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Day 97: Islas Galapagos. Santa Cruz.

May 15, 2006

On Monday morning the town looked completely different. The streets were full of people; all the cafes, restaurants, dive shops and travel agencies were open for business and busy attracting customers - quite a change from yesterday afternoon, when it looked like we were the only living souls in town!

The people of Santa Cruz fall under two categories: the ones who live and work there and the tourists, the latter forming the greatest majority. The tourists can be further subdivided into those who have just gotten back from a successful cruise (happy ), those who have come back from a bad cruise (grumpy ), and those who are still shopping for a cruise (anxious ). We could think of more categories, but the bottom line is the same anyway - the strongest emotions on the Galapagos circle around the cruise ships! We spent the biggest part of the day just gathering information on the must-see sites of the archipelago and came to the conclusion that the best (if not the only) way to see the famed wildlife means taking a boat trip. In fact, the more people we talked to, the more obvious it became that the island cruise was the main reason why most of the tourists came to the islands.

Even though you officially enter the National Park territory right upon the arrival on Baltra or San Cristobal (the other airport is located there), you get to see only a tiny fraction of the unique Galapagos nature if you spend all the time on these islands. There are water taxis which provide connection among Isla Santa Cruz, Isla Isabela and Isla San Cristobal (USD30 each way), but only a cruise ship can take you to the more remote islands, inhabited by the famous Galapagos wildlife.

Cruise prices range from USD400 for a 4-day tour on a slow boat (the kind of cruise you return grumpy from) up to USD2500 for a floating Sheraton experience. Luckily, there are plenty of options in between to keep you busy shopping till your head starts spinning from the incredible abundance of travel agencies, boats and itineraries, and you get hit by a sudden sense of urgency when those last two available spaces on the cruise ship you fancied the most are gone when you come back for them just half an hour later!! Hence, all the commotion :)

Fortunately, we came to the islands in low season (although, according to the locals, this was one of the busiest low seasons ever), so we managed to find a reasonably priced week-long boat tour fairly quickly. We booked a 7-day cruise on Free Enterprise for USD700 per person. As we later found out from our cruisemates, the price of the same tour ranged from USD700 to USD1000, depending on the tour agency.

Tip #1 The best cruise deals can be found on the islands: in Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz or in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on Isla San Cristobal. Arranging trips in Quito or Guayaquil will most likely cost you USD200-300 more for the same deal. We were offered a week-long tour for USD980 in Guayaquil, and then found the identical deal for USD700 in Puerto Ayora. The only problem with making arrangements on site is that all the reasonably priced cruises can be fully booked (even in low season) and you may have to wait for a week or two. We waited for 9 days for ours.

Tip #2 Here is the list of the travel agencies which offered us reasonable deals (all of them are based in Puerto Ayora):
- Lonesome George, Phone 593 52526245, E-mail lonesomegrg@yahoo.com (The best!! Very helpful, very organized, offered us the best price)
- Mora Tours, Phone 593 52526173
- We Are Championstours, Phone 593 52526951, Web site www.wearechampionstours.com
- Eden Yacht, Phone 593 52527337, E-mail edenyacht@hotmail.com
- Galacruises, Phone 593 52526177, Web site www.galacruises.com
- Galaptour, Phone 593 52526088, Web site www.guantanamerayacht.com

Tip #3 Most travel agencies are booking the same boats, so it is the cruise ship that you are actually choosing, and not the tour agency. There are plenty of web sites where travelers post their Galapagos cruise experiences. Just run an Internet search and see how others rate the ship you are about to book.

Tip #4 When choosing a cruise, review the itinerary very carefully. Tour operators will for sure try to dress it up, so remember that:

  • The first day of the cruise is diminutive. It starts from meeting your tour guide quite early in the morning, but then all the delays come up: first you have to wait for all the passengers to arrive (some of them arrive on the plane from Ecuador only around noon), then the whole group boards the ship where lunch is served, which is followed by a briefing, then there is a lengthy stop for supplies… By the time you finally start sailing, it is almost time for dinner.
  • The last day is even shorter. In fact, it is just several hours that you spend on the boat: you wake up very early in the morning, quickly visit the last island, get breakfast while the ship is sailing back to Isla Baltra, and get off the boat early enough to make it to the morning flight to Quito or Guayaquil.
  • Most of the itineraries include one day on Santa Cruz, which consists of a visit to Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora and a bus trip to the Highlands. Both sites are very interesting, but if you had stayed on Santa Cruz while waiting for the cruise, you would most likely have already visited both of them.
  • Other places, which tend to appear on many itineraries, but should be avoided because they can be easily be visited on your own time are Cerro Tijeretas (Frigatebird Hill) and snorkeling with sea lions at Las Tijeretas on Isla San Cristobal, and Volcan Sierra Negra and the Wall of Tears on Isla Isabela.

