Near And Away

A canvas to share photos and notes of our travels

Trip Notes > Ecuador - Quito & Galapagos Islands

So Where Is It Again?

The Republic of Ecuador is a country located on the north west coast of South America straddling the equator; bordered by Columbia to the north and Peru to the south. The Galapagos Islands are located about 600 miles (just under 1,000 kilometers) to the west off the mainland in the Pacific Ocean and are considered a Province of the Republic.

What's the Attraction?

The Galapagos Islands are one of the most magical places on earth. Here animals live without fear and do not run away from visitors. These islands attract more than 100,000 visitors every year who come to experience the distinctive biodiversity and dramatic scenery. The Galapagos archipelago is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that consists of 13 major islands (5 of which are inhabited), and more than 100 smaller islands and islets. The future of this area is at risk not only from tourism but also social, political, and economic issues including frequent changes in government and appointed officials.

More may be learned about this spectacular area by visiting Web sites for the Darwin Foundation, or the Galapagos Conservancy, or UNESCO (2).

Sea Kayaking, Snorkeling, and Hiking - Oh My!

A story in which four couples from various parts of North America converged onto a comparatively small boat in early April 2007, with one guide and four crew members, and succeeded in co-habiting for a week in excellent harmony!

Day 1 - Friday (Quito)

Our flight arrives on a wet, rainy evening. Landing at night in the capital city of Quito, you immediately realize it is a very large city. From the air, the lights of the city were arrayed across the mountainside like a glittering lace blanket.

We stayed at the hotel Vieja Cuba (Old Cuba) located in Quito New Town. It's a former colonial house with lots of character; terra cotta tile floors, quaint fenced courtyard, spiral staircases, 3 stories.

Day 2 - Saturday (Otavalo)

Our group decided beforehand to participate together in a day trip to Otavalo Artisan Market just 2 hours from Quito. On the way we stopped at the partially constructed site of the Quitsato sundial and true Middle of the World line for Ecuador. Note that the true equator is not at the Mitad del Mundo monument. Through GPS technology it is known to be actually a little farther away; right where the Indians said it was, before the French came along and supported building of the monument in the wrong place.

Once we arrived at the Market I was too busy absorbing all the sights and sounds to break out my camera; a maze of colorful textiles in all forms, clothing with stunning embroidery, wood and stone carvings, paintings (watercolor and latex), hats, pottery, fruits, vegetables, prepared local foods. There is an amazing blend of diverse goods on display, and the visit offers you a great chance to brush up on your haggling skills since it is expected that you will negotiate to a final price. Many vendors have worked out creative ways to bridge the language barrier with the gringos to help facilitate the sale.

Day 3 - Sunday (San Cristóbal)

On the flight to San Cristobal (with a stop in Quayaquil) we met a lovely couple from Australia willing to share their fascinating sailing experiences; thank you Dudley and Jenny. Before being released from the airport on San Cristobal our passports were stamped and we paid the National Park entrance fee ($100 US each).

Lunch at Hotel Orca located on a beautiful beach where we have our first encounters with some of the local sea lions and a pelican. This was followed by a visit to the Nature Interpretation Center surrounded by Candelabra Cactus to learn a bit about the formation of the Galapagos Islands. Then on to La Galapaguera, breeding station for Galapagos tortoises, then back to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno to be welcomed aboard the Galapagos Vision.

Although each couple had their own independent cabins with private facilities, Joe and I elected to sleep on deck for the duration of our trip, and I am so glad we did... the fresh air, the endless blanket of stars above, the sound of surf on shore and waves slapping against the hull, the rock of the boat lulling you to sleep (while you are anchored anyway). :-) Before we got underway after midnight we were visited by a sea lion quite happy to occupy a portion of our rear deck and snooze until our departure; a very common occurrence while in harbor.

Day 4 - Monday (Española)

Sunrise viewed from the deck of a boat or porthole of your cabin is an inspiring sight, and watching dolphins frolic in your bow wave is positively uplifting! Most days the wake-up call was around 5:30AM in order to be up and active by sunrise (6:00AM) or shortly thereafter. There was a certain logic to this schedule because you get to take full advantage of the hours in a day, but it is also designed to get us to places before the other, larger tour boats arrive; a most excellent reason, we all agreed.

