Experience Nature at its Best – Travel Plan to the Galapagos

Explore the enchanting Galapagos Islands (Islas Encantadas), about 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador, and discover the amazing world of Darwin. Listed as a World Heritage Site and one of nature’s wonders of the world, the Galapagos is a National Park and biosphere reserve famous for giant tortoises and birds, marine life and mangroves, iguanas and flamingos. Our vacation destination is Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, the most populated town of the Galapagos, via Guayaquil on the mainland of Ecuador (or via Quito if you prefer).

Day One:

Arrive in Guayaquil after a 4-hour flight from Miami (about 7 hours from Los Angeles) and take the shuttle provided by the Oro Verde hotel, which is only 10 minutes from Jose J. Olmedo Airport. The guest rooms at the Oro Verde are comfortably furnished with modern amenities and the latest technology. With four restaurants, a full-service spa, and excellent staff, the hotel is highly recommended by travelers to Guayaquil.
Rates: $120/deluxe double.

Dine in tonight at the award-winning Le Gourmet restaurant, recommended for the best in French gourmet cuisine and elegant atmosphere.
Prices: $20-$25. Reservations.

Day Two:

This travel plan will not cover everything there is to see and do in Guayaquil, but you might begin with a visit to the Casa de la Cultura after breakfast in the hotel’s El Patio. (Opens 6am). The museum houses an extensive gold collection from prehistoric times including jewelry, masks, artwork, and archaeological artifacts.
Hours: Tues-Fri, 10am-6pm, Sat, 9am-3pm. Admission: $.50

A good choice for an affordable lunch is the popular La Canoa restaurant at the Hotel Intercontinental, conveniently located near the Malecon Simon Bolivar. The menu features local and regional specialties such as fried rice with crab, as well as soups, salads, and sandwiches.
Open 24 hours. Reasonable Prices: $3.50-$9.

Spend a pleasant afternoon on the Malecon beside the Guayas River, a 2-mile boardwalk shaded by tall trees where people gather on sunny days. You’ll see monuments, museums, and lovely botanical gardens along the way. Take the $5 one-hour tour on the river in the Henry Morgan pirate ship replica, and visit the Museo Guayaquil en la Historia, where the city’s history is displayed in 14 dioramas. Enjoy refreshments from vendors’ carts or the food court before returning to the hotel. Admission: $2.50.

By now, you’ve no doubt worked up an appetite for dinner. La Parilla del Nato sounds promising with a choice of grilled meats and seafood. If you’re really hungry, order the shish kabob. Hours: Noon-Midnight. Prices: $6-$12.
If you’re In the mood for an after dinner drink, stop in at the hotel’s El Capitan pub/bar before bedtime. Opens 10pm.

Day Three:

Leaving Guayaquil on a morning flight to Baltra Island Airport, where you’ll pay the $100 National Park fee before taking a 15-minute bus ride to Itabaca Channel. Here you can catch the ferry (if transportation is not included in your accommodations) to Puerto Ayora, 10 minutes across the channel.
Four daily 1 ½ hour flights from Guayaquil, 9am-11am.

Check into the Semilla Verde Lodge (awarded Travelers Choice 2013), a guesthouse where privacy and personalized service are a welcome change from busy hotels and crowded streets. Located about 8 miles from town, the estate is surrounded by forest, yet high enough to provide amazing views of the National Park, Marine Reserve, and other Galapagos Islands. Managed and owned by the Grimstones, the Lodge features six bedrooms, a living room, dining room, and fully equipped kitchen for self-catering. Your spacious guestroom has sliding glass doors that open onto a private terrace. After lunch at the Lodge (previously arranged), enjoy a leisurely walk on the nature trails through the forest where birds and other wildlife live, as well as an occasional tortoise. Robert Grimstone, an experienced naturalist and accomplished dive guide can arrange scuba diving if you’re interested. (Academy Bay is a good choice for beginners.)
Rates: $160/dbl (Full breakfast included, lunch and dinner meals can be arranged.) Naturalist guide service & tours.

