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Review 14n Galapagos (Golondrina + San Cristobal + Isabella)

Belgium
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Review 14n Galapagos (Golondrina + San Cristobal + Isabella)

Dear all,

As we got quite some helpful from this forum, thought I'd make the effort to put up a little review of our 14 nights trip to Galapagos between 2 and 16 May this year.

We decided to spend 2 of our 3 weeks in Ecuador on the Galapagos islands as to really take our time for this visit.

We spend one week 'land-based', our time divided between the islands of San Cristobal & Isabella.

In Puerto Baquerizo, San Cristobal we stayed at a basic yet OK and cheap place (30USD/double room) called Kicker Rock. Basic yet large room (suitable for 4, we stayed just the two of us), helpful lady, no English though.

- First evening there we already really enjoyed seaside area of Baquerizo, sweet little town with enough around yet much calmer then Puerto Ayora. Large sea lion colony right in town.

Food-wise you shouldn't expect culinary heaven in the Galapagos, but we enjoyed a pizza place at the square next to the sea lion colony of which I forgot the name. For some reason they had decent wine at modest prices, for Galapagos (4USD/glass).

- First day we did a two-dive trip to Leon Dormido/Kicker Rock which was actually fabulous.

Can not compare with the sites at Darwin & Wolf ofc as our budget wasn't up to actual dive cruises going up there but Leon Dormido gave us around 20-30 sharks (Galapagos, White Tip & 3 Hammerheads), same number of turtles, sea lions, an Eagly Ray & plenty of other fish in two dives... A rather expensive dive trip at 140USD, equipment, lunch & an additional beach stop with snorkelling included, but absolutely worth it.

- Next day we hired bicycles and got a cab who dropped us at Laguna El Junco from where we biked down the Galapaguera de Cerro Colorada turtle center (not bad, but the one on Isabella was better) and further down to the beach of Puerto Chino (nice beach yet nothing spectacular and not uncrowded - not so much wildlife there), biking back having some beers in the village of El Progresso. Very enjoyable trip all in all, more for the feel of biking on a Galapagos island & meeting some pretty fun locals rather then a absolute highlight.

- Third day visited the good interpretation center, with a walk up and down to Frigate Hill (down which we enjoyed a really pleasant snorkel in a little bay, saw some lazy turtles and played with the sea lions present). And took a cab to the beach with sea lions, lots of finches and some really big Marine Iguanas behind the airport.

All in all we were happy to have chosen San Cristobal over Santa Cruz and enjoyed our time out of the pleasant town of Baquerizo.

Then a too long journey of all in all 5 hours (2 ferries) over Puerto Ayora to Isabella.

= the only disadvantage of combining San Cristobal with Isabella.

Didn't plan any accomodation on Isabella (nor did we for Puerto Baquerizo for that matter = absolutely unnecessary in this period apparently) we met this, again very helpful, guy of the Cerro Azul guesthouse. Spotless room with balcony facing a quiet street, little garden to have breakfast equipped with some hammocks, approx (5-10 mins walk to the beach) for 40USD/night for a double. We thought this was a fine deal...again in Galapagos terms ofc.

We really enjoyed Isabella! Villamil is...a village really. Enough restaurants & guesthouses to cater the tourists but not much else. The beach, albeit large & direct in town, is nice but not magnificent but....all the little beaches and coves we spend time on walking back from the Wall of Tears...were fabulous! Here thus the first tip: get a cab to Wall of Tears and walk back.

Sweet outing! Giant turtles on the way there, wild ones. Some good view points. An beautiful little beaches, lots of Marine Iguanas on some, sea lions (deuuuh) & made my best pinguin pictures on one of them. Last few kilometers you walk the large beach with pelicans, other seabirds and smaller marine iguanas back to Villamil.