Our first stop of the day was Punta Suarez, Espanola for an AM hike. Joe captured marvelous video footage of the blowhole. The Blue-footed Booby demonstrating his courtship dance is a comical sight. Standing erect and with what appears to be a terribly serious expression on his face, he slowly lifts one bright blue foot in the air then the other several times, after which he stretches all points skyward (beak, wing tips, tail) and whistles... looks around to see if an interested female is watching, then repeats. If he finds a likely female, he often will bring her small twigs and sticks. They are of no use since Boobies just nest on the ground, but I suppose it demonstrates his ability to provide.

After motoring around the island to Gardner Bay we stopped for a spot of snorkeling; tremendous blue water, various fishes. At one point we viewed 4-5 white tip reef sharks resting below us by the stone reef extending from the shoreline. We saw Galapagos eel and several other endemic species not often seen. My disposable camera did not serve me very well, but others in our group gained some nice footage.

After lunch we took the panga to shore and walked on the coral sand beach; very fine, white sand like flour in places, which is highly unusual for the Galapagos. The beach was just littered with sea lions basking in the sun.

Then, after fitting of kayaks and orientation such as practicing our wet exits and reentries, we were off along the coast for about 3 hours where we gazed upon sea lions and flying fish. I was not brave enough to bring my "real" camera with me, and neglected to bring the disposable (of course).

While motoring to Floreana, we enjoyed dinner and were amused by local stories told by our Naturalist, Jonathan, whose family lives on Floreana and San Cristobal. This night the sky was more open and we were astounded by the vault of stars above us, and seeing the Milky Way clearly for the first time in many years.

Day 5 - Tuesday (Floreana)

The day began with an early morning kayak around Floreana. A fog had rolled in during the night, and with the calm waters it was other-worldly. We could truly enjoy the zen of paddling as we watched sea turtles coming up for air after a night spent below the surface. We were kept company by a young sea lion frolicking around the kayaks. Nancy, our guide, refers to them as "puppies in wetsuits" for good reason, they are very curious and playful with no fear.

After breakfast we panga to Post Office Bay and do our obligatory stop at the local PO barrel to peruse the post cards on hand and put in a few of our own; our group found only a couple we could take home with us and distribute. Then we proceeded to the Lava Tube for walk/hike/climb through the underground cavern (very cool!) of which John got some great shots!

Then panga to Empress Point with a beautiful, sandy beach and turquoise waters in the bay. The hike up hill to the lookout was well worth it, the view was spectacular!

After motoring to Devil's Crown we enjoyed a choppy but nice snorkel with a good variety of fish and coral, including a group of manta rays, and remarkable rock outcroppings.

For the afternoon we hike Punta Cormorant to see flamingoes grazing in the inland lagoon. Then we walked around to the other side of the island to Flour Beach where we saw sea turtles and rays in the surf. We also saw sea turtle tracks in the sand and evidence of their nests, and plenty of Sally Lightfoot Crabs. There was one persistent Frigate Bird who kept circling above, obviously waiting for the little nestlings to hatch so he could snatch a quick meal.

Day 6 - Wednesday (Santa Fe, Santa Cruz)

We awoke to Santa Fe for an early morning hike and an opportunity to see Land Iguanas, more yet differently marked Lava Lizards, and Prickly Pear Cactus. We spent some time kayaking around the point with the water mostly very smooth. At one point along the coast, there were twin caves. While Nancy was making an investigatory attempt into one of these caves, she was followed in by a fairly strong wave which crashed upon the back wall appearing to almost swamp her! It was rather hairy watching her stroke out of there but she was fine. After an uneventful entry into the second cave, only Joe and I took her up on her challenge to attempt the caves for ourselves. We entered about half way before turning and realized we could have gone deeper, so we took the opportunity to stop and look up and around us for a bit before exiting smoothly.

After motoring to Santa Cruz and into the busy harbor at Puerto Ayora we bid goodbye to Jonathan who had other commitments, and greet Jaime, our Naturalist for the remainder of our trip. It was a hot, hot, HOT walk to the Charles Darwin Research Station, but we survived to enjoy meeting some rather HUGE Land Tortoises.

