<< markandrupa

Galapagos & Ecuador

september 2006

Our Galapagos and Ecuador trip combined a National Geographic/Linblad cruise of the Islands and a custom Ecuador extension arranged by Tropical Nature Travel


We took 5200 photos while in the Galapagos and Ecuador.  Check out slideshows of our Galapagos and Ecuador favorites.

Trip log

  1. Seattle - september 8

    We spent the first day of our trip making our way to Guayaquil via Dallas and Miami.  The most interesting event of the day was trying to find food at the Miami airport, which is under extensive construction.  We ended up walking over a mile from one end of the airport to the other just to get some crappy Chinese fast food, which we barely had time to eat before boarding.

    Hotel Hilton Colón, Guayaquil

  2. Guayaquil - september 9

    We arrived in Guayaquil a day early for our cruise, which was fortunate given that I had left my swim suit at home.  We woke up late and walked two blocks down the street to a large, modern shopping mall where I was able to replace my missing swim trunks.  We spent the late afternoon watching the OSU football game from our room, which was available via a Miami network feed.  After dinner we met up with Rupa's parents and our tour expert, Kitty Coley, who had just arrived.

    Hotel Hilton Colón, Guayaquil

  3. Baltra & Santa Cruz, Galapagos - september 10

    We departed Guayaquil with our expedition group this morning and headed for Baltra - the disembarkation point for our cruise.  After a short 1½ hour flight we arrived in Baltra and transferred to the dock for a short panga (Zodiac) ride out to the ship.  However, even before boarding the panga I was already snapping pictures of a feeding marine iguana and a lazy sea lion.  After boarding the ship we found our cabin and made our way to the introductory briefing, and soon after the ship set sail for our first visitor site - Cerro Dragon on the island of Santa Cruz.

    Cerro Dragon was a panga only visit - navigating among the mangrove trees and getting our first look at some typical Galapagos wildlife - Blue-footed Boobies, frigate birds, pelicans, sea lions, and Sally Lightfoot Crabs.  Near the surface of the calm water we also spotted green sea turtles and rays.  This was my first attempt at photographing wildlife from a panga, and fortunately I got much better as the week progressed.

    M.S. Islander, Galapagos

  4. Bartolomé & Santiago, Galapagos - september 11

    Monday started with an early morning (pre-breakfast) climb up the volcanic islet of Bartolomé.  To prevent human erosion of the soft volcanic ash a wooden boardwalk has been built all the way up the 359ft summit.  On the way we passed lava tubes and lava lizards, and from the top we had a panoramic view of Bartolomé and the nearby island of Santiago.

    After a quick breakfast back on the ship we returned to Bartolomé for a walk on the beach and some snorkeling.  Along the beach we spotted six or seven whitetip reef sharks, a Galapagos Hawk suspended in the breeze, and dozens of ghost crabs scurrying into their holes.  We then donned our masks and fins and set off for a 1 hour snorkel around Pinnacle Rock.  While snorkeling we saw hundreds of angelfishes and parrotfishes and later encountered two penguins sunning on a rock.  We also had two sea lions stop by to play - darting around us briefly before moving on to investigate the other human invaders.

    Our afternoon activity was a hike along the black sand beach and lava rock shoreline of Puerto Egas on Santiago Island.  Here we saw hundreds of marine iguanas, crabs and a few Galapagos fur seals.  We also spotted some Sei Whales from shore and rushed back to the panga to head out after them.  On the speedy outbound ride Rupa's mom literally laughed herself to the floor of the panga as we bounded atop wave after wave.  By the time we made it out there the Sei Whales were gone but we found ourselves a couple Bryde's Whales to chase into the sunset.

    M.S. Islander, Galapagos

  5. Santa Cruz & North Seymour, Galapagos - september 12

    Today we set off for the Santa Cruz highlands in search of giant tortoises.  We made our way by bus to a tortoise "farm" where we spotted 20-30 of the peaceful giants chilling out in a pasture.  We approached a few for pictures and then drove over to a nearby lava tube large enough to hike through.  There wasn't much to see inside the tube - it was dark and resembled most any other large cave.  After a brief ten minute hike we emerged for a pleasant open air lunch.

