Are You Interested in Ecuador & the Galapagos?
Ecuador & the Galapagos
Norm Goldman, Editor of SKETCHANDTRAVEL and a regular contributor to Bootsnall.com is pleased to have as a guest Dan Austin, Director of Operations of Austin Lehman Adventures. Dan is an expert on travel to Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands.
Norm: Please tell our readers something about yourself and your expertise pertaining to Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands.
Dan: Norm, my “title” is Director for Austin Lehman Adventures. As Director, I am responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company. I have been at this a little over 10 years now and love it. For the last 10 years I have had the incredible opportunity to spend endless hours with our guests and have really honed in on what it is that makes a great adventure vacation. I have taken these key learnings and built trips all over the Americas, most recently a new trip in the Galapagos and Ecuador. After years of research and development I spent a good part of this last summer in South America with my family putting the final touches on this great new program. My kids are often my guinea pigs for testing a new program.
Norm: Where is Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands and how easy is it to travel from the United States, Canada or Europe to this country?
Dan: Ecuador is relatively small country (about the size of Colorado) bordered by Columbia (to the north), Peru (to the south and east) and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It straddles the Equator. The Galapagos Islands are located approximately 600 miles to the west in the Pacific. I need to emphasize that Ecuador is a lot more than just the launching spot for the Galapagos; it is a truly amazing country in itself. Rich with history and culture.
It really is quite easy to get to, in the same time zone as the Rocky Mountain States. You can fly non-stop to Quito (The capitol and 2nd largest city) from several US Airports, including Houston and Miami. Planes depart Quito for the Galapagos, scheduled to rendezvous with the ships that support the island tourist trade.
Quito is centrally located at about 9,000 feet and is the gateway to the jungles, the Andes and the Galapagos. It is a city worth spending some time in, one of the oldest cities in the Americas. Walk the cobblestone streets and visit the 16th century churches and you will feel like you stepped back in time.
Norm: Would you consider Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands a good choice for a romantic getaway or wedding and honeymoon destination? Why?
Dan: Norm, I found the Haciendas of the highlands of Ecuador amazing. People still live much as they did centuries ago. The locals were so friendly and accommodating. Riding horseback high into the Andes is sure to set off the romantic in any of us.
I am sure anyone would agree that sunset on a yacht; sailing off the coast of exotic and remote islands is as romantic as it gets. Spending the day swimming, snorkelling and hiking amongst the wildlife and then returning to the luxurious comfort of a small yacht for a nice sunset dinner, a little wine and relaxation, one forgets about the day-to-day grind back home. Then there is the unlimited stargazing on deck as you relax in the moonlight. Well you get the picture.
Norm: What is the best time to visit Ecuador and the Galapagos from the point of view of weather, costs, crowds, and the availability of flights from the USA, Canada and Europe and Australia, etc?
Dan: Since Ecuador and the Galapagos straddle the Equator, anytime of year is fine. There are very slight differences in the seasons, all having their pros and cons. The “peak” season has nothing to do with weather; it is from June through September, as this is when most Americans and Europeans have vacation time.
As for weather in the Galapagos, June through September the air and water are a bit chillier and the winds will be present on most days. From October through May, the weather will be a bit warmer, but you can expect light showers almost daily.
In the jungles it rains year round, but especially hard from December through April. Temperatures average 80-90 degrees by day with cooler nights. Humidity hovers between 75-100%.
Around Quito and the highlands, you need to remember you’re starting out at about 9,000 feet. June through September is considered the dry season, and the days are the coolest of the year. Last August we encountered a snow-storm at 11,000 feet while hiking in the highlands. The temperature really only varies a few degrees year round, with day time highs in the high 60’s and night time lows in the high 50’s.
Norm: How safe is it to travel to Ecuador and the Galapagos?
Dan: Quito is like any third world big city, one just needs to be aware of their surroundings and not put themselves in a dubious situation that can be avoided. That said, I traveled throughout the area with my teenage children and never once felt threatened or concerned. Traveling with a guide is always the best answer, these are professionals (some of the best I have ever met) and they know their way around. Due to the remoteness of the Galapagos it is basically crime free.
Norm: Could you give our readers an idea of the costs involved if travel originates from the USA or Canada?
Dan: Norm, traveling to South America is so unique in that you can travel at any expense level you desire. If you want to travel on a budget, you can stay in hostels and low budget rooms for dollars a day or you can go the Four Seasons route and experience South America in the lap of luxury or any place in between. The Galapagos of course is a bit different in that there really is limited access and the best way to see the islands is by yacht and the best yachts are not cheap.
Airfare from the US is like airfare anywhere, it varies up and down, based on time of year and demand. You can expect to pay in the neighbourhood of $600-$800 to get to Quito from most major cities and another $390.00 to get to the Galapagos from there.
For a first class experience encompassing the best of Ecuador and the Galapagos I would allow upwards of $400.00 a day.
Norm: If you had to choose 5 unequalled venues in Ecuador and the Galapagos for a romantic getaway, honeymoon or wedding destination, what would they be and why?
Dan: That’s a tough one. I think I would start with Quito and the Swiss Hotel. The service is exceptional, the rooms comfortable and the location to Colonial Quito excellent.
I would then say a trip to the highlands and one of the historic Haciendas would be next in line, example: Hosteria Hacienda Pinsaqui. A charming hacienda constructed in 1790 as a textile workshop. Located just outside Otavalo, makes a trip to the famous Otavalo Indian Market Place an easy must do.
Then of course it would have to be a week aboard a yacht (like the M/S Alta, a 125ft motor yacht). Sailing the islands of the Galapagos by night and exploring the variety of islands by day.
An extension into the Amazon jungles and a few nights at a “tent camp” would be an incredible experience and a chance to “really get away”.
I would also suggest that as long as one is as far south as Ecuador an extension into Peru would be quite worthwhile. Depending on the time available, heading to Cusco and the heart of the Incan Empire and staying at places as romantic as the Hotel Montasterio (a five star museum hotel, once a 16th century monastery) would make anyone’s vacation highlight reel.
Norm: What should people know about celebrating a wedding in Ecuador and the Galapagos from the point of view of requirements, experience of the various hotels, etc.
Dan: I would first suggest they work with a good ground operator like Austin-Lehman or one of the others. Work with someone with contacts “in country” and that knows the lay of the land. There are several good books on the market; one of my favourites is Frommer’s South America. This book is filled with resources and good quality tourist information. Any of the many 5 star hotels would also be a good source of information and all too happy to assist.
Since things change constantly in South America as a general rule of thumb, checking with the Ministerio de Turismo is a good “plan”. But don’t expect too much. Also check with the Tourist Information Center, a center put together by a group of hotels and tour operators. They can be found on the web at the Tourism Information Center, unfortunately it is in Spanish, but you can get to some “great” links from there. Another one (in English) is Ecuatorianisimo
Norm: How far in advance should a couple prepare themselves for their honeymoon, romantic getaway or wedding in Ecuador and the Galapagos?
Dan: Since the Galapagos has such limited access the farther out one can plan the better. Six months would be a good target to have your plans in place. That is not to say that one should give up if they do not have that much lead-time, there is often last minute space, and it is always worth a call.
Norm: What resources are available on the Internet pertaining to weddings and honeymoon vacations in Ecuador and the Galapagos?
Dan: Again, I think I would start with the Tour Operators, they really know how to put these things together best. If you’re determined to go it alone, start with the
Tourism Information Center. From there you will find endless links to other great websites and resources. Probably the best site I have found is Exploring Ecuador there really is a lot of good information and links on this site. And of course your readers can just go to Austin Lehman Adventures and let us do all the work.