Turtle, Ecuador

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24 Reviews

  • Reviewed August 2011
    Anonymous

    GALAPAGOS WILDLIFE CRUISE

    A great trip, a long flight out but if you are interested in wildlife and are wondering about visiting the Galapagos then go for it. I experienced several of those moments when I couldn't believe what was happening right in front of me.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    I cannot possibly describe everything I enjoyed but here are samples: rising at early light to see storm petrels dancing on glassy smooth water before the morning breeze comes up; flamingoes in dayglo red, as vivid as the vermilion flycatchers; small flightless cormorants with bright turquoise eyes that stood preening themselves as we passed by or surfaced near the panga as they returned from fishing expeditions; male frigate birds sailing through the air with red throat sacs inflated to impress their girlfriends; gorgeous green dragonflies in the highlands of Santa Cruz and elegant coffee and cream dragonflies near the beach at Floreana; a great blue heron, taller than I am, that I was cautiously approaching when it decided to walk towards me, I might be exaggerating about its height but I don't think so; marvellous sea caves with nesting noddies; evening on the north side of Santa Cruz where hunting sealions swam rings round hunting sharks and opportunist pelicans perched on the boat waiting to pounce on the dozens of fish that shot across the surface in fright; hunting packs of blue footed boobies that form merry-go-rounds of dozens, if not hundreds of birds when one of them spots a shoal and whistles for its friends so that they can take turns at diving and circling round to have another go; Espanola where, rather surreally, albatrosses with pretty faces sat on their nests gently touching each other's bills and necks whilst in nearby bushes the mocking birds were attacking each other ferociously.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Darwin Alvarez is probably the best group leader I have met, very knowledgeable, helpful and considerate and well able to adapt the daily trips to circumstances and the particular preferences of individual members of the group.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Do read the trip Notes! They do tell you what to prepare for in the islands. It helps to be moderately fit but the walking is lightweight compared to that on Exodus walking trips, no more than 2.5km on any walk and the greatest height gain was about 140m. The steeper paths had flights of steps and often handrails. To get the most from the trip you should be able to snorkel (often opportunities twice a day). Plenty of shallow water beach visits and life vests are provided if you are not a strong swimmer. James and Suzy have given good advice on keeping baggage light. I wish I had taken earplugs. The engine and generators are noisy and you move between islands at night!

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Drink plenty of water in Quito and on the flight out. Glucose is recommended for altitude but jelly babies will do the job just as well. There are plenty of restaurants within ten minutes walk of the hotel in Quito centred on Plaza Mariscal Foch at the junction of Foch and Reina Victoria. Chelsea in the corner of the square was excellent (extensive menu, brilliant smoothies and a rather decent house red). The area had a very visible police presence, particularly in the evening so you can feel safe there.If you have an hour to spare in Quito visit the artisan's market on Jorge Washington about 10 minutes from the hotel on foot. It has several aisles full of tourist goods including:- alpaca woollens, embroidery, leather goods, wooden chess sets (conquistadors v incas) etc. You can haggle but they are very cheap already by british standards.The cabin on Cachalote was not well lit but its bathroom was. Plenty of electricity points, 2 in the bathroom and 2 under one of the shelves, american type sockets. Food was excellent on board. For those who are not interested in fruit and veg the main courses ranged through fish/chicken/pork/beef with rice/potatoes/pasta/polenta, never the same thing twice, but the variety of fruit and veg was excellent.
  • Reviewed July 2011
    Anonymous

