When heading to the Galapagos, you certainly have some options. You can try and do it alone, basing yourself out of Puerto Ayoro and arranging day trips to other islands. Or you could join a multi-day Galapagos cruise and travel between the islands on a boat.
A Galapagos cruise is not a typical cruise. These are not huge ships with thousands of passengers. Most of the boats are of the yacht type, some looking good and others looking like they’ve seen much better days, holding anywhere from 10 – 100 passengers. Itineraries vary between 3, 5 and 8 days (sometimes longer) and between eastern and western and central routes as well.
I took an 8-day, eastern itinerary on board the S/S Mary Anne, run by the excellent Andando Tours.
The Mary Anne is the only sailing vessel in the Galapagos and the only vessel that could indeed complete its voyages by wind power only.
She had a presence. She was different than every single other boat we saw during our 8-day trip. She had a classic style to her, whereas the other boats were just that, boats.
The Mary Anne holds 14 passengers, with a combination of double, twin and single cabins (with no extra fees if you’re a solo traveler!). There are 10 crew members, too. The price of the trip includes accommodation, transportation, food, local permits and all activities.
Here’s a short video I made that shows you what it’s like on board the S/S Mary Anne…
The cabins are a good size, if not the largest cabins I’ve ever seen. And while they are simple, they are spotless, bright and comfortable (they have A/C, great beds and even closet space, along with good-size bathrooms with a full shower). I slept wonderfully every night, falling asleep within seconds of hitting the pillow.
All meals were eaten communal style at two large tables, with all kinds of dishes being served. The food was excellent and varied at all times. Breakfast would involve eggs, fruit, breads, local pastries and more. And for lunch and dinner, there was fish and meat, salads, soup, a couple of local sides and a delicious dessert.
After most of our activities, there were also fresh snacks waiting for us when we got on board and there were always snacks, coffee, tea and water available in the dining room throughout the day.
When it comes to activities, each day is divided into a morning and afternoon session and usually, there were two activities per session. These could be any combination of hiking, snorkeling or kayaking, depending on what island we were at and what there was to see.
The hiking was never too strenuous as it was always along well defined paths set up by the Galapagos conservation board. The hiking pace was always slow as there was simply so much to see everywhere that our guide would stop frequently to explain what we were looking at. Even after a two hour hike, our group wanted more every time!
Kayaking took place on sturdy two-person kayaks and we usually took them out along the coast of an island, into beautiful coves, along white sand beaches where sea lions were playing around and past rocky outcrops where we could spot all kinds of wildlife. It was super fun to be out there paddling around in such settings.
With the snorkeling, the equipment was top notch, and the snorkel sites were some of the best I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Hundreds of fish, sharks, sea lions, octopus, stingrays, turtles and more would make up a typical snorkel session. Every time we went snorkeling I said to myself that I would only stay in the water for 20 minutes or so and every single time I ended up out there until the end, usually an hour or more.
(One of the staff from the boat would follow us in a dingy so that if anyone wanted to get out of the water at any time, he was right there to pick you up.)
All of the above were not mandatory of course. Every activity is always optional as the idea is for all passengers to have the experience they want to have, something the staff stressed often.
Our guide, Fernando, was phenomenal. Every other guide we passed during our hikes would stop and ask him questions as he clearly had more knowledge than all of them combined. His lengthy experience in these islands was unmatched and his passion for his work turned every single activity into an eye-opening, educational treat.
Again, phenomenal is the only word to describe him.
He also took safety very seriously.
While we watched as passengers from other boats fell on rocks, got separated from their group and were forced to board their dingy in dangerous conditions, we never had any of those issues. Fernando and the team were always watching, always helping and always making sure that everyone was safe at all times.
This might not seem like a big deal but in the Galapagos Islands, it’s a wild and rough terrain. And if you’re not careful, there are opportunities to hurt yourself. But again, nobody on our trip had any issues at all thanks to our guide and the incredibly attentive staff.
At night, we would head outside and stare up at the sky in order to take in that magical delight that is a sky full of stars, from horizon to horizon. The boat gently pushed through the small waves, we sipped our beers and enjoyed a mix of conversation and silence until we were ready for sleep.
In the mornings, despite the early wake-ups, there was plenty of chatter, with the excitement about spending yet another day in these islands quite evident among us.
