SAERO airline to being Galapagos Inter-Island flights

April 11, 2012 § 1 Comment

Ecuadorian Airline SAERO S.A. has announced they are to begin inter-islands service within the Galapagos Islands.  There are currently three airports in the Galapagos the largest on the island of Baltra, one on the island of San Cristobal and a third which is exclusively used for inter-island flights on the island of Isabela.  Travel between these islands is currently limited to either a fiberglass speed boat or EMETEBEE airlines which operates 7 and 9 passenger Britten-Norman 2 Islander planes.

SAERO which currently offers flights within Ecuador and to the beaches of Northern Peru has a fleet that includes a Turbo Commander 840, Helicopter, BeechCraft 1900 Embraer 120 and Leer Jet.    SAERO’s entry into the Galapagos inter-island market will make more options available and it more convenient for travelers who wish to travel between the islands by plane.

Ecuador’s Indigenous Protest Mining in the Amazon Rainforest

March 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Indigenous women perform a ritual during a march in Ecuador to protest against the policies of President Rafael Correa which they say will result in more mining in the Amazon region and threaten the environment and their way of life.

Protests in Ecuador yesterday shut down the capital city of Quito while indigenous protested the governments signing of new mining contracts.  The Amazon Rainforest is one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world.  As the largest tract of tropical rainforest in the Americas, one in 10 species in the world can be found within the Amazon Basin.

This area is also home to a number of indigenous groups, including groups within the Brazilian Amazon which have remained without contact from the outside world.  For decades the Amazon Region has also been exploited for its wealth of natural resources including deforestation, oil production, and mining operations.

Environmentalists are concerned about loss of biodiversity that will result from destruction of the forest, and also about the release of the carbon contained within the vegetation, which could accelerate  global warming.  As regions within the Amazon Basin continue to succumb to eco-side the many of the indigenous groups from the area have become the voice for the Amazon through community based conservation efforts.

Santa Fe Island

August 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

Santa Fe Beach

Approximately half way between the islands of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal lies the small island of Santa Fe.  Shaped like a bean with a beautiful lagoon in the middle the island has a tilted appearance as it was created by geological uplift rather than from a central volcano.

For years Santa Fe has been a favorite on cruise itineraries.  The lagoon provides an excellent place to snorkel with sea lions, colorful fish, small sharks and may be even a giant tuna that is frequently sited here all in a protected environment away from ocean surges. Currently many companies in Puerto Ayora are offering a day tour to Santa Fe while not allowing you to go ashore does allow you to come and snorkel in the bay.

Santa Fe Hawk

As one of the oldest islands in the Galapagos Santa Fe is home to a mature and diverse combination of flora and fauna. The good anchorage in the bay and relatively flat nature of the island made it a frequent stop for early visitors coming ashore in search of food and water.  As a result Santa Fe was one of the first islands to have its tortoise population become extinct approximately 200 years ago.

Today if you are on a Galapagos Cruise or permitted day tour you will also be able to visit the island of Santa Fe.  Once ashore you will find a powdery beach that is home to a colony of sea lions.  From the beach you a loop trail takes you up along the coast to the opuntia cactus cactus forest.  The opuntias in Santa Fe are the largest and healthiest in Galapagos.  The cactus have grown to be the size of full trees with trunks measuring over a foot in diameter.

Endemic Santa Fe Iguana

Continuing along the trail you’ll reach the top of the hill where you a panoramic vista of the bay begins before heading back down to the beach.  As you make your way along the trail a careful eye you can spot Galapagos Hawks, the endemic, larger and brownish colored Santa Fe Land Iguana, Galapagos Snakes, Galapagos Doves, Lava Lizards, both land and marine birds as well as possibly one of the only two remaining species of endemic Galapagos Rats.

Santa Fe Opuntia Forest

The Galapagos National Park has just finished a 10 day monitoring of Santa Fe.  With of 20 park rangers involved the island was divided into quadrants and the officials recorded all bird and reptile species present were recorded, as well as cactus and woody vegetation. The survey was used to count iguanas, hawks, and some species of finch (those with smaller populations).