We returned to Puerto Ayora for several hours of free time during which we did some window shopping and watched the spirited antics at the Fisherman's Wharf. As the catch comes in to be cleaned, there is an assembly of Sea Lions, Herons, Pelicans, and Frigate Birds there to quickly snatch any "goodies" thrown their way. It was very entertaining, and Joe got some good video footage of the fun.

Our group came together once again at Le Grappata (the Tick) for a leisurely dinner and some rather fabulous tasting food. On Nancy's recommendation I tried a favorite drink of Ecuador, the Pisco Sour... very tasty if I do say so myself! Afterward we returned to the Vision by way of water taxi to retire for the night.

Day 7 - Thursday (Rábida, Santiago)

Another early morning starts with a panga ride and walk of Rabida with its dramatic red rock and soil. A small colony of Brown Pelicans were nesting in bushes along the beach. We followed up this hike with snorkeling around the point, and again saw a good variety of fish.

We motored to Santiago with lunch along the way. Although only a short distance away, Santiago is strikingly different with extraordinary solidified fumaroles and exposed lava layers showing examples of almost every different type of lava there is. We landed at South James Bay then hiked past the retired salt mines to the tide pools and saw many Marine Iguanas just lazing around or eating algae off the rocks. This is the only island on which we saw Galapagos Fur Seals. The tide pools had their fair share of Sally Lightfoot Crabs and a Sea Turtle or two, with a volcanic bridge over deep clear blue pools.

After motoring to Espumilla Beach we embarked on a late afternoon kayak tour around the point to Buccaneer's Cove. I had the disposable waterproof camera with me (not being brave enough to take my "real" camera), but was to be disappointed once again by its results. So pre-sunset shots of the unique rock formations were not usable.

Day 8 - Friday (Bartolomé, Bainbridges, North Seymour)

We awoke in the harbor of Bartolome to a close-up view of Pinnacle Rock. It was a misty, rainy morning but I find myself impressed nonetheless. After taking the panga to the stone jetty, and encouraging several Sea Lions to vacate so we could disembark, we begin our long climb to the lookout. The National Park has kindly put in place around 360 wooden steps to the top with landings strategically placed at advantageous rest points along the way (Bruce could give us the exact count but my memory fails me right now). The view from the top is spectacular. Bartolome was of course filmed in the movie 'Master and Commander'.

Yet another marvelous breakfast was followed up by snorkeling in the bay. The Sea Stars were dinner plate sized with many varying colors. A Sea Lion scooted through our group, and we watched Galapagos Penguins fishing schools of Selima passing under our group several times. Our Naturalist Jaime captured wonderful shots of two Galapagos Penguins swimming on the surface by the panga, and was kind enough to share a copy of one.

We motored to the Bainbridge Islands group for midday kayaking. WOW! Another occasion after which I regretted not bringing a camera while kayaking; spectacular rock outcroppings, deep blue water changing to turquoise as it crashes against the rocks, areas of deep azure as we cross shallower water, and birds winging across the water swooping and diving like swallows. We ended with a turn round a point into a small protected cove complete with a tiny sand beach home to yet another harem of Sea Lions. We did not get too close because the Bull bellowed loudly to assert his ownership of the area and to send us on our way. One young Sea Lion came out to investigate and play with us a bit before we left. "Does this beach have a name?" we asked. "No? Well, we hereby dub this beach 'Nancy's Cove'."

And what boat trip can be considered complete without at least one episode of CANNONBALLS off the bow??! Led by our fearless leader, Nancy, we had a great time.

After motoring to North Seymour we put ashore for another hike to see more Sea Lions, Frigate Birds nesting and displaying proudly, more Blue-footed Boobies, very large Land Iguanas, Lava Lizards, and Swallow-tail Gulls.

Day 9 - Saturday (Isla Lobos, Kicker Rock)

An early morning kayak around the small island of Isla Lobos ends in the channel between the island and San Cristobal where many Sea Lions make their home. As the young Sea Lions were playfully swimming around our kayaks in the turquoise waters it began to sink in to me that this was our last full day in the Galapagos, and that this wonderful experience would soon be ended.