And if you think that watching sea lions and sharks and iguanas and albatross and blue-footed boobies and turtles would get old after a couple of days, believe me when I say that boredom is not possible when in the Galapagos. Every moment spent observing wildlife is beyond fascinating, it’s never the same as any other moment and it only further solidifies the notion that a trip to these islands is an experience of a lifetime.
It’s not only the wildlife though. It’s the views, volcanoes, beaches, colors, natural aromas, plants and trees, warm winds and pure remoteness that builds this trip into something that can’t be copied anywhere else on this planet.
A Galapagos cruise is surreal. It needs to be experienced. And I can’t imagine a better way to visit this mind-blowing destination than on the beautiful S/S Mary Anne, a ship as unique as the islands she travels around!
Any questions about the Galapagos or about my trip on board the Mary Anne? Let me know!
More posts from my Galapagos cruise:
The post A Galapagos Cruise On Board the Incredible Mary Anne appeared first on Wandering Earl.
A short time ago, I was on a flight to Ecuador, about to embark on a 7-day Galapagos Islands trip. As I’m traveling constantly, I barely had time to process my plans or to research or to gain a fair understanding of what I should expect.
All I knew is that my Galapagos Islands trip would involve:
a) Sailing for 1 week on board the S/S Mary Anne (run by the wonderful Andando Tours)
b) A lot of animals
c) Probably some other interesting stuff
How naive was I.
First, I spent 7 days/nights on board one of the coolest sailing vessels out there and in my opinion, the best ship for a trip around the Galapagos. As for interesting stuff…between kayaking, snorkeling, hiking, stargazing, constantly learning and just staring in awe at the otherworldly landscapes, I’d say that was easily covered.
And then the animals. A lot of animals?
In one week I ended up seeing an absurd amount of incredible, colorful, unique creatures…on land, in the water and in the sky. If I took a single hour from this one week trip, I would still be able to say that I did indeed see ‘a lot of animals’. Multiply that by 16 waking hours, multiply that by 7 days and you get the idea.
Here’s a taste of the experience that is an incredible Galapagos Islands trip (photos and a pretty cool video)…
When I mention my Galapagos Islands trip, one of the most common questions I’m asked is whether I saw any blue-footed boobies. Well, yes I did, along with red-footed and nazca boobies….EVERYWHERE!
By the end of the second day, we had already seen well over 50 sea lions. You might think this would be sufficient and any further sea lion spottings would become boring. Not the case! I would have been thrilled to see 50 sea lions every day as they were by far the most playful, active, curious and wacky of all the animals we came across (as you saw in the video above!).
What’s even better than 50 sea lions per day? Baby sea lions. Look at the photos, watch the video and tell me you don’t want to adopt a baby sea lion right away!
I think the photos speak for themselves but every time we hopped onto the little zodiac boat for a ride to shore, we had no idea what we would actually find. Yes, we knew that the nature would be stunning but until we stepped foot onto each island, it was impossible to know just how stunning it would be…
This is the awesome sailing vessel that I traveled on for the entire week during my Galapagos Islands trip!
With the super friendly Captain Mario at the helm…
From colorful marine iguanas to spaced out land iguanas to perky lava lizards and more…almost every island we visited was full of such creatures. There they would always be, sitting on the beach, swimming in the water, sunbathing on rocks or just wandering around.
There were actually so many iguanas and lizards that our guide had to constantly warn us to watch where we were walking to avoid stepping on one!
The giant tortoises were naturally impressive, often weighing in at over 730 lbs (350kgs) and living for over 100 years. They don’t move around too much but it’s difficult to take your eyes off of them. They seem to reach deep into your inner being when they stare at you (ok, not that intense but they’re fascinating to observe!)…
With their intricate courtship dance, huge size, crazy ability to fly super long distances and the fact that young albatrosses spend 6 years at sea before returning home to find a mate, seeing these birds on Espanola Island was a real highlight…
Everywhere I looked on this Galapagos Islands trip there were animals. Too many to remember, too many to even fathom. But every time I look at the photos myself, I realize that I spent an entire week completely amazed, impressed and thankful for such an opportunity, which is why a trip to this remarkable destination is worth every single dollar as far as I’m concerned. It’s a dream trip in every way.
Thanks for reading!
