Contrary to popular belief of my being a “sick lazy bum” in Bolivia, I did spend a LOT of time on figuring out our next move and researching the best way to see the Galapagos Islands. No matter how you try to do it, seeing the Galapagos is RIDICULOUSLY expensive. We looked into going on our own and just boating from island to island which meant backtracking to the main island to catch the ferry on daily basis. The other option was to do an organized cruise of 12-16 people for 3-7 days on boats ranging from a bathtub to a yacht going for $170,000.00/per person.
The third option, and the one we decided to go with was to go on a cruise on a much bigger vessel (up to 100 people as that is the limit that is allowed to cruise around the islands). After 67 emails with the travel agent from vacationstogo.com, we were able to book our Silverseas Galapagos Expedition 7 night cruise (25% of our budget gone JUST LIKE THAT). The reason why we chose this cruise is that it had very good reviews and all the tours/activities/food/alcohol/tips/taxes were included in the price. We did debate (for about 3 seconds) between going to Galapagos and doing an expedition cruise through Antarctica, but the sun and calmer seas won us over. Plus, the nice thing about Ecuador (and Galapagos) is that they use USD’s for their currency which made our life THAT much easier.
Our journey to Ecuador began at 2am on February 19th as we made our way to La Paz’s airport. Being that I was still pretty sick, the 3 leg flight (La Paz –> Bogota; Bogota –> Guayaquil; and Guayaquil –> Baltra) was pretty painful on my ears (I couldn’t hear anything for the next 2 days – which I am sure Kieran appreciated). We could have had the cruise line book all of our flights and transport, but we decided to do it on our own and to explore one of the main islands (Santa Cruz) for a few days before the cruise was to take off.
When you arrive to Galapagos, you immediately have to pay the “park entry fee” at the airport of $100/person. After customs, you are taken by bus (10 minutes) to a docking station and jump on a tiny boat to get to another island (5 minute boat ride). After the boat ride, you can then either take a cab or a one hour bus to Puerto Ayora (the most populated city in all of Galapagos) with approximately 12,000 inhabitants.
The first day (February 19th) was spent exploring the town, checking into our B&B, Capitan Max, which was a nice, cozy place with very slow wifi and yummy breakfast. The town is tiny, consisting of 1 or 2 big streets with galleries, shops and restaurants.
The next day (February 20th), we decided to explore the town a bit further and go to a very secluded beach (1.55 mile walk on a very nice path each way) called Tortuga Bay. HOLY MOLY – talk about stunning!!!! I have NEVER seen a beach this clean and the water so clear that you can see the fish swimming by your legs. And the amount of wildlife? At first, when you walk onto the beach, you are greeted by sea iguanas who could care less about human presence and hang out by your feet (gross at first but then you kind of get used to these spitting little creatures).
Kieran spent a bit of time swimming (with baby sharks as we later learned) and I hung out on the beach. What we found out after the fact is that most people show up to this beach after 4 or 5pm to surf and hang out, rather than 11am (when we showed up). Why, you may ask? Because after the fact, we looked like burned lobsters (no pictures were captured as it was too painful to move). After the beach, we did a lot of eating (who knew that beach time can make one so hungry that you eat an entire Nutella pizza?) and some prepping for the next day when we had to track back to Baltra Island to meet the rest of the cruisers (luckily, one of the cruise guides was from Puerto Ayora and she gave us a ride the next morning to Baltra).
On February 21st, the cruise guide picked us up at our B&B and off we went on the most beautiful adventure to date. We got to Baltra airport around 11am and had to wait until the rest of the cruisers arrived from Quito, Ecuador (and by waiting I mean eating ice-cream to better my soar throat, of course). At 12:30pm, all the planes arrived and we were ready to be bussed over to another dock where we took zodiacs (an inflatable boat) to our ship.
We get on the boat and immediately are welcomed with sparkling wine (hey heaven for a week, how YOU doin’?) and get our room keys (which are also used as check in identification cards when we get on and off the boat). The itinerary for the week is SUPER packed (you are up every day around 6:30am and are exploring one to two islands per day with snorkeling or kayaking activities in between). Here is a sample itinerary for March:
We ended up with a room on the 3rd deck (out of 6) with a window view (at first, we were booked onto the lowest deck by the travel agent, but after much back and forth we were moved up). Turns out, the reason why we were moved up is the day that we booked the cruise, someone else had to cancel due to a medical emergency (we later learned that our across the hall neighbors Vern and Sue from California, were supposed to be traveling with a couple of friends, one of which fell ill and so instead, they got stuck with us) :). The rooms are very modern and spacious, with a beautiful hot shower and you even get your own butler (again, Hiiiiiiiiiiii HEAVEN) <– this is kind of a big deal for backpackers, ok?
… we set off to have our first lunch on-board. The boat has two restaurants, one on deck 2 (the fancy shmancy dining area) and an outdoor, more casual cafe on deck 5. You have to remember, we are backpackers, thus with very limited clothing and for sure absolutely no dressy clothing which Kieran did freak out about a bit; so, having a more casual environment was welcomed by us. The menu upstairs changed on daily basis with lobster always readily available and plentiful dessert spread for yours truly (they ran out of chocolate ice cream on day 3 – the horror).
At 5:30pm we sailed off into the most beautiful sunset which our puny iphone cameras wouldn’t do any justice. At 7:00pm every evening there was a briefing on what was to come the next day and how to prepare for the various activities. Then, after the 30 minute presentation by the cruise director, we were off to dinner.
On our first night, we decided to dine on the 5th deck in the open cafe as it was a more casual environment where you cook your own food on a hot rock (my surf and turf below). For a girl who can barely boil an egg, this was an experience which was better not repeated but delicious nonetheless.
During that 1st dinner, we met a lovely couple from Switzerland, Peter and Christine and due to our love for Switzerland and mine and Peter’s frequent trips to see the cruise doctor (Dr. Montoya) – more on this later, we bonded and formed a friendship with Kieran and I following them everywhere they went and inviting ourselves on their next family trip to Tanzania (they don’t know this yet).
Unlike other cruises that Kieran and I have been on (where the party doesn’t stop until 3am), we passed out that first night and every other night that followed before 10pm. After dinner, we came back to the perfectly made up room and to our “Chronicles” and schedule for the following day. As you can see from the pictures below, due to our “control freak” nature, we checked off exactly what we did and followed the schedule like our life depended on it.