Archives for December 2016

The Galapagos Islands: Santa Cruz Island

SCTORTUGABAY3Santa Cruz Island is the most populated island in the Galapagos.  If you are doing a land-based itinerary, it serves as a great base for visiting Bartolome Island, North Seymour Island, and Santa Fe Island. By far, the nicest hotel on the island is Finch Bay Eco Hotel.  It is the only beach front hotel on all of Puerto Ayora, and it is only accessible by water taxi (which runs every 10-15 minutes from the main port and is free for guests), which means that it is away from the hustle and bustle of Puerto Ayora and all of its tourists.SCFINCHBAY3 SCFGINCHTAXI100 SCFINCHBAYBEACHSC FINCHBAY SCFINCHBAYPOOL scFINSHCWALK101 SCFINCHPROPEORTY100 SCFINCHSUITE100 SCFINCHVIEW100SCFINCHHAMMOCK100SCSWINIGUANA SCFINCHDUCK

Day 1:

When we finally made it to Santa Cruz, we had a few stops to make before we got to check into our paradise resort. Our first stop was to the Twin Pit Craters, two giant geological depressions of volcanic material formed by long and slow sinking of the ground. SCcraters2 SCCRATERS100Our second stop was to Manzanillo, a giant tortoise reserve, where giant tortoises live and roam free in their natural habitat. SC TURTLES2 SC TURTLES SCTURTLE4 SCTURTLES3 SCTURTLEPOOLThen it was off to Finch Bay for some R&R.  The nice part about Finch Bay is that you can book its naturalist programs (3, 5 or 7 day programs), which are all inclusive.  That means you get the room, all meals, and excursions on the property’s yachts.  As it turns out, this is a much better deal than going a-la-carte.  Breakfast is a large American-style buffet with great selections, including an omelet station and some regional favorites. On full-day excursions, your gear and a fully catered hot lunch is served on-board their yacht.  On half-day excursions, you come back to the hotel and choose off their giant menu of delicious selections. Every night, dinner is three courses, and the food is great.

Day 2:

Today was our first full day on Santa Cruz, and we had a full day excursion to Bartolome Island planned. Bartolome is the furthest island that the hotel’s yacht visits; so, be prepared for about 2.5 hours of traveling (on land and sea) each way; but, don’t worry, the accommodations are nice and it is TOTALLY worth it!  We first took the water taxi to town where we boarded a bus to the port.  From there, we took a zodiac to meet the yacht that would be cruising us to Bartolome: The Sea Lion. SCZODIAC SCYATCH SCYATH2Our first stop was to explore Bartolome Island and see the famous Pinnacle Rock, which is the best known landmark in the islands. On the way, a playful pod of dolphins would follow our boat.  Once we landed on the island, a group of sea lions were there to meet us.SCSEALIONSWe explored the island on foot, climbing to a vista point to get a better view of Pinnacle Rock. The nice thing about this island is that, unlike some others, they have installed a raised walkway to protect the terrain and make the hike a little easier.scPINNACLE ROCK SCBARTOLOME2We next boarded the zodiac to cruise around Pinnacle Rock and scope out some penguins on our way to the lava field.SCBARTOLOME SCBART SCPR SCBARTOLOME4 scBARTOLOME3Our day ended with a snorkel, where Chad got to snorkel with penguins, sharks, turtles and sea lions. He later declared this a tie with his snorkel in Isabela Island for the best snorkel of his life.

Day 3:

Admittedly, this was supposed to be our last full day of activities; but, I wanted to see a frigate bird, and the hotel’s yacht did not go out to North Seymour Island until the next day, so we extended our trip by one more day to do just that.  But that was for tomorrow.  Today we had a full day planned.  Our first stop was to Tortuga Bay, which is considered Ecuador’s most beautiful beach.  You can get here two ways: 1) by water taxi or 2) by land.  While the water taxi is faster, the seas are rough.  We did both.  To get there, we went the land option.  We drove to the start of the 1.3 mile trail and hiked on a pretty flat road onto the beach. Once we made it onto the beach, we walked another 20 or so minutes to Playa Brava and Playa Mansa where we saw sea turtles and iguanas in a gallery of mangroves. The waves are pretty big here, so you can surf, and the Santa Cruz Surf Club gives lessons here. On the way back, we took the ferry, which was about 30 minutes in some pretty large swells.SCTBIG100SCTORTUGABAYSCTORTUGABAY4SCTB SCTB2We returned to the hotel for a quick bite to eat, and then we set out to visit the town of Puerto Ayora and the Charles Darwin Research Station, which, by the way, was not as impressive as the tortoise conservation program we visited on Isabela Island. This facility is probably more well known because it is located on the most populated island, and it was the home of Lonesome George. Prior to his 2012 death (at approximately 150 years old!), Lonesome George was the rarest creature in the world, as he was the last known individual subspecies of his kind- a Pinta Island tortoise.  He was found in 1971, and he has served as the symbol for conservation efforts in the Galapagos Islands. While several attempts were made, Lonesome George was never able to successfully mate, and when he died, so did his subspecies.  The research center is currently remodeling to add a Lonesome George exhibit to its facilities.

In the meantime, the new star of the facility is Diego. He is also over 100 years old, but unlike Lonesome George, he has been responsible for about 800 offspring and has been instrumental in saving his subspecies from extinction.  Here he is below (along with a beautiful land iguana):scDIEGO SCLISCCDRC SCCHARLES DARWIN2 Day 4:

I was so happy we made the split decision to stay an extra day because we visited my favorite island (from a wildlife perspective) on this day: North Seymour Island.  This was a full-day excursion aboard the hotel’s yacht that started off with a beach visit, where explored a flamingo lagoon and did some snorkeling.SCCACTUSBEACH SCNSI2The second part of the day was reserved for the visit to North Seymour Island where we saw some of the most dramatic landscapes, a ton of frigate birds (the ones with the big red swells under their neck), land iguanas, blue footed boobies, and sea lions.  Lots and lots of sea lions!SCNSI3 SCFRIGATE SCFRIGATE6 SCFRIGATE5 SCFRIGATE4 SCBABYFRIGATE SCBABYFRIGATE3 SCBOOBIE SCBOBBIEEGG100 SCSEALION3 SCSEALION SCBABYSEALION SCBABYLIONS100When we got back from our excursion, there was just one more spot we had to hit before we left the Galapagos Islands- Las Grietas.  Las Grietas is a series of volcanic crevices that were formed during the cooling of molten lava and has become a popular swimming destination.  To get there, you have to hike about 20 minutes from Finch Bay Hotel on a trail that winds through a forest of cacti and over a beautiful salt flat. The water is cool, clear, and very deep.SCCACTUS3 SCSALTFLATS SCLASGRIETAS SCLASGRIETAS2 SCGRIETAS SCSWIMPOOLSometimes, a little spontaneity pays off, and this was a perfect way to spend our unexpected extra and last day in the Galapagos. The Galapagos Islands were a captivating and memorable adventure, and this trip has quickly moved up into the top three places we have visited in the world! I hope this series of posts has inspired you to take your own trip to the amazing Galapagos. As always, if you have any questions or want to share your own tips, please leave me a comment or send me an email.  I love to hear from my readers!

