Native to seven of the Galapagos Islands, the giant tortoise is the largest living species of tortoise. One of the best places to see the giant tortoises in the Galapagos is the Charles Darwin Research Station on the island of Santa Cruz. Giant tortoises can live for more than 100 years in the wild. Incredibly, a tortoise in captivity once reached 170 years. Spanish explorers even named the islands after the reptiles – galápago meaning tortoise – in the 16th century. Once numbering over 250,000, the tortoise population declined to a low of just 3,000 in the 1970’s due to exploitation for meat and the introduction of non-native species. Conservation and breeding efforts like those at the Charles Darwin Research Station have resurrected the species and though still listed as “vulnerable” the giant tortoise is making a comeback. In the Galapagos, breeding centers can be visited on the three main islands of Santa Cruz, Isabela and Cristobal.Read More
The country of Ecuador is named for the Equator and no trip to the country would be complete without a visit to this imaginary line that divides the earth into northern and southern hemispheres. Just 45 minutes from central Quito, the city of Mitad del Mundo (Spanish for “Middle of the World”) sits right on Latitude 0° and is home to the Equator Monument, the official Equator museum and a planetarium. But for a little more fun, head down the road to the Inti Nan Solar Museum where you can view exhibits from Ecuador’s history (including an actual shrunken head) and perform various experiments to test the Coriolis Effect like watching water swirl in reverse directions as it drains on either side of the Equator. It’s a bit of a tourist trap but definitely still worth a visit while in Mitad del Mundo.Read More
Well, after a month of island-hopping around Central America & South America, I’m finally home! From huts to hotel suites, this one was a real adventure. There were lots of picture-perfect beaches, volcanoes and animals and more boats than I care to remember. In fact, in most places (Roatan, Guatemala, Corn Islands, San Blas & Galapagos) small boats were the primary form of transportation. In the course of the month, I went through several bottles of bug spray and sunscreen and one tiny bottle of Dramamine (and I’m happy to report they all performed admirably).
I slept in boats, bungalows, one very questionable hut (see above) and, thankfully, even a hotel suite or two. I trained dolphins, hiked volcanoes, visited a village shaman, did my first scuba dive and first sailing trip, reached my highest altitude ever, played photographer for an indigenous island family, stood on the Equator and swam with sea turtles, sea lions & sharks.Read More
After a terrific 7 days in the Galapagos, we landed in Quito Friday night with a little over 24 hours to explore Ecuador’s historic capital. Surrounded by snow-capped Andean peaks creating a dazzling cityscape, Quito’s official elevation of 9,350ft makes it the world’s 2nd highest capital city.
For the last night of the trip, we were back in Starwood-land at the beautiful Sheraton Quito Ecuador where they were kind enough to upgrade us to a roomy suite. Exhausted and starving from a full travel day from San Cristobal (beginning with a 7am, 2-hour boat ride to Santa Cruz, taxi across Santa Cruz, boat across to Baltra, flight from Baltra to Guayaquil and then finally to Quito) we adjourned to the Club Lounge to eat, have a glass of wine and formulate a plan of attack for our full day in Quito.Read More
Discovered by accident in 1535 by the Bishop of Panama when he veered off course on the way to Peru, the Galapagos Islands first appeared on a map some 35 years later as the “island of the tortoises.”
For almost 300 years after their discovery, the Galapagos mostly served as a safe harbor to a succession of pirates, whalers and sealers. The islands were a resource for fresh water and food for the sailors who caught thousands of giant tortoises and stored them in their cargo holds. Because the tortoises could survive for up to a year on the ships, they provided a long-lasting food source.
In 1832, Ecuador officially claimed the Galapagos and just three years later a British naval vessel brought Charles Darwin to the islands. Darwin spent 5 weeks collecting specimens to provide evidence for his theory of evolution which would be published decades later. Though he would ultimately turn out to be the islands’ most famous visitor, by today’s conservation standards he surely would have been run off the islands for not just riding tortoises but using them as a food source.Read More
For the final 9 days of this year’s summer-trip-extravaganza, I’ll be exploring Ecuador with visits to Guayaquil, the Galapagos Islands and Quito. We arrived in Guayaquil a little before lunchtime after the short flight from Panama City. With the rest of the day wide open, we decided to hop in a cab and head downtown to get our first look at Ecuador’s largest and most populated city.
We started our self-guided city tour at the magnificent riverfront promenade, the Malecón. Considered one of the most extensive urban renewal projects in all of South America (and the largest architectural project in Guayaquil in the past century), Malecón 2000 stretches 1 ½ miles along the banks of the Rio Guayas. Lining the waterfront are shops, playgrounds, restaurants, ponds and gardens and you could easily spend an entire day exploring it.Read More