Any questions about the Galapagos Islands? Let me know!
If you’re interested in taking a Galapagos Islands trip, the 8-day experience aboard the S/S Mary Anne with Andando Tours is beyond incredible!
My other posts about the Galapagos Islands: My Galapagos Trip Was An Experience of a Lifetime
The post My Galapagos Islands Trip – 34 Favorite Photos (and a video) appeared first on Wandering Earl.
I never thought I’d go hang gliding. Then one day while in Rio de Janeiro my girlfriend said, ‘A friend of mine told me that we should go hang gliding.’
That was all it took.
We did 15 minutes of research, made a reservation and two days later we were in an Uber on our way to Sao Conrado Beach. It really was time for some Rio de Janeiro hang gliding.
The whole experience happened quickly.
We met Paulo, the owner of Just Fly Rio and our main instructor, on the beautiful beach. We signed some paperwork at the office of the local Rio de Janeiro hang gliding association. And then, after one last weather check, we hopped into Paulo’s jeep and began the journey to the top of the nearby Pedra Bonita mountain (520 meters high).
We were fitted with gear, given a safety lesson and provided with a few minutes of instruction while an assistant assembled the first hang glider.
Suddenly, Georgiana was hooked up to the wings and the instructor and two final safety checks were performed. Then, off they went. Running down the ramp and off into the sky, straight into the clouds. It was nuts.
At first, they immediately disappeared below, as if they plunged straight off the ramp. But after ten seconds, they re-appeared in the mist, soaring upwards along the edge of the mountains. And so her Rio de Janeiro hang gliding adventure began.
Ten minutes later, it was my turn. Henato, another instructor, showed up and we went through the same routine. Harness, instructions, safety checks…and before I had a chance to really soak it all up, I was also running down the ramp, attached to this huge green triangular wing.
And then the ground was gone and we were flying through the sky.
I’ll let this photo and video explain it all…
In brief, we loved it. Every minute of it. The sensation of flying really is something special…when you’re maneuvering with the wind, turning and twisting, rising up and floating down. At first it feels bizarre, but it doesn’t take long to become soothing and almost meditative.
Depending on where you do it, the scenery certainly helps too.
While flying, I actually asked Henato about his favorite places to hang glide (yes, we were having normal conversation up there!). He said the Swiss Alps was probably his favorite but this particular Rio de Janeiro location was second. And he has over 800 hang gliding flights under his belt, all over the world.
It’s hard to argue really. This Rio de Janeiro hang gliding experience takes off from a mountaintop above the dense jungle of the Tijuca National Park. You then fly through the clouds towards the white sands of Sao Conrado Beach, passing over neighborhoods tucked into lush green valleys, with views out over the rocky islands off the coast. And you actually land on the beach itself.
It’s beyond remarkable.
If you’re in Rio de Janeiro and want to fly, it’s worth looking into. I can’t imagine a better spot and as soon as you’re up there in the clouds above this gorgeous city, you’ll see why I’m so enthusiastic!
Here’s the company we used:
*The flight lasts between 7 – 20 minutes, depending on wind and weight. For a very reasonable rate you can receive photos ($15 USD) and videos ($20 USD) of your flight as well.
The owner, Paulo Celani (he was the main instructor as well), was thorough, very thorough, in terms of safety. Completely professional in every way. Whichever company you use, just make sure to read the reviews and see how others felt about the safety standards.
Have you been hang gliding?
As I stood outside the tiny airport on Baltra Island, I was quite eager to get this adventure started. I could barely even chat with the 12 other people around me. My Galapagos trip with Andando Tours, on board the S/S Mary Anne sailing vessel, had now become a reality.
Eight days later, I was right back in front of that very same airport once again, and I could still barely chat with those around me. This time, however, it was because I simply didn’t want my Galapagos trip to end.
What happened in between is quite a tale.
It’s a tale of expectations being far exceeded. They were exceeded not because the initial expectations were low but because no matter what one’s expectations, there is no way to fully prepare yourself for the awesome experience that is the Galapagos Islands.
When an adorable baby sea lion scratches its belly for two minutes straight, when a bright red crab hangs out on a lava rock right next to a huge multi-colored land iguana, when two albatrosses engage in a beak to beak mating ritual, when a white tip shark swims right by…that’s a typical day while exploring these islands.