 

 

 

 

 

International Travel With Children: A Survival Guide

Sommers PostThrough the magic of Facebook, my freshman college roommate, Sommer, and I recently reconnected. She was married now and had two adorable children. But the best part, was that she was temporarily living abroad- in London- with her family and traveling through Europe with her two children.  I loved that she and her husband had the courage to say yes to a great opportunity (despite having a whole life with children in Florida) to live and work in London. An opportunity which would give their children the chance to experience life abroad, to learn in real time, to shape the very people they would become, and to create such great and lasting memories for them.

If you are an avid reader of this blog, you know that my main goal is to encourage you to travel no matter what stage you are in life and to give you the resources to help you do that.  The holidays are here, and with them comes time for family travel. Maybe you aren’t crossing the pond this year, but maybe next year you will. Because she can offer a perspective that I cannot, I asked Sommer to share some of the things she has learned in her six months of international travel with two small children, and she graciously agreed. I hope these tips give you the courage to take that trip that you have been putting off and to bring the family, too!

Staring at the bathroom counter, eyes squinted, I could see two pink lines slowly appear and my heart began to race. People were coming in and out of the rooms around me, boxes and furniture were being set firmly on the floor, but all I could hear was the rhythmic beating. I looked away from the pregnancy test and up at the mirror, I was already showing signs of the proverbial glow. My first instinct was to burst out of the bathroom and shout “I’m pregnant,” but I refrained. We were in the middle of moving into our new home, and I wanted to wait until my husband and I had a private moment. Later, after the last box was unloaded, I showed him the test and that evening we celebrated being in our first house and the impending arrival of our first child.

Over the course of the next nine months (ten really but no one ever tells you that), we began planning. We decorated the nursery, attended childbirth and childcare classes, read birthing and parenting books, hired a doula, solicited the advice of family and friends, researched and installed the car seat, and so on and so forth until the day came. I read every book, took every class, purchased every item of baby gear, and asked every question, but, when the day came, none of it had prepared me for the moment when my daughter was born. It was the most painful (i.e., labor) and most joyous experience of my life. My body has never felt so depleted, yet so full at the same time. Twenty-months later, when I delivered my son, the experience was not much different. All the preparation and prior experience, could not prepare me for what I would feel in that moment when my eyes first met his. 

This is the story I tell my friends when they ask me about having children, especially those preparing to have their own. It is meant to be reassuring and inspiring. It is honest and pure, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. I leave out the details about the discomforts of pregnancy, blinding pain of contractions, and the sleep-deprivation that occurs in the weeks following birth. Many of the mothers that came before me did me the same courtesy helping build my confidence, and if I pried, they would share the less idyllic details. Mother code.

When my husband and I decided to temporarily move abroad with our children and travel with them internationally, I suspected that many of the fellow mothers I polled would adhere to the same “mother code” providing me with the sugar-coated version of their travel experience. Like with labor and delivery, we all know the “horrors” so why not focus on the positive, the motivational. “Bring an iPad and some snacks, and they will do great. They’ll probably sleep on the plane.” I knew it wouldn’t be that simple. So I planned for everything, and came equally prepared for nothing to go as planned.

Planning for Everything

Obtain passports. The waiting room at any local, state, or federal department can be a test of wills for a person of any age. For a two and four-year old child, it is a test of wills for every person in the room. It is also a good litmus test of whether you are ready to fly. Visit the US Department of State online, complete all your paperwork in advance and have your corresponding identification ready to go. Make an appointment (this will reduce, but not eliminate wait time). Bring quite activities and toys, snacks, and your creativity. Don’t worry about the pitch of your singing voice — sing Wheels on the Bus like you are Queen Bey. Allow 4-6 weeks for your passports to arrive by mail.

Consult your pediatrician and the CDC. Once you have submitted your passport(s) application, it’s onto the next waiting room. Take your child(ren) to the pediatrician and discuss any additional immunizations or care that should be taken for travel. Consult the CDC website for travel advisories before you finalize your destination. (Tip for travel: Bring the pharmacy. Pack a small kit of essentials for your trip including first-aid items, your go-to over-the-counter and homeopathic remedies, and any prescriptions your children may require. Their preferred flavor of fever-reducing medicine may not be available abroad.)

Book your travel. Now that the wait is over, book your trip with small children in mind. Whether you use a travel agent or book independently, use “family friendly” search criteria. Purchasing a seat for all travelers (even those who qualify for a lap seat) is beneficial. This gives you the option to bring and use your car seat aboard (just make sure is FAA compliant) plus you have gained some extra play room and leg room. Consider your transportation at your destination as well — trains are a great option where available. If using a car service or cab service, determine if a car seat(s) is needed. If you don’t being your own, ensure the service can provide one and the proper style seat for your child’s age, weight, and height. Where you stay may influence the type of transportation you may use. Keep this in mind when booking. Map hotel or vacation rental options in relation to points of interest. Ensure they accommodate small children (some boutiques and private rentals do not) and that a larger room is not required (occupancy rules vary internationally). Narrow your search with sites such as Trip Advisor or opt for an apartment/home rental through a site like Kid & Coe or Mrs. & Mrs. Smith Family. Choose a hotel or rental that not only “allows” children but welcomes them by offering special turn-down services, onsite activities, baby gear rental or toy/play areas. Babysitting services are a plus (wink).trainPack the essentials. Take an inventory of what you already have, what you can borrow, and what you need to buy. Aim to travel light (your hands will be full with your children), yet bring what you need to enjoy your vacation and not to mention the journey there. Packing for the flight itself (and don’t forget the return flight home) is as important as the trip. A carry-on with a day or two’s worth of clothes is recommend for cases of lost luggage, or spilled chocolate milk, as well as essential toiletries. A bag containing on-flight entertainment is also recommend (don’t bother with the glossy magazines, who are you fooling — you want be relaxing and reading). Pack your bag with activities to keep your child(ren)’s hands and attention occupied during pre-boarding and on the flight.

