoyed snorkelling on most of the excursions and coming face to face with a turtle or a shark is such a magical experience you’ll want to capture that moment. A phone camera may well be just fine for you, we appreciated having a wrist strap as we were on boats a lot and didn’t want to drop the phone into the water.

If you are prone to seasickness, consider whether there might be remedies that might help. There are all sorts of options, from pills to wristbands to patches. These will likely be personal for you.

Bring your regular medication including some spares. You may find that the medical facilities on the islands are more limited than in your country. Also consider whether you have suitable travel insurance for your needs.


It is possible to access the internet on Santa Cruz but it’s not great on Isabela. Enjoy being offline for a while!

Dining on the Galapagos

You’re most definitely visiting the Galapagos for the wildlife and not the food! But the main towns of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz and Villamil on Isabela have a variety of restaurants which offer menus to suit varying budgets. Seafood was plentiful and we found a few places that offered good value meals.

It’s fun watching the fishing boats come in to land their catch at the seafood market in Puerto Ayora. There will always be plenty of birds – and sometimes a sea lion – waiting for any random tidbits that might come their way.

Galapagos boobies
Boobies on Isabela
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Visit Quito, Ecuador

A Great Latitude

The remarkable Galapagos Islands are undoubtedly Ecuador’s top tourist attraction and many trips to the islands start out from Quito. The city itself has plenty to offer the visitor. We were lucky enough to undertake a largely land-based Galapagos tour but gave ourselves a couple of days on the Ecuadorian mainland before and after this trip, predominantly to give ourselves some days in hand in order to make sure we could catch our connecting flights, but also because we wanted to explore the city and surrounding area. There are all sorts of day trips available in and around the capital when you visit Quito.

Visit Quito

Quito is the second highest capital city in the world, located virtually on the equator and at an altitude of 2850m above sea level. If you’ve not spent time at that altitude it is really important to take it easy, even climbing a flight of stairs can leave you a little breathless when you first arrive. Many hotels in South American countries offer coca tea which is supposed to help with the effects of altitude sickness, although if you do feel ill make sure you seek medical attention.

When you visit Quito, the Centro Histórico is a great place to stay. San Francisco de Quito was founded by Sebastián de Benalcázar in 1534 and the colonial architecture is considered to be so important that the city is designated a UNESCO world heritage site (along with Krakow in Poland). It also has some of the best bars and restaurants in the city. Our hotel had a good view over Santo Domingo Plaza, one of many colonial plazas.

It is very pleasant just wandering through the city.

Basílica del Voto Nacional – Basilica of the National Vow, a Roman Catholic church, is located atop a hill. Apparently it is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas and is still officially unfinished. There is a local legend that when it is finally completed the end of the world will be nigh.

La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, known locally as la Compañía, is a Jesuit church which was completed in 1765. Its interior is decorated with wood carvings, gilded plaster and gold leaf in an astonishingly ornate style.

The Plaza de Indepencia is a focal point with its expansive square.

There are lots of shops and restaurants in the area but, notably, just around the corner from the Plaza is a chocolate shop which offers the most amazing chocolate delicacies. To be fair, there are loads of chocolate shops offering amazing chocolate delicacies (Central and South American countries are quite rightly famous for their chocolate), but it was in this one that we discovered Pacari chocolate. The chocolate isn’t cheap but it’s the best quality we’ve ever tried. The company is really ethical as well; a fair trade organisation they support local farmers in Ecuador by paying a good wage and working with them directly. The chocolate is also 100% organic and absolutely stonkingly delicious.

We brought home a multitude of different chocolate bars: the ‘pure’ choc – at 60% cacao – but also some of the flavoured ones. Many are flavoured with fruits: passion fruit and cherry really captured the flavours of the fruit, lemon verbena’s zing was a lovely contrast with the smooth, silky chocolate. We had enjoyed corn in various guises throughout our trip so toasted corn kernels in the chocolate added a satisfying crunch and the corn flavour also came through very well. Of course we had to try the chilli chocolate. It’s surprisingly subtle – the first flavour you taste is that of dark chocolate then, after a few seconds comes a gentle warmth (definitely not the fiery heat of a chilli) that lingers on the palette long after the chocolate has gone.

It is possible to buy Pacari chocolate around the world (they also try to offset their carbon footprint) but we’ve found that it is significantly more expensive than in Quito (and it’s pretty expensive in Quito, but emphatically worth every cent), so if you do find yourself in Ecuador, we recommend stuffing every square centimetre of spare space in your luggage with the chocolate before you travel home.

Visit Quito – City Tour

There are lots of city tours available when you visit Quito and most hotels will be able to put you in touch with a company that can suit your budget, whether it’s a group tour or a private guide. Some of the guides are very flexible and can adapt a standard tour to suit your interests so it’s definitely worth asking what options are available.

