WE’RE ON THE GALAPAGOS!!!
A lot has happened in the last 3 days. We crossed the equator and arrived at the Casa de Ciclista outside Quito on the 28th. To our surprise Marion and Virgile, whom we met while waterlogged outside Neiva, were also at the Casa so we had a great time catching up with them.
It has always been my dream to visit the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. I work in the field of genetics so of course I would want to visit the very place that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. The Islands, formed by volcanic eruptions, are famous for their many endemic species (plants and animals unique to the islands and not found elsewhere in the world).
Wasting no time, on the 29th we booked one-way flights to the Galapagos because we heard last minute deals on cruises are best acquired on Santa Cruz Island.
We left our bikes and gear at the Casa de Ciclista and flew to the Galapagos on the 30th, visited a few agencies and put a deposit on a cruise leaving tomorrow, the 1st. Today (31st) we spent the better part of the day trying to get the cash to pay for the cruise.
Because of the protections in place on the Galapagos, most sites require a guide for visitation, limiting independent travel. We chose a 7-night cruise as the best way to see as much of the archipelago as possible. WanderWheels is going high-class. We splurged and booked a first-class cruise (reportedly providing better food, cabins and guide service than lower class boats) and will visit the islands of Santa Cruz, Genovesa, Santiago, Isabela and Fernandina. We will be sailing on the Nemo III, a catamaran, from June 1st-8th.
For anyone planning a last minute trip to the Galapagos here are a few things we learned:
If we had to do it all over again, we probably would recommend staying in Quito to arrange a cruise if you are looking for something specific, as we were. Booking on Santa Cruz Island is likely best if you are more interested in doing day trips or don’t care about the cruise itinerary or length. The cost of the flight to the Galapagos is constant so no advance booking is needed and booking a round-trip or two one-ways flights costs about the same.
We were looking for a specific cruise itinerary that included the islands of Isabela (the one that looks like a seahorse) and Fernandina. There was only one boat leaving in the next couple of days that included that route. We’d have to wait around for a week or more for the other boats. The other boats were lower class and therefore cheaper, however hanging around for an additional week on the islands would get really expensive. It is more economical to wait from the mainland for a particular departure date. With that said, I don’t know how much better a deal (if any) we got by being on the island, rather than in Quito. We went to three agencies and inquired about the same cruise and the prices/person varied by $150. Not hugely discrepant, but still worth checking with a few agencies.
The other thing to keep in mind is it can be difficult to get money on an island. All last minute prices are for cash only. We arrived on Friday and our cruise leaves Sunday morning. ATMs limit the amount that can be withdrawn per day and the ATMs on the island started running out of money by Saturday morning. There is only one bank on the island that will allow a cash advance through an ATM card at the teller window. However, this required three trips to the bank and two Skype calls to our bank in the US. Trying to extract a large sum of cash from your ATM card in a foreign bank triggers all kinds of alarms. These are safety precautions for the bank and the account holder but are also the bane of banking while traveling abroad. The bank closed at 1pm today and each time we went we had to stand in line for about 30 minutes. The third time was the charm and we got the cash in the minutes before the bank closed. It was all quite stressful, so our recommendation would be to bring all the cash you think you’ll need to the island (and then bring a little extra).