(By the way, to lighten your load, you may want to research baby equipment rental companies. You can find a list of them here: Travels With Baby).

Use pre-boarding time wisely. Leave enough time to get to the airport and through security without rushing your child or creating stress. At the airport, give them as much space as possible to stretch and play before boarding. Some airports now offer children’s soft play areas. Stock up on water and snacks. Hint: Gummy bears are an enticing “incentive” (okay, bribe) for good in-air behavior. Don’t be in a rush to be the first ones to be in line for boarding. Your seats are reserved, and as a family with small children, you (usually) have priority seating.

Nothing Goes as Planned

Board with intention. Find your seats, stow your carry-ons and take a deep breath. Pace yourself, the snacks, and the activities (remember, you have hours to fill), but keep them handy. The time you spend in the air is most likely less than the time an average women spends in labor. Trust me, this won’t take as long, and won’t be nearly as painful. There may be crying, there may be loss of fluids, and there may even be some pacing of the floor; and, most certainly (and perhaps more surprisingly) there will be joy.

Sit back and enjoy your flight (and your trip). Look your child(ren) in the eyes and tell them (and yourself) this is going to be an amazing adventure! Treat take off like a rocket ship blast off with a 3-2-1 countdown. Find shapes in the clouds outside the plane window or spot the stars on a clear night. Color or play tablet games with them. Walk the aisle for a good stretch. Chat about your destination and ask them what they most want to see or do. Recline your seat and let them lean their head on you. You may not sleep, but chances are they will. Find rest in the quiet moments.flyBring back a souvenir. I’m not talking miniature spoons or t-shirts here (Read: “I survived an international flight with a toddler”). The souvenir I’m talking about won’t collect dust on a shelf. Collect the moments you experience with your child, take pictures with your eyes and capture them in your heart. They will remember this adventure, perhaps not seeing a certain landmark or visiting a specific place, but the feelings of wonder and curiosity will linger. You have sparked their wanderlust. For the details they may forget, give them a personalized travel journal or make one of your own with their names and the details of the trip.

The fasten seat belt sign had lifted and the chorus of unbuckling sounded. The fully booked flight was relatively quiet — soft chatter, crisp magazine pages folding open, cabinets opening and closing as flight attendants prepared the snack cart. Closer to me, the sound of children giggling — my own two children, huddled together, making one another laugh. I smiled as I let out a sigh of relief. It was only the beginning of the flight, but I was optimistic. Hours later we would awake to the voice of the captain telling his crew to prepare for arrival. There had been brief moments of turbulence, for us and for the plane, but that’s to be expected on any flight with children aboard.  napsThis has been my experience flying with small children internationally, and these are the tips I have learned along the way. No “mother code” invoked. It can be stressful, but it can also be life-changing. You’re opening their eyes to the world, and you will see the world in a new perspective as a result. With several trips taken since our first cross-Atlantic flight, the newborn days of travel are behind us. We are more confident parents and more confident travelers. There’s only one thing left to plan – Where to Next?

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Sommer Stiles is a writer and graphic designer. An expat, she lives in London with her husband and two children. Sommer and her family have spent six months living abroad and traveling Europe. To learn more about their adventures or how to have one of your own, contact sommer.stiles@gmail.com.

The Galapagos Islands: Isabela Island

BFBIt has been 18 days since Chad and I have returned from the Galapagos Islands, but it seems like a lifetime ago.  Almost like a dream.  Were we really even there? The Galapagos are so otherworldly, that as soon as you leave, you feel very far removed from your time there.

Chad and I did a land-based itinerary, and our first stop was to Isabela Island, where we stayed for three days.  If you are deciding on whether you want to cruise the Galapagos or take a land-based vacation, please refer to this post. This post also gives you all the logistical information you will need to understand how to navigate visiting the islands on a land based itinerary and what you can expect during your travels.

Isabela Island is a lot less commercial than Santa Cruz Island. It feels more authentic, and you have a lot more interaction with the locals. We took a small regional flight (read: 8-seater prop plane) into Puerto Villamil, which is the largest town on the island. Although the island is volcanic, Puerto Villamil is surrounded by white sandy beaches. Upon arrival in Puerto Villamil, you must pay $10.00 USD per person in cash.ISABELA AIRPORT 2 ISABELA 3Day 1: We stayed at Iguana Crossings Hotel, which, by all accounts, is the nicest hotel in Puerto Villamil.  The hotel is an eco-hotel and is the most innovative on the island.  It is also beach front, so spring for an ocean view room.  Behind the hotel is a wildlife-filled lagoon. The only problem with staying at an eco-hotel is the water use restrictions. The water in the faucets and the showers were timed to 8 seconds, so you had to keep pressing to have the water flow.  Doesn’t seem so bad for the sink, but try showering in 8 second intervals! Also, the water takes some time to get hot.  Other than that, the hotel is lovely, the staff is very friendly, and the full breakfast (included with the room) is delicious.  IG crossThis is the view from our balcony:front viewbeachAnd this is the view from our bathroom: view from bathroomIt’s kinda nice to wake up to a flock of social flamingos cackling outside. Also, the sunset view wasn’t too shabby either! This is unfiltered, by the way:sunsetThe hotel is aptly named since it does indeed sit right before an actual crossing for iguanas; and for whatever reason, when they cross the dirt road, they do so at the actual crossing.IG cross2 iguanaBut we didn’t have too much time to linger on property, because just two hours after we landed, we were already off to our first adventure: a trip to Las Tintoreras! Las Tintoreras is a chain of small islets.  You must take a boat from the harbor about 10 minutes away to reach the small island.  On the way, you see plenty of manta rays and sea turtles.   sea turtlePrior to reaching Las Tintoreras, the boat took us on a small sea cruise where we spotted our first blue footed boobies and a penguin!boobie and penguinWe also met some local fishermen who were cleaning their day’s catch – the large and sweetly delicious Galapagos lobster, which we later ate for dinner that night.

