Classes of yacht

This entry is part 7 of 11 in the series Booking a Trip to the Galapagos

There are 4 classes of yacht available for cruises. Differences in price can be huge between these. You are effectively paying for comfort of living as the itineraries run, are the same. One thing to consider when booking is that tour guides around The Galapagos are designated classes of yacht they can work on based on their experience and skill. So better yacht = better guide

  1. Luxury
  2. First Class
  3. Tourist Superior
  4. Economic
Yacht Fragata, Plaza Island
Yacht Fragata, Plaza Island

 

Galapagos Galleries

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Which cruise route?

This entry is part 6 of 11 in the series Booking a Trip to the Galapagos

This is a decision generally based on time and price. Boats are constantly working on heavily regulated 15day cycles designed to ensure that the quotas for visitors per islands are not exceeded. Vessels pass Santa Cruz and Saint Cristobel (both of which you can fly to) on various points during this cycle and it is possible to jump on and off at these points. For most people 8 days is a good compromise of time and money.

Your two basic 8 day trips, starting and ending in Santa Cruz are as follows.

  1. A week covering the east, north and south islands. My recommendation.

Of the 4 most unique and recommended islands this should cover Floreanna, Espanola, and Genovesa. Both Espanola and Genovesa are inaccessible by day trips and offer incredible biological splendour and diversity on the land. They are also the breeding grounds for waved albatross and red footed boobies respectively. Whilst the snorkelling with the sea lions of Floreanna is magnificent. You also visit Saint Cristobel and Kicker Rock, which, with good visibility, offers the best snorkelling the Galapagos has to offer.

Galapagos Hawk. Galapagos
Galapagos Hawk. Galapagos
  1. A week around Isabella and Fernandina

Isabella is a huge island with an active volcano, it offers some great snorkelling and a days good hiking, which if the weather stays clear can give you some great views. The cruise will take you west of this island to Fernadinha, also inaccessible by day trip. Here is your only opportunity to see the endemic, flightless cormorant. On top of this, this area around Isabella and Fernadinha is where 80% of the Galapagos penguins can be found and therefore offers you the best chance of sightings.. However there are small populations around Bartolome and Floreana and Pinzon.

As touched upon earlier, it is possible to join at slightly different points of the cruise for different periods of time. My recommendation would be to pick the itinerary that allows you to visit the most of the following: Genovesa, Floreanna, Fernandinha, Espanola and Kicker Rock.

Galapagos Penguins
Galapagos Penguins

Galapagos Galleries

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Which day trips to take?

This entry is part 5 of 11 in the series Booking a Trip to the Galapagos

If you do opt to go for day trips. I would recommend the following.

Santa Fe

Snorkelling here is amazing, you will spend an hour within a cove used by huge quantities of sea lions which as long as you keep your hands to yourself are always inquisitive and keen to play. I promise you will not forget these guys!

The landing also has a lot offer; sea lions can be found loafing all over the island tops, both marine and land iguanas are here as well as the Galapagos hawk and the Santa Fe mockingbird.

Fur Seals, Santa Fe
Fur Seals, Santa Fe

 

Snorkel Kicker Rock – from San Cristobel

This is a snorkelling day trip to a submerged islet. Water around the islet varies between 5-15m and offers spectacular snorkelling. You will see huge shoals of bait fish and as a result the area is used by good numbers of black and white tip reef sharks, Galapagos shark and if you are lucky hammerheads also. We were also lucky enough to see double figures of green turtles, spotted eagle rays, golden cownose rays and sea lions.

North Seymour –

If the frigate birds and blue footed boobies are breeding this is a must do. Watching the Frigate Birds displaying is like nothing you will ever see again and the blue footed boobies are also stunning animals.

Pinzon

If you are based from Santa Cruz this trip offers the best opportunities for seeing the Galapagos penguins. You will also visit a mangrove area which is used as a hangout for white tip reef sharks and on your way back you will stop within a cove used by good numbers of green turtles.

Galapagos Penguins, Pinzon
Galapagos Penguins, Pinzon

Day Trip Around Santa Cruz.

There are many activities available on the main islands of Santa Cruz and these can be done very economically. Many of the tour companies around the islands will try and sell you a package where you visit 4 of these in a day and pay a lot of money. For me, this is a rip off. Whilst walking through the town you will see white 4x4s everywhere, these are taxis. If you decide on which activities you want for the day you can ask a driver to chauffeur you between these venues over the course of the day. This allows you to prioritise which activities you want to do and also saves you massive amounts of money.

