Playing Charles Darwin

Each year we take a group of underserved students to a foreign country and several years ago our Dustin’s GreenHouse ( trip was to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. There is nothing like traveling with 10 teenagers, many who had never been on a plane.

Again I searched out someone who specialized in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands and again I found a true professional, Heather Blenkiron with CNH Tours ( Heather used to live in the Galapagos and worked with the Charles Darwin Research Center, her husband works for the UNESCO and it’s World Heritage sites which results in an extemely knowledgeable pair. Both amazing people and another home run.

Based on our budget and time (5 days), Heather set us up on the Fragata. The Fragata was perfect for our group, clean, well kept, good crew and a beautiful deck on top of the boat where you could lay back and watch the stars as you moved from island to island. It holds 16 passengers (8 cabins double occupancy), comfortable cabins with private bathrooms. The food was excellent.

I noticed that now she is using the Samba a little bit smaller boat that also has good reviews. The boat offered free snorkeling gear and lots of snorkeling time, but charged a small price for wet suits. We also did a dive but used an outside company to bring scuba gear, the Fragata was not equipped for diving.

We were in the Galapagos in July, which is their winter so not a lot of foliage which may have hindered some of the plant watching but it made the wildlife easier to see. For those of you who have never been to the Galapagos, you are not allowed on many of the islands without a naturalist guide. Each morning you load into pangas (skiffs) and land on the island for the day. The guide takes you on a nature walk, describing the incredible and unusual wildlife that resides there, (some photos below).

If you are thinking about going to the Galapagos I would do it sooner rather than later since in 2007 UNESCO listed the Galapagos as one of the World Heritage sites in danger. Which for you and I means fewer visitors, higher costs and less access in the future.  

Here are some other suggestions:

Choosing a boat? I personally like a smaller boat, our group filled the Fragata. I think you get a more personal experience and in our case since we had the whole boat we had a lot more control over what we did and where we went. Do your research on the internet because there are some real old boats and bad crews doing business in the Galapagos. I read a story before we went about one boat that sank during their voyage. Picking a good boat is not something you want to play around with.

You do not need to get a visa beforehand but you do have to pay a $100 park fee per person upon arrival.

Pack light and with soft luggage, no wheels. Shoulder straps work well, remember you are on a boat rolling luggage around a boat deck or on docks doesn’t work well. You can easily was and air dry clothes but space is cramped on a boat. Large rolling suitcases are frowned upon by the crew.

Take really good walking/hiking shoes, many of the islands are rough lava rock.

If you have glasses, it is worth buying a mask with a prescription lens, any dive shop can do this for you. If your mask floods and you loose your contacts, you loose your ability to see all the beautiful wildlife.

Don’t forget sea sickness medication. You may even want to bring a couple different types, Dramamine or Bonine for mild sea sickness it also works great for hangover prevention. Transderm patches are stronger and work better. Note if you get sea sick early on a 5-8 cruise you will be miserable and ruin your vacation.

Bring a good camera but remember you are in a salt water environment, so bring a back up. Losing your only camera because of loss or failure is a real bummer. 

Bring binoculars.  

Don’t pick up any artifacts, shells, coral or anything else. The Ecuadorian government is serious about leaving things alone on the islands. If they catch you with souvenirs in your luggage you can expect a big fine.