And that’s not to mention the giant tortoises hanging out in the pond, the sea turtles floating around in pairs or the hammerhead sharks elegantly lurking next to your boat.
Oh, let me not forget about the boobies – both blue-footed and red-footed and of the Nazca variety too. Black tip sharks, marine iguanas, pelicans, spotted rays…frigate birds, octopus, Galapagos penguins and short-haired owls. Finally, there were yellow warblers, pink land iguanas, doves, egrets, red-billed tropicbirds, mockingbirds and I’m sure I’m forgetting some others.
In short, there’s wildlife everywhere, to the point where I had to watch my steps for fear of stepping on an iguana, a sleeping sea lion or a Nazca booby egg. I’d be watching a turtle and easily miss the pile of 42 lava lizards on the rock next to me. I’d look at the lizards and miss the rays flapping their ‘wings’ just above the water or the baby hawk playing with the teenage frigate bird, which our guide points out is something he has never seen in 30 years.
It went on and on…there was too much to see, everywhere, all the time, on every single island.
It seems that many vessels alternate between an eastern and western itinerary and the one I embarked on was of the eastern variety. And while I have no idea what I missed out on (apparently there is a better chance of spotting whales on the western itinerary), I can’t see how anyone would be anything but impressed to the core with the eastern version.
Over the course of 8 days, we visited the islands of Santa Cruz, Genovesa, Santiago, Bartholemew and Chinaman’s Hat, Rabida, Dragon Hill, South Plaza, Santa Fe and Espanola (here’s a list of all the Galapagos Islands). We would anchor at each destination and take our small dingy boats to shore or to our kayaking or snorkeling locations. We would sail long distances at night and during the day, we sometimes stayed in one place and other times moved to a different part of a particular island.
On this itinerary, we were far away from civilization. The main town in the Galapagos is the 15,000 person community of Puerto Ayora and we spent one day there in the middle of the trip. Apart from that, we didn’t visit the two other islands that have permanent communities on them. Instead, we only visited islands that had no human settlements (and no internet!) and no more than a couple of other boats in each place we anchored.
It was paradise, pure wonder and so very otherworldly at all times.
Our sailing vessel, the the irresistible S/S Mary Anne, held 14 people in cozy cabins, with a classic charm and a laid-back atmosphere that none of those luxury yachts we passed could possibly match. Having once been a racing boat in Germany some twenty years ago, the 66-meter Mary Anne, with her 3 masts, seemed right at home in the Galapagos Islands.
As the only Galapagos trip that can be undertaken by wind power alone, this sailing vessel certainly stood out, especially when those sails were hoisted. Out of every other ship we came across, none matched the character of our dear Mary Anne. (We knew this because passengers on other boats told us they kept wanting to take photos of ours!)
Don’t get me wrong, the entire experience was of the highest quality, with excellent food and service and attention to every detail. But our group, in fact, any group that heads up the steps of this ship, consists of real travelers eager to discover each island, eager to put on our shoes and head for the trail or hop into our kayaks for a good adventure or put on our snorkeling gear and jump straight into the cool ocean to see what the next underwater world will reveal.
And that atmosphere is why I would recommend the proud Mary Anne to anyone looking for a unique way to experience this mind-blowing destination.
Our days were long. Breakfast was served at 6:30am and we were off the boat by 7:15am. We hiked and kayaked and snorkeled, every single day, typically twice per day. And I’ll tell you this…I could have hiked and kayaked and snorkeled for another month without ever wanting to miss a single activity.
That’s how breathtaking these islands are when seen first hand. That’s how much awe is created upon every sea lion sighting, every bird sighting and every shark and pufferfish and angelfish and stingray sighting. The same goes for every sighting of a bizarre-looking plant or tree or natural formation or volcano or picture-perfect white or red sand beach.
I like animals. But I never could have imagined that I would want to follow the flight of herons and frigates or stare at at a red-footed booby for an hour straight. If you told me that 1000 sea lions would be fascinating, I would have told you that by the 10th sea lion I would be bored. How wrong that would be. Show me 2000 sea lions during one Galapagos trip and I’ll happily observe them all!
