We certainly had an adventure on this trip. Unfortunately, it wasn't an entirely perfect adventure, as the excellent experiences we enjoyed were marred slightly by some disappointments.
Unlike my usual trip summaries in which I list just the highlights, I felt it was important to provide information about several experiences we had, good and bad. These words are intended
for trip planning and education, but always remember that your enjoyment of your journey comes down to your personal background, prior experience, expectations and luck.
La Casa Sol - We were in and out of Quito four different times. Every time we stayed at La Casa Sol. Excellent clean accomodations, helpful service and located near the
tourist quarter ("Gringolandia"), it will be the only place we consider when we return to Quito. Credit card deposit, but one can only pay for the room in cash.
Yanayacu - This station has UW ties, and was recommended to us by a grad student who has conducted research there. Located about 3.5 hours by bus outside of Quito (followed
by a long slow 5k hike up a gravel road), Yanayacu is located in the hilly cloud forest region of the Andes. The station, built and run by Dr. Harold Greeney, is not catered to
tourists, but visitors can stay there for $15/person/night. The accomodations are basic, you cook your own meals in a communal kitchen and there's nothing in the way of a guided tour,
though some of the visiting researchers (usually studying birds, insects or plants) may allow you to accompany them into the forest. Rubber boots are required, and visitors should
contact the station ahead of time to check on available sizes. I was told I needed to bring my own size 11's down, when in fact they already had a pair. So if you're an 11, please
enjoy the new boots I left behind!
See several varieties of hummingbirds at San Isidro Lodge.
Web: http://www.yanayacu.org (this site was down recently)
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
A more tourist-friendly alternative near Yanayacu is the San Isidro Lodge, which has a number of hummingbird feeders set up. We witnessed at least 10 different species of hummingbirds
here in a couple hours. http://www.sanisidrolodge.com/
Travel to the Galapagos any time of year and you're likely to have a good time. This was the highlight of our trip. You have a couple of options when planning your Galapagos cruise.
Happy Gringo Tours - First, you must decide whether to book ahead or just show up on the islands and try to find a boat. The latter option was recommended to us as a way of saving money. However, we were
traveling in the low season (October) when many boats are in dry dock or being repaired. Plus, we didn't have any spare days to be flexible. So we booked ahead of time through Happy
Gringo, a UK/Dutch company based in Quito (right near La Casa Sol). We were generally happy with the experience, though we did endure some last-minute flight changes and another couple
we met indicated that Happy Gringo put them on the wrong boat.
How many days? - Your next choice is booking for 3, 5 or 8 days in the Galapagos. Go for eight. We were surprised how few of our fellow