Galapagos Getaway

 

 

 

Compañia Church
Quito’s La Compañia Church is a 17th-century architectural masterpiece completed in 1650.

Quito Connection

Most travelers who visit the Galapagos Island do so as part of an itinerary that also includes a visit to mainland Ecuador. Among popular pre- and post-Galapagos cities are Guayaquil, a coastal hub of business and industry, and Cuenca, a historical city in the highlands, but we stuck solely to the capital city of Quito, which is arguably the richest of the cities in arts and culture.

The city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a living timeline, where the old and the new coexist. Be sure to plan a visit for your clients that will let them appreciate the full scope of the city’s history and present. Our base for the first leg of our journey, the Hilton Colon Quito, is just a 10-minute walk from the colonial Old Town, a part of the city that’s filled with ornate churches and cathedrals, political points of interest, and shops and restaurants. Here, highlights include La Compañía de Jesús Church, an architectural masterpiece whose 17th-century Jesuit builders spared no expense. Its intricate Baroque façade and gold-leaf-laden interior are simply spectacular. Suggest, too, that your clients stop at the Plaza de la Independencia, home to the President’s Palace, Archbishop’s Palace and town hall. It’s frequently in motion, mostly with workday foot traffic and (at times of political tension) impassioned Ecuadorians.

One of South America’s most iconic and imposing religious complexes is the church and monastery known as San Francisco which comprises seven cloisters and a museum of colonial art. It’s also within easy walking distance of the Museo de la Ciudad (City Museum) and the Centro Cultural Metropolitano (Metropolitan Cultural Center). We were awestruck by the sheer size and gothic details (think animal-shaped gargoyles) of La Catedral de Quito, which looms high above the city from a hilltop.

It’s easy to be swept away by the city’s historical offerings, but allow time to explore its contemporary ones, as well. On the return leg of our journey, we stayed at the modern Le Parc Boutique Hotel. From there, we checked out Quito’s New Town and the Mariscal, a commercial artery where locals linger at sidewalk cafés, often sipping on cold beer and sampling au courant cuisine.

 

 

Galapagos
The Galapagos have rich landscapes of beaches, lava rocks, and lush vegetation.

If you’re in search of a cruise vacation but want the right blend of adventure and opulence, there can’t be a better suggestion than a small-ship expedition to the Galapagos Islands. Cruises in the Galapagos take passengers island-hopping in the archipelago, whose dozen-plus isles boast unique scenery and animal life. Even Better: Small ships allow more intimate learning experiences on land.

We set sail around the Galapagos with Adventure Associates. Popular among the company’s Galapagos tours are three-, four-, and seven-night journeys aboard its fleet of yachts and expedition vessels, as well as smaller motorized yachts and sailboats. Since the ships vary slightly in terms of size and style, here’s a quick breakdown of the fleet’s major ships to help you find the best fit for your clients: The Isabela II accommodates up to 40 guests and offers the most in-depth weeklong itinerary; the Santa Cruz hosts up to 90 guests in 43 cabins and was renovated inside out in 1998; and La Pinta, which accommodates up to 48 passengers, is known as the most luxurious of the three.

For our journey, we booked a double cabin aboard La Pinta that, despite its intimate size (typical among expedition ships), felt perfectly comfortable courtesy of its air-conditioning, private bathroom, iPod docking station, and writing desk/vanity. An additional table and chair made for the perfect spot to read between excursions and gaze at the passing landscape through the window. Common spaces on board include a lobby/gift shop, a dining room, a multipurpose room for lectures and group gatherings (and cocktails—yes, there’s a bar in the rear), a library and reading room with tea service, a small fitness room, and an upper deck with chaises, a Jacuzzi, and an alfresco dining area and bar.

 

Yachts
Yachts and expedition vessels can get right up close to the scenery.

For Adventure Associates’ Galapagos guests, the island adventure officially begins upon arrival at the archipelago’s capital, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island, as it did for us, or at Baltra, depending on their itinerary. Guests are greeted at the airport by crew from their respective ships and are subsequently escorted to a nearby shuttle bus for a quick transfer to the embarkation port. From there, it’s a quick dinghy (or panga, as they’re called by the ships’ crew) ride to the awaiting flotilla. Once on board La Pinta, we were led to our cabin and given a safety briefing along with our fellow passengers. And then, the fun truly began.

 

Sally Lightfoot
Sally lightfoot crabs scramble across the rocks in a dazzling display of local color.

Travelers who have gone on safaris will likely draw parallels between their experiences in the bush and their Galapagos journey: Days begin fairly early and typically feature two main excursions on land—one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Excursions involve walks both along the islands’ coastline and in the interior. While the islands are mostly flat and navigable, some walks are designated more difficult (think lava fields with jagged, cracked surfaces) and, thus, aren’t recommended for passengers with physical disabilities or limitations. In addition, optional activities like panga rides, glass-bottom-boat rides, snorkeling, and, at times, kayaking, are available. While we recommend taking part in each and every optional activity, snorkeling is an absolute must here. (During one snorkeling session, we were joined by a large family of curious sea lions, eager to play alongside us as we explored the underwater coastline.) Note: Optional excursions are offered on the basis of the guests’ fitness levels. Back on board, in between activities, passengers can enjoy meals and attend nature talks, relax in their cabins or on deck, or soak in the Jacuzzi. The ships are often on the move at nights so that guests awake in a new destination each day.

 

Adventure Associates
Adventure Associates’ naturalists educate passengers about the islands’ wildlife.

Our itinerary included stops on San Cristobal, North Seymour, Santa Cruz, Floreana, Isabela and Fernandina islands. Each island brought something unique to our journey, but some stops stood out from the rest: Post Office Bay on Floreana, where visitors can “mail” postcards to loved ones back home, and Fernandina, the youngest of the Galapagos Islands, which, in addition to countless sea lions, colourful sally lightfoot crabs, hawks, penguins and flightless cormorants, boasts the archipelago’s densest population of marine iguanas. The reptiles huddle in masses, blending in with the black-and-gray rocky landscape to create an eerie, otherworldly effect—and the perfect mental snapshot by which to remember our incredible journey.

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