June 2, 2020: The Galapagos has been on my bucket list since I was a kid! I know it is for many people who like to travel and who love wildlife and nature. Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom was one of my favorite shows as a kid and I still remember Marlin Perkins, the show narrator, staying safely away as “Jim” wrestled the wild animals to tag or track or in some way help the animals stay safe, counted, protected! I wanted to grow up to be Jim, not Marlin Perkins, and it was watching shows like those that started the desire to visit wild, natural places. It ‘feels’ like there is a sense of urgency to visit some of the last wild places as humanity encroaches on every square inch of Earth, while not doing the best job of caring for much of it.
So, getting to the Galapagos was high on my priority list, but I wanted it to be a family experience. I thought I would probably only go once, and I wanted to wait to take my kids when they would be of an age to appreciate and remember. Last year, 2019, was the year. Spring break, with a 14 and 16 year old to accompany us, Mar and I took off to Quito, capital city of Ecuador!
For all of us, this was our first trip to Ecuador. We were making a trip to include the Amazon and volcano country of mainland Ecuador in combination with Ecuador’s treasured Galapagos Islands. It was everything I had imagined but even better! It wasn’t without a few hiccups to start. I found out my oldest doesn’t handle quick altitude changes very well. Quito sits at 9000ft asl, and we just went up from there to Cotopaxi National Park where we hiked at 15,000 ft asl, over mostly flat terrain, but still!
From Cotopaxi, we ventured further south to the adventure town of Baños. What an incredible place! A beautiful setting at the foot of another volcano, usually shrouded in clouds and where water and rivers converge, the views were magical. Along with our fearless teens, we zip-lined over gorges and hiked alongside raging waterfalls, observed plants and animals that were all different from the familiar. We rode bikes in the cloud forest and enjoyed amazing local produce and dishes. Our lodging was a simple, quiet and incredibly beautiful ‘casa’ on the outskirts of Baños; it was simply sublime and Mar wanted to stay there for a week.
The adventure continued as we traveled on to the Amazon, a small portion of that incredible planet-enriching rain forest that lies in Ecuador. So, what do you think of when you think Amazon rain forest?? Thick and heavy jungle, warm, steamy air, wildlife in abundance, and water – right? Exactly. We did a family canyoneering trip with some nice rappels and easy bouldering in water of the perfect temperature. Wet the whole time and never cold; no wet suit needed! We made chocolate fondue with Kichwa natives who receive and host tourists and show off some of their special traditions. The lodging was very rustic, a little like glamping, but it was so much fun for a night, and not without Amazonian creatures! The boys said this was one of their favorite parts of the trip. The next day was a thrilling white water raft trip that was not just a couple bumps; an exhilarating adventure that went on for a few hours. All of this, and we still hadn’t gotten to the Galapagos!
Then come the islands, the Galapagos archipelego that sits about 1000km off the mainland of Ecuador. A commercial flight is the only way to get there and that was 3 hours. However, upon arrival it was both everything I hoped for and much I didn’t expect! Of course, the islands are known as the lab and study of Charles Darwin who was inspired to write his theory of evolution based on his work there. The wildlife, especially those unique endemic species, is a big draw to visit. This was expected, and it was such a delight to see how well everything is preserved. The Ecuadorians in particular, the native Galapagueños, are very serious about the preservation and conservation of the islands and their unique species. (We could learn a lot from them.) You can look at the wildlife, but not too close. However, you do not just get glimpses of the wildlife, it is literally everywhere and always on display. Native guides are a requirement and their knowledge is invaluable. (Guiding is actually one of the most highly coveted jobs on the islands; they go through extensive training and a very exclusive selection process.) Snorkeling, diving, kayaking, SUPing, biking, and more is possible – but always in the right way and in small numbers. This was everything I hope for!
The unexpected? Ease of transportation, choice of food, quality of lodging, and yes – the serious preservation of the place and the overwhelming abundance of wildlife. But, then there are the stories! The islands have some stories to tell and some secrets too! From pirates and whalers to runaway romances and murder mysteries! Intrigue, deception, and a little bit of craziness by the first Europeans who came here. Check out Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden!
In short, it was a trip of a lifetime and never in my wildest of dreams could I have imagined anything close to what we experienced. We will treasure these adventures and memories that we created together as a family, always, and I hope that when the boys are grown and have their own children, that they will remember this trip and think about how to teach their kids about wildlife & nature, conservation, and create their own family memories together.
If you’re interested in recreating some of these same vacation experiences, take a look at our different Ecuador & Galapagos Tours that we created based on our travels!