In town, plenty of agencies organizing trips. We took 2:

An almost full day trip to the Sierra Negra volcano. A decent 5-6 hours walking trip up the volcano and, even more spectacular, a smaller volcano (Chico) from where you can see the whole of Isabella island and Fernandina. A nice trip, however the group is quite large and the rhythym kept high. Best thing to do: :-) ignore the group and go your own pace, the trail is very obvious and our guide at least was too busy to wait...perfect! (35USD/person)

Next day took the trip to Los Tuneles. Saw some large rays on the way there. Marine turtles and boobies at the site. And snorkelled with a couple of White Tips. A very pleasant outing yet again. (75USD/person)

TO BE CONTINUED

Belgium
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1. Re: Review 14n Galapagos (Golondrina + San Cristobal + Isabella)

CONTINUATION:

Next morning we took a ferry back to Puerto Ayora to catch our cruise leaving from Baltra. A terrible ferry who had to sail practically as from the harbour in Villamil all the way to Ayora on one egine, taking 4 in stead of 2 hours. Luckily we took the very early 6 o'clock on and where still in time. An 18USD cab from Puerto Ayora habrour to the boat pier to Baltra, crossing the channel and a short busride to Baltra airport where Golodrina personnel picked us up.

We booked the Golondrina C-route. Taking in both the northern Genovesa, Bartolomé as the southern islands Espagnola and Floreana.

A short cruise review:

- We picked this cruise based on 2 criteria: 1 route (Genovesa/Espagnola combo) & 2 price (pre-booked at 1755USD/pp).

- Booked it through the efficient, very helpful and, for this cruise at least, cheapest Dutch owned booking agency Galapagoslastminutes.com. With 1755USD they charged less then...direct at the boat owners at the time. Strange but true.

- What as, secondary to route and price, also important to us: an active cruise with enough outings and plenty of snorkeling ops & a guide with enough English as our Spanish is near non-existent.

- What was the least of our worries: comfortable cabins and a fancy boat.

What did we get with the Golondrina?

- An excellently organized cruise which went flawless.

- Indeed a wonderful route!

- A good guide called Jaro, absolutely fluent English, very knowledgeable and pleasant yet down to earth to deal with.

- A helpful & pleasant boot crew.

- A boat filled with young people (most American students) which made for a good ambiance.

- Small, basic cabins down in the belly of the boat with microscopic windows buttttt where we slept excellent and had an always functioning hot shower. What else? Nothing else.

- Food was better then expected, this was certainly an unexpected plus for this boat.

In short: we can absolutely recommend the Golondrina. The C-route will NOT disappoint.

Summarizing review & conclusions of our 14 days Galapagos:

We were VERY happy with our choice to take our time for the islands!

Very happy we spend our first week land-based adding Isabella to our places we visited and having leasurely the time on San Cristobal.

ONLY the cruise without the week on the islands.....would have been 'missing out on something' to us.

ONLY land-based, here I agree with some major posters here.....would have been missing out on the essence of the Galapagos!

Ottawa, Canada
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2. Re: Review 14n Galapagos (Golondrina + San Cristobal + Isabella)

Dear Koelan,

thanks for this, and confirming also my opinion that if you can scrape up the dollars, a cruise will expose you to more of what Galapagos is world famous for. Few people do both the land based AND the cruise based visit - this gives you a very credible position from which to provide a comparative analysis.

I would note that some agents undercut the publicly posted prices of the actual ship owner, as you note here. These agents are generally considered a bit unethical, and don't enjoy very good reputations with the ship owners. So, if anything goes wrong, the ship owner is most likely to leave the agent "hanging out to dry".

Warmest regards,

Heather Blenkiron

Livermore...
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3. Re: Review 14n Galapagos (Golondrina + San Cristobal + Isabella)

Another consideration for those who can spend a full 14 days in the Galapagos. Under the new Galapagos National Park ruling vessels permitted to operate naturalist cruises in the Park must wait 2 weeks before they can return to the same National Park landing site. This means that if you can spend 14 days on a Galapagos cruise you will see all new landing and snorkeling sites during your trip. The only time you might repeat is when the vessel is visiting a port such as Puerto Ayora or Puerto Villamil.