Galapagos Cruises: How to select the perfect Galapagos Cruise

May 11, 2010 § 1 Comment

Galapagos Cruises cater to nature lovers from all over the world and are the classic way to visit the Galapagos Islands. Cruising through the Galapagos combines the romance of an ocean voyage, the spirit of adventure, and the exotic and uninhibited wildlife, which makes the Galapagos a dream destination.

The Grace Galapagos Cruise

M/Y Grace Cruising the Galapagos

Cruises are offered in 4, 5, 8 or 15-day options. On the first day of your cruise you’ll fly from the Ecuadorian mainland (either Quito or Guayaquil) to the Galapagos where you’ll board your boat and begin your cruise. Similarly you will fly back to the mainland on the last day of your cruise.

Each cruise has a pre-determined itinerary designed in conjunction with the National Park to offer travelers with the best possible experience, while minimizing the effect of their visit on the islands. During your cruise you will have a glimpse of the great diversity that makes the Galapagos Islands so special, you’ll delight at incredible interactions with the island’s wildlife and with the help of your naturalist guide gain an understanding of what makes these islands so unique and their preservation so important.

There are four distinct regions in the Galapagos—the Southern, Western, Northern and Central Islands. As islands age they take on new characteristics. Each of the areas differs depending on the geologic age of the islands found there. The Galapagos archipelago was never attached to a continent. All of the islands are volcanic in nature. On the younger islands the volcanoes are still active, the islands are rugged, and the wildlife lives off the fruit of the sea and has evolved to survive in harsh conditions. The older islands, the volcanoes have become extinct, the lava has broken down to become fertile soil and this rich soil is able to support a variety of plants and assortment of wildlife.

San Cristobal, Espanola and Floreana in the southern part of the chain are the oldest of the islands. These islands were favorites among pirates, whalers, and early setters. Where other islands are dry and desolate these islands have a variety of plants and animals as well as the Galapagos’ only permanent freshwater lake (found on San Cristobal) and fresh water springs (found on Floreana).

In distinct contrast, to the west you’ll find the youngest islands—Isabela and Fernandina. These islands are closest to the Galapagos Hot Spot and the volcanoes are still active – the last eruption occurred in 2009. Visiting this area offers a sense of how the islands were born and that the archipelago continues to evolve. Pioneer plants like candelabra cactus and mangroves are seen as a glimpse of green on the otherwise barren black volcanic rock landscape. Much of the wildlife found here is endemic to the Galapagos. These species have evolved overtime to survive the unforgiving environment and include the Flightless Cormorant, Galapagos Penguins, Marine Iguanas, Mangrove and Woodpecker Finch.

Further to the north you’ll find Genovesa, unlike other islands with a central volcano towering over the island creating a distinct highland area, on Genovesa you’ll sail into the center of the collapsed caldera. The highest point on the island is 250 feet. This large flat surface is a favorite of sea birds and Genovesa is lovingly known as “bird island” with colonies of Red footed boobies, storm petrels, great frigate birds, blue footed boobies, nazca boobies, swallow tail gulls, short eared owls and Darwin finch living here.

The central islands are mid-way through their life cycle. These islands were created in two ways either from a single volcano like Santa Cruz and Santiago or from geological uplift like Plazas and North Seymour. The central islands retain the dry rugged look of the western islands while being able to support a more complex mixture of plants and animals similar to the southern islands. Colonies of boobies, frigate birds and sea lions are common sites. Land Iguanas can be seen in forests of opunita cactus. And for many visitors, a trip to the highlands of Santa Cruz is their only opportunity to see the Giant Galapagos Tortoises in the wild.

The best Galapagos cruise will combine all four of these areas over an 8 day period. Due to national park restrictions boats with more than 32 passengers are not permitted to visit the northern area. If you are booking an 8 day cruise, for the most interesting experience you will want to look for an itinerary that includes at least three of these areas.