When I was out there snorkeling off of South Plaza Island and I broke away from my group, a large male sea lion suddenly appeared. He looked me in the eye and then swam only one meter in front of me. I turned around and swam after him. He twisted underwater and so I twisted too. We swam with each other for a good 2 minutes, playing around in a most acrobatic routine. And while his acrobatics were no doubt far superior to mine, he seemed to take delight in my attempt to synchronize. For me, it was pure joy.
When I swam around a large school of angelfish, I found myself only one meter away from a two meter long white tip shark. And while they are not known as a danger to humans, its long body and serious face certainly caused me to hold my breath and pause. But then, after that quick pause of fright, I happily turned and swam after him, following right behind for quite some time (until he swam into a dark cave and then I thought it was a good idea to turn around!).
When a baby sea lion popped out of the bushes and ran after a red and black land iguana, I pulled my head back in shock as the sea lion bit onto the iguana’s tail. The iguana pulled away and ran over a rock but the sea lion followed and grabbed its tail once again. They were simply playing together, as the crabs and birds and lava lizards all looked on.
There were endless moments of amazement.
There were endless lessons to be learned as well.
Our guide, Fernando, was incredible, putting his 30 years of vast Galapagos and conservation knowledge to use as he explained, in fascinating fashion, every detail about every ecosystem, every bird, reptile and mammal, every plant, flower and tree, every volcano crater, lagoon and beach, every conservation program and research effort.
These islands reveal far more than what you could possibly read in a book.
From the various new species of iguanas that were created over a 10,000 year period to the learned behavior of the finches to the special role of cacti, we learned so many intricate details about how these islands came to be, how these animals came to be and how it all has and will continue to change due to both natural and human factors.
That education is something I won’t forget.
And it’s why I’m smiling so widely right now thinking about the stunning red sands of Rabida Island and the wacky albatross dances on Espaniola, the thousands of boobies building nests on Genovesa, the hammerhead sharks in Black Turtle Cove and the snorkeling off of South Plaza Island where we encountered hundreds of types of marine life.
I’ve been traveling nonstop for over 19 years now and I can state, without hesitation, that this was without a doubt a trip of a lifetime in every single way.
And that’s why, outside the Baltra Airport on that final day, I didn’t want to leave. This Galapagos trip couldn’t possibly be over. Or at the very least, I wanted to spot one last sea lion or lava lizard before I took off.
Well, I didn’t see either. However, moments before boarding the flight back to Guayaquil, a tiny Darwin’s finch flew through a window and right into the gate area. And you know what, that sendoff was more than perfect for me.
Please go to the Galapagos if you can.
Have you been to the Galapagos? Any questions about my trip?
My Galapagos Trip Details:
Andando Tours, Quito, Ecuador
Vessel: S/S Mary Anne
Previous posts: How I Booked 13 Flights Around the World for $2200 and Let’s Talk About Tourist Crowds
That was crazy. My girlfriend and I recently booked a ton of flights around the world. We needed to get from Europe to South America, then travel all around South America before heading to the USA and back to Europe before I fly off to India in mid-February.
It’s not usually how we travel – to have 3 months planned out and booked before we arrive – but this time, it was the option that worked best given our tight schedule.
When we finished all the bookings, I didn’t know what to do. Celebrate? Sleep? Shower?
Here’s what we booked:
– Barcelona to Miami
– Fort Lauderdale to Quito
– Quito to Rio de Janeiro
– Rio de Janeiro to Ushuaia
– Ushuaia to Buenos Aires
– Buenos Aires to Santiago
– Uyuni, Bolivia to La Paz
– Cusco, Peru to Bogota, Colombia
– Bogota to Medellin, Colombia
– Medellin to Fort Lauderdale
– Fort Lauderdale to London
– London to Budapest
– Budapest to Delhi
In 18 years of travel I’ve never booked so many flights in one go!
At first glance, it would certainly be understandable to think that the above 13 flights around the world cost us an absolute fortune in total. I still have a difficult time looking at all those flights and not thinking that myself.
However, while that colorful array of air journeys certainly didn’t cost $200, the grand total of those trips…
That’s an average of about $169 per flight. Some of those trips are 1 hour long, others are 14 hours and the rest are in between. And in the end, those flights will take us to 4 different continents over a period of almost 3 months. That’s remarkably inexpensive if you think of what we’re getting for that amount of money.
