Galapagos tips for fellow travellers

Trip Start Jan 23, 2008
Trip End May 23, 2008

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Monday, March 10, 2008

We had a wonderful time in the Galapagos, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in nature. Itīs expensive, but well worth it.

We found some of the logistics a little baffling at times, and so I thought that I would share some of the lessons we learned on our own and from fellow travellers.

As in most travel packing, less is more. I spent nearly the entire time in a bathing suit, sometimes with a shirt or shorts. I suggest that all clothes be lightweight quick-drying fabric. Even though light colors are nice for the intense sun, I prefer medium or darker colors (blues, dark khaki, and gray) to disguise dirt. With all the dingy rides, hiking, and sweating, your clothes will get a bit grimy after a few days.

For the cruise alone, good sandals were sufficient. Flip flops are a little to flimsy if you ask me (and those who blew out their flip flops stepping on pop tops.) Other shoes are more useful if you are planning, on spending time on the mainland where you may encounter more burly hiking or colder weather. But for the cruise alone, you probably wonīt need to unpack them at all (and itīs better if you donīt...they made us put our shoes in this bin on the back of the boat....after a week on the back of the boat, my nice goretex sneakers smell AWFUL.)

If shooting digital, I suggest you bring an extra memory card; this place is very photographic. We also appreciated having a lightweight dry bag to store the camera for dingy rides and downpours. It can REALLY rain here.
Most of us cannot afford a fancy underwater camera set-up, but you will definitely wish you had a photo if a sea turtle bonks into your snorkel mask. So I suggest that you take along 2 single use underwater cameras. Even if you donīt use these up for snorkeling photos, they are handy if you are going someplace wet or dangerous . (Less of a liability if it gets damaged or stolen.)
Because we are super-paranoid, we downloaded photos to a portable hard-drive AND burned CDīs, just in case our whole camera kit was ever stolen. You could also download to Snapfish, Shutterfly, Kodak, etc.

Sunblock and more:
The sun here is wicked strong, and pasty gringos need to take it slowly or suffer. The other factor I wasnīt expecting was bugs. There is no malaria here, but there are mossies and midges around. I found a good routine that worked for me: First thing in the morning, I put on sunscreen before any clothes. I used a higher SPF on face and shoulders. I then added a light layer of bug juice to my feet and calves. Then, I would reapply either sunscreen or bug juice (or both) depending on activities. Before snorkeling, itīs īgood to reapply sunscreen , especially to your back. Before a land excursion, a little extra bug juice to exposed skin will not go amiss. Always reapply after swimming.

Ocean motion:
I would strongly advise you to take along some kind of motion medicine, as sea sickness is not only miserable, it wastes really good cooking. The problem is that if you wait until you feel unwell to take it, itīs probably too late to be effective. It seemed most of us needed the meds most for the overnight cruises, when we were more confined to the cabin and less able to see the horizon.

The airport:
Talk about a steep and blind learning curve! There are a few extra steps for flying to the Galapagos. I thought I would share this so that at least one gringo in the crowd will look confident and relaxed.
1) InGala Transit Control Card. Find this counter and give them your passport and airline ticket (and $10 cash per person). They will give you a plastic ID card that indicates your name, passport #, and travel dates. We had never heard of this before, were never asked to show this anywhere, and have no idea what the money is for, but you canīt pass Go without it, so get it.
2) Pest Control. Now, you need to put your large bags through a machine to ensure that you are not carrying anything that could be a pest to the endemic plant and animal life of the archipeligo (fruit, vegetables, wood products, etc). This is a great idea, but in practice it seems that bags are tagged without any inspection. Nevertheless, leave your ant farm at home.
3) Check In. This should be familiar....except that there are several lines and itīs unclear which one is the right one. Some are long, some are short. Several locals ignore the lines altogether and just marched up to the counter. Either way, everyone gets on the plane.
4) Security. This actually works like you think it will, except that you get to keep your shoes on. Really!
5) Boarding. Listen carefully for your flight, and know what the number is in Spanish. The flight information on the signs was pretty random. We watched three elderly Brits almost miss their flight because they were reading the information (which was wrong), and didnīt understand Spanish.
6) Arrival. Upon landing, all foreigners line up to pay the National Park entrance fee ($100 cash).
7) Baggage Claim. A large truck will deposit bags just to the side of the arrival area (although we opted to carry on our bags as they were small.)
8) Transfers (tour). If you are joining a boat tour, there should be a representative from your boat there to meet you. Look for the name of the boat on their shirt or a sign. Our guide had neither, but we asked around and found him. they will wait for all the new passengers for the boat and take it from there.
9) Transfers (independent). Getting to Puerto Ayora is a three step process. First, take a free airline bus that says CANAL Then, you will take a ferry across the canal ($0.80). Then you will take another bus to Puerto Ayora ($1.80).

Essential Packing List (all this should fit into a medium sized backpack)
1 pair sturdy sandals (chacos or tevas)
2 bathing suits (trust me)
1 or 2 short sleeve shirts
1 long sleeve shirt
1 or 2 pairs shorts
1 pair pants (for cool nights and mosquitos, possibly a nice dinner)
1 skirt or dress (serves as 2nd shorts and allows for nicer dinner)
Hat (wide-brimmed better, baseball cap okay)
2 bottles sunscreen (one should be a higher SPF for face, shoulders, and back)
Bug juice
Moisturizer (for salt-dried, sun scorched skin)
Motion sickness medicine (especially for rough days or overnight steams)
Antibacterial cream and a few band-aids
Basic toiletries (toothbrush, etc)
Your camera
Polarizing and UV filters (if you have them)
1 or 2 single-use underwater cameras
5 liter dry bag for camera during dingy riders, downpours
Diary (Youīll be amazed how quickly memories become fuzzy. Journal!)
A good book
Waterproof pen for diary and postcards
Cash (At least $110 for entrance fees, and about 10% of the cruise price for tips)
Small handbag or daypack (for flight carry-on and land excursions).

Optional items:
Sneakers or hiking shoes
Rain jacket (even in downpours, we preferred to just get wet to cool off)
Cards or travel board game (you will have at least a couple hours a day downtime)
1 Liter water bottle
More dry bags for other stuff (clothes, books, etc. I am addicted to dry bags)
Snorkeling gear (some boats charge extra. Our didnīt but didnīt have enough for everyone)
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