Our first blog post of the year was written by budding travel writer and Rachel’s goddaughter, Caitlin Wood. Caitlin is currently studying for her A-levels and we’re seriously impressed by her writing talent. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did!
For many people, a visit to the Galapagos Islands is the fruition of a long-held dream and one that has taken lots of planning and saving. Because of its distance from the UK and proximity to so many other tourist delights in South America, most guests combine their Galapagos trip with other incredible experiences.
Here are our top 10 recommendations of what to do before or after your Galapagos cruise, all of which we can organise for you in your own tailor-made itinerary.
1. Peru and Machu Picchu
From Guayaquil on Ecuador’s pacific coast, it’s just a 2 hour flight to the incredible land of lost civilisations, ancient Incan ruins, lively colonial cities and stunning Andean landscapes of Peru. Machu Picchu, “The Lost Incan City” is probably the most breath-taking sight in Peru and one which many of our guests also dream of visiting. Perched on the ridge of a 2,430 metre mountain it is the most magnificent archaeological site. To get a true flavour of Peru and fully acclimatise to the Andean altitude before you visit Machu Picchu, we recommend you allow at least 7 days for this part of your trip.
2. Amazon Rainforest, Ecuador
The Amazon covers only 6% of the earth’s land surface, yet amazingly contains approximately half of the planets plant and animal species. Luckily for Galapagos visitors, Ecuador has some of the best corners of the Amazon rainforest – all with great accessibility. Ecuador is also home to some of the best lodges in the Amazon Basin like the Napo Wildlife Centre in Yasuni National Park which is the perfect place to go if you’re a lover of wildlife yet still appreciate high class service. You will not only get the chance to see lots of incredible wildlife but you will experience such high standards of comfort you won’t want to stay any less than 5 days!
3. Ecuador’s Cloud Forest
Cloud forests are formed when rainforests meet mountains as the humid air rises from the lowlands and cools into clouds, resulting in lush tropical forests. Ecuador’s Cloud Forest is a mere two hours’ drive from the capital Quito, where most of our guests fly into and provides some of the best and easiest birding in the world. Some parts of the forest are literally buzzing with hummingbirds, as well as other beautiful birds such as Cock of the Rock, and Tangers. As well as the amazing birdlife, it is also filled with orchids and bromeliads, with opportunities for tubing down river or taking a zip wire through the forest canopy for the more adventurous!
4. Hacienda Zuleta, Imbaburra Ecuador
Although it is unfair to single out a hotel and describe it as ‘special’, Hacienda Zuleta is an exception. Even the National Geographic has named it as one of their 129 most ‘loved’ hotels in the world! Not only will you immerse yourself completely in Andean culture but this is one of the few places in the world where you are virtually guaranteed to see wild Andean Condors and enjoy activities such as trekking and some of the best horse-back riding in Ecuador. All in all this is a fabulous place to unwind. Hacienda Zuleta was formerly a private home and was only open to guests a decade ago. All rooms are individually styled and incredible service ensures you a perfect stay where you could not feel more at home.
5. Ecuador’s Avenue of Volcanos
You can take an unforgettable journey through the Avenue of volcanos from Ecuador’s capital Quito to Chimborazo, the highest point in Ecuador’s Andes. Once you have reached Chimborazo, you can travel with your guide up to the refuge and from here visit some of the local indigenous communities amists spectaculalr high Andean scenery. After this you can take one of the world’s most famous train journeys through the Devil’s Nose, visiting Inca ruins and then onto the beautiful city of Cuenca.
6. Santa Cruz Island Galapagos
Most of our cruises start from Santa Cruz Island or its neighbour Baltra and many of our guests choose to spend a few days getting to know the island before their cruise begins. Santa Cruz has some great places to stay; from the spectacular setting of the Galapagos Safari camp in the highlands to the Finch Bay hotel by the sea, with a small beach where you’ll see Marine Iguanas, often Lava Gulls and other unique Galapagos wildlife. Your best option here is to explore with private Galapagos National Park guide, who will take you to visit the National Park areas, where you can see Giant Tortoises in the wild, as well as geological sights such as lava tubes and the twin sinkhole craters of Los Gemelos.
It’s well worth spending a day or two in Quito when you arrive in Ecuador. Nestled at 2,800 meters in the Andes, the city was the former capital of the Incan Empire, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its beautiful colonial architecture. The best way to see it is with your own private guide, who usually will start your trip visiting one of the viewpoints to get a panoramic view of the city and its nearby volcanoes. El Panecillo, a hill dominating the old town with statue of the Virgin of the Americas and observation deck is probably the best place to view the city. Then there is La Ronda, a quaint part of Quito, full of little white houses, brightly coloured windows, geraniums and doors that open onto the cobbled streets.
8. Mountain Biking down Cotopaxi volcano
If you’re a thrill seeker then this a thrill not to be missed; soak up the stunning view of eight different volcanoes then start your descent from Cotopaxi, the world’s highest active volcano at 5,897 metres, You start your ride through volcanic ash and pàramo landscape, and then take a break with an old-school packed lunch whilst keeping your eyes on the skies – there’s even a chance you may spot a condor! An afternoon bike ride down the single track from Lake Limpiopungo through exotic pine forest at altitudes of 4500-3200 metres is a perfect way to complete your journey. The hardened lava and volcanic ash is a wonderful sensation you will have never felt under your wheels before.
9. A night or two on Isabella Island
This seahorse-shaped island is the largest in the Galapagos; accounting for over half of the Galapagos’ land surface. Although it is made up of six volcanoes – named Alceda, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Ecuador, Sierra Negra and Wolf – it is possible to stay on the island in the small town of Puerto Villamil. From here you can visit three major sites: firstly the oldest and largest volcano on the island, Sierra Negra. Once you have been driven to the volcano base, you can hike up to the caldera of the volcano with the chance to see Vermillion flycatchers and Galapagos hawks and a stunning panoramic view of the island. Secondly is Las Tintoreras, a small bay of tranquil turquoise waters that is home Sea Turtles and Marine iguanas. This bay also has the name ‘Tipped Reef Shark Canal’ thanks to a small crevice where these sharks can be seen resting at low tide. Finally there’s tortoise breeding! You can visit a centre which holds five of the eleven species of Giant Tortoises in the Galapagos. This site was built by the Galapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Research Station to help recover the population of Giant Tortoises in the Galapagos.
10. San Cristobal Island
Some Galapagos yachts start and end their cruise on the island of San Cristobal which is a great place to spend some time in the peaceful village of Puerto Baqueriso Moreno. This village has a fantastic visitor centre (for an excellent overview on the islands human history), a tranquil walk up Frigate Bird Hill where you get great views of Frigate birds or you could take a trip to Leon Dormido – a huge rock formation near the coast, which is also a favourite spot for tropical birds and snorkelling. Another fantastic site dedicated to restoring the Giant Tortoise population is Galapaguera – Puerto Chino on the south east. Here you get the chance to see these magnificent tortoises close up and in their natural habitat.
You can read more about the Galapagos excursions mentioned in this list on our Galapagos Day Trips page.