My usual flight booking process is this:
#1. Check the following websites:
(I know a lot of people use Skyscanner and Momondo but I’ve personally never found a cheaper fare on either of those websites.)
#2. Play around with dates and destinations.
Since my plans are rarely 100% set in stone, I always play around with various dates. I also play around with different orders of the destinations. For example, with our flight from Medellin to Fort Lauderdale, changing the date by one day reduced the price by $90. Going from Rio de Janeiro to Ushuaia and then to Buenos Aires was $150 cheaper than going from Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. Flexibility is key!
#3. Grouping flights / Multi-city flights
I always try to group flights together. On this South America trip, booking separate flights was more expensive than grouping together Rio to Ushuaia, Ushuaia to Buenos Aires and Buenos Aires to Santiago. Grouping those three together in a multi-city search saved us $200. (But booking Uyuni to La Paz, Bolivia was much cheaper on its own. That flight cost $85. When grouped with other flights, it increased the overall price by $130.)
From Cusco, Peru to Medellin, Colombia, it was also much cheaper to group two separate one-way tickets together than to book one complete ticket all the way through. By booking Cusco to Bogota and then Bogota to Medellin, we saved $110.
Here’s another great example: I once needed to fly from Budapest to NYC. The cost of the one-way flight was $650 at the time. I then decided to try and group it together with another flight I knew I needed to take 4 months later – Miami to Delhi. The airfare went down to $625, total! I ended up with two long-distance flights for the price of one.
Grouping random flights is one of the best methods for reducing airfares in my experience.
#4. Check the airline’s website
Once I find the lowest fare from the websites listed above, I’ll generally visit the specific airline’s website to see what they offer directly. Sometimes, the fare is the same or even lower. When that’s the case, I book it on the airline’s website as this takes away the middleman and is much easier to deal with, especially if there’s an issue at some point.
However, sometimes, as was the case with LATAM Ecuador, the fares on their website were MUCH higher than what we could get on Kayak for the same flights. In these instances, I definitely go with Kayak or Orbitz or whichever site offers the lowest fare. While it’s convenient to book directly with the airline, it’s not usually worth a few hundred extra dollars to do so!
If it’s a multi-city/grouped flight, it depends on whether it involves one or multiple airlines. If it’s one airline, it can be booked on the airline’s website and if it’s multiple airlines, it usually needs to be booked through the site offering the deal.
#5. Different languages
Our flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to London Gatwick is with Norwegian Airlines. I saved $37 by going to Norwegian Airline’s Swedish website versus using their English-language website, where the same flight was more expensive.
It’s a little tricky since there are often dozens of different languages you could test for each airline. But I will generally try a couple of versions, usually the native language of the airline and another country nearby, just to see if there is any difference in airfare.
#6. Discount codes
I’ve started doing this with anything I purchase online. Before I confirm the purchase, I’ll do a Google search for the name of the website or company followed by the words ‘discount code’. Something like “TAP Portugal discount code”.
Every now and then I find something that works. Maybe it’s $10 savings, maybe it’s 10% or more. All it takes is a few seconds and you could end up saving some money so it doesn’t hurt to try!
Finding good airfares is not really complicated. Sure, there are some tricks involved, but it really just requires time. Search, compare, tweak dates, tweak destinations, group flights together, search again…and again and again.
But if you simply don’t like searching for flights, you might not want to spend as much time as I do looking for deals. I usually spend what my girlfriend describes as ‘way too much time’ trying to find cheaper fares. In the case of our 13 flights around the world above, it really did take us a solid 3 days, searching about 3 hours per day, until we finalized everything.
But we did save over $1200 each based on the total price we started with from our initial searches. I’ll take a $1200 savings any day for a few hours of work over a 3 day period!
The extra research also led to more direct flights, shorter layovers and better departure and arrival times. For me, the extra research is worth it even if all I get is a later flight that doesn’t require me to wake up at 4:00am. Also, I landed three flights in premium economy class (it was cheaper than regular economy for some reason), a bonus I certainly won’t turn down!
What’s the best flight deals you’ve ever found? Any advice to add?
The post How I Booked 13 Flights Around the World for $2200 appeared first on Wandering Earl.
The 2018 Monaco Grand Prix. Monaco is a popular destination for incentive travel. Andy Hone/LAT Photographic / Flickr