lobster lobster2 lobster3Upon arrival, we were greeted by the plentiful Sally Lightfoot CrabscrabsWe disembarked from the small boat and began our island exploration.Los Tintoreras signBut for the wildlife, the island is uninhabited, and you must visit the island with a naturalist guide.  There is a trail full of iguanas (so watch your step) that leads to a bay that is located within a volcanic crack. From the crack, you can see white tip reef sharks.iguanas iguana and sharksIf you continue to follow the trail, you will find yourself on a deserted beach where sea lions hang out.sea lion on beachFrom there, you must turn around to return to the location where you boarded the boat and go to another little snorkel spot. Upon returning from the trip, we were greeted at the port with more lounging sea lions.sea lion on a benchDay 2: Today we had an early morning tour to Los Tuneles, a place where lava flows formed unique, arcs, tunnels, tubes, and lava bridges both above and below the ocean and offers some of the best snorkeling on Isabela Island; and, according to Chad, the best snorkel he had in all of the Galapagos! It was a regular ole’ sea sanctuary. It takes about 45 minutes to get there by boat, and, honestly, the waters can be kinda rough on the ride out. We weren’t too worried because our captain was a man they called the Ecuadorian John Travolta (and, I am still kicking myself for not getting a picture of him because he did look like a pudgier, Latin American John Travolta!), and his first mate was JESUS (of whom I managed to get a picture).

But, not to worry, because with a little internet magic, I found someone who had the forethought to snap a pic of John Travolta.  Now, obviously, this is not my photo – and I have no idea who those people are – but, I mean, seriously, does that man in the middle not look just like John Travolta? He has the bluest eyes (which you can’t see in the pic below, but, trust me, they are the color of his shirt), and they call him Travolta on the island.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Anyway, he loves snorkeling, so he usually jumps in the water and joins you.  Jesus too! This is Jesus:jesusIs it not total perfection that he is holding a fish? So, on the way to Los Tunneles, you pass this rock where penguins usually hang, so the boat will stop to scope them out (cue major sea sickness, even if you aren’t prone to it). While you are busy spotting birds, Jesus throws out clear fishing line from a spool (like, he doesn’t even use a fishing rod) that has a hook at the end, and within seconds, he is pulling up fish by the dozens.bird rock bird rock2Snorkel time! In case you were wondering, while the water is clear, it is also cold (about 65 degrees Fahrenheit). Pretty much every tour operator has wet suits, masks, and fins for your use while snorkeling, and everyone went in with a wet suit.snorkel snorkel2After hitting two snorkel spots, you make your last stop at Los Tunneles, where you disembark and explore the lava tunnels and all the boobies waiting to welcome you! By the way, these pictures do not do this magnificent place any justice, like not at all.LT LT2Another fun fact about this incredible place – see the tall skinny cacti in the picture below? These are called candelabra cacti. They grow out of the volcanic rock at the rate of one centimeter per year (or about one meter every hundred years); so, the cactus on the left hand side of this picture is about 400-500 YEARS OLD! Pretty amazing, right? LT3 LT4 LT5 LT6 LT7 LT8 LT13 LT9 LT10 LT11 LT14Once back on Isabela, I stopped by for a visit with my sea lion friend again. LT15We had the rest of the afternoon free, so we decided to do some independent exploration. Every morning, we saw this bridge, and we wondered where it went, so we decided to find out.bridgeThe trail is about a mile long on pretty flat terrain.  It is a scenic route that has two flamingo lagoons along the way.  It also has some cute little rest areas.

trail 5 trail trail 2 trail 4But, it is what is at the end of the trail that is the real treat- a giant tortoise breeding center!turtlesAnd, in case you missed the first sign, there is this one here:
trutle4 turtle3 turtles2 turtles5Honestly, we are glad we came here because there were hardly any people, it is not at all touristy, it is free, and there are several tortoises from all stages of life in different pens.  Also, not to spoil it for you, but this breeding center was way bigger, had many more turtles, and was way more impressive than the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz.  Sorry, Charlie, but that’s the truth!

After retracing our steps through the trail, we decided to hit the beach in front of our hotel:beach6 beach7Day 3: Today’s itinerary called for a hike up Sierra Negra Volcano. You know, prior to this day, I was complaining to Chad that I did not think we were getting enough exercise on this trip; and then the volcano day arrived, and I shut up. For the rest of the trip.

Okay, so things you should know about this activity if you are going to do it (that I wish I had known!): 1) it’s TEN MILES round-trip (uphill half the way), and that is for the easy route (after about two hours of hiking you have to choose if you are going higher for a view or lower to a crater; oddly enough, the higher route is the easier one); 2) it’s cloudy; it’s sunny, it’s windy, it’s rocky; dress accordingly; 3) there are no bathrooms, so bring your own TP for the nature toilet. The views are incredible, and it’s worth the effort, but you need to wear the right shoes.  As in, NOT sneakers.  Wear thick socks and a good hiking shoe because little lava rocks will be in your shoes all day. If you do not heed this advice, then, at the end, you will have lovely, bloody blisters (like I did!).

volcano volcano2 volcano29Do not be deceived by the start of this trail.  You hike on a road like this for about two hours.  Not so bad, right?  Looks kind of flat. See how our guide is dressed? I was like, that’s a little over-kill.  Then, about half way through, I understood.  You are on the equator. You need a hat for this. And about a ton of sunscreen (like all over your face and legs; any exposed part really). And SPF lip balm. Or like a face mask, really.volcano4Plus there are pretty flowers along the way that grow wildly: volcano3And fresh guava that you can eat:volcano11After about two hours, you are rewarded with this view.  But, this is about half way. You still have to walk around the rim. volcano5 volcano6 volcano7 volcano8 volcano9 volcano10Rim walking:

volcano14This was a good time to take a little reflection break:  Stunning views with almost no other hikers, it was so quiet and peaceful. volcano16Plus, about a million of these are in my shoes: volcano12You start to worry when you see the bones because at this point, you feel like you may die, too. volcano13But, as the sign reminds you, you still got more climbing to do: volcano19 volcano18 volcano17 volcanoe23See the faint green back there. Well, that is where we got our first view up top after two stinking hours of climbing.  Look at us now! volcano20 volcano21 volcano22 volcano24 volcano27volcano26At long last, we made it to the top of the easier route.  This is where Internet comes from!! Just kidding.  Kind of.  These are GPS systems and seismographs. volcano28 volcano30Okay, time to trek back down!

You would think that after an activity like this, we’d take the rest of the day off; but you would be wrong. This was our last day on the island, and this is an Anastasia vacation, so no rest. We can rest when we are dead.  We had a snorkel spot to hit!

