This is the first in a series of posts relating the Galapagos experience from March 2011.

The planning for Galapagos started as a plan for a trip to Greece and the Peloponnesian peninsula. This happened to be our next default destination after our 2008 trip to Europe. I still have a solid itinerary on ice and hope to thaw it someday. Julie looked at the likely weather forecast for March in Greece and it felt too much like Oregon. Our friend Karen had recently taken a trip to South America that included a cruise to Galapagos and I suspect that's why Julie suggested that as an option. My immediate reaction was positive -- what's not to like about the photographic opportunities of Galapagos wildlife?

Julie did all of the research and legwork for organizing the trip which included the four of us plus Julie's brother Dave and his wife Lisa. I'm no expert, but I think there are two distinct paths for visiting Galapagos:

  • The all-in cruise route, typically involving 4 to 16 days on a small to mid size ship. These aren't your typical Royal Caribbean monster ships. Passenger counts range from the teens to about 200.
  • Stay in one of a few small port hotels and take day tips to various locations. Reaching outer islands and more distant locations is a challenge with this approach, though the cost can be substantially lower.

We opted for the cruise route and Julie focused on smaller ships that would be stable in the water to minimize churn and seasickness. After contacting multiple booking agencies, Julie focused on Columbus Travel (owned by Haugan Cruises) and ultimately the Athala II catamaran with 8 cabins holding 2 passengers each. With a crew of just 10 this would be an intimate affair.

Columbus Travel handled just about every detail for us but getting to Ecuador. We decided to start in Quito, the scenic colonial high altitude capital as opposed to Guayaquil, a newer coastal city. We would land late on a Thursday, spend Friday on a walking tour of the old city, then fly to Baltra Galapagos via Guayaquil on Saturday morning. Columbus took care of all ground transportation, and our trip included one hotel night on each side of the trip plus a dinner on Friday night at a very nice restaurant.

There is no need to be shy about how much this costs as you can find out online with your own research - expect to spend over $4,000 per passenger for an 8-day cruise like this, not including the cost of getting to Ecuador. There is a tiering of cruise classes in Galapagos which also determines the quality and experience level of your naturalist guide. We went for a higher level and have no regrets - as you'll learn we couldn't have asked for a better guide.