Pink bananas, giant butterflies, hummingbirds and condors, volcanoes, cloud forests and the stunning wildlife of the Galapagos means this trip is one for the bucket list. In fact, it has been item number one on my bucket list for years and I feel privileged to have finally been able to experience what feels like paradise on earth with a small but beautifully formed group of fellow travellers. Put that together with an expert and resourceful tour leader and guide and this trip surpassed all my hopes and expectations.
Having started off in Quito in Ecuador to meet my travelling companions and catch up on much needed sleep after a long day of travelling, we made our way to the cloud forest. Treks to search for birds were short but productive – amongst many varieties we managed to see a family of Toucans flying between the trees and a lone eagle flying around the camp. Falling asleep to the sound of the forest and waking up to pull the curtains to watch the birds was a great way to start the trip.
Leaving the cloud forest, we stopped at a Hummingbird Paradise and watched them feed alongside more Toucans and other varieties of bird whilst sipping coffee that had been grown and brewed on the premises before making our way to the town of Mindo with the giant butterflies and a delicious Artisan Chocolate Factory.
We should have continued to travel further south through Ecuador but Wild Frontiers had warned us that things don’t always go to plan when travelling in South America! Some political unrest meant that some roads were closed. So for a couple of days we changed routes and our resourceful guide David and driver Milton amended the itinerary to ensure we still saw what we wanted to see, including volcanic lakes and magnificent Condors gliding through the air.
Unfortunately, the political unrest continued but again David and Wild Frontiers came up trumps and offered us changes to the itinerary which would ensure we would still experience all the wonders of Ecuador and the Galapagos. We voted unanimously to fly out early to the Galapagos Islands giving us more time in the place I had dreamed of for so long.
The islands did not disappoint. We were lucky enough to stay on three islands and visit three others. I felt choked up with happiness on most days as I watched birds and animals roaming freely in their natural habitat – just the way it is meant to be. You need to keep at least six feet away from the animals, but this can sometimes be a challenge. They are literally everywhere! Sea lions sleeping on benches, lying on the beach or in your path in the streets. The animals don’t seem to have read the signs about keeping your distance!
It was strange to become so used to sharing the beaches and walkways with marine iguanas – I didn’t know they could swim! Watching one little guy walking along the edge of the water resulted in him being wiped out by a little wave he didn’t see coming. Pelicans landed next to me, finches popped in to our hotel restaurants for breakfast and giant frigate birds waited patiently to steal whatever they could from the sea.
The trekking was mostly easy, but I challenge the Ecuadorian definition of ‘flat’! Their version of ‘flat’ appears to include some steep paths. Two of us braved the long volcanic crater trek on Isabella Island, which was challenging in the heat with hardly any shade along the way, but it was worth it to get a fantastic view of the caldera. I learned more than I ever expected to about the different types of volcanic lava as one of our group was a geologist, which will serve me well in pub quizzes!
There were so many highlights, but the standout moments have to include the giant tortoises roaming in the highlands of Santa Cruz, watching the sealions and pelicans waiting for scraps at the fish market, walking along the beach on Isabella Island in the company of iguanas, spotting flamingos and penguins on the same island (who knew?), eating street food listening to pan pipes under the stars in Santa Cruz and the breathtaking colonies of frigate birds and blue footed boobies on North Seymour Island.
Being a vegetarian, I had wondered whether I would be living on rice and beans for 16 days but the food was amazing! Apart from the island of Isabella where the choice was a bit more limited, I had a lot of choice of really good quality food. The accommodation was all very different in each place, reflecting the character of where we were – I slept like a log the whole trip. The staff and local guides were friendly and knowledgeable.
However, the icing on the cake was the company of my fellow travellers and our guide. We were a group of four on the tour but David, our guide, felt like part of our group. With two Americans and two Brits plus our Ecuadorian guide, it felt like travelling with a group of friends and we didn’t stop laughing. As like-minded travellers, we were all aware of how lucky we were to experience such an amazing place and made the most of this adventure.
I didn’t know what to expect when I went to Ecuador and admittedly, we did not see as much of it as we had hoped, but in our short time there it was clear to see this small country has so much to offer. There really can be four seasons in a day and we experienced tropical climates, saw snow capped peaks, cloud forests, and the most colourful and beautiful wildlife. On our return to Quito for a couple of days, it was full of music, colour and dancing and some of the best vegetarian food I’ve had while travelling.
Above all else, I will remember the pure simplicity of life in the enchanted islands of the Galapagos, which brought me back down to earth and reminded me what is important in the world. I didn’t feel as if I was on holiday, I felt like I was living there for a couple of weeks. This was my trip of a lifetime.