Tucson, Arizona
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4. Re: Review 14n Galapagos (Golondrina + San Cristobal + Isabella)

Koelan,

Somehow I missed reading your comprehensive report. Thanks so much for giving back to the forum. I've included your very useful report in the Top Questions regarding cruise vs. land-based.

Belgium
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5. Re: Review 14n Galapagos (Golondrina + San Cristobal + Isabella)

Thanks!

Btw a miniscule correction from my part:

My advice to those who have 6+ days to do was not so much "a cruise is preferable to land based"but was more:

"we were really happy with....the combination of both"

However, if your time is limited to 6-7 days or under....andddd money allows: indeed, opt for the cruise.

Secondary to that also:

I've read a lot about...the quality of boats and naturalist guides. Both proved for us (but thats personal) of much lesser significance then....a good route! That, I feel, should be primordial in once choices.

A good boat sucks way too much dollars out of you, for what exactky?

A lesser naturalist guide is rather easily replacable...with a good book or two. Time to read it before and after landings is plenty anyway.

Summarizing:

1 Take your time for the islands, if time allows.

2 Combine cruise with land based.

3 Pick a cruise first and foremost based on route, route oh yeah and also route :)

Whatever you do, I was a bit scared of the Galapagos as my expectations were very high and thus ample room for desillusion....which did notttt materialize!

Even if you enjoyed the most spectacular Eastern African safaris, the Galapagos are 1 totally incomparable yet 2 absolutely amazing.

Enjoy!

Ottawa, Canada
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6. Re: Review 14n Galapagos (Golondrina + San Cristobal + Isabella)

Dear Kolean,

I would only remark, as I did regarding your credibility in having been able to compare land based and ship based, that until you have an excellent guide, you will not realize what they can bring to the experience. There are a few jewels out there (e.g. 5% of guides), who can help bring your experience to another level. Then there are several (e.g. 40%) that do a good, no nonsense job, another 25% which do the basic work and the bottom 30% which do more to reduce the quality of a cruise rather than provide value added.

Warmest regards,

Heather Blenkiron

Belgium
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7. Re: Review 14n Galapagos (Golondrina + San Cristobal + Isabella)

Oh but I'm sure such an excellent guide has an added value. I'm sure he does.

However, not everyone has 3000-4000USD to spend on a week's cruise.

And then, in such a case, where choices have to be made...I feel routing of your boat is primordial.

This doesn't need to be arguing to win I suppose?! every traveller will make his/her choices.

I'm sure those cashing 3000+USD for week will surely do best following your advice.

Those ready to spend under 2000USD...will have to make choices. And then hereby I offered my personal parameters for those choices.

best to all

At my desk
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8. Re: Review 14n Galapagos (Golondrina + San Cristobal + Isabella)

Koelan I completely agree with you

At my desk
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9. Re: Review 14n Galapagos (Golondrina + San Cristobal + Isabella)

It may be worth noting that Heather is a tour operator, she owns and operates CNH Tours. On her website she is completely honest about this, and does provide her full name on this forum allowing people to cross check her interests in the Galapagos. Though I note she does fall short of actively disclosing on this site that she is a tour operator.

As I've just commented on Heather's interests in the Galapagos I feel it is only right to disclose my own- I do not have any connections, financial or social, to any business in Ecuador. I also do not have any interest in any tourist operation worldwide. I do not receive any financial benefit from anyone taking the advice I post on any travel forum.

Tucson, Arizona
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10. Re: Review 14n Galapagos (Golondrina + San Cristobal + Isabella)

Heather clearly states in her TA profile that she owns CNH; I and many others have made mention of working with her to plan our trips. I have always admired her objective responses to the multitude of questions on the forum and believe she is completely sincere in helping people get the most out of their trips. While she does mention clients' preferences and likes on occasion, she has never flaunted her affiliation (as many business owners or employees do, and are allowed to, within TA guidelines), nor kept it a secret (as others have). Her "interests in the Galapagos" go far, far beyond any monetary ones, and her breadth and depth of knowledge are vast and are shared with us generously.

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