Concha de Perla is a great little snorkel spot that you can do on your own, and it is free to visit.  This means that it is also a little more crowded.  If you go early in the morning or later in the afternoon, there are less people.  Some say the snorkeling is better in the morning.  You can see rays, turtles, lots of fish, crabs, iguanas, star fish, and sea lions here.

Remember John Travolta from above? Well he and his wife, Carmen (you won’t miss her, trust me, her eye shadow job is something else.  Drag queens could get tips from her!), own a dive and tour shop called Rosedelco.  It is located right on the road heading towards the port, so we stopped in and rented wet suits and snorkel gear.

Concha de Perla is located in the Port of Villamil, where all of your day excursions have taken place. After entering the port, you will see a juice stand on your left.  Just past the juice stand is the entrance for Concha de Perla, which can be reached via a wooden pathway.portconcha concha11

En route, we encountered a sea lion road block.  We thought we would just jump over them, but they were not pleased with that.  They woke up and started barking and showing teeth. Who knew that they were so testy! Ultimately, a park ranger had to come wake them and get them to move off the walkway and onto the sand to continue their siesta! concha2 concha10At the end of  the pathway, you will reach a wooden landing that has benches on the left, and wooden poles to hang your stuff on either side.  There are two staircases that lead down into the (cold!) water. This is what the lagoon looks like: concha6 concha4 concha3You aren’t supposed to go past the rock in the middle. While we were visiting, one of those lazy sea lions decided he was hungry.  He came waddling up the walk to the platform, made his way down the stairs, and shot like a bullet through the water looking for fish! concha7 concha8This was a great way to spend our last day on Isabela, and I am so glad we didn’t miss this place. Unfortunately for us, all good things must come to an end; but, we were excited, because up next was Santa Cruz Island! Isabela is a special island in the Galapagos not to be missed – truly a nature lover’s paradise; and whether you are doing a cruise or a land-based itinerary, I HIGHLY recommend that you make a point of staying a couple of days here.

 

 

 

Getting to the Galapagos: The Logistics

Tortuga BaySo, you want to go to the Galapagos Islands. Good choice! It is a literal paradise. But, if you have done any research at all, you may have already figured out that getting to this slice of paradise is not as easy as just jumping on a plane and going.  Getting to the Galapagos Islands is a process.

I truly believe that hiring a travel agent (one who specializes in the Galapagos Islands), especially for first timers, is worth the investment. You will see why in a minute. Is it the more pricey option? Yes; but it is also the option that is likely to maximize your trip and experience there.  We used a travel agent, and we were glad we did.  We met many people who had not, and most of them wished they had just to navigate the sheer logistics alone! Also, by using the expertise of a travel agent, we were able to cover a lot of the land-based options in the Galapagos, whereas our counterparts (the non-agent people) were not.

Land or Sea

The first choice you have to make is whether you want to do a land-based itinerary or a cruise.  You could combine these options, but you would likely be cutting time from one or the other (unless you have unlimited time and money; then, by all means, do both!). I am not a cruise person.  I don’t like them.  I don’t like being on a boat with all the people.  I don’t like the scheduled activities (and in the Galapagos the scheduling is strict!).  I like to do the things that interest us on our schedule, so for me this was a no-brainer.  Sort of. We chose a 9-day land-based itinerary.

There are some islands that you can only do by cruise (i.e., you cannot day-trip here on land-based itineraries).  These islands are Pinta, Marchena, Genovesa/Tower*, Espanola*, Santiago, Rabida, Santa Maria/Floreana*, and Fernandina*.  The ones that have the asterisk next to them are the ones Chad and I would like to visit on a return trip, which will have to be done by cruise. That’s right; I am going to break my own rule and cruise just so we can go to these islands. The remainder of the islands can be reached with a land-based itinerary. With the exception of a few animals, like red-footed boobies, the albatross, the flightless comorant, and the fur seal for example, you will get to see most of the BIG 15 of the Galapagos from a land-based itinerary.

Cruising

Since we did the land-based itinerary, I will go into more details on the logistics of that below.  If you are considering a cruise, here are some additional considerations.  First, the boats are small.  These are not the major cruise ships you are used to because the Galapagos National Park highly regulates the boats.  It limits the boats to 100 passengers, which can only take 20 people per group on land-based day tours.  At the time of this post, Silversea Cruises runs the largest cruise at 100 people with a hefty price tag. Celebrity runs the second largest cruise at 98 people.  Lindbald Expeditions runs the National Geographic tours and has two boats: a 48-passenger and a 96-passenger. Metropolitan Touring operates three boats: the 40-passenger, Isabella II, the 48-passenger La Pinta, and the 90-passenger Santa Cruz. After that, you have a choice of smaller privately owned boats (like the Nemo sail boats) or catamarans that have 10 to 20 passengers, or you can charter a boat. From all accounts, there is a huge difference between the amenities on the luxury vs. economy boats (and the price reflects that), and the accommodations are smaller.  Also, the higher-end the cruise, the better the guides.

Second, regardless of the cruise you choose and because of the tight regulations, you spend a considerable amount of time on the boat. The Galapagos National Park has pre-approved routes, and a boat cannot visit the same site twice (except for the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island).  So, you will likely have to choose from the northern islands, the southern islands, or the inner islands. The cruises begin and end on either Baltra or San Cristobal as these are the only two islands with airports.

Third, once on board, the daily itineraries are highly structured.  This is NOT freestyle cruising.  Like the land-based day-tours, the cruise tour options include a land portion (hiking, island visit, etc.) and a water portion (usually snorkeling from a zodiac as diving is not permitted from all boats). Also, the Galapagos National Park has a “sunrise to sunset” rule, so all activities are done during the day and all navigation at night.

Land-Based

For starters, all visitors to the Galapagos (cruisers included) will enter through Baltra Island or San Cristobal.  The most common and probably the easiest from a logistical standpoint is Baltra Island. You cannot stay, and indeed nobody (other than a limited number of military personnel) lives, on Baltra.  From there you will go to one of the three main islands where tourists stay: Isabela Island, Santa Cruz Island, or San Cristobal Island.