The Equator is one of the most popular tourist attractions (after all, the word Ecuador means ‘equator’) and it’s difficult not get excited at being able to stand in both the northern and southern hemispheres at the same time. There are two sites, located a short drive of around 25km outside Quito. Amusingly, the official equator site at La Mitad del Mundo (the Middle of the World) isn’t quite on the equator itself, thanks to an error by a French expedition in 1736.

It seems it was the Incas who, several centuries earlier and without the use of GPS, managed to locate the correct location for the equator so we headed over to the Intiñan museum which is just a few minutes away from the incorrect official monument. The museum has an official equator line and also some exhibits showing traditional culture. You can also undertake various activities such as looking at the Coriolis Effect (whether waters swirls down a plughole clockwise, anti-clockwise or straight down depending on which hemisphere you are in – it won’t make a spot of difference), balancing an egg on a nail or walking along the equator with your eyes closed. It’s all ridiculous and hugely touristy but it’s enjoyable fun nevertheless.

Anyway, whether you are standing on the real equator or not, it’s great to take photos astride a line – whichever one it is.

We made a brief stop to view the Pululahua Crater. It’s a caldera (from an extinct volcano) although you can still see a couple of volcanic cones. The area has plenty of fertile soil so farming here is profitable. It’s possible to walk in the area – the caldera is about five km across – but we only really had time to enjoy the view.

Back in Quito, the Teleferico offers a cable car lift to the top of Cruz Loma which affords fantastic views across the city as well as ‘Volcanoes Avenue’, a splendid vista revealing fourteen peaks across the Andes… if the weather is co-operating. Otherwise it’s a nice ride up and down a mountain in a cable car! It’s located in Pichincha and the site also offers an amusement park, restaurants, a shopping centre and other activities, so there’s plenty to do if the views aren’t spectacular.

A slightly more unusual stop was a visit to the Fundación Guayasamín Museum, the house with an adjacent art gallery of local artist Oswaldo Guayasamín, widely considered to be one of Ecuador’s greatest artists. The house is located on a hill overlooking Quito in the Bellavista neighbourhood and has been left as he lived in it. It contains many artworks; his own as well as an impressive collection of pre-Columbian, colonial and modern art, and you can also see his studio. We were invited to watch a video about the artist so that we could learn about his life and works.

The adjacent gallery, known as the Chapel of Man, has an exterior on the form of a massive cube with a conical dome atop. Inside it offers multiple levels in which to explore a range of artworks. Guayasamín’s art is big and bold and very much reflects Ecuadorian landscapes and culture. He was also particularly interested in the inequalities in society and many of his works are powerful – and moving – representations of injustice. Photography wasn’t allowed inside the gallery.

Visit Quito – Day Trips Further Out

There are loads of day trips to explore the area surrounding Quito. Again, your accommodation will likely be able to help you find and book a trip that suits your interests, even if it might be at quite short notice. (We arrived from the airport late in the afternoon and managed to organise a day trip for the following morning.) Many companies offer coach trips that can pick you up from your accommodation (and a whole bunch of other tourists up from their accommodation, so bear in mind that the first hour of the trip could well involve sitting on a coach collecting people – which was fine for us as we could doze for a bit to catch up with the jetlag). But the greater the number of people that join the excursion, the lower the cost, and it’s often nice to have company on a day trip as well. Full day trips usually include lunch at a local restaurant.

Quilotoa Crater Lake

This was a full day trip, primarily to see the crater lake, which is located some 180 km from Quito. The journey takes a couple of hours direct from Quito, so other activities were incorporated into the trip to break up the day.

First stop was a market where we could see local produce for sale…

…And then onto the lake itself. It’s a caldera caused by the collapse of the volcano when it erupted in 1280. The crater filled with water over the years and now forms a lake, some 3km in diameter. It is possible to walk around the rim on a trail (it’s about 7.5 km) but we didn’t have enough time for this, so there’s a pleasant half hour stroll to the lake itself. It’s worth remembering that you are at altitude so the hike back up to the rim may take longer if you have not yet acclimatised. Also bear in mind that the sun is strong, even on a cloudy day, so make sure you have sun protection. The caldera itself is beautiful.

We also stopped off at Tigua to visit a local family home.

And in the late afternoon, as we headed back into Quito to do the reverse of the hotel pickups, we just happened to pass by the Cotopaxi volcano at sunset so the driver stopped off to let us all have a photo stop. Well, with a view like this it would have been rude not to.

Cotopaxi volcano Quito

It’s also worth noting there are lots of trips and activities at Cotopaxi – from climbing up it to mountain biking down it (at vast speed) as well as horse riding and jeep tours. Local tour operators and hotels will be available to find something that suits.

Bellavista Cloud Forest

We had long wanted to visit a cloud forest and booked directly with the organisation. They arranged a pick-up from our hotel in the central district – very early in the morning – to take us and a group of other people on a drive to the cloud forest that took a couple of hours. After breakfast at the lodge we embarked on a guided walk. Unfortunately the best time to see the birds is around 6:30am – about the time of our Quito pickup. Some people stay overnight in order to be able to take the early morning walks in order to get a greater chance of viewing the birds. It’s also worth noting that we found the experience to be expensive. Still, the walk was lovely and the guide knowledgeable. These are actually colour photos but the forest was so wonderfully cloudy they have an evocative black and white feel to them.