I would recommend visiting one of the Giant Tortoise reserves, Las Grietas and the Lava Tunnels. For me, the twin craters are just holes in the ground.

Galapagos Galleries

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Day Trips vs Cruise

This entry is part 4 of 11 in the series Booking a Trip to the Galapagos

Fragata Yacht, Galapagos

If you are trying to save large amounts you may have been recommended to stay on the islands and book day trips. This is definitely an option and you can go on some great trips. However I think that having decided to do the Galapagos you should experience everything it has to offer. Here are some useful things to consider when making this decision.

With the exception of Isabella and Saint Cristobel day trips set off at 730am and return the same day. This immediately limits the distance that you can travel around the islands. As a result there are many islands that you are not able to visit on day trips. For me, these are the islands that offer the most. Espanola, Fernandina, Genovesa and Floreanna are the 4 most highly rated islands according to me and everyone that I spoke to around South America. Of these Floreanna is the only one that you can access on a day trip.

Another thing to consider is that many of the islands are wide spread and involve long boat crossings. The cruise schedules are designed so that you make most of long notoriously bad crossings over night when you are sleeping. You are also on board a larger vessel and therefore the motion is less exaggerated. Finally, if you are on a day boat, all passengers are confined to a small area so if someone is very annoying or violently sick, you are stuck next to them for the duration of your crossing. So it may be a good idea to take headphones and a few spare sea sickness tablets.

There are a few hostels around, however for what they offer, they are not very economic. When you consider for a day trip you are paying $110-$150 a day plus evening meals and accommodation, you don’t save much compared to a cruise.

Having completed a cruise followed by a day trip I have to say I found the latter experience comparatively underwhelming. However the experience is still incredible.

Galapagos Galleries

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When and where to book Galapagos from

This entry is part 2 of 11 in the series Booking a Trip to the Galapagos

When setting off for South America I put aside enough money to do the Galapagos properly. However I am always looking for ways to save money and The Galapagos offers great opportunities to save big. Although it is tempting to satisfy those organisational needs and have everything planned and booked well in advance I would recommend, if you have any flexibility, waiting until you are at least in Quito. Even though we arrived during the peak travel season where availability was low, we still managed to save 50% on our trip.

There is more scope for saving money if you are willing to pay by cash as most card transactions incur a 20% charge, in order to avoid carrying large amounts of cash with you travel agents allow you to pay deposits over a number of days. Just make sure you get receipts and confirmation. For this reason and also in order to ensure you get the right trip for you it is necessary to give yourself 3-5 days in the town of booking.

You have three options of where to book in Ecuador; Quito, Guayaquil, or on the Galapagos islands. Whilst the latter two are likely to save you small amounts of money, I would recommend booking in Quito.

Quito is a friendly safe city, it is surrounded by a number of incredible day trip opportunities to keep you entertained and fill the time whilst you are waiting to travel. I would recommend Cotopaxi, Quilotoa Crater Lake, and also at least 2 days around the cloud forest of Mindo.

Guayaquil is an industrial town, less catered for tourists and with much less to offer in terms of surrounding entertainment. Whilst I never experienced any trouble here, I heard many stories of people less fortunate.

Galapagos is the final option and a great option if you are there at an offpeak time of year. Whilst you wait for the perfect trip to come around there is plenty to keep you entertained on the islands. However many of the day trips from the islands will be covered in your cruise. Also if booking during peak times of year you may find all accommodation on the island of Santa Cruz either fully booked or very expensive.

Other things to consider whilst booking, you will need to fly to the Galapagos, if you are waiting to book and are travelling during the peak seasons I would recommend leaving 5 days in order to ensure availability on flights.

Like it or not, haggling is part of the culture in South America. Most agencies will be selling the same deals so a very easy way of haggling is by simply playing agencies against each other. Ask one agency for their lowest price and then ask the next agency to beat the deal. There are several charges additional to your trip costs which you will be expected to pay once on board the vessel. If you don’t have a wet suit, fins or snorkel combined these will set you back up to $100 per person per week. Most agencies will happily include this in your price if you ask. What I would say is make sure you get all of this in writing. Several passengers on board our vessel, had made deals with agencies which were not communicated with the ships crew, this resulted in large amounts of complications for the passengers, which could have been sorted with some simple paperwork.

