Galapagos Island tours
October 10, 2005 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Galapagos Islands and Patagonia travel advice please!

I'm thinking about going to the Galapagos Islands, and possibly Patagonia, in January. I'm after feedback about the various tour operators and packages, particularly Australian companies. Any advice welcome.
posted by the duck by the oboe to Travel & Transportation around Galapagos, Norway (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd encourage *not* to go to the Galapagos, but instead spend as much time as you can in the mountain towns. The Galapagos are being destroyed by tourism. My first recommendation in Ecuador would be Otavalo, the second would be Cuenca. Both Google very well.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:25 PM on October 10, 2005

Cuenca is gorgeous and the entire city is a UNESCO world heritage site, so it's kept up very well. That said, I really regret that I haven't been to the Galapagos yet and intend to go at the first opportunity.

What time of year are you planning on going? And is this one trip or two? They're pretty far apart.
posted by duck at 8:35 PM on October 10, 2005

Best answer: Galapagos is amazing. There is so much wild life. Tourism is not so bad since the number of ships is restricted. There is also a schedule for when the ships can visit an island and for how long so most of the time you and your shipmates are the only ones on the island. I would recommend going with a smaller boat as opposed to a cruise ship as they stop at more islands. If you want to see it you should go now as they are talking about raising the price and restricting the number of tourists allowed.
Otavalo is good to spend a Sat. for the market and clubs but doesn't have a whole lot going on otherwise. Besides what isn't a UNESCO site these days.
Patagonia can be cool. I cannot stress enough that this should be visited from the Argentina side as the sights are just as good if not better and will save you heaps of cash.
Besides in Argentina you can eat about a side of beef for 3 us dollars.
If you want specifics of operators and info. from people currently traveling in that area check out
posted by arruns at 10:53 PM on October 10, 2005

Best answer: The Galapagos are being destroyed by tourism.

This is not my impression from a year and a half ago. I had a wonderful trip on a boat for 7 nights from island to island. On almost all the islands, you can only go between 6 AM and 6 PM, only with a licensed guide, the guide can only take 16 people, and must follow carefully delineated paths. The tourist impact is very very low.

(Absolutely, the Galapagos are under attack -- but it's by the fishing industry, not the tourism industry.)

My Galapagos suggestions:
Make sure that your guide (since you will have one) has some biology background. There are 3 levels of guide; get a level 3.
Bring a parasol, and be very diligent about sunscreen too -- equatorial sun is murder.
Go snorkeling every chance you get. The snorkeling was so great I didn't regret at all not diving. Better to go on a boat that takes 16 + 1 guide than 80 + 5 guides -- the latter rush through the island quicker and you'll spend more time on the boat.
Ask to have a cabin on the top of the boat rather than the bottom, to avoid the fumes from the engine.
Bring enough digital camera memory to take 100-200 pictures a day!!! You don't want to be spending your time culling photos -- leave that for after the trip.
If there's a tour that includes the Amazon, go to that too, and go to that first. One of the amazing things about the Galapagos is that almost none of the animals you meet fear predators. Unlike in the Amazon, where they're all really skittish, so I imagine it would be frustrating to go there after the Galapagos, where you can easily get 2' from the animal you want to photograph.
posted by Aknaton at 11:28 PM on October 10, 2005

Sorry, as this is not really what you asked for, but just in case you're at all put off the Galapagos by the above, come to the Falklands instead! It would combine well with Patagonia - there are weekly flights to and from Punta Arenas in Chile, and once a month you can fly to/from Rio Gallegos in Argentina.

This photographer/tour guide says: "The Falklands are what the Galapagos Islands were decades ago but with a greater abundance of wildlife - a small number of visitors that could walk anywhere without regulation. Today, the Falklands get only about 700 land-based visitors a year."

The wildlife is indeed absolutely stunning and completely tame so you can get within a few metres of penguins, sea lions, elephant seals, striated caracaras (one of the rarest birds of prey in the world, but so abundant and tame in parts of the Falklands that you can't put your bag down without them trying to pinch it), thousands of nesting albatross, whales, dolphins, buzzards, turkey vultures... and no guard rails to keep you back and spoil the landscape, only your own common sense.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Islands are not completely cold and bleak (in summer at least - don't forget if you visit Patagonia that it is in the Southern Hemisphere, so you'll want to go in the Northern winter). We have less rain and more sunshine hours than the UK, though the temperatures are a few degrees lower on average and there is often a stiff wind in summer.

No crowds (except in Stanley on cruise ship days, which are a feature in themselves - 1,500 people pouring into a town of 2,000 for a day). Accommodation on the outlying Islands is limited to a couple of dozen people and you can walk all day and see noone if you want.

Stanley is beautiful, the way of life is very intriguing and the language is English.

Some more pics here and here and general tourism info here.

/disclaimer: I don't work in the tourism industry!! I just came here for a holiday for two weeks and liked it so much I decided to move here, and am still here two years on.
posted by penguin pie at 7:23 AM on October 11, 2005

don't forget if you visit Patagonia that it is in the Southern Hemisphere, so you'll want to go in the Northern winter).

duh, sorry, you're Australian, you know that.
posted by penguin pie at 7:25 AM on October 11, 2005

The wildlife is indeed absolutely stunning and completely tame so you can get within a few metres of penguins, sea lions,
... and no guard rails to keep you back

This is all true in the Galapagos as well, and don't think that having a marked path means that the animals avoid it.
I'm pretty amazed to hear that the Falklands have a greater abundance of wildlife. Wow! From one beach in the Galapagos we simultaneously saw sea lions, a shark, a fleet of golden rays (the fish), crabs, birds, giant tortoise tracks, and other stuff I'm probably forgetting.
To think that e.g. California beaches probably had the same density before mankind got there...
posted by Aknaton at 7:48 AM on October 11, 2005

I can't speak to your other options, but the Galapagos are tremendous.

I would recommend doing some reading on evolution before you go--as you may know, Darwin's trip to the Galapagos inspired some of his theories. Darwin's "The Origin of Species" and anything by Richard Dawkins will prepare you for your trip.

Ecuador currently charges every tourist a fee to enter the Galapagos, ostensibly to help the country maintain the islands' purity. Unfortunately, the money winds up in the government's coffers instead. If anyone here is concerned about the impact of tourism, fishing, oil spills, etc. on the Galapagos, please consider donating to the Charles Darwin Research Station (, which works to restore the islands.
posted by equipoise at 11:54 AM on October 11, 2005

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