Cruise ships are not allowed here. I think the largest boat MIGHT carry up to 100 passengers, but the average is between 30-50.
You don't HAVE to do the boat thing. You can choose to either fly into the island of Baltra or San Cristobal, stay in the hotel (or hostel) of your choice, and trek out on your own....maybe paying for a day hop/tour if you want.
Plus, I've heard too many times that it can be verrrrry hot and humid there. Well, Dano don't do humidity. I sweat in the snow!!!
BUT. Several weeks ago I received a promotion from LATAM airlines via email. They were promoting a $229 airfare to San Cristobal. Normally, it's around $399 during high season. I didn't think too much of it because it seems it's next to impossible to FIND those fares when you try to plug in dates.
So, I tried. First time...BAM!!! Got one on the hook!!! I booked that trip and hotel so fast my head was spinning when I was done about 40 minutes later!!! Afterwards I blinked a few times in order to take it in....I'M GOING TO THE GALAPAGOS!!!
$229 airfare and $189 (+ taxes) for 5 nights in an average hotel.
The day arrived. I had to get up at 5:30am to get ready and take a taxi to the van company that would transport me from Cuenca down to Guayaquil. A new company started recently and I've referred several guests to them and they've reported back they really liked their ride. Unlike the other companies that drive 7 passenger vans, these 'vans' are really micro-busses that seat 15-18 passengers, are brand spanking new, reclining airline-type seats, and have central overhead A/C. Cost is the same...$12 bucks....for the 3 hour ride to GYE. And, the driver showed no aspirations to be Mario Andretti.
I got to the van company for my 7:10am departure a bit early. So, I was able to get on the 6:15am run.
We stopped at milepost 73 (or so) at a new roadside diner that recently opened. I usually stop at the one just before it. If the weather is clear (which is rare), the vista from these places is jaw-dropping. But, the new place was spiffy clean and offered way more in snacks and quick bites than the other, so now I think it's my new favorite.
|NO, that's not ME in the photo!!!|
Our luck was good. The clouds were'nt invading and we could see forever....straight down about 3,000 feet to 'the flats'.
|Waaaay down there is the flats. We drove across the flats and inbetwen those two mounds (upper left) to go to Guayaquil.|
Flying to the Galapagos (the ONLY way you can get there) requires a few extra steps. The authorities overseeing the 'Galas' go to great steps to ensure the preservation of the eco-system there. They want to be sure you don't bring any bugs, fruit, seeds, nada nada nada that could upset the way things are. And, they control just how MANY can come to the islands.
Only 3 airlines fly there....Latam, Tame, and Avianca.
You can only fly there from two cities....Guayaquil and Quito (both in EC).
Each airline only flies there once a day (from each respective city).
There are TWO islands to which the Galapagos can be accessed, Baltra and San Cristobal.
So, assuming 100 passengers per flight (most planes hold up to 150), times 3 airlines, times 2 cities they fly from, you might assume about 1,000 people arrive each day to either San Cristobal or Baltra...and that's in addition to the visitors already there.
Before you can check-in at the airline, you have to join a lonnnnng line to pay a $20 tax. Then your bags are scanned for any cooties. This is BEFORE security scanning. A special tag is attached to your bags indicating you aren't bringing any bad things that could wreck the environment. THEN, you can check-in with the airline.
Click on the following link to watch the video I took while taking off from Guayaquil.
Takeoff from Guayaquil, headed to the Galapagos!
Once airborne, you're out over water. Did you know the Galapagos islands are 600 miles from the shores of Ecuador? Oh, and you thought you could just hop a boat (maybe called 'The Minnow'?) for a 3 hour tour....a three hour tour????
The flight took a little over an hour and a half. We descended to the tiny airport with its runway stretched from waters edge to waters edge.
Click on the following link to watch the video I took while landing....the first time.
Landing...the first time at San Cristobal
I used to be a private pilot, lo many years ago when I was just a young whipper-snapper, and I'm not sure I've ever been in a plane that's done a go-around.....that meaning....aborting landing, taking off to do a do-over. I am here to say it's rather spooky.
We almost touched the tarmac but...whooooooshhhhh....the pilot went full throttle, the thrust was thrown in and we went back up. I immediately started to calculate (the pilot days still in me) why the pilot elected to do a go-around. A cow meandered across the runway? Naw....only pelicans here. Another plane was taxiing in the way. Naw....there's only a couple of flights a day and we're the only one in the area. Maaaaybe the wind direction changed!!!
We ascended out of the area then turned right, then left, then a 360, then another right, then a dip and a left, and....ummmm.....I got confused...I had no idea what the hell they were doing or where we were going to land.
Finally, I could see we had lined up to land in the other direction. The pilot announced what I had guessed....he experienced a tailwind on landing (which ain't no good) and needed to land the other direction (in a headwind). I got it.
Click on the following link to watch the video I took while landing...the second try.
Landing at San Cristobal - 2nd try
I REALLY got it when we landed. After touchdown, it was FULL reverse throttle, SLAM on the brakes, FULL flaps in order to stop,shudder, Shudder, SHUDDER before we ran out of tarmac. We taxi'd no more than 200 feet before we turned and I saw the end of the runway. You see....the runway at San Cristobal starts at the sea and ends at the shining sea....there ain't no more land on either end!!!
The flight was about 1 hour 15 minutes end to end. The Galas are 1 hour behind the rest of us in EC. So, when it's 1pm in EC, it's noon in the Galas.
We disembarked and entered the main terminal which is about the size of a Costco, and architecturally the same. What looks like a serpentine line to Customs is actually the line to pay the fee for entering the Galapagos.
Click on the following link to watch the video I took of the Costco-like airport terminal at San Cristobal.
Inside the San Cristobal Airport Terminal - Galapagos
Nationals (residents) go one way, international travelers another queue. I'm always at a bit of a quandry when I'm presented with these line-choices or which box to mark on a form. I'm 'international' because I'm originally from Trumplandia, but I'm a resident of Ecuador. So, am I 'A' or 'B'??
Normally, you have to pay $100 for entrance to the Galapagos. BUTTTTT....IF (listen up Cherry and Reg) you are residents of Ecuador (meaning you have a Cedula) you only have to bay SIX BUCKS!!!
Woohooo!!! I was all set to pay $100!!!
Bags are again run through scanners in case you got cooties during the flight.
Taxi's here are pickup trucks. It took awhile to nab one. $1.50 and I was at my hotel.
The island of San Cristobal has one town called Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The population is a mere 6,000+.
Things are expensive here in the Galapagos islands. Think of it. EVERYTHING has to be shipped in...from toilet paper, to chicken, to vodka, cooking gas, to clothes, light bulbs, gas, cars/motorcycles, eyebrow liner, eggs, furniture, flip-flops, Snickers, repair parts, to George Forman grills.
My hotel is basic....clean, a bed, TV, internet, rooftop patio, breakfast, for $35 a night. Ms Picky would poo-poo it. But, upper class digs here will cost you moolah. Cherry (Ms Picky) would be cooing "Dahling I love you but give me Park Avenue!".
Dining out, ditto. I paid $15 for a small bowl of chicken and sauteed veggies that came with the typical Ecuadorian double-starch....french fries and rice.
After I rested a bit and took a shower, I headed out to walk along the promende (aka Malecon) lining the seafront. It was drizzling but I didn't care because it wasn't cold. Then it turned into a torrent of rain and everyone was seeking shelter. The seals didn't care....they just snoozed wherever they cared and enjoyed the cool.
|I named them Brian and AJ.|
So, that was my exciting (yawn) 1st day of travelling to the Galapagos.
Let's see what holds out for tomorrow (manana).