Holy Galapagos Part 2: We’re on a boat!

This is a follow up post to my first Galapagos post, here.

First, a huge thank you to everyone who gave us advice on the Galapagos from Facebook. It helped us immensely once we got to Quito and started to seek out a boat. I started and ended with the tour agency attached to our Hostel, Carpedm. They seemed pretty well reviewed online and in Lonely Planet and had a wide range of tours (I also used them for a day tour to Otavalo and walking tour of Quito).

The first decision when selecting a Galapagos boat is whether or not you want to dive, and dive all the time. Boats are prohibited from doing combined diving and land tours, so there are a small handful of purely dive boats (~$5k USD per week). Steven was initially inclined to dive, but given there were no land stops, and I wasn’t thrilled or skilled to do multiple daily dives for seven straight days, we agreed to go early and dive from land, and then do a non-diving boat trip – on the condition I could find one that was a good value Steven would go on. Initially we were thinking trips might be $3500 a week, which pushed him towards wanting to upgrade to diving.  We ended up finding something for much, much less.

Aside from dive boats, there are four types of tourist boats in the Galapagos. All boats are smaller than 100 passengers, so don’t expect large cruise ships. The two types of boats that most reading this blog would consider are the Tourist First or Luxury, the higest end  categories. There aren’t a ton of differences between these, but you need to get to this level to get a private bath, hot water, and passable food. Most importantly, the quality of the guide varies, and these levels offer a higher quality guide, which can make or break the trip. Oswaldo, our guide, was fantastic. Many luxury boats do not sell their rooms at a discount, so I set out to find the nicest boat I could, available last minute, and at a significant discount. Given we were going to be stuck on the boat for seven nights, it had to be something I wouldn’t want to get off on day 1.

The other consideration is the size. Having 100 people doing a cattle call didn’t appeal to me. I am sure they figure out how to do it well, but we wanted something more intimate. Most boats we looked into were 12-40 people. However, the smaller the boat, the more rocking and rolling you are going  to be doing at night when transiting between locations. More on seasickness below.

After about an hour going through the options, the best bet for us looked to be the Nemo II doing the Northern route, a 15 passenger sailing catamaran. I called Steven to sell him on this option and he gave the green light. We (to his credit, Steven, not me) then spent a few days convincing a bank to wire funds to Ecuador to secure our spot.

Fast forward to embarkation day (for what happened in the mean time, see my first Galapagos post).

If you remember, Steven decided to get up before dawn to catch the puke boat. I decided to be adventurous (and not frugal), and avoid the four hour ferry/bus/vomit trek by taking a small plane between islands.

When I got to the “airport” I was all alone. Not a soul there. It was a sad scene of something that had been built for much more than it was.

Arrival at the eerily empty airport

Empty airport waiting room. All open to outside. I could have walked on the runway.

The plane – with a passenger in the co-pilot seat. Unfortunately I didn’t get it.
The flight was quick, but clouds prevented it from being awesome. We arrived at the main airport in Baltra, where I waited for Steven and had a few hours to kill before the rest of the passengers arrived. Luckily the airport has decent facilities and I was able to have a coffee and read my Kindle.

We finally rounded up the whole group and set off for our home for the week. We were a family with three college age kids from the UK, an older Dutch couple, a young Danish couple, a couple our age from Italy living in Germany, and a hilarious dating duo from Miami/Chicago.

The boat lived up to and exceeded expectations. While small, the rooms were very functional. We did have hot showers, and Steven even had a full bed (we negotiated he got the bunk as I still had hip issues, but it was a bigger nicer bed). The food was passable for a boat, and there were lots of veggies which was nice.

Here is the boat from the outside. I don’t have many inside, but you case see more on the boat here.

Days on the boat were pretty much the same. Nearly every day was a 7 am breakfast, 8 am walk or snorkel, and a 10 am walk or snorkel. Then lunch, and back at it with another nature walk and snorkel. The walks were all very leisurely, but some had tricky terrain. It was also very cold in the water, so a wetsuit was used by nearly everyone (guess who didn’t wear a wetsuit – mi hermano). It never got old as every day brought new animals.

The snorkeling was generally good. Visibility wasn’t the best, but there was a lot of wildlife (mostly big wildlife as opposed to lots of colorful fish since there isn’t a coral reef). By the end of the week, no one blinked an eye at massive turtles or white tipped sharks. I don’t have a ton of pictures since I didn’t have the Go Pro, but go to steveleavestug.com for more pics and video.

The walks were amazing. We saw all kinds of wildlife, none scared of humans. It was also breeding season for many of the animals, so we saw just hatched chicks, baby sea lions, etc. Every island has its own ecosystem and animals. For example, the finches and tortoises differ by island. It is an evolutionary wonderland.

Here are some of the best pics. I have hundreds, but a very limited bandwidth everywhere here in Bolivia.

So amazing. Unlike anywhere on earth.

After this, we boarded stupidly expensive flights to La Paz, and 12 hours later we arrived. We even made it through immigration. More on that in the next post.

Know before you go:

Great information is available from Frommers and from this link for anyone looking to plan a trip. Make sure to review the weather, we went in the dry winter, and daytime temperatures were a perfect 70 degrees. It was cold at night, and in the water. We had zero rain.

Seasickness: Small boats, rough water. One night I may have been the only one not throwing up. I bought some local medicine before getting on the boat, but you can get much better stuff from your doctor at home. I don’t get seasick, but I didn’t feel good multiple nights on the boat.

Suggested reads: links to Amazon Kindle editions – you will want – stet that, need – a Kindle for the boat (and life in general – who doesn’t have a Kindle?). Get one with a lit screen and 3G – I was able to download books in the jungle where we couldn’t get data on phones. Amazing. Also, in the spirit of dogfooding, I have signed up for Amazon Associates, so clicking on these links helps fund this trip 🙂

Kurt Vonnegut – Galapagos (fiction, weird, good). Free with Kindle Unlimited (highly recommended for travelers, most of the Lonely Planets are available with a Kindle Unlimited subscription).

Henry Nicholls – The Galapagos, A Natural History. Good history of the wildlife.

Jonathan Weiner – The Beak of the Finch. Currently reading. Non-fiction story of Princeton researchers in the Galapagos. So far, so good.



Holy Galapagos Part 1: Pure Amazingnesswondermenttastic (wonder beyond words)

Note: This is a long post, and one of two, but the Galapagos were amazing and deserve it! Also, yes I am falling a bit behind at this point, I blame the lack of decent upload speeds and the past five days spent without internet in the jungle. More on that once I catch up. 

Read more

Hola Galapagos, adios connectivity

A brief post. We’re still alive, but Internet in the Galapagos is lacking (and no cell service). It has been great to be truly disconnected. After a week on land and diving from Santa Cruz and Isabela, we board the Nemo II tomorrow for a week on a boat. Everything here is surreal, the animals, the land, the water. A few quick pics from my phone, real (amazing) pics to come from La Paz in 10 days.  Read more