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Part two of Mary Poole's amazing South American adventure sees her journey to the Galapagos. Here is everything she got up to in this fabled bucket list destination.
Operator/Host: G Adventures
(Hotel names/Ship name): Hilton Colon, Quito and Xavier III, Galapagos
The Hilton Colon was everything you would expect from a Hilton hotel. G Adventures uses this hotel for pre and post Galapagos stays.
The Xavier III sleeps up to 16 guests and is one of the older ships that G Adventures uses. There were four lower deck cabins with portholes and four upper deck cabins with windows. I stayed in a lower deck cabin. Whilst it was in need of some TLC and was a little noisy, it provided adequate facilities.
The communal areas were clean and tidy, and hot drinks were available free of charge throughout the holiday. I spent most of my time on the outside decks, where you could sunbathe and keep an eye out for wildlife.
We booked as part of a package through G Adventures. Transfers on arrival and during the tour were included, along with meals on board Xavier III and bed and breakfast in Quito.
Day 1 - We arrived in Quito late afternoon and had our welcome meeting where we met our fellow travellers and were briefed on our itinerary for the next few days.
Day 2 - After a very early breakfast, we flew from Quito to the Galapagos Islands. We then transferred to Puerto Ayora (on the island of Santa Cruz) where we boarded Xavier III. Even before boarding the ship, we got a feel for what we were to experience over the next few days as we spotted marine iguanas, seals and pelicans from the pier. Our first afternoon was spent at a tortoise ranch getting up close and personal with the giant tortoises and spotting several of Darwin's finches along the way.
Day 3 - Having sailed during the night, we woke up near Chinese Hat Island. Some of our group were lucky enough to spot flamingos and sharks from the ship before breakfast. Today would turn out to be one of my highlights from this holiday as I got to see penguins. We were lucky enough to watch one fishing along the shoreline and then a small cluster at their nesting spot on the way back to the vessel.
During our visit to Chinese Hat, we also saw sea lions, marine iguanas and hundreds of red crabs, along with more bird life. We also had our first experience of snorkelling today in some amazingly clear water. We saw too much to mention but the highlight had to be blacktip reef sharks and Galapagos sharks.
The afternoon excursion took us around Black Turtle Cove on a panga (dinghy). We were able to see green sea turtles, very elusive creatures when they want to be; large Stingrays; and other marine and bird life. The peacefulness of Black Turtle Cove was quite surreal at times.
Day 4 - We woke up on the west coast of Santa Cruz at Cerro Dragon. This morning saw us take a hike to look for the extremely well-camouflaged land iguanas. Disappointingly, there were no flamingos at the Salt Water Lagoon, but we did - eventually - find some land iguanas. Today also included a snorkel. Whilst we saw plenty of fish and starfish, the water was not as clear or warm as the day before.
After lunch, we cruised to Isla Daphne, the island where Darwin carried out a lot of his research. You are not able to land here but the 'twitchers' in our group really enjoyed the birdlife that was visible from the ship as we cruised around the island a couple of times. Most of the afternoon was spent on deck watching for wildlife as we cruised to our next day's destination. Our constant observations were rewarded by the sight of pods of dolphins - one of which swam right alongside the boat.
Day 5 - Today saw us land at South Plaza in the morning for more opportunities to observe wildlife. We saw a newborn sea lion pup and our guide explained it was probably born within 30 minutes of us spotting it alongside its mum. We also got chased by a young aggressive male who felt we were too close to him, and also watched a large male sea lion climb up a 50ft cliff face.
This afternoon, we had a guided walk on Santa Fe Island, where we came across lots more sea lions and iguanas and also spotted a Galapagos hawk. Our last activity would prove to be an unbelievably amazing experience and involved snorkelling in clearer waters. We did manage to stay a safe distance away from a family of Galapagos sharks, though.
Day 6 - Our last day in the Galapagos would take us to San Cristóbal for a visit to the Interpretation Centre and some free time before our flight back to Quito.
Day 7 - We had a late flight home from Quito so I booked a private city tour. This turned out to be an excellent choice as we experienced a lot of what Quito has to offer in a few hours before being dropped directly at the airport.
The tour included visits to the old part of the city, where we saw several of its historic churches; the El Panecillo Virgin of Quito, which sits just above the city; the Pululahua Reserve, including a farming village within the volcano; and the Equator Line. Both the line itself and the La Mitad del Mundo monument were amazing.
My personal highlight, other than seeing the penguins as previously mentioned, was snorkelling and swimming with sea lions. We encountered some playful pups during our final snorkelling session at Sante Fe Island and to have these beautiful creatures swimming over and around us was absolutely amazing. It was a very fitting end to our Galapagos experience.
I would recommend The Galapagos to anyone with an interest in wildlife. I wish I could have stayed for longer to experience more of this fascinating destination. The diversity of each island is quite unbelievable, especially considering what a relatively small area they cover. When it comes to accommodation, you get what you pay for. If I were to go back, I would look to upgrade my accommodation to something a little more comfortable.
I would 100% recommend having a guided tour in the Galapagos, as lots of the sites are only accessible this way. The continued environmental work to protect this area and all it has to offer means that they restrict the number of tourists allowed at each site during any one time. This makes you feel very humble and privileged to get up close to so many wonderful creatures.
Book in advance, stay for as long as possible and add on extra nights in Quito because there is a lot to see and do there too.
Must see? The vast array of wildlife. My favourites were the penguins, turtles and sea lions.
Must do? Remember to have your camera with you at all times. It's worth investing in an action/underwater camera too.
Must try? Snorkelling - even if you're not a strong swimmer, you can wear a life jacket and get a personal view of some amazing sea life.
Have you always dreamt of exploring the Galapagos and catching a glimpse of the unique wildlife? Call our team and they will help you plan this once-in-a-lifetime trip and offer expert advice that comes from knowing the industry inside out.