Santa Cruz is certainly the largest and most populated island. To get there, you take a short ferry (5-10 minutes) from Baltra to Santa Cruz island in calm waters.  The cost of the ferry is $1.00 USD per person per way for the government-owned ferry or $2.oo USD per person per way for the private-owned ferry. To catch the ferry, you must first board an airline bus from the airport that is headed for Itabaca Canal (NOT for Baltra dock).  The bus takes about 10 minutes.  Once you get to the port, you put your bags on top of the ferry and you go inside the ferry.ferry ferry2Once on Santa Cruz, and, in addition to exploring this island (which, honestly, doesn’t have much wildlife other than marine iguanas, sea turtles at Tortuga Bay, and the land tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Station), you can take day-trips to Santa Fe, North Seymour Island, Bartolome, and South Plaza Island. All of these excursions offer great snorkeling and opportunities to see other animals on the islands, especially North Seymour Island.

To get to Isabela or San Cristobal, you can either take a ferry or take a regional flight on a small propeller plane.  To take the ferry, you must first take the ferry to Santa Cruz as described above, and then take another ferry from there. This second ferry is more of a speedboat than a ferry.  You can only take the ferry from Santa Cruz to Isabela and back or from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal and back.  There are no ferries from Isabela to San Cristobal and vice versa so you must route through Santa Cruz to travel between Isabel and San Cristobal.  The ferries take about 2-3 hours depending on how fast the speedboat is, and, in rough waters (which is common in the Galapagos), 4 hours. Prices vary between $25-$35 USD per person one way with no round trip discount.

You must arrive 30 minutes prior to departure to have your bags inspected by the Galapagos Inspection and Quarantine System (“SICGAL”).  If you are coming straight from the airport, your bags should already be tagged and this won’t be necessary as long as you do not remove the tag (more on this below).  Nonetheless, you should arrive early because if you have to go through inspection, you can expect crowds.  Also, you should pre-buy your ferry tickets as the boats tend to fill up and then your will need to wait until the next day to catch the ferry. Below is the scheudle:

From  To   Departure Time Arrival Time 
 Santa Cruz  San Cristobal  7:00 / 07:00 AM  9:15 / 09:15 AM
 Santa Cruz  San Cristobal  2:00 / 14:00 PM  4:30 / 16:30 PM
 Santa Cruz  Isabela  7:00 / 07:00 AM  9:30 / 09:30 AM
 Santa Cruz  Isabela  2:00 / 14:00 PM 4:15-30 / 16:15-30 PM
 Isabela  Santa Cruz  6:00 / 06:00 AM  8:00 / 08:00 AM
 Isabela  Santa Cruz  3:00 / 15:00 PM  5:15 / 17:15 PM
 San Cristobal  Santa Cruz  7:00 / 07:00 AM  9:30 / 09:30 AM
 San Cristobal  Santa Cruz  3:00 / 15:00 PM  5:30 / 17:30 PM

If this seems like a lot of hassle (and, honestly, it is), there is another option, which is the one we chose! The alternative is an inter-island flight. Emetebe operates inter-island flights in small propeller planes.  The planes have a baggage weight limit of 25 lbs per person (oddly, they do not weigh the passengers) and can transport 8 passengers and a pilot. The way we did it is that, from Quito, we each packed a 25 lb carry on bag (in anticipation of this restriction) that had all the items we would need for the three days we were going to spend on Isabela Island, the first island we were going to be visiting.  When we arrived in Baltra, an agent was waiting for us to take our international luggage and transport it to the hotel that we would eventually be staying at in Santa Cruz when we returned three days later.  This agent helped us check into the regional flight, and we were off! We met up with the agent and our luggage when we returned. The flight is only 30 minutes and is very scenic! The flight costs about $150 USD per person per way. This is yet another reason why it pays to have an agent arrange your trip for you! Once we arrived in Isabela, another agent met us there and took us to our hotel.  This is important because this is not a traditional airport.  It is a landing strip with an open structure (see below).  There are no taxis waiting out front, so arrange a car before you get there, especially if you arrive on Sunday!isabela airport ISABELA AIRPORT 2 ISABELA 3By the way, when you get to Isabela, you must pay $10.00 USD per person IN CASH in order to enter the island.

When we returned to Santa Cruz, another agent was waiting to pick us up from the airport, rode the bus with us, took care of the ferry business, and got us to our hotel. We did have to wait 10 minutes at the airport for him, but that was okay with us because we did that in the catered VIP lounge!santa cruz airport VIP2 VIP VIP3But, I digress.  If you choose the flight option, here is what you have in store:plane plane6 plane2 plane3 plan4 plane5Try to sit in the first row for the best view!

Arrival in the Galapagos

So, now that you have all the information you need to decide whether you are going on a land-based tour or on a cruise, you actually have to get to the Galapagos, and if you thought that was easy, think again.  Allow me to open your world to a whole new set of logistics!

First, as we discussed above, you can enter the Galapagos from Baltra or San Cristobal.  To do that you must fly to one of those places from either Quito or Guayaquil on either LATAM or TAME airlines.  In my opinion, if you can get a direct flight from Quito to Baltra, take it.  Otherwise, there is a flight that goes from Quito to Guayaquil to Baltra.  When you land in Guayaquil, the Galapagos passengers stay on board for 30-40 minutes while the Guayaquil passengers deplane, and the new passengers come on board.  The direct flight is about 2 hours.  If you have to do the Guayaquil stopover, plan on 3 to 3.5 hours.

But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  There is a whole process that needs to be done before you even board the flight in Quito or Guayaquil.  Since we departed from Quito, I’ll give you the Quito rundown. Let me sum it up for you:  Get to the airport early.

As soon as you enter the domestic terminal in Quito, go all the way to the right.  You will see this:PARK FEE 2 GALAPAGOS AREA PARK FEEThis is your first stop.  You will need your passport, and you need to pay $20 USD per person IN CASH to buy a mandatory Galapagos Transit Card (IMPORTANT NOTE: When you arrive at your initial point of entry into the Galapagos Islands – again, for us, this was Baltra – you MUST ALSO PAY $100 USD IN CASH to purchase your mandatory Galapagos Islands license: a/k/a the Galapagos National Park Fee). They will issue you a paper that looks like a customs form. DO NOT LOSE IT. You will need to show it upon arrival and turn it in when you leave.