 

Waved Albatross, Espanola Island, Galapagos
Waved Albatross, Espanola Island, Galapagos

 

Galapagos Galleries

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Step By Step Guide For Booking Your Perfect Trip To The Galapagos

This entry is part 1 of 11 in the series Booking a Trip to the Galapagos

Booking my trip to the Galapagos Islands was a ridiculously stressful process. There are so many things to consider, especially when parting with so much money, to ensure that your trip is as amazing as it should be.

Here I hope to take you through the booking process I went through in order to make your experience that little bit easier and your decision making more informed.

Where to make the booking from and when to make it?

When is the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands?

Day Trips Vs Cruises

Which day trips to take?

Which cruise route to take and what length tour?

Classes of yacht?

How to Scuba Dive The Galapagos

Best Bits Of My Galapagos Trip

Other Useful Tips And Hints

Land Iguana, South Plaza
Land Iguana, South Plaza

If you have any questions then feel free to ask and I will endeavour to update my blog with answers!

Galapagos Galleries

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Galapagos – Introduction

This entry is part 11 of 11 in the series Booking a Trip to the Galapagos

This is the most incredible place I have ever visited, absolutely full of unforgettable memories. As a marine biologist, I dreamed of visiting the Galapagos since before I can remember. When I realised I would be in South America, I knew I had to do it and do it properly because it is not cheap and I didn’t want to leave with regrets. The booking process is a whole other blog post in itself but it wasn’t simple and it definitely wasn’t cheap. But having got this sorted I started to worry that maybe it wouldn’t live up to my expectations, because nothing can really be that good. Also I worried I wasn’t worthy of walking where the legendary Sir David Attenborough has graced so frequently.

Fortunately, by the time I had made it onto the cruise boat my expectations were already in the process of being smashed. My first glimpse of the water on the shuttle bus was of a brown noddy using a pelicans head as a fishing post. Whilst waiting for our shuttle boat to come to ferry us to the Yacht Fragata, out home for the next week, we were surrounded by a feeding frenzy of blue footed boobies. Unfortunately all before I managed to get the camera out.

Waved Albatross, Espanola Island, Galapagos
Waved Albatross, Espanola Island, Galapagos

Our Itinerary for our cruise

Day

AM Location

PM Location

1

Embarking, Baltra

Bachas Beach, Santa Cruz

2

Prince Phillips Steps, Genovesa

Darwin Bay, Genovesa

3

Bartolome Islet, Bartolome

Sullivan Bay, Santiago

4

South Plaza, South Plaza

Santa Fe Islet, Santa Fe

5

Whitch Hill, San Cristobel

Kicker Rock, Lobos Island, San Cristobel

6

Suarez Point, Espanola

Gardner Bay, Osborn Islet, Espanola

7

Cormorant Point, Devils Crown, Floreana

Charles Darwin Visitor Centre, Santa Cruz

8

North Seymour, North Seymour

Disembark, Baltra

 

 

Guidance on booking your perfect Galapagos trip

 

Galapagos Galleries

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Frequently Asked Questions On The Farne Islands

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Farne Islands

Frequently Asked Questions As A Farne Island Warden

As with every line of public engagement work, staff are questioned about their roles by the public. One of the perks of the job is that you are paid to enthuse about this incredible life and the amazing wildlife that the islands offer. However, when you work day in day out, some of these questions can be a little bit repetitive. My idea here is to answer these questions in case you never get the chance to ask a warden yourself. Secondly, I want to make you aware of all of the questions, now that I no longer work on the islands so that the next time you visit, you can take the list with you, make sure you don’t miss any out and take bets on which warden breaks down in tears first.

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Where are the puffins?

If visiting the islands April-August the answer is very simple, everywhere! The Farnes are home to c40,000 puffins, When you consider the small amount of land mass that makes up the islands, the density in which they live there is ridiculous.

Your best opportunity to see puffins well, are on either the cliff tops, where birds often line up before flying out to fish. Alternatively, if you find a relatively flat open area, where the vegetation is made up of lower standing species such as orache and sea campion, you will often see puffins making their way into and out of their burrows.

