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Independent Travel / tour?

Nottingham
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28 posts
32 reviews
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Independent Travel / tour?

Hello,

I live in England and am currently researching options for a family trip with my parents, boyfriend and two sisters (all adults). I'm particularly interested in visiting Ecuador and the Galapagos islands and would welcome any advice people could give.

- How easy is it to travel independently? Would we be better to book onto one of the tours?

- If we are better to tour, can anyone recommend a good company? We're not particularly looking for 'adventure' - trekking, rafting etc. We're more interested in seeing the natural sights, some culture, maybe doing a cooking day, visiting a spa, that sort of thing. Oh and my parents are keen that we do it in some degree of style... they're not used to roughing it!

- We have only two weeks (give or take) - what should we try to fit in? Shorter trip to the Galapagos and more time in Ecuador? Equal split? What MUST we see in Ecuador, I like the idea of the cloud forest, staying in one of the lodges there. What else is essential?

I know this is a long post, so answers to any or all of these questions would really be appreciated. Thanks for taking the time to reply.

Becky

Riobamba
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6 posts
22 reviews
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1. Re: Independent Travel / tour?

Hi there

Is easy to travell independently in the mainland, you could use a good guide though

Is beeter if you book a tour to Galapagos is diferent rules there than here in the mainland

You should stay in galapagos longer, is magical, but come to the sierra first and visit secret places here... if you need help let me know i help tourist alot, if you want more info check my full profile at

www.couchsurfing.com/profile.html?id=1PXJ2OK

or visit my pics of past trips at

www.picasaweb.google.es/wladisito

and if you want to take a look at a video check

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NpR60Hy4RE

Or write to me at my mail

wladisito@hotmail.com

Have a good one, hope to hear from you soon... by the way you can get better deals to galapagos if you book them in the mainland rather than out of Ecuador... let me know i coul make a reserv for you guys

Beirut, Lebanon
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456 posts
87 reviews
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2. Re: Independent Travel / tour?

Just off the cuff I'd say spend a week in the Galapagos (well worth it) and a week on the mainland. If the cloud forest interests you, then a couple of nights there, and the rest of the time split between the Quito and Otavalo areas. Stay in an hacienda either near Otavalo or near Cotopaxi to get a feel for the hacienda life - it's wonderful. Take a day trip to Papallacta thermal spas. I don't think it's at all necessary to have a formal tour for your time on the mainland.

Williston, Vermont
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119 posts
43 reviews
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3. Re: Independent Travel / tour?

HI. You certainly don't need a tour, but with 6 adults traveling, you will need some way to get around! You might consider a personalized "tour" which gives you a certified guide/driver and a mini-van so you have freedom of movement. I believe this is not difficult to arrange for a reasonable price.

The haciendas would be nice. Friends of ours have liked Pinsaqui, just outside Otavalo.

Spending the night at the Papallacta springs, which gives you access to private pools, would certainly be doing it in style!

For a different experience, consider the rain forest. Sacha Lodge would give you rain forest luxury as well as adventure. They take good care of you there!

Everyone I know who has gone to the Galapagos for the shorter trip has wished they could have gone longer.

Nottingham
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28 posts
32 reviews
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4. Re: Independent Travel / tour?

Thank you all for your suggestions. It's much appreciated. Planning to do some more research today, and have found a company who offer one of the personalised tours, so I think I will be arranging it with them.

Thanks again all.

Ottawa, Canada
Destination Expert
for Galapagos Islands
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3,094 posts
14 reviews
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5. Re: Independent Travel / tour?

Dear RJN,

you've received some good advice above. I would also recommend you start with the mainland, and follow with Galapagos (a full 7 night cruise). I've sent many people on cruises who then followed with the mainland, and told me it was a bit of a sensory let-down! So, you may want to work your way up during your visit. This is not to say the mainland is not a very stimulating place (I loved Papallacta - where you can just laze around in the various open air hot pools, and cozy up in your warm cabins, take short hikes in the andean paramo).