Up next, you must scan all of your luggage. At this point, airport personnel will place a plastic zip tie onto your luggage, such that it cannot be opened until it passes canine inspection in the Galapagos. Once you pay the $20 and collect your entrance ticket, you go here to get scanned and tagged:SCREENINGTAGAny unprocessed food or nuts will be confiscated. Only after you passed through here may you approach the counter to check in to your Galapagos flight.  If you hire a travel agent, there is a local agent that takes you to the airport and does ALL of this for you while you comfortably sit and wait.signOnce you get to the Galapagos, the real fun begins.  First, you enter the airport and must pass through their customs.  You will need your passport and the form mentioned previously (this is also where you will pay the aforementioned $100 USD Galapagos National Park Fee).  You will also get a neat Galapagos passport stamp! Then they will scan your bags … again!ISLAND SCREENINGpassport stampAfter this, you move to the luggage collection area.  There is a long yellow line.  You are not to cross this line and collect your bag until you are told to. Why?  Well, your luggage gets checked again.  By a dog; a fruit and vegetable contraband sniffing dog. So, all the luggage comes out and is lined up on belts.  The dog comes around and sniffs each and every bag.  If your bag passes the sniff test, then the plastic zip tie is cut off. Once all bags have been sniffed and approved, they allow you to collect your bag in what turns our to be a chaotic free-f0r-all!LUGGAGE CONTRABAND DOG LUGGAGE2 LUGGGAGE 3 LUGGAGE4 After you collect your bag, you either check in for your next flight if you are flying to Isabela or San Cristobal or you go out to catch the bus that will take you to Santa Cruz for your stay there or for your next ferry ride to Isabela or San Cristobal.

Whew!  As you can now see, the logistics in the Galapagos can be challenging.  If you wish to do this on your own, you probably will save a little money, but you will also spend a lot of time figuring things out and dealing with these logistics, which may cost you your sanity and precious vacation time!  Also, if you run into a problems along the way, you will be left with no support, especially for the locally booked activities and tours.

Packing

So, one last thing before you go: a packing list.  You will thank me for this later because you really need to pack as if you are going to an island and as if you were hiking.

First, try packing as light as possible.  The water is cold in the Galapagos, but you can rent wet suits for $10, fins and a snorkel mask for $5 each, and life vests for $5 each.  Also, all the tours will provide these and towels, so skip packing these if you can. If you have a prescription mask, then bring that.

During The Day

Like I explained above, most tours have a land and a water portion, so each day you need to be prepared for both.  You will know which you are doing first ahead of time, and some of the day-boats have changing facilities if needed.  You are going to need a day bag that can hold your change of clothes and shoes, and bring some large Ziploc bags or a dry bag as well.

For the water:

Depending on how long you are there, I would probably bring 4 bathing suits. You will be in the water daily, so they need time to dry.  Also, bring water shoes.  You sometimes have to do a wet landing in knee-deep water, and there are rocks.  Also, you are literally on the equator, the sun is EXTREMELY strong here. So, please be sure to bring a couple of bottles of 100 SPF sunblock (Yes – that is a real thing) and apply often – like, very often.  Trust me, you’ll be glad you did! Also, bring a rash guard shirt, a couple of lightweight long-sleeved shirts, and a hat.  Bring the hat. You will SO thank me for this later!  A light windbreaker or scarf for the boat is not a bad idea because it is windy. Finally, I would bring a couple cover-ups for ladies and flip flops. Bring SPF chap stick or lip care and sunglasses. Many of the guides wear a scarf that covers their face, and honestly, I now understand why.

For the land:

I wore gym clothes every day: sports bras, workout tops, and workout pants.  I always had a lightweight long sleeve top, and I wished for a hat.  Bring the hat. You can do shorts and t-shirts, too. Do not wear jeans during the day.  You need lightweight, comfortable clothing.  You will be transferring on and off boats and zodiacs, so keep that in mind. Bring good, thick hiking socks (ESPECIALLY if you are hiking Sierra Negra volcano) and comfortable sneakers or hiking shoes.  Also, bring bug spray, and don’t forget your undergarments if you are changing during the day.

Miscellaneous 

Even at the resorts, the Galapagos Islands are very casual, so you can get away with light dresses or jeans or shorts and t-shirts/tops for dinner.  Bring aloe and after sun care products. Also, the waters can be very rough.  Even if you do not get sea sick, I guarantee you that you will feel a little queasy at least once. Bring Dramamine. Bring a GoPro or underwater camera with all the charging and waterproofing supplies (Ecuador uses the US current so no need to bring converters and adapters).  Bring a serious camera with lenses and your batteries and memory cards for the land portion.  The photo ops are unreal!

Other than that, bring photocopies of all your relevant documents, chargers, some protein bars, your prescription meds, your over the counter meds (Advil, antacids, anti-diarrhea, etc.), your toiletries (including hand-sanitizer), your PJs, a lightweight rain jacket or poncho, a light sweater or jacket, binoculars, and a good book or your kindle!

Money

Also, bring cash.  Ecuador uses the US Dollar, and while you can use credit cards at the hotels and most restaurants, you will need cash for tips and some restaurants or shops (and the $120/person Galapagos Park entry fees that I mentioned previously).  It is better to have and not need than to need and not have, and ATMs are not as readily available.  You should give a couple of bucks to baggage porters and cab/water-taxi drivers.  The norm is to tip 10% at restaurants. After your tours, you will need to tip the guides, and, if you were on a boat, the crew.  Typically, $10 per couple for a half day tour and $20 per couple for a full day tour for the guides are acceptable. Don’t forget the crew: about $15-$20 should be plenty.

Okay, you are all set! I hope this post helped you in your trip planning.  I know it is a lot to digest, so if you need help or you have questions, send me an email or comment below. Otherwise, bon voyage!

 

Quito, Ecuador: The Middle Of The World

middle of the world monumentHave you ever dreamed of visiting the middle of the world? Well, you can, and we did just that for a day en route to the Galapagos Islands!

The zero latitude line is located just outside of Quito. For a long time it was thought to be located at the site of this very tall monument — the Monument to the Equator! In the late 1970s, the Monument to the Equator was erected in order to highlight the exact location of the equator, which had been determined by scientists in 1736.  They even drew the equatorial line so you can stand with one foot in the southern hemisphere and one foot in the northern hemisphere!

west1 west 2hemis west3Did you notice that there is an O instead of a W for west?  That is because in Spanish, the word for west is “oeste”!