    After lunch we made our way back to the ship and sailed for North Seymour Island for an afternoon hike.  North Seymour is known for its rare land iguanas and colony of nesting frigate birds.  We saw three large iguanas during our hike and hundreds of frigate birds - including a few males with their throat pouches inflated (to attract females).

    M.S. Islander, Galapagos

  6. Isabela & Fernandina, Galapagos - september 13

    We had a leisurely morning today as the ship was still making its way to our first outing of day at Punta Vicente Roca on Isabela Island.  After breakfast we headed to the bridge for the ceremonial crossing of the equator.  A few minutes later we spotted orcas in the distance and headed their way - circling them a number of times as everyone grabbed their cameras in hopes of catching a blow.

    Upon reaching Punta Vicente Roca we charged out in the Zodiacs in hope of catching the orcas.  Instead, we came across a school of massive Mola-molas - commonly known as ocean sunfish.  It's not easy to photograph these ungainly fish as only their fin bobs above the surface, but one of our naturalists jumped into the water with a video camera and captured the moment for us.  We then proceeded to hug the steep, rocky shoreline in search of nesting boobies and penguins.

    Our afternoon activity was a walk on an irregular lava flow at Punta Espinosa on Fernandina Island.  The highlight here was the Flightless Cormorant - a bird with a beautiful turquoise eye that has, during the course of evolution, literally lost the ability to fly.  On the way back to the ship we hugged the coast and ran across a trio of penguins playing near the shore.

    M.S. Islander, Galapagos

  7. Isabela, Galapagos - september 14

    This morning we set off on a long, uphill hike to the rim of the Sierra Negra caldera - one of the largest in the world.  After arriving in Puerto Villamil we hopped into open back pickups for a 40 minute ride to the trailhead.  The open air seats in the back of the pickups were all taken by the time we arrived, so Rupa and I reluctantly sat inside the cab.  However, ten minutes into the drive it began to rain, and while the outside passengers were dodging rain "bullets" we remained quite cozy in the cab.  Along the way we kept watch for the Vermilion Flycatcher, and about halfway up we spotted one and stopped to take a few pictures.

    Other than negotiating a few cattle along the trail, the climb up was rather uneventful as the day remained overcast and foggy.  However, once we reached the rim the fog lifted and we were rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view of the caldera.  After returning from the climb we spent time shopping in the small city of Puerto Villamil, and then headed back to the ship for lunch.

    In the afternoon we headed back to Puerto Villamil to visit the Tortoise Breeding Center.  Young tortoises are especially vulnerable to hawks and feral cats, so in order to reestablish the population hundreds of tortoises are raised at the breeding center until they are large enough to escape threat - generally about three years.  After visiting the center we walked back to town with Kitty via a boardwalk built along a brackish lagoon.

    M.S. Islander, Galapagos

  8. Floreana & Champion, Galapagos - september 15

    We had another early morning today as we disembarked for Post Office Bay on Floreana Island before breakfast.  Here we dropped off postcards to friends and family for hand delivery by future Galapagos travelers.  We also picked up a couple postcards destined for the Seattle area, although we might not be able to deliver them until November.  On the way back be stopped to visit with some passing penguins and a small sea lion colony.

    After breakfast we attempted to snorkel around Champion Island, but the water was a bit rough so we hopped back on board the Zodiac until we reached the calmer side of the bay, where we rejoined our fellow snorkelers.  After snorkeling we cruised the coast of Champion Island a bit, where we got a good look at the Red-billed Tropicbird and a Short-eared Owl.

    The afternoon activity was a short hike at Punta Cormorant on Floreana Island in search of flamingos.  We found what we were looking for, and stayed long enough to watch a beautiful sunset.

    M.S. Islander, Galapagos

  9. Española, Galapagos - september 16

    Española was our last island, and our first event of the day was some snorkeling around Tortula Islet.  Along with dozens of smaller marine species, we came across a blacktip reef shark and a spotted eagle ray.  After snorkeling we made our way to Gardner beach - a beautiful white sand beach littered with a couple hundred sea lions, including one who had been born only a few hours earlier.