Traveling to Galapagos is not an inexpensive endeavor – you’ll find yourself spending a minimum of $500 per person just getting yourself to the islands without having left the airport. The Galapagos is a once in a lifetime destination. Cruises vary in price based depending on the comfort level and services offered on board. Prices typically range from around $200 a day for a low end cruise catering to the backpackers to over $400 a day for a luxury cruise.

When deciding how much you want to spend, take a look at the itinerary, as well as the features of the boat whether you’ll have your own cabin or be sleeping in a dormitory situation. You’ll want to look whether the cabins have lower beds or bunk beds, shared bathrooms or private baths. There are also optional choices like whether they have snorkel gear available, kayaks or wetsuits for you to use.

Last but not least, it’s always a good idea to ask about the demographics of the typical passenger for the boat you are selecting. Many of the boats cater to a specific market. If you are in your 20’s going with your fiancée you may not want to go with a group of seniors. There are boats that cater to Germans, French, Italians, Israelis or Ecuadorians travelers – while traveling with people from other countries adds to the experience it may be lonely at mealtime if you find yourself unable to communicate with other passengers.
For most traveler’s this will be the one time you visit the Galapagos, so make sure to take your time making your decision and to get good advice so that the Galapagos Cruise you choose will live up to all your dreams.

Learn about our recommended Galapagos Cruises

Mt Cotopaxi and Cotopaxi National Park

April 20, 2010 § 2 Comments

When you think of iconic mountain peaks the image of the triangular shape with the crooked tip of Matterhorn Comes or perhaps the clouds that always dust the peak of Mount Everest, yet in Ecuador it is the iconic Cotopaxi.

Mt Cotopaxi Ecuador

Cotopaxi is a symmetrical cone soaring from the green grasses and wildflowers of the surrounding paramo, to the brownish-black volcanic rocks climbing towards the summit to the snow-covered peak. Dominating the capital City of Quito skyline to the South, at 19,347 feet in elevation Cotopaxi is the second highest peak in Ecuador and the highest continually active volcano in the world.

Cotopaxi means “Smooth Neck of the Moon” and the indigenous people have revered the mountain for centuries. The mountain was the bringer of both good rains and good crops. Pre-Incan civilizations believed god dwelled at the top of the mountain.

During the reign of the Incas, Cotopaxi was revered and the unmistakable landmark made it the perfect junction for Incan Roads heading between the fertile valleys of the Sierra and the sultry Amazon jungle. Traces of it’s ancient past can be found in the Incan walls near the springs at Santo Domingo and the remains of the Incan Fortress can been found at Pucara Salitre that controlled traffic on the Incan Roads between the jungle and Latacunga Valley.

The Cotopaxi Volcano with its long history of eruptions. The most famous of which occurred in June 1877, lava poured from the crater melting the glacial snows and creating lahars (avalanches of mud). The lahars sped down the mountain reeking havoc along the way. Much of the neighboring countryside was buried as a wave of mud cascaded over it. The city of Latacunga to the South of Cotopaxi was demolished it’s residents unable to escape were buried alive. These lahars continued with such a magnitude that within an 18-hour period the mudflows had reached the Pacific Coast town of Esmeraldes. Evidence of that catastrophic flow can still be seen throughout much of the countryside of the Sierras. Though Cotopaxi remains active; it has been many years since the last large eruption.

Today, Cotopaxi National Park is the second most visited national park in Ecuador after the Galapagos Islands and it’s the mountain’s natural beauty and a thirst for adventure that draws thousands of tourists each year. Within Cotopaxi National Park there are picnic areas, camping groups, a visitor center, lakes, rivers for fishing, hiking trails and the center the great volcano.

Much of the park is located above the tree line and this wide-open space. The park consists of over is home to Andean gulls, ducks, several species of hummingbirds, Andean Condors, wild horses, deer, rabbits gazelles, wolves, bears foxes, weasels as well as llamas and alpaca the majority of the wildlife lives in the lower elevations.

