Ecuador and the Galapagos
Are you thinking of going fairly soon? The high season for the Galápagos is from December to mid April and July/August, which does mean that cheap deals are harder to find… although the weather is lovely. If you’re thinking of booking a tour, it is often better (ie cheaper) to book from Quito or Guayaquil. The time of year that you visit will impact where in Ecuador you might want to travel (the climate is very different on the coast, or in the highlands or Oriente) and you don’t say what you might like to on your visit… if you’ve got three weeks to a month, and are planning to spend at least some of this time on the Galápagos, you might want to keep the mainland tour to a minimum. I always think that exploring a smaller part of the country means that you really get to know the people and place.
The capital city has beautiful preserved colonial squares, churches and monasteries, as well as great nightlife. There’s loads of cycling, hiking and climbing that you can do nearby – Volcán Cotopaxi is an absolute must and deserves a climbing tour of two or three days (make sure that you use a reputable tour company such as Gulliver www.gulliver.com.ec). If you want to take it a bit easier then pretty Baños has hot springs, or you can head to the beach resort of Canoa, which is a surfer hangout popular (but not overrun) with travellers.
Not sure if by “better” you mean “cheaper”, but it is definitely possible to cut your costs by organizing a last-minute deal to the Galápagos Islands – especially in the low season (May to June, and September). It’s worth doing your homework and trying tour operators based in Quito or Guayaquil (as Rachel has suggested), which you know have their own boats. For the best prices you should book at Puerto Ayora; there are no guarantees, however, so you might wait for several days (or even weeks) for a space.
Boat tours are definitely the best way to visit and land-based tours are also available. It is possible to travel around independently too, by taking flights (with EMETEBE) and cooperative-run boats between the islands, but these do restrict you to the inhabited areas. However, it is still possible to take day-trips from the larger towns.
(ps Not sure when you’re thinking of travelling, but you might be interested to know that we will be publishing a new edition of The Rough Guide to Ecuador & the Galápagos Islands in September this year).
I’m very much at the beginning stage of my planning so this all looks very useful. Hopefully i’ll spend some time in the Galapagos and also visit the capital, but I am also keen on getting out and doing some hiking/exploring. Would love to see a volcano and some wildlife, so i’d guess the cloudforests would be a good stop too. Having worked in a thermal pools complex in NZ i’m always keen for a dip in a hot pool too. Thanks again for the advice/inspiraton.
As you know, there are lots of companies that offer tours, so you’ll definitely want to think about what is important to you. (i.e. Do you prefer a tour that caters to scuba divers, Are you prone to seasickness, Do you want hot water for showers, etc.) My personal (and positive) experience was aboard the Encantada (www.encantadasailboat.com) about ten years ago. If you plan to book a trip while in Ecuador, consider going to an ex-pat hangout as the regulars there may have recommendations.
Also: We’ve just added Ecuador to the featured destinations here on the site. You can read about the Galapagos and more here: www.roughguides.com/destinations/sout...