Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands – 31st October – 14th November
The first part of our holiday was spent on the mainland of Ecuador, travelling between the colonial cities of Quito and Cuenca along the Avenue of Volcanoes, the Andean spine of the country.
The group enjoyed exploring the highly embellished and ornate churches of Quito, the colourful and vibrant markets, with folk in beautiful national costumes, handicrafts, animals, and the most mouth watering and colourful local fruit and veg.
My own personal highlights of this part of the holiday involved exploring the mountains. The first sighting of Cotapaxi, a perfect cone, snow covered and emerging from a blanket of cloud was a magic moment.
Seeing Ecuador’s highest mountain, Volcano Chimborazo, in the early morning light was another special moment.
A good highlight was a walk at the Volcano Quilotoa, where the group walked from the rim of the volcano, down a steep path, carved through the cliff face to a lake in the crater. While some intrepid walkers trekked back, most of us ascended the path on the backs of sturdy ponies. My favourite hike was Cajas National Park, a stunning wilderness of mountains, marshes, lakes and vegetation unlike any I’d ever seen; the Quinua, (Paper tree), with its intertwining twisting branches and peeling red- brown bark.
From the mainland, the group flew to the Galapagos Islands, for holiday part two. This involved three nights on a mini cruise on M V Galapagos Legend, and two nights at Puerto Ayora, on the Island of Santa Cruz.
From our ship we travelled in pangas (little inflatable boats) to the Island of North Seymour, Dragon Hill on Santa Cruz, Cormorant Point on Floreana Island and Saurez Point on Espaniola. Each visit bought different delights. No one could fail to fall in love with the adorable sea lion cubs or their mothers or the silly looking Blue Footed Boobies.
Frigate birds, Waved Albatross, Pelicans and Nazca Boobies were some of the other birds that were nesting on the islands. Twitchers amongst us had a field day spotting the numerous varieties of Darwin finches. But I mustn’t forget the land iguanas and sea iguanas and our group was especially lucky to spot a baby iguana.
The landscapes of the islands, often harsh and arid and the colours, black larva rocks, white beaches of crushed shells, the blue sky, dark blue sea and the red, orange and green bands of seashore and lagoon vegetation have all left lasting memories.
Tortoises were seen at a breeding centre, in the distance from a coach trip to Puerto Ayora and at the Darwin Centre, were the group were able to pay homage to Lonesome George.
Those were the highlights of the trip. On the downside there was a lot of travelling. Long hours were spent in aeroplanes, airports or on pot holed Ecuadorean roads. Starting the trip at a high altitude also meant that a lot of the group suffered some degree of altitude sickness. Finally the sheer pace of the holiday, the continual early starts and long days, meant that this holiday was no rest cure and some places I’d have like to linger and explore more. On the whole, the holiday was a wonderful experience and certainly among the contenders for holiday of a lifetime.