The great peak is a favorite for mountaineers. The call of the mountain reached famed mountaineer Alexander von Humboldt who failed to reach the summit in 1802. It was geologist Wihelm Rajass who was first person to reach the peak nearly ¾ of a century later. Today, there are 100’s of people who attempt to summit the mountain each week.

With the number of climbers seeking the summit each week, you might almost think the climb is easy. While not considered technically difficult basic mountaineering skills and equipment are required including the use of crampons, ice axe, ropes, and an experienced guide. The elevation is possibly the most difficult part of the climb and for the best chance of success we recommend spending several days in and around the mountain hiking or enjoying other active sports in order to get ready.

The night before the climb is spent at the Jose F. Rivas Refugio. The refugio hosts a large living room with a cozy fireplace, a very basic restaurant, bathrooms and bunks for sleeping. More importantly is it’s location at the base of the glacier it’s the perfect location for your mid-night start for the 6 hour steady climb to the top. Making your way up the mountain one foot after another seeking to reach the summit before the sun’s rays have a chance to soften the snow and causing you to turn around.

Bad weather can also inhibit you reaching your goal, for the best chances of clear skies we recommend planning your summit attempt around the full moon. Though you can climb the mountain year round, December and January are considered the best months followed by February to April it is also considered good conditions from July to September.

The grasslands of Cotopaxi are a favorite day tour for tourists visiting from Quito. A couple hour drive south from Quito allows you to visit the paramo, lakes, visitor center and refugio before heading back to the capital city. Or to combine the day’s visit to Cotopaxi National park with a multi-day tour heading down the Avenue of the Volcanoes. Making Cotopaxi their first stop, and spending the night at one of the lovely historic haciendas before continuing South to explore some of the traditional local markets, the hot springs of Baños and the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca.

Learn more about Cotopaxi

Albatross Return to Española Island

April 16, 2010 § 1 Comment

The southernmost island in the Galapagos Archipelago is also one of the most interesting to visit. The incredible concentration of wildlife found on Española makes it a favorite of tourists and guides alike and each April the Albatross return and make the experience complete.

The Galapagos Islands are volcanic in origin and were never connected to the mainland. Rather each island was born at the Galapagos “Hot Spot” a point deep under the sea where energy from the divergence of the Nazca, Cocos and Pacific plates is released in the form of magma, built up overtime this magma forms sea mounts which rise out from the ocean to form islands.  Over time as the plates continue to shift the islands break free and a new island is born and an archipelago is formed.

Española is a classic example of a shield volcano and the aging process of the islands.  The oldest of the islands at approximately 3.3 million years, Española was formed from a single caldera in the center of the island. As the island moved further and further from the hot spot the volcano became extinct.  When islands are younger and more volcanically active (like Fernandina to the west) the island is stark made up of lava and sand, plant life is limited to pioneer plants and wildlife found on the island are those that can survive the harsh environment and rely on the seas for food.  In contrast on Española as the island moved further and further away from the hot spot the lava fields begins to erode and were replaced by fertile soils.  This soil was able to sustain plants and in turn wildlife. The remote location of Española allowed these life forms to evolve overtime independently of the other islands in the chain and today Española is home to a large number of endemic animals.

The Hood Mockingbird is one such example and endemic to the island. These brazen birds have no fear of man and frequently land on visitor’s heads, shoulders, feet or anywhere else they can  searching for food and water. The Hood Mockingbird is slightly larger than other Mockingbirds found in the Galapagos; its beak is longer and has a more curved shape. It is the only carnivorous mockingbird and feeds on a variety of insects, turtle hatchlings and sea lion placentas.