Thus, imagine ending up with a 4-day/ USD400 cruise, two days of which are ridiculously short, and on the third one you are taken to the places you have already seen… These are the kind of cruises you certainly want to avoid!

Tip #5 As always, you get what you pay for. Economy class cruises are the cheapest, but it is a good idea to invest some extra dollars and go for at least Tourist class. Better yet, Tourist Superior. These are more reliable ships that are less likely to cut the tour short due to engine failures, they sail faster and will take you to more remote islands, the cabins are nicer, the food is better, the guides are more knowledgeable (very important!), and there is hot water, which is an irreplaceable thing after several hours of snorkeling.... But if you overspend, you may end up on a huge luxury liner with 200 passengers of respectful age, who are not likely to party every night :)

Click on the pictures to enlarge

The port of Puerto Ayora

Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

Pagrindinis Galapagu uostas


Hoping for a free lunch

Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Galapagos

Sviezios zuvies betykant

Nuvesk pelyte virs paveiksliuko, spustelk jos kaire ausele, ir paveiksliukas padides

97-oji diena: Antroji diena Santa Cruz

2006 m. geguzes 15

Pirmadienio ryte miestas atrodo nepalyginamai gyvesnis - uoste surmuliuoja sviezia zuvi parduodantys zvejai, kavines pilnos pusryciautoju, o gatves - turistus medziojanciu agentu, triuksmingu suvenyru pardaveju ir paciu turistu. Truputi stebina tai, kad turistai - daugiausiai is Europos ir Australijos, o amerikieciu, kuriems Galapagai ne taip ir toli, beveik visai nera.
Megstantiems apsipirkti Puerto Ayora - neribotu galimybiu vieta. Siulomu prekiu ivairove cia labai ispudinga - pavyzdziui, galima isigyti (arba ne) prasmatnu 10-ties dienu kruiza po Galapagu salas ($2500), savaite trunkanti nardymo tura ($3000), vienos dienos isvyka nardyti ($130), PADI sertifikato kursus ($250), grazu brangu paveiksla, negrazu brangu paveiksla, garsaus dizainerio kostiuma, madingiausia nardymo iranga, Panamos skrybele, didele sviezia zuvi, bet kokio dydzio suvenyrini Galapagu vezli - nuo sunkiai iziurimo, iki tokio, kurio nepriimtu nei viena oro linija, marskinelius su Galapagu vezlio atvaizdu...

Musu siandienos tikslas - susirinkti kuo daugiau informacijos apie likusias salas ir nardyma. Pirmiausia paaiskeja, kad vienintelis budas pamatyti Galapagus yra kruizas, nes vandens taksi is Santa Cruz plaukia tik i dvi salas - Isla Isabela ir Isla San Cristóbal, kada dauguma egzotiskuju gyvunu gyvena mazesnese, tolimesnese salose, i kurias turistus gabena tik kruiziniai laivai. Laimei, ne visi kruizai kainuoja pusantro tukstancio doleriu. Kaina priklauso nuo laivo klases (nuo ekonomines iki auksciausios/liukso), kruizo trukmes (4-10 dienu), keliones marsruto (kurios salos aplankomos) ir keliones agenturos (visi agentai siulo identiskus kruizinius laivus, bet uz labai skirtingas kainas - pavyzdziui, musu 7 dienu kruizas vienoje agenturoje kainavo $900, o kitoje lygiai toki pati nusiderejome iki $700).

Puerto Ayora turizmo agenturu pazinimui sugaisome visa diena, bet rezultatu likome labai patenkinti - "apsipirkome" kaip reikiant: rytoj visai dienai isplaukiam nardyti, taciau svarbiausia tai, kad pirkom kelialapius 7-niu dienu kruizui po Galapagu salas su Free Enterprise - vienu is graziausiu salos burlaiviu! Vienintelis minusas - kruizo teks palaukti 9 dienas, nes i artimiausia reisa visos vietos jau buvo ispirktos. Bet manom, kad neprailgs :)

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