An archipelago some 1,000km west of the South American continent, the Galápagos Islands are the land that time forgot. Its unique landscape and fantastic range of wildlife inspired Charles Darwin and, today, great efforts are made to preserve its rich biodiversity. Of course, any trip to the islands isn’t complete without a visit to the cultural delights of Ecuador.
Landing in the mountainous Ecuadorian capital, Quito, I was met on arrival and transferred to my home for three nights – the beautiful Casa Gangotena Hotel set overlooking Plaza San Francisco in Old Quito. It’s perfect for exploring the city’s bustling markets and open-air concerts. The next morning I got to know it better with a city tour of its monasteries, museums and churches, designated by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site.
The next day, I was driven through rising volcanic valleys lined with Ecuadorian rose farms on my way to Otavalo Handcraft Market. A tumble of bright colours and jewellery, I picked up some boldly coloured traditional bags. On leaving the market, I was taken to Puertolago, a country inn on the shore of the picturesque Lake San Pablo, where I enjoyed a selection of typical Ecuadorian dishes. With log fires and beautiful lake views, I would happily recommend an overnight stay here.
That evening I had an early night in preparation for my trip to the Galápagos the next day. A short flight and airport transfer later and I was standing on the quay, donning a life vest in preparation for my first trip in a panga. It didn’t take long to spot our first wildlife with a mass of blue-footed boobies fishing in the water as a pod of sea lions lazed past.
We were taken to the Ocean Spray, my luxury catamaran home for the next four nights. Carrying only 16 guests, my cabin was very comfortable with a spacious bathroom and private balcony.Lunch was buffet service with a wide choice of cold starters, hot mains and delicious desserts. Credit to the chef on board for producing such a wide variety for each meal in such a tiny galley; he even managed to make all the excellent bread and pastries. Tea, coffee, soft drinks and snacks were available 24 hours a day while alcohol was an optional extra.
After lunch, it was straight onto our first snorkel and swim where we were again lucky to spot the rare Galápagos Penguins. Then back to the ship for a quick shower before we were taken by panga to Bartholomew Island. A volcanic outcrop, it offered fantastic sunset views out over the fabled waters.
The next three days were spent with two island walking visits each day, together with a daily snorkel. To rival the traditional safari Big Five, there’s considered a Big Fifteen to spot in Galápagos and I’m proud to say that I spotted all but one – the Albatross. I saw both red and blue footed boobies and the Nazca booby, cormorants and flamingos, both great and magnificent frigate birds, the Galápagos hawk, land and marine iguana, penguins, sea lions, the Galápagos fur seal and the incredible giant tortoise.
The opportunity to get so close without fear from them or us was quite special while watching the nesting birds and snoozing sea lions was magical. And, having a Galápagos owl land right in front of us with recently caught prey in its claws was a moment I will never forget. And, sitting on my private balcony reflecting on the day was a lovely end to each evening.
After four nights, I was back on land, where I transferred to the Finch Bay Eco Hotel on Santa Cruz Island, one of only four otherwise uninhabited islands in the archipelago. With one toe in the water, it’s set on the beach amid manicured gardens and is the perfect place to decompress after a cruise. In the evening, I took the water taxi back to the port to lap up the Spanish way of life, with families out on a Saturday evening enjoying the balmy weather.
The next morning, sad to say goodbye, I made the return journey to the airport for my flight to Guayaquil. Here, I was met on arrival and given a tour of what is the largest city in Ecuador. With a population of three million, it’s the financial and commercial centre of the country.
However, I was more interested in the long river fronted promenade, its fine collection of colonial buildings and its ornate, modern cathedral. Located near the river, the cafés and art galleries of the colourful old quarter are well worth visit. The next morning, I had the day to myself and took the chance to buy some of the Ecuador roses to bring back with me before my evening flight back to Heathrow.
Scott Anderson is General Manager at The Luxury Cruise Company. The Luxury Cruise Company is your port of call for incredible cruise holidays.
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