Ride into town tonight for dinner at Il Giardino, recommended by tourists and locals for open-air dining in a garden setting. Fresh seafood, Ecuador specialties, and Italian cuisine.
Hours: Tues-Sun, 8:30am-11:30pm. Prices: $9-$13.

Day Four:

You’ll awake to morning bird calls and have breakfast downstairs before catching the shuttle to town. First on the agenda is a visit to the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) research station, a 20-minute walk from town. There’s a lot to see here where numerous scientists and volunteers concentrate on research and conservation within the National Park. Spend time in the museum and see the tortoise breeding incubators in the walk-in enclosure. You might catch a glimpse of Super Diego, the “Latin lover,” so named for fathering numerous turtles. The Library offers an extensive collection of almost every book on Galapagos history and Darwin, as well as journals, newsletters, and scientific papers of the CDF.
Hours: 6am-6pm. Admission: Included in the National Park fee. Donations welcome.
Gift shop onsite.

Have an inexpensive lunch in town at Ronald’s before taking the 2-mile walk to Tortuga Bay. Not open to swimmers, you’ll see lots of Galapagos wildlife among the lava rocks. Spend a few hours swimming or snorkeling in a cove nearby. Rent a kayak at Playa Manza for about $20 and explore the protected small bay where blue footed boobies might entertain you with their courtship.
Hours: 6am-6pm. Free admission.

You’re probably ready to relax tonight with dinner at the highly rated Angermeyer Point, the former home of a local legendary painter. A water taxi will take you from the main dock in town to the restaurant for a $1 or so. Voted the best in atmosphere and waterfront dining, enjoy your meal by candelight on the outdoor deck of the old stone house. From your table you can watch marine life and land iguanas (the restaurant is also known as the Casa de las Iguanas).
Hours: 5-10pm. Prices: $11 & up. Reservations recommended.

Day Five:

You’ll awake refreshed in the forest air to the peaceful sounds of nature around you. Another hearty breakfast at the Lodge and you’re ready for a ½ day tour of the Highlands arranged by your host. Plan on taking some fantastic photos of birds and other creatures in the cloud forest, at the underground lava tunnels, and the twin volcanic craters Los Gemelos.

After a wonderful tour, return to the Lodge for a quick change of clothes before going into town. Have lunch at the Hernan Café, conveniently located in a busy part of town and close to places to shop. Order a cappuccino, something you won’t find in most other restaurants here. The menu includes sandwiches, pasta, main meals, and ice cream.
Reasonable prices: $5-$10.

Let’s spend some money and go shopping. Visit the Galeria Aymara for handicrafts, ceramics, and jewelry, but don’t buy items such as black coral, turtle, and tortoise shell which may be considered endangered species. You’ll find custom made T-shirts by Daniel at Morning Glory, art, and jewelry along Darwin Avenue, as well as the best in gold and silver at Galapagos Jewelry. Shops along the waterfront sell souvenirs, mugs, and glasses. Olga Fische Folklore features leather, books, woven rugs, ceramics, coffee, and chocolate.

Have dinner tonight at La Garrapata restaurant, which is recommended for casual, open-air dining. Good variety on the menu and wine list, as well as the special of the day for $3. Complete meals are only slightly more, around $16. Friendly service and reasonable prices add to the popularity of La Garrapata.
Hours: Mon-Sat, 9am – 4pm & 6:30 -10pm.

(Note: Don’t forget the camera! Plan on doing considerable walking to really enjoy the natural beauty of the Galapagos.)

Day Six:

Since this vacation has been rather short, you’ll probably plan a return to the Galapagos. Leaving Galapagos for Guayaquil and an overnight stay before heading home.

Getting there: Flights on LAN or the national airline TAME, round trip Guayaquil/Baltra about $300.

Sharon L Slayton

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