Other than the monument, which you can climb up by the way (for a nominal fee), there is also a museum you can visit.  There are a couple of shops and (overpriced, touristy) dining options on the complex as well. Getting here is not that difficult.  It is about 16 miles north of Quito. You can take a cab, a private car, or a bus to get here. The Metrobus in the city center is the cheapest option at $.25 USD.  You take that to Ofelia bus station, where you catch the Mitad del Mundo bus (you won’t miss it; it’s written on the bus in huge letters) for about $.50 USD. A taxi will cost you about $10 to $15 USD. The entrance fee to Mitad del Mundo, where the Monument to the Equator is located, is $3 USD.  If you want to climb up the monument and visit the museum, it’s an additional $3 USD.middle of the world sign sundialmitad picHowever, in 2000, some Americans came with their fancy newfangled GPS and ruined the party for everyone! As it turns out, the true equatorial line is not actually located where the big Monument to the Equator was built (OOOOPPSS!).  It is instead located at a site that is 240 meters (or .15 miles) north of the marked line. I mean, when you think about it, having a discrepancy of less than three football fields away for some 18th century scientist with primitive instruments is not too shabby. And now the Ecuadorians have two tourists attractions to offer its visitors! It’s a win-win, really.real center gps centerThe real Mitad del Mundo entrance fee is $4 USD, including the guided tour. Bring your passport with you because after your visit is over, you can get your passport stamped! Admittedly, the first part of the tour is a little cheesy and touristy, but towards the end, you see the true equatorial line and they have a bunch of exhibits and interactive experiments in which you can participate.experiments2clock wxperiments

Did you know that on the equator, you can balance an un-boiled egg on the head of a nail? egg egg balance egg4 egg balance2 egg3 egg5There is also a Coriolis effect demonstration to show you how water turns/drains based on what hemisphere you are in (clockwise, counterclockwise or straight down with no circular movement). Then there is an experiment that is kind of like taking a field sobriety test.  Apparently, most people don’t have great balance on the equator; except for me! I have excellent balance on the equator (thanks, Pilates!).  They ask you to stand on the equatorial line with you arms out, hand open with thumbs up, head up, eyes closed, and walk the line heel to toe.  Most people stumble right off; except me. In the battle of me vs. the equator, I win (Chad, not so much)!balance balance2Once the experiments are over, you are lead through their gift shop (of course), and then, on your way out, you can get your passport stamped with this cool little stamp!passport stamp

But, being the center of the world is not Quito’s only claim to fame: at an elevation of 2,800 meters above sea level (or 9,186 feet), Quito is the highest capitol city in the world. So, if you are prone to altitude sickness, take precautions because there are no coco leaves for you here! Quito’s historic center is one of the largest, least-altered and best-preserved in the Americas. And Quito, was one of first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO in 1978. As such, there are plenty of colonial style, colorful buildings and churches dripping in gold.bell tower bldg bldg4 church church3 church11 door church7 church8 church10 birdsstatue colonial streets colonial streets 2casona la rondaIf you have just one day to visit Quito, make it a Monday. Why Monday, you ask?  Well, every Monday morning at around 11:00 a.m., the president of Ecuador comes out to say, “Hola,” and gives a progress report. Pageantry ensues. Think of it as your welcome party.  I did!horse president 11 president4 president8 president 10 president president 7 president3 flagUnlike some other Latin American cities (like Cartagena, for example), the street art scene hasn’t really taken off here, but there are a couple of pieces around the city.street art art4art 3There are other charming and, quite frankly, odd things about this city, too.  For example, every day, the indigenous people from the surrounding villages come into town to sell their produce for really cheap on the streets. There is kind of a constant farmer’s market around the city, and they are typically traditionally dressed. That’s the charming part.locals5 locals8 locals6 locals4 localsAnd then there is this guy.  Apparently, he’s the weight police.  He sits outside with a scale, and for $.25 USD, he will weigh you (by the way, the official currency in Ecuador is the U.S. Dollar). Why on earth anyone wants this service is beyond me.  Public weighing?!? No, thanks! According to our guide, many people don’t have scales in their home, but they like to weigh themselves, so they come weekly, and some come daily.  The only saving grace is that, apparently, you weigh 2 pounds less on the equator, which may be enough to have me just move here for good!weightAnother interesting facet to this city is that in Quito – more so than in other Latin American countries – the melding of the Catholic religion with the secular culture of the indigenous people is more pronounced and pervasive in daily life.  Case in point: on almost every corner, you can find a Jesus store. These stores sell figurines that are supposed to be depictions of Jesus from all walks of life. People buy various “Jesus dolls” for prayer, offerings, and good luck.  For example, we saw baby “Cheff” Boyardee Jesus and many other kinds of Jesus, like gaucho pilgrim Jesus, scales of justice Jesus (or as Chad called him, baby lawyer Jesus), and Pope Jesus. Please don’t construe this as sacrilege; rather, simply a statement of fact about what you will find in Quito.jesus store jesus 2 airplane jesusPeople actually buy and use these Jesus dolls – as exemplified by this girl, who we saw checking into our flight back home with baby airplane Jesus.

After a full day of touring, you will likely be hungry; and that’s okay, because Quito has some fantastic restaurants, like Zazu.zazu dessert

It is also trying its hand at the craft beer scene: beerAnd, you will find a cute and delicious ice cream spot called Dulce Placer Heladeria. Everything is homemade using local ingredients, and you can enjoy the ice cream on a small colonial balcony overlooking the neighborhood.icecream icecream 2If you have more time to spend in Quito, consider a hike up Pichincha Volcano to the lookout point called Cruz Loma. If hiking isn’t your thing, take the TeleferiQo Cruz Loma, which is the highest aerial lift in the world, rising from 10,226 feet to 12,943 feet. There are also a few day trips that you can take, like a trip to the National Park of Cotopaxi and the Cotopaxi Volcano, a trip to the Mindo Nambillo Cloud Forest, a trip to the indigenous markets of Otavalo and/or CotaCachi, a trip to the Papallacta Thermal Baths, or the one I was most interested in, a day-trip to Lake Quilotoa, a crater lagoon.

On our way back from the Galapagos Islands, we had a 5 to 6 hour layover between our flight into Quito and home, so we booked a day use room with dinner at a little gem called Su Merced, which is close to the airport. This little hacienda was part of an old massive land grant from Spain.  The proprietor, Elisabeth, spent 5 years restoring the property and converting the 400 year old buildings into a small boutique hotel.  The grounds are beautiful, the staff is warm and friendly, and the food is authentic and tasty. Also, if you like antiques, this place is a treasure trove!merced4 merced11 merced8 merced g2 merced17 merced9 merced1 merced10 merced13 merced14 merced16I hope you enjoyed this post.  Have you visited the middle of the world? If so, I would love to hear about it. Please send me an email or leave a comment below. If this post has inspired you to travel to Quito, helped you plan your trip there or gave you tips during your travels, I would also love to hear about it!quito