Home to three species of Darwin Finch the large cactus finch, small ground finch and warbler finch can all be found.  For those who read about the Galapagos one of the better known inhabitants is one that you will never see – the Española Tortoise.  In 1965, the tortoise population on Española had been reduced to just 12 females and 2 males all of which were transferred to the Darwin Station on Santa Cruz.  In 1976 another male was found at the San Diego Zoo and transferred to the Galapagos to join the breeding program.  The first great success of the tortoise breeding and rearing program, in 1991 tortoises were repatriated to Española and today there are more than  living in a protected environment near Manzanillo Bay.

Española offers two visitor sites each with a very different experience, the beach at Gardner Bay and the Rocky Cliffs and wildlife of Punta Suarez.

On the northern coast is Gardner Bay, consisting of two long stretches of beach the sites main attraction is the sea lion colony that has found the powdery white sands the perfect place to take a never-ending siesta.  Gardner Bay is one of the few open areas within the national park where visitors are free to explore on their own, as long as they keep an eye out not to step on any sea turtle nest.

The snorkeling at Gardner Bay is fantastic. Close to the beach you can swim with sea lions this is an opportunity not to be missed. Further out towards Tortuga Rock and Gardner Island schools of large colorful tropical fish including yellow tailed surgeon fish, angelfish and bump-head parrot fish swim along with an occasional Manta Ray gliding by and white-tipped sharks napping on the bottom.

On the western tip of Española is Punta Suarez one of the best sites in the Galapagos. The amount of wildlife is overwhelming. The walk is approximately 2 hours and during mating season Punta Suraez comes to life as one big party.

Arriving on shore you are met by carefree sea lion pups waiting to entice you back into the water.  Colorful marine iguanas are waiting along the walkways and scattered in the rocks.  Normally marine iguanas are black in color, a natural camouflage, making it difficult for predators to differentiate between the iguanas and the black lava rocks where the iguana’s live. The subspecies found on Española appear to be almost festive; these iguanas which are normally a reddish shade turn green during mating season.

Continuing inland Galapagos Doves peck around seemingly unaware of your presence, finches fly back and forth between bushes and Galapagos Hawks are seen perched waiting for their next meal.  Here masked and blue footed boobies dance with their partners. Masked boobies flapping their wings as the blue-foots strut around their bright feet honking and whistling as if they each have their own party noise maker.  Young boobies appear to be in costumes as their downy feathers look like wig on their otherwise naked body.

The trail leads to the cliff’s edge where a fissure in the lava below creates a dramatic blow-hole forcing the sea water over high in the air as if it were liquid confetti.  These cliffs are an excellent place to watch what seems to be a magic show, swallow-tailed gulls and red-billed tropicbirds levitated by thermals perform stunts overhead.

If wildlife is the highlight of Española than the Waved Albatross is the star of the show. Known as endemic to the island Española is their only nesting place.  Albatross arrive on Española each April and remain here through December.  The island’s steep cliffs make perfect runways.  These large birds seem somewhat awkward on land as they spread out their expansive wings and run launching themselves off the cliff’s edge.  Once in the air these large birds with their 6-foot wingspan seem transformed as they gracefully soar in the wind.  Española is the only island where you are guaranteed to see albatross in Galapagos.

Española can only be visited as part of a naturalist cruise, and visiting Española is sure to be a highlight of your trip.  Make sure to have you camera batteries fully charged and plenty of space on your memory card because you’ll want to take lots of pictures!

Travel Guide – The Best of Guayaquil

April 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

Traveling to Latin America each country has it’s own gateway or point of entry from where you begin your trip – for Peru you fly into Lima, Argentina it’s Buenos Aires, in Costa Rica it’s San Jose in Ecuador you have your choice of either Quito or Guayaquil.  

Having the option of two cities in which to arrive normally brings out the question of which city to arrive.  Quito, a beautiful city located high in the Andes is a UNESCO world heritage site, rich in culture and history.  Quito’s cobblestone streets of the old city, plazas and surrounding gilded churches make it the best preserved colonial city in Latin America, it’s easy to spend a day or two exploring the old city and getting lost in time.  However it is located at an elevation of almost 10,000 feet elevation making it less desirable for older travelers or those who suffer from heart or altitude problems.

