Sunday, April 5, 2015

Vacation in the Galapagos - Getting there

We went, we saw, we...we...well, we had a blast! I won't say we conquered because the heat conquered us. When we initially booked this vacation, due to the great price, we didn't realize that March is the HOTTEST month of the year in the Galapagos. Eeep! I don't do hot very well...

But go we did with our good friends George and Chad as well as Bo and Linda (folks we met on our exploratory trip here). We met at George & Chad's gorgeous penthouse apartment about 10:30 in the morning. We chatted about our upcoming trip and waited for our van to arrive.

Once loaded into the van we enjoyed the 3+ hour drive to Guayaquil where we had all booked a night at the Marriott. Through the countryside, up over the foggy Cajas, down into banana growing territory. Soon we were deposited at our hotel. Nice rooms, good location close to the mall where we walked for dinner. Breakfast the next morning was buffet style and then it was off to the airport. (And George, note the VIEW from our room...snicker.)

So a little about our package. This was booked through a local travel agent, CATSA, and we all felt it was a good deal for what we got for a 4 night, 5 day stay.
  • Round trip flights from Guayaquil to the Galapagos
  • Hotel accommodations (we got "upgraded" to a different hotel)
  • All meals
  • Daily excursions (sometimes an additional, small fee for entrance)
  • All local transportation
Cost? $799 per person with a $50 discount for those over 65 (ME!).

Um, the this was an adventure. We got in line and when we arrived at the front they asked if we had had our baggage checked and paid our special fee. Um, no, so off we went to the other end of the airport. We all got our checked bags inspected and tagged (and had fun watching everyone else get checked - all kinds of food, produce, even ears of corn closely checked). We then all trudged back to the ticket counter line. We were almost to the front and we realized we hadn't paid our $20 fee. So off we went to the other end and paid that. (Are we having fun yet? This is why you allow a lot of time before your flight.)

The flight was relatively short, 90 minutes or so but into another time zone, but the highlight was seeing the flight attendants bug spraying all our carry-on bags! We got off the plane on the island of Baltra and thought we were in Arizona. Desert surrounded us, sand and cactus as far as the eye could see. We quickly went through our arrival process, got our requisite paperwork and paid our $6 for entrance to the islands (it's $100 now for non-residents of Ecuador).

Our tour guide, Byron, connected with us and once he had all his passengers in one spot, we loaded onto the bus to our hotel. Well, hotel by way of water taxi. Yup, bus ride to the water, luggage tossed on top of our boat, ride to the island of Santa Cruz where we were staying, toss the luggage to shore, load it onto the shuttle bus and off we went from one side of the island to another.

I think our biggest shock came as we drove through town was how built up it was...we tended to think in National Geographic images of the Galapagos and completely missed the fact that there has to be population to support the tourism. Santa Cruz is the most populated island with approximately 18,000 residents, there to support both tourism and the preserve. Hotels, restaurants, and a lot of shops selling everything from high end art to t-shirts and hats. Reminded me a bit of Key West on a much smaller scale, lots of folks on scooters and bicycles. We also never saw car, just 4 door pickup trucks.

We unloaded all the bus passengers except our crew of six at their hotel and continued on to ours. We were located right in the heart of the downtown area which was really convenient for us. First big OOPS - two of the couples didn't have their checked bags (and yes, we were one of those two couples). Byron and the bus headed back to the other hotel to rescue our bags while we enjoyed our first included meal.

A little about our hotel...we stayed at the Hotel Palmeras. The one couple celebrating a birthday got the downstairs suite (with a bigger bed, we think). The other two got 2nd floor rooms with two twin beds. Well, not really twin. In fact in Ecuador these are considered a double bed size (same as we bought as a double for one of our guest rooms when we moved here). Maybe two Ecuadorians could sleep in one, but Stu and I opted to each sleep in our own bed as did the six foot+ Chad & George.

The rooms were clean, had a large shower and good hot water. The best part was the COLD air conditioning, although that first day we thought the room would never cool. The downside, the maids often turned it off and we'd come back and start all over again. There was a gorgeous pool that got used a few times but it wasn't particularly refreshing because it was like bath water! The food was good, typical Ecuadorian fare, the kitchen staff were great. There were two nice outdoors sitting areas where we MIGHT be able to get wifi but it was a nice place to sit and relax. We never went hungry. Sidenote, we did discover a little shop just up the street where we all indulged in ice cream.

The next post will outline our excursions and will have a lot more photos.

CONTINUED.....Excursions part one

Ciao for now!
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