After a short hike over the rocks of Isla Lobos, we came back to the channel for some snorkeling... and OH what a snorkeling session it was!! If you ever get a chance to swim with Sea Lions, don't question it just do it!

Remember I mentioned Nancy's term "puppies in wetsuits"? The young ones are so mischievous and inquisitive they seem to be begging you to play. They would swim up to you and look you in the mask, then flash by. Some would blow bubbles in your face, others jumped over us, swimming around us in circles. The more you tried to emulate their movements through the water the happier they became. It was difficult to leave, but all good things must come to an end I suppose. John got some terrific photos! (be sure to check out the Guest Galleries)

By this time, we're running out of superlatives. Each day has been better than the last, but to say that Kicker Rock was breathtakingly arresting is NOT an exaggeration. It is the remains of a lava tuff cone rising 500 feet (around 170 meters) from the ocean!

Snorkeling around Kicker Rock you feel truly dwarfed by the sheer rock face rising far above and disappearing deep below you. Snorkeling through the Main Slot where the cone has been split apart the currents took over and moved you along.

Kayaking around Kicker Rock was beyond words. While going through the Main Slot you just had to take off your hat so you could look up and not miss a thing. There is a narrower slot called the Cathedral where strong currents converge from both sides and come together. Only Nancy and Joe were brave enough to enter that slot, and only then did they go half way to turn around and come back out. After this we were off into the open ocean to enjoy a last run in our kayaks.

Our cook, Eddie, truly outdid himself for our last dinner aboard while on our way back to PBM harbor on San Cristobal. He put out quite a spread, and even baked a wonderful cake. And our last night to sleep on deck in harbor was quiet, with only one brief visit from a Sea Lion.

Day 10 - Sunday (San Cristobal, Quito)

In the morning we "slept in" and were off board by 8:00AM after breakfast and on our way to El Junco Lagoon. This is an old crater/caldera with a natural lake at the summit and the beautiful panorama of San Cristobal laid out below, although it was hazy and overcast that morning. Frigate Birds were diving in the water, fishing for Tilapia we were told. Then shuttle to the airport for the return flight to Quito and a goodbye dinner.

Day 11 - Monday (Quito)
Our flight was not scheduled to leave until the evening so we spent a lazy day kicking around Quito. We got a chance to quickly hear Paul and Carol's stories from their day trip to the Cloud Forest, see a few photos, then we were off to the airport for our return flight home.

Book It Yourself

We happened to book our trip through O.A.R.S. who partner with Explorer's Corner to offer this particular package, named "Sea Kayaking the Enchanted Islands/Kayaking in Darwin's Paradise". Both companies share a common vision in terms of the nature of trips they offer (no pun intended), and are first-rate organizations. Based on what I have heard from the couple in our group that booked directly with Explorer's Corner, I recommend that option since their "package" included several days at the end to take advantage of some wonderful day trips from Quito.

Our guide for this trip was Nancy Moore (2), a truly generous soul who's boundless enthusiasm and outlook made our experience just that much more special. Thank you, Nancy, for a one-of-a-kind experience we will not soon forget!

Other Observations

Money - Since 2000, Ecuador has adopted the U.S. dollar as an official on par currency, so we did not have to worry about exchange rates; although you can expect to receive coin change minted in Ecuador.

Driving - In and around Quito the quality of the roads varies quite widely. Our driver to Otavalo Market commented that privately maintained roads tend to be kept in better shape than national roads. Drivers use their horns a lot to communicate with other drivers; their turn signals less so. And you can expect that although there are standard lane markings painted on the pavement, these are merely a suggestion. We observed frequent high-risk passings of slower-moving buses and larger trucks; two-lane highways often became informal three-lanes, and mountainous curves didn't seem to slow them much at all. :-)


If you have not seen them already, you'll want to take a look at the photos for this trip, both ours and guest galleries. Also I came across a site with excellent island descriptions to help you fill in the blanks.

If you have any questions, comments or other insights, we encourage you to contact us.