It was also nice to be able to see gorgeously colourful and beautifully iridescent hummingbirds, and other birds, using the feeders that were located around the lodge, flitting, darting and hovering.

Even if the Galapagos are your primary reason for visiting Ecuador, there are loads of activities in the area when you visit Quito – whether wildlife, activity or cultural – and it is definitely worth incorporating these into your itinerary if you have time.

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Boobies (and other birds) in the Galapagos

While most people tend to enjoy a cruise to see the Galapagos Islands they can be a) very expensive and b) not at all fun if you suffer seriously severe seasickness in even the slightest swell. However, it is possible to do land-based tours in these islands and while it’s difficult to avoid boats completely (well, you could, but you would be missing out), there are a number of tours that offer day trips to the closest islands (couple of hours max in a boat) which provide plenty of opportunities to see the amazing wildlife and spend the night at a comfy hotel in a bed that doesn’t move.

Santa Cruz was the starting point for the trip – on landing at the airport on Baltra, having had all luggage checked by the security dogs to ensure that no extraneous organic matter which could upset the delicate balance of the natural environment was present, we headed straight to the port, grabbed a ferry for a very short journey to Santa Cruz, crossed that island by minibus to the southernmost port and got on a boat. The plan was to spend a couple of nights on Isabela then return to Santa Cruz for another five days and take day trips to some of the other islands.

The trip from Santa Cruz to Isabela was bad. We knew the journey was going to be rough when the crew handed out plastic bags to all the passengers. Hint: sit at the back of the boat (outside) on the right hand side going towards Isabela and on the left hand side coming back otherwise you will get wet! Unfortunately these optimal spots had already been taken by other passengers and we had to sit inside the boat on the way out. Two and a half hours of bumping on the waves took their toll, resulting in the use of the sick bag as lunch eaten an hour before made a return visit. Yuck. However, upon landing on Isabela, all nausea vanished. The islands are truly amazing – there is wildlife everywhere – in fact, you have to be quite careful that you don’t accidentally bump into a sealion or step on an iguana. There are loads of trips available and many companies in the town with whom you can make bookings. Make sure you bring swimming gear- most of the trips we took involved swimming or snorkelling at some point. If you need a wetsuit they are available for hire but we found that the water was warm enough that a swimsuit alone sufficed.

Los Tuneles To See The Galapagos Boobies

One of the first trips we did was to Los Tuneles on Isabela island, a lava formation that encroaches into the sea and has the most amazing land/seascape. Amazing arches of lava have formed in the sea. There’s not much vegetation, but cacti have managed to grow there, some of these are several decades old.

Los Tuneles Galapagos

On climbing onto the lava we first encountered blue-footed boobies. This was one bird species we had particularly wanted to see and we were lucky that we were visiting during the breeding season. The blue-ness of the boobies’ feet is derived from the algae they eat, but it also forms a significant part of their courting ritual.

The male makes a great display of showing his blue feet to his partner. One foot at a time.

Galapagos boobies
Galapagos boobies

He also shows his impressive wingspan to demonstrate what a catch he really is.

She watches on. His voice is a whistle, she honks. And if she is impressed, she will honk her approval.

Galapagos boobies
Galapagos boobies

It must be love.

Boobies And Frigates On North Seymour

We encountered many Galapagos boobies on other islands too. These were on North Seymour, an island about an hour’s boat trip (on much calmer seas) away from Santa Cruz. This female was completely unperturbed at the tourists taking photos of her as she incubated her eggs.

Sometimes you do wonder what the wildlife thinks of all the tourists.

The Galapagos boobies are wonderful birds. The name derives from the Spanish word “bobo”, which means “stupid” or “clown”. The great thing about Galapagos is that you can get so close to the animals as they have absolutely no fear of humans. This male challenged Colin to a contest of ‘who has the blue-est feet.’ Of course the booby won and Colin was deemed to be the beta male of the encounter.

Galapagos boobies

On North Seymour we also saw the magnificent frigate birds. Which were magnificent. And great. ‘Magnificent’ and ‘Great’ being the two species of frigate birds. And they really are spectacular. You see them soaring all over the Galapagos islands, following the boats as we sailed across the sea.

Again, because we visited during the mating season we were able to see the male frigate birds trying to tantalise potential mates with their amazing scarlet throat pouches.

Galapagos Frigate bird

The females have less conspicuous markings.

The main town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz has a row of restaurants lining the seafront. Over the road is the fish market. It’s very pleasant to be able to relax after a long day’s excursions, drinking a cocktail or three and watching all the action across the road. The Galapagos are so special that you will even see wildlife there – frigate birds, pelicans and even sealions can be found lurking as they are fully aware that they might pick up a tasty fish head or some delicious entrails.

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