Puffins arrive back around the islands in March/April. However, until they have eggs in burrows, birds will often disappear out to sea for a few days, especially if bad weather is forecast.

If you are visiting in August or later, although you may see small numbers on the sea, I am sad to say that most of the puffins are bobbing around the north North Sea and Atlantic far away from British land masses.

Do you really live here? How long are you here for?

A team of 10 wardens live on Inner Farne and Brownsman island from March through to late September. In October this number falls to 5 people who live exclusively on Brownsman and work within the seal colonies.

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Seal Pup in front of Brownsman Cottage

Where do you live?

Wardens living on Inner Farne occupy the 13th century Pele tower and the lighthouse. Those living on Brownsman island inhabit the old beacon house. Buildings rely on solar and generator electricity, both are erratic at best but do allow enough energy to charge phones and watch some TV.

Are you students?

Wardens on the Farnes are either employed on a paid or voluntary basis by the National Trust. although a small number of students do live on the islands for periods of the year. They deal with the seabirds and seals, and are not tasked with any visitor work or other warden responsibilities other than making tea.

Do you have showers here?

No, hence why wardens don’t always smell so great! However, both inner and outer group teams have access to small speed boats which, on a calm day, allow them to travel to the mainland to stock up on food and have showers. Whether wardens utilise these calm days is completely up to them. During the winter season when no visitor boats land on the islands and the sea is seldom calm, wardens have been known to go three weeks or more without a shower. Even the notoriously smelly seals give them a wide berth.

What are the penguin like birds covering the cliffs?

Guillemots and also maybe Razorbills. There are 50,000 of these black and white auks nesting around the cliffs of the Farne Islands.

Why do some of the Guillemots have white markings on their faces?

This is an example of dimorphism within a species. These individuals are referred to as bridled guillemots but are not considered a separate sub-species. They seem to occur more frequently within colonies the further north you go.

Why are the puffins smaller than I imagined?

Your imagination is too big.

Pufflin - Farne Islands

Why are the shags panting?

Shags pant as a means of thermoregulation as they are unable to sweat

What are the painted stones and garden canes everywhere?

The painted, numbered, stones are for monitoring. Wardens mark nests using the stones and then check on the development of the eggs/chicks. This allows the breeding success of species to be calculated.

The garden canes have two uses. Some are used similarly to the coloured stones – to mark nests within the longer grass of more elusive species such as eiders. They also can be used to disrupt flight lines of less agile predators such as gulls, which will often attempt to enter colonies to take eggs and chicks.

Farne Island Gallery

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Chilean Lake District

Chile was a country I hadn’t originally considered spending time in, but I am so happy I did. Due to its length (4000km) it spans just about every climate possible. South of Santiago sits Chile’s lake district. This region offers such a great range of activities within breathtaking scenery. In Pucon, I hiked up the active, snow covered Villarica Volcano and peered into its sulphur filled crater (with gas mask) before tobogganing down to the bottom for a well deserved cold beer. From Puerto Varas I went on the most incredible canyoning experience, leaping from 14m waterfalls and sliding down glacial rivers. I also spent a day at Petrohue National Park walking along the shores of Laguna Rupanco before heading up Volcan Osorno. Whilst in Chiloe I saw my first ever wild penguins, both Humboldt and Magellanic, sea otters and bottlenose dolphins from Punihuil. The island is also famous for its houses on stilts and its densities of timber built colourful churches.

 

Puerto Varas Canyoning video https://youtu.be/vjeX-MekOlE

Chile Lake District
Osorno Volcano, Chile

Patagonia

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Travelling South America

Torres Del Paine

Simply breathtaking. I was almost bored of awe-inspiring glaciers by the time I departed this southern region of Argentina and Chile. I started in El Chalten, walking the Fitzroy mountain range and ice climbing on the Viedma glacier. I then travelled to El Calafate and visited the spectacular Perito Moreno Glacier, spending the day watching huge chunks of ice, calving into the lake below. Next on the agenda was Chile and the 8th wonder of the world, Torres Del Paine, for several days hiking amongst soaring mountains, Guanacos and brilliant blue lakes – oh yeah, and more glaciers. Last stop was the southern most city in the world, Ushuaia, where I cruised through the beagle channel with seals, sea-lions, petrels, skuas and a distant albatross before seeing one last glacier.