GET’s Katherine Carter recounts her favorite memories and shares insider travel tips from a recent trip to Quito and the Galapagos Islands.
Q: You come from a very well-traveled background. Why did you choose Ecuador for this trip?
I’d been to South America several times and the Galapagos Islands had always been high on my travel wish-list because of its unique environment and phenomenal wildlife. It proved to be an excellent choice for our family vacation. Ecuador is an incredibly diverse country, and a cruise was ideal to cater to our individual interests.
Q: What were some of the highlights of your Galapagos Cruise?
The entire experience was sublime; you feel as though you’re in a completely different world. The landscapes are unlike anywhere I’ve ever been, especially because, geologically-speaking, the islands are quite young and constantly changing. We visited a lava flow that was only 139 years old, then one that was several thousand years old, and the comparison gave me an amazing perspective on how the earth to evolves to support life.
Of course, the superstars of the Galapagos are the animals. They are completely fearless and endemic to the islands. Every day there were two landings on different islands, followed by a snorkeling opportunity. I was lucky enough to swim with some fantastic wildlife including speedy Galapagos penguins, enormous sea turtles, mischievous sea lions, and the iconic marine iguanas.
Q: You spent some time on mainland Ecuador, too?
I did. I flew through Quito and was able to spend time in the city and explore the surrounding areas. Quito is a very special place. It was the first city to be declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site because of its well-preserved Baroque architecture, which fuses indigenous and Spanish traditions.
I also visited the Antisana Ecological Reserve, a protected natural area several hours from the city. The reserve is home to a magnificent, glacier-covered volcano rising to an elevation of 18,714 feet. I didn’t climb it, but the hiking around it was impressive enough!
Q: Any trips to the Amazon?
I did not have the time to visit the rainforest, but I did a guided tour out to the area known as the “Cloud Forest.” The region is frequently shrouded in clouds, which is how the plants get a lot of their moisture, and its absolutely teeming with hummingbirds and hundreds of species of orchid.
Q: What advice would you give to travelers interested in visiting the Galapagos?
Plan ahead. To protect the delicate ecosystems, the Ecuadorian government designated the Galapagos Islands a national park and regulates the number of tourists allowed to visit each year. To visit the uninhabited islands, you must go with a local guide and tours sell out quickly. July and August, then December through March are especially busy months.
Go on a cruise. While there are some hotels on the inhabited islands of Santa Cruz, Floreana, and San Cristóbal, nothing compares to waking up at a new island, ready for the day’s adventure. Sailing between islands is an experience in itself, and most of all it allows you to maximize your time to visit more places. During dinner on my last night, a mother humpback whale and her calf swam around our boat for over an hour – not many hotels I know can offer that!