We arrived in Quito in the evening and I was surprised I didn’t feel any effect of the altitude – yet. It wasn’t a long trip into town but a bit disorienting in the dark as I felt we were heading downhill but in fact we had been climbing. Quito is in the valley of the volcanoes so the city sits within a valley surrounded by mountains. We had a city tour had a walk around the next morning, I noticed the altitude then puffing walking up just a few steps. Another day we took the gondola up the hill to 4000 ft and took in the view, it was a great spot to view the Valley of the Volcanoes but you couldn’t walk far without puffing. Some in our group got headache at this height and there was the opportunity to take flavoured oxygen which was a bit of fun and apparently did alleviate the headache.
Quito is a lovely city full of inca culture and fabulous architecture. We had a drive up to the statue of Madonna and a great view over the city.
After a couple of days we headed to Mashpi Lodge which is situtated in the Cloud Forest and at a lower altitude. This was on tv recently I hope you saw it. Mashpi was fantastic, but be warned the drive is 2-3 hours and the last hour is over a bumpy road but a worthwhile experience if you have time and enjoy birding. It is worthwhile to have a reasonable level of fitness once you are there as there is a lot of trekking and it makes this place more enjoyable. However they tailor the experience even for wheelchair bound clients. Mashpi is in the Cloud Forest and houses a Hummingbird Sanctuary, we saw fabulous birds and butterflys. The day you visit the Hummingbirds is by vehicle and we spent quite a bit of time there which was fabulous. 1000’s of photos later we also saw Toucan, the guides are great at helping you get great photos and spotting the birdlife through the binoculars. If you do the evening walk with the guides expect to see snakes and spiders, yes they are all poisonous but the guides know what they are doing. We just had 3 nights here which was just enough, 1 more day would give you the opportunity to relax a bit more and enjoy the tranquility. Being in the Cloud Forest there is a high chance of rain but the wet weather gear and gumboots are supplied along with walking sticks if you want them. I also had a spa treatment whilst there and the massage was excellent.
We then headed to the Galapagos via 2 flights. The Galapagos is 1000km offshore and I was surprised to see how populated it was, expecting barren islands and nothing else. There is a permanent population of 20,000 people, lots of tourist operators, shops and bars, restaurants and the infrastructure to support the tourism.
On arrival you clear customs and it is best to have your drink bottle and walking shoes, sunhat and sunscreen at the ready as we headed straight to the tortoise sanctuary for a walk around and lunch. These are the large land based tortoise and we had plenty of time with a guide and time on our own. We were anxious to get to sea and after a couple of hours we headed to the marina to board our ship.
A fabulous surprise waited for us there as it was our first encounter with the sealions and they were everywhere, lying on the seats and totally unfazed by humans.
Our ship was the Isabella ii and we had an excellent experience, better than expected due to her age and the cabins although basic were all we needed with our own ensuite. The food was great and the staff were excellent.
The knowledgeable guides and playful sealion pups made for an extra-ordinary experience. We were there in August and this is the season that the sealions have their pups and this made for amazing snorkelling as they would come close and one of our group had the pup nose right up to the camera. If you are expert enough to dive down and sommersault, twist and turn under the water the pups will copy you and I was waggling my fingers and the pup came right up to me as well.
One day we had just jumped in the water and our guide spotted whale spouts in the distance. He asked if we wanted to go and get closer which of course we did. We climbed back in the zodiacs and raced towards the whale. It spouted a few times and heaved itself out of the water, it was the size of a submarine and what an experience, the highlight of that day. Unfortunately it disappeared and we returned to the ship.
We had a zodiac landing each day and our guides would take us on walks, we visited the albatross and saw them do a mating dance and I felt as though I was watching a David Attenborough documentary. We saw loads of iguana which piled up over each other they were so plentiful on the beach and our guide had to find a way around them so we could go on our walk. These iguana are water loving and feed of the seaweed that grow on the rocks under the water. They change colour in the sun as they warm up. That day we were looking for pelicans and were only lucky enough to see one. We also walked a lot up quite high hills with fabulous views back over the ocean and the ship. We climbed up here to see the red footed boobies and we did see them with their chicks. We had already seen the blue footed boobies on our first day and these are actually quite common.
When you are in the zodiacs you never know what you might see, we had sealion pups following us, we saw penquin which was unusual at that time of year, we saw numerous birds diving it was just fantastic! It is recommended to do a weeks trip, the more time you have the more you can see. We only had 4 nights but wow, it was a fantastic four nights.