    In the afternoon we set off on our last hike, this one at Punta Suarez on Española Island.  This was one of the most enjoyable walks of the trip, as we made our way along a rocky, wind-swept cliff edge toward a large blow hole.  This was also our first close encounter with Nazca Boobies, and our only visit with the Waved Albatross - a few of whom were performing a mating ritual.  In the distance we also watched Red-billed Tropicbirds soar through the air currents.

    M.S. Islander, Galapagos

  10. Quito - september 17

    This morning we anchored at Baltra and took our leave of the M.S. Islander.  Our flight to Quito was uneventful, and upon arrival at our hotel Rupa and her parents shopped the market across the street.  We then said goodbye to Kitty, who wasn't feeling well, and headed out to old town Quito on the shuttle bus.  We walked about aimlessly for an hour or two, found some ice cream, watched the sunset, and shuttled back to the hotel for dinner and sleep.

    Hotel Hilton Colón, Quito

  11. Napo Wildlife Center - september 18

    We woke up early today to say goodbye to Rupa's parents, and then jumped back in bed as we didn't need to be at the airport until 10:30 for our flight to Coca.  We woke up around 9:00 and fifteen minutes later received a call informing us that the schedule had changed and that we needed to be at the airport by 9:30.  We threw our bags together, rushed out the door and grabbed a taxi for the twenty minute ride to the airport.  We arrived just in time to make the flight.

    Upon arrival in Coca we transferred to a large, canopied, motorized canoe for a two hour ride down the Napo River.  An hour into the ride we ran headlong into a driving rain and donned our ponchos.  The rain still hadn't let up as we rolled into the transfer station where we switched to a small, seven passenger dugout canoe paddled by local tribesmen.  The prospect of a 2½ ride through driving rain in a dugout canoe was a bit daunting, but fortunately the rain let soon let up and we were able to enjoy the Ecuadorian Amazon as we spotted dozens of bird species as well as squirrel monkeys and white-fronted capuchin monkeys.  We arrived at the Napo Wildlife Center just in time to unpack a bit before dinner.

    Napo Wildlife Center

  12. Napo Wildlife Center - september 19

    As with most wildlife viewing, mornings at Napo are early.  This morning we awoke at 5am for our first bird watching hike.  What started out as a three-to-four hour hike turned into a seven hour trek as we rooted out dozens of birds, including a few ground hugging Antbirds.  Our guides, Jorge and Andreas, were both excellent bird spotters, with Jorge being particularly adept at finding birds based solely on their calls.  However, after seven hours of trekking along muddy trails, cautiously crossing small streams, and wading through thousands of mosquitoes we both decided that we could live the rest of our lives perfectly content never seeing another Antbird.

    After a late lunch and a short afternoon nap we embarked on a more leisurely paddle ride up a small nearby stream.  We notched a few more bird species, as well as a strange caiman-like lizard.  We also spotted a couple new primates, including Golden-mantle Tamarins and Red Howler Monkeys.

    Napo Wildlife Center

  13. Napo Wildlife Center - september 20

    This morning we set out for two parrot clay licks.  Parrots (and some mammals like tapirs) ingest toxins through their normal diet and use the minerals embedded in the clay to neutralize these toxins.  At the first lick we were hoping to spot hundreds of parrots feasting on the clay, but instead they only taunted us with squawks from the surrounding treetops.  Apparently something had spooked them earlier (a hawk, perhaps) and it was very unlikely that they would return to the lick any time soon.  We soon decided to head over to the second lick where we found hundreds of parakeets, and the occasional parrot, enjoying the clay.

    After the clay licks we made a short detour to find a family of Pygmy Marmosets - the world's smallest primate.  We were only able to spot one of the squirrel sized monkeys way up in a tree, but it was still a nice bonus.  We had lunch at a small outpost and proceeded back to the lodge.  For our evening activity we elected to take a short canoe ride around the lake, where the highlight was rounding a bend and nearly coming face-to-face with a Least Bittern.

    Napo Wildlife Center

  14. Napo Wildlife Center - september 21

    Today we crossed the lake at sunrise to sound of howler monkeys marking their territories all around us.  We were headed to the top of a 35 meter tower anchored to a large Cecropia tree, and after a short hike we spent a couple hours spotting birds atop the forest canopy and swatting at bees.  As the canopy activity died down we dropped back to the forest floor for a few more hours of spotting before lunch.