There are 80 ships plying the Galapagos waters, ranging in price from about 700 to 2500 pounds per person (there are a few cheaper ones - but I would stay away from those!). From my experience, you generally get what you pay for, but the value for money starts dropping off after about 1,500 pounds. Sure, a 2500 pound trip will have absolutely all the luxuries. Don't forget, to this, you have to add the flight from Quito to Galapagos (about 200 pounds per person - I'm using a 1 pound = 2 US$ rate here - US$ is the national currency in Ecuador), and the park entrance fee (50 pounds per person), and generally, the ship's crew and guide expect a bit of a tip (generally around the 25 pounds for each, eg. total 50 pounds). This is to give you an idea of the costs.

If you parents want a bit of luxury, without breaking the bank, I think you should be able to satisfy them with something in the 1,200 - 1,500 pound range for the cruise - that would get you a very nice 16-20 passenger ship with a great guide (always very important) and a good itinerary.

Some ships in this category I've worked with, and having received great reviews include the Mary Anne, the Sagitta, the Eric, Letty and Flamingo. For a little more, you can consider the Eclipse and Legend, larger ships.

You have a fairly large group - and availabilities will be tight on smaller ships in the coming high seasons. High season is July-August, Easter, and the Christmas holidays. Not sure when you are planning on going, but you should try booking at least 6 months ahead if July-August, and it may already be difficult to find something to suit your needs for next Christmas. Otherwise, it should be easier to find something in April - May (my favourite time of year in Galapagos - I lived there for 4 years).

All the best,

Heather Blenkiron

Nottingham
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28 posts
32 reviews
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6. Re: Independent Travel / tour?

Heather thanks so much, that's really useful. We are planning to go Apri/May, so I'm glad that's your favourite time! Might you be able to say what the water will be like then? My mum's not a good sailor, so we're debating whether we may have to choose a hotel over a ship.

Also, we're thinking of using a company called Audley travel and wondered whether anyone had any experience of using them? Also, can anyone recommend similar tour companies which will offer something tailor-made?

Thanks again!

Ottawa, Canada
Destination Expert
for Galapagos Islands
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3,094 posts
14 reviews
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7. Re: Independent Travel / tour?

You're welcome Becky! To answer your additional question regarding how to choose a tour operator who can design your perfect Ecuador/Galapagos tour:

These are the qualities I would look for:

- On the continent: I would look for someone who is has actually travelled on the continent himself/herself, and has visited the places he/she suggests. You can easily pull together the elements you have mentioned by planning a Quito City Day tour, maybe a trip to Otavalo (one of the best Indian Markets on the continent), as well as your Galapagos cruise. Given that your parents insist on comfort, begin your search with the 1st class vessels - www.igtoa.org has a ships list that is acccessible to the public, and follow-up with a trip to some thermal hotsprings to de-compress post-cruise before heading home.

- Expertise is Galapagos:

How well does the operator know the islands and their natural and cultural attributes?

How familiar is he/she with the conservation challenges facing the islands, and what small part is he/she playing in helping to maintain the integrity of the islands for future generations?

How well does she know the ships and itineraraies?

Can he/she tell you clearly why one itinerary is superior to another?

How well does he/she know the guides and what you can expect from the various guide levels on various ships (i.e. a Level II guide on a well-managed ship often is equal to a Level III guide on another ship (This has to do with the long stretches of time between guide taining courses - many Level II guides now have years of experience).

You may wish to ask for references from past passengers (for the various ships your operator is recommending).

While one tour operator cannot know everything, he/she should be well-versed in these basic elements that will contribute to making an ordinary tour of the Galapagos Islands an extraordinary one.

Regardig ship or hotel: Ship wins hands down! You just can't get far enough out into the archipelago on a day tour to really see the best elements of the islands.

You may wish to look into a mid-sized ship (for a compromise between a ship and hotel) which will offer more space and services, but give you the chance to really enjoy the best of the islands. You can find these listed on the ships list on the www.igtoa.org website as well. (Mid-size: 20-40 passengers).

Happy searching!

Warmest regards,

Heather Blenkiron

Nottingham
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28 posts
32 reviews
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8. Re: Independent Travel / tour?

Thanks Heather, I'll be using all your questions to vet my tour companies over the next few days!

Becky

9. Re: Independent Travel / tour?

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