    GALAPAGOS WILDLIFE CRUISE

    A wonderful experience packed full of varied activities and wildlife. The small schooner type boat seems like a much better way to see the Islands than the larger cruiser style boats. Every Island is so different in terms of the specific wildlife hosted, and indeed the snorkelling at all the different locations also provided varied trips. The 'navigation' between the islands can be a little bumpy, personally I loved every minute of it but if you are wanting a smoother ride then maybe a larger boat would be better for you.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    I really could go on and on, but here are a couple:Swimming/snorkelling with the Sea Lions has to be one of the most wonderful experiences of my life - and I have been on quite a few of these types of trip! They are so inquisitive and friendly and one could literally swim for hours with them...but you mustn't get distracted too much or you will miss the thousands of fish and other sea mammals to be seen. The sea-life is just so rich out there - supporting the huge number of sea birds. And the numbers of sea birds really are huge...leading on to another inspirational moment being witness to a Blue Footed Booby feeding frenzy where huge flocks of birds dive into the sea together to feed on shoaling fish...backed up with Sea Lions, Pelicans, Penguins and other predatory fish...we were right in the middle of one of these feeding frezies with the action going on all around us - truly amazing experience.Thirdly, and I think this moment would rank high for everyone that was there, was when we snorkelled into a deep cave by torchlight, and on turning back from the darkness we were greeted with a view of (possibly) hundreds of huge turtles suspended against a dazzling green/blue background...I won't ever be forgetting that image.The boat (Cachalote) for me was one big high point - the crew were fantastic from the two Panga (dinghy) drivers and deckhands to the Skipper and Chef - all were cheerful and amusing and would be anxious to make sure all of our needs were met. It's just so much fun being on a smaller boat - some of the trips between islands can be a tad rough and storage space in the cabins is a little limited, but seriously, just don't pack too much - you can wash shirts and shorts underway - they take seconds to dry. There is nothing better than standing up on deck watching the waves and/or stars go by with a beer in hand. During the day also while navigating there is a strong chance of sightings of Dolphins, Whales, and the odd Manta Ray jumping clear out of the water to rid themselves of parasites.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Darwin was quite possibly the best tour leader I have had on any holiday. His passion and enthusiasm for his job, country and surroundings was extraordinary. His knowledge was vast, and imparted explicitly. A good sense of humour and ability to sense moments when we might have wanted some peace were his strong points. Nightly briefings kept us well in touch with what was planned for the next day. He was an excellent guide both above and below water and you could see that he was genuinely wanting us to get the very most out of our trip, and enjoying every moment of it as much as us. Well done Darwin - a fantastic job :)

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Read the trip notes - heh, we're all guilty of not doing that properly eh?

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    I'd totally recommend this holiday - the only thing I can think of to add that isn't covered here or in the trip notes or any other reviews is that if you have doubts about the snorkelling, then don't worry - I am not a strong snorkeller and almost didn't go on this trip because of it, but the snorkelling is not that tricky and it is such a wonderful part of the holiday and the things you will see while snorkelling will complement the things you see on land.I also almost didn't go on the trip because I didn't think the Tortoises and Iguanas in great numbers would appeal. Again, I wouldn't let this stop you...these species are intriguing in their own rights - I can't believe how much I got 'into' tortoises and Iguanas.Just book it!Cheery Ho,James.
  • Reviewed July 2011
    Anonymous

    GALAPAGOS WILDLIFE CRUISE

    If you are reading this then the answer is YES! Yes you should go to the Galapagos islands, it is even more special and magical than you could ever imagine. For me it was a dream come true and the best experience of my life so far.  I would 100% recommend this trip and Exodus, so much so that I have already started saving to do it all over again!

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Sorry, it is impossible to choose just one.  The first was landing at the airport on Baltra where a huge Land Iguana was sat on the runway basking in the sun!  After that every day seemed to have its own unique and special moment.Walking to the summit of Sierra Negra Volcano on Isabella and looking down into the 5 mile wide caldera.  It was such a peaceful, awe inspiring place.Watching a feeding frenzy up close from the panga where the water boiled with the action of Blue footed Boobies and Pelicans diving from above and Penguins and Sea Lions from below. Sailing between the islands with a pod of hundreds of Bottlenose dolphins, riding the bow wave and leaping out of the water.Seeing Waved Albatros nesting on Espanola. Walking along idyllic, deserted, white sandy beaches with azure blue seas.Keeping to the tracks as per park rules but having to step over Iguanas, Lizards and Sea Lions and around nesting birds.  You must keep at least 2 metres away from the animals but no one seems to have told them that!  One young sea lion even decided to come over and untie one of my Mum's boot laces!The snorkeling was amazing.  We swam into the darkness of a cave at Punta Vicente Roca, Isabella and when we turned to swim back out, the "blue hole" in front of us was filled with marine turtles just hanging in the water.  So many fantastic underwater encounters and games with the sea lions.  Evenings spent sat on the gently rolling deck of the beautiful Cachalote with new found friends, enjoying a beer, looking up at the incredible starfilled sky and being accompanied by a group of Swallow Tailed Gulls - I wish I was still there!

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Our leader was the aptly named Darwin Alvarez.  His knowledge and passion for the Galapagos Islands, their geology, history and wildlife were incredible and truly inspirational.  His english is excellent and his nightly briefings well organised, concise, clear and entertaining.  His leadership during the walks on land is very relaxed, informative and friendly and he never made us feel shepherded or rushed.   Darwin is an excellent swimmer so is also a wonderful snorkeling guide. He did his absolute best to meet all of the individual needs of a very diverse group of people and succeeded.  A true ambassador for the Galapagos Islands and a job well done. 