    Sometime around mid-afternoon the sky began to darken.  Not long after the wind picked up, the clouds flew by, and the temperature dropped a good 20°F.  Minutes later the wind died down just as a pounding rain began to fall.  Lightning lit up the sky, thunder roared across the lake, and just as suddenly as it began the rain ended and the sun reappeared.  It was all very soothing, and as such we decided to skip the afternoon activity and just enjoy being in the rainforest.

    Napo Wildlife Center

  15. Napo Wildlife Center / Otavalo - september 22

    We had good weather today as we made our way back down river to Coca and our returning flight to Quito.  Along the way we stopped to watch a mixed group of about a hundred squirrel monkeys and white-fronted capuchin monkeys make their way across the river directly over our heads, jumping from tree to tree.

    Upon arrival in Quito we transferred to the town of Otavalo - two hours north of Quito.  We had no evening plans as we were here primarily for the Saturday market, so we spent some time in an internet cafe catching up on email and news.

    Hostel El Indio Inn, Otavalo

  16. Otavalo - september 23

    Otavalo's Saturday market is one of the largest in South America, and once again we got up early - this time to catch the animal market which only operates from 6-8am.  There isn't much for a tourist to do at the market other than stand around and watch, which is pretty much what we did.  As it turns out, that's pretty much what the locals do too - show up with the animals they want to sell (pigs/sheep/goats/cows/etc) and stand around until someone makes an offer.  It was fun to watch, and I got some great photographs, but all told it wasn't as interesting as I had imagined.

    We spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon strolling around the market, which covered a large portion of the city streets.  The day-trippers from Quito arrived around 10am and the market grew noticeably more crowded, but by 2pm it had thinned out again and we finished our shopping.  We transferred back to Quito at 4pm and checked in for a night at the adorable Hostel La Rabida.

    Hostel La Rabida, Quito

  17. Quito / Mindo- september 24

    Our earliest morning yet began with a 4am pickup as we met our Mindo birding guide, Andreas, who would be with us for the next couple days.  The reason for the early departure was to make it out to a local Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek in time to see the male mating calls.  As it turns out we arrived just in time to catch the final 20 minutes of the morning routine before the males dispersed for the day.  The highlight of the stop, however, was the owner's training of few local Antpittas (small ground birds) to come out for food when called.  Antpittas are notoriously difficult to spot in the wild, and the owner here has spent the last year training them to come when called.  The largest, named Maria, will even eat right out of his hand!

    Upon arrival at the Septimo Paraiso lodge we spent time in their hummingbird garden watching and photographing.  We then spent the late afternoon at a local butterfly garden.

    Septimo Paraiso, Quito

  18. Mindo- september 25

    Rupa woke up feeling a bit sick to her stomach this morning and elected to skip the morning activity.  Andreas and I spent the morning near Milpe birding along the road and catching dozens of new species in action, the highlights being a Golden-Headed Quetzal and a Choco Trogon.  In the afternoon a hard rain and overcast skies kept the birds at bay, although we did try some relatively fruitless birding along Septimo's long private drive.

    Septimo Paraiso, Mindo Valley

  19. Mindo- september 26

    Today we set out for a nearby lighted intersection where moths accumulate during the night and birds arrive in the morning to feast.  We found lots of activity, including such highlights as a beautiful Masked Trogon, a cuckoo, and a Toucanette.  We continued birding along the road to the Bellavista lodge as we made our way to Tony Nunnery's house.  Tony grew up in the states but has spent the last seven years in a small cottage he and his wife built on some 70+ hectares in the Tandayapa Valley.  They have been reforesting the former pasture and have established a phenomenal hummingbird garden right outside their house.  The sight and sound of a hundred hummingbirds whizzing about is something we won't soon forget.

    Our final tourist stop in Ecuador was the equator marker just outside Quito.  Located in a dusty valley and surrounded by tourism gimmicks, we snapped a few quick pictures and proceeded on to Quito, where we spent a leisurely afternoon at our hotel.

    Hostel La Rabida, Quito

  20. Quito- september 27

    Our Ecuador trip came to a close with an uneventful flight back to Seattle.  However, we are only back at home for one day before heading off for Thailand and China!

    At home in Seattle