Guayaquil by contrast is a bustling, coastal city much of its colonial history has been swept away in the many pirate attacks and fires that make up the cities colorful history.  However, in the last decade Guayaquil has undergone a metamorphosis changing it’s overall flavor from a dirty and dangerous port city to a modern city with new hotels, shopping centers, and new airport all waiting to invite foreign tourists and investors.  

Spending an extra day in Guayaquil, people want to do the “tour of Guayaquil” expecting like many Latin American countries a well defined tour of historic buildings and churches.  However in Guayaquil the best outing combines the historic Las Peñas neighborhood, the Malecon 2000 and surrounding area with a cruise on Guayas River.

Built on Santa Ana Hill Las Peñas is a colonial neighborhood, which has been built and rebuilt several times.  This brightly painted neighborhood has been home to many of Ecuador’s historic figures including presidents and poets alike. Today many of the houses have been converted to a number of small restaurants, bars, and boutiques, all which can be reached by climbing a series of steps traveling up the hillside.  Near the top you can visit the Fortín del Cerro (‘Fort of the Hill’), cannons from the fort were used to protect the city from pirates or reaching the top the lighthouse offers a phenomenal 360-degree view of the river and Guayaquil.

Lying at the base of Las Peñas in complete contrast is the Malecon 2000.  A restoration project of the Simon Bolivar Pier, the Malecon 2000 is modern in design and a popular destination for both locals and international travelers.  This 1.5 mile walk (for pedestrians only) along the Guayas River offers a variety of shopping and dinning experiences mixed together with family friendly activities including remote control boats, playgrounds, exercise areas. 

The botanical garden is home to over 320 plant species from the coast, 70 bird species and 60 butterfly species.  The flowering plants mixed with the bromeliads make this a peaceful rest stop.   The Malecon is home to Ecuador’s only IMAX theatre, and a series of Museums, statues and monuments that include the the Moorish Clock Tower, Olmedo monument and the Rotunda depicting the famous meeting between the two great liberators San Martin and Bolivar who met in Guayaquil in 1822 to discuss South America’s freedom from Spain, the Museum of Anthropology and Contemporary Art, Municipal Museum and Museo Nahim Iscias.  The Museo Nahim Iscias houses articles artifacts including gold jewelry, jugs, pottery and colonial art dating back to 4200 BC

If you continue to the end of the Malecon 2000 you will reach the Mercado Sur (the large ornate iron building was designed by Gustave Eiffel) and the artisan market with handicrafts from all over the country.

Just across the street near the middle of the Malecon you’ll find the ornate grey Palacio Municipal and just beyond the Parque Bolivar known locally as “iguana park” for the many green iguanas that can be seen in trees, on benches, in the grass and just about everywhere in the park.  Flanking Bolivar Park is the restored Cathedral, which reflects both the colonial and ethnic influences of the country.

 With all this history and shopping around my favorite activity in Guayaquil departs from Malecon 2000.  Named for a character from Guayaquil’s past the Captain Morgan departs from the middle of the Malecon and takes guests on an hour long cruise along the Guayas River in a “pirate boat”. The cruise provides the traditional view, how visitors have first seen Guayaquil for centuries via the Guayas River.  The views from the river pass the Malecon, Las Peñas and Santa Ana continuing up the river you may pass fishermen in long thin boats while heads of river lettuce bobbing along in the current.  Cruising past the neighboring towns you can catch a glimpse of life outside the big city.  If you plan your trip for 6pm you can watch as day gives way to night and the lights of the city guide your way back.  The Captain Morgan plays music along the way and offers drinks and snacks– at late night atmosphere changes becoming a more festive party cruise.

Guayaquil’s restoration efforts are impressive and the overall change in the city of the last decade has created a lovely and welcoming city worthy of spending an extra day exploring the mix of traditional and modern that give Guayaquil a flavor of its own.

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