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    I would definitely recommend doing the 2 week cruise in a small group.  This allows you to visit most of the islands and you will often find that it is only your group at a visitor site.The Cachalote is a charming, comfortable boat with excellent safety standards.  Her crew were professional, hard working and friendly.  However due to her size, the cabins are small and she rocks and rolls in rough seas.  Some of the journeys between islands take up to 8 hours and are usually done at night.  So if you want luxury or get seasick then the Cachalote is not the boat for you.  If you want good food, comfortable accommodation, great service and enjoy life at sea then she definitely is.  Although she has sails don't expect to see them in use as most of the sailing is done at night and always under engine power.  All cabins and the saloon have air conditioning and the towels and sheets are changed every other day.  There are good reading lights above the bunks.  The food is plentiful and healthy. Breakfast - Cereal/yoghurt/fresh fruit/bread/eggs/cheese/ham. Lunch - soup, main course, desert. Dinner - main course, desert.  Lunch and dinner are set meals, meat/fish/seafood (vegetarian/vegan if pre-requested) with dishes of salad/fresh veg and potatoes/rice to help yourself.  Purified water is available at all times as is coffee and tea.  Fruit juice/squash is provided at meal times and with a snack (biscuits/crisps/fruit) when you return to the boat after a trip to the islands.  Any other drinks are not included and are put onto a tab to pay on your last night.  The prices are very reasonable, a bottle of beer is $2, and Richard, the barman makes some great cocktails ($4 to $5).The itinerary on board is fairly packed.  Typical example: 7am Breakfast, 8am wet/dry landing at a visitor site on one of the islands, 10am back onboard, 10.30am snorkeling, 11.30am back on board, 12pm Lunch, boat may stay anchored, or sail to next site, 2.30pm snorkeling, 3.30pm back on board, 4pm wet/dry landing at a visitor site on one of the islands, 6pm back on board, 7pm dinner and briefing for the next day. Overnight sailing to next island. Of course everything is optional, so you can choose to stay on board and relax but I think you need to be fairly fit and active to get the best out of this trip.  Despite the best efforts of the guide and the crew, some of the landings can be tricky and a lot of the walking is over rough terrain.  However with the exception of a couple of climbs to the summits of volcanoes, most of the walking is on the flat, at a leisurely pace and over fairly short distances (1 - 2 miles).  Snorkeling plays a big part in the itinerary, happening every day and sometimes twice a day.  Some of the snorkeling can be done from the beach but most is done from the panga in "deep water" where the currents are at times fairly strong.  If you have never snorkeled before or are not overly confident then it is definitely worth getting some practice in before you go because you will have as many amazing encounters under the water as you do on land. As a destination I would certainly recommend the Galapagos Islands.  They are so peaceful, tranquil and largely unspoilt or untouched by man. The geology is incredibly varied from white sand to red, vast expanses of sharp black lava rock with small oasis of water and vegetation, and pristine mangroves to the misty, vegetated highlands.  The wildlife is both odd and beautiful and has no fear of humans.  Sea Lions will play with you underwater, Mockingbirds will search for insects in the sand beneath your feet and Blue footed Boobies will put on the most spectacular diving show right in front of your eyes.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Pack light.  Weight limit for Galapagos flight is 20 Kg and storage space in the cabins is very limited.  Take a canvas kit bag that you can live out of.  The Cachalote provides the following: Biodegradable shampoo and soap, towels (Shower/beach/hand), water bottle and even a T-shirt.  You are also likely to buy a few souvenir t-shirts whilst there so don't need to take many.  Most of the time you will be wearing shorts and a t-shirt although its a good idea to take some lightweight walking trousers (zip offs are ideal) and a light rain jacket/anorak for the highlands.  There is no dress code onboard so just take comfortable clothes for the evenings.  If you spend your evenings out on deck it can get a bit chilly especially when on the move so a windproof fleece/soft shell is ideal.  Good walking boots/shoes are ESSENTIAL.  Make sure they have good grip and if you need it, ankle support.  Walking sandals are fine for some of the walks.  You can either go barefoot or wear a pair of light shoes onboard but these need to be boat only shoes.  If you have a mask and snorkel then take it, if not you can hire good equipment, cheaply onboard.  They also have good quality fins so I wouldn't bother taking your own, just hire them.  A shortie wetsuit (2-3mm) or a wetsuit t-shirt with board shorts is a good idea as the water can be quite cold and the sun very harsh.  Take 2 sets of swim wear as you will often snorkel twice in a day.  A dry bag is useful for keeping your camera gear, binoculars etc dry during panga rides.  Its a good idea to take some ear plugs as some of the cabins are very noisy due to the generator and engine. All of the cabins have 110v power supply which require a 2 flat prong adaptor for UK plugs.  Sea sickness tablets are provided onboard but its a good idea to take your own so you know what you are taking. Obviously sunglasses, hat and plenty of suncream. Also an alarm clock and a notebook and pen.  With regard to camera equipment I took an SLR and 2 lenses, wide angle and 100-400mm zoom which proved ideal. Take plenty of memory cards or even better a laptop to transfer photos to and lens cleaners for the salt spray and condensation issues.  An underwater camera is a must, even if its only a cheap disposable one.  Binoculars are useful although if you are a keen photographer you probably won't be able to put the camera down long enough to use them!  If your camera has a movie mode then don't (like me) forget to use it to capture the boobies incredible diving displays. Don't bother taking any form of flash as this is not allowed and if you have a compact camera make sure you know how to turn the flash off.  Surprisingly there is often good mobile phone coverage - a quad band phone is required.  Other than your bar bill and cost of renting any snorkeling equipment the only other money you need on board is for tips.  The recommended tip is $100 per person, per week for the crew and $40 per person, per week for the guide.  Obviously you can give more or less depending on how you rate the service you receive.  There is a box in the saloon for the crew and tips for the guide are given directly to him/her. And finally, go for it and have the holiday of a lifetime, I certainly did. 
  • Reviewed April 2011
    Anonymous

    GALAPAGOS WILDLIFE CRUISE + Napo

    I'm glad I did the two week cruise to see the different terrain, flora and fauna. A great experience to get so close to wild animals. I can't swim, but with the help of a bouyancy aid and hired snorkel, mask and fins it was fantastic.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    It's difficult resisting the temptation to stroke the animals, but you are not allowed to. That does not stop the sea lions coming up to you both on land and when snorkelling.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Our leader, Juan, was excellent. He spoke very good English and was enthusiastic and had encyclopaedic knowledge of the Galapagos. He even played his guitar and arranged a sing-song for when we crossed the equator.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Travel light and bring plenty of sunscreen.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Again I have had a great holiday with Exodus and will no doubt be travelling with them again. The trip notes etc are very helpful, but here are a few points that would make them even more helpful and would avoid people taking unnecessary items or having trouble fitting things in on the return trip. I had never been on a yacht and assumed the cabins would be about the same as on the Vavilov/Ioffe ships on the polar trips. But the Cachalotte cabins are much smaller with minimal storage space. Thankfully I used a rucksack that could squash down to fit in the small space under the bunk. If you are sharing with a stranger, storage space is even more limited. The Cachalotte and Napo provided bathroom towels and biodegradeable soap and shampoo, so you don't need to take these. The Cachalotte also provided beach towels.The flight to Napo bans all pressurised aerosols, so take a roll-on deodorant for that bit of the trip. The Quito hotel will store any items that you don't need for Napo. Don't bother with a washing line or pegs - there are pegs on the Cachalotte so that you can hang your washing on the wire handrail on deck. As soon as you arrive on the Cachalotte and when you arrive at Napo, you are given a 1 litre refillable drinking bottle to use and keep, so don't bother taking one. (although a Camelbak is handy when walking carrying a camera). The Cachalotte also give you a tee shirt, so that is one less to take.Day one in the Galapagos visits the Darwin Research Centre, where you can buy decent tee-shirts for $15, so that's another one you don't need to take. The bouyancy aids worn whilst on the pangas that take you ashore each day are perfectly adequate for a total non-swimmer to use when snorkelling. It would be a great shame to miss the snorkelling just because you are not confident in the water. Most days the water was warm when snorkelling but in a couple of places it was chilly so a summer shortie wetsuit would be handy but not essential. The Cachalotte had a couple of walking sticks (one may have been a broom handle!) that are useful on a couple of the walks on trickier terrain. It would be useful if they had a few more proper walking poles so that people do not have to carry their own. The trip notes suggest taking plastic beach shoes for wet landings. I took them and never used them. For most walks, trekking sandals (preferably closed toes) are sufficient. But as you are required to wash your shoes each time you get back on board ship to avoid transfer of seeds etc to the next island, your shoes are going to get wet anyway. And for days when walking boots are needed, use your sandals to land, then dry your feet and change to boots. I was expecting to sit on hard seats in the Napo boats but was pleased to find that they had comfy cushions. They also provide ponchos for if it is raining heavily (but you should still take your own waterproofs). When returning home, do not buy duty free booze if you have to change planes in the USA or EU. Even though it may be in a sealed duty free shop bag and you have the receipts, it will still be confiscated by security and you will not be allowed to take it on your connecting flight. I lost $25 worth. And here are a few suggestions for improvements: The Cachalotte needs to keep a bigger stock of tee shirts so that everyone can get the right size. Several people had to make do with what they were given. All guides should carry a first aid kit on every outing. A fall on sharp lava or a spikey plant can cause nasty injuries. It would be useful to have a computer on board that could be used to backup camera memory cards onto a CD or DVD. As we waste so much time in Quito in case there are delays etc, have a second contingency free half day trip to the cable car or other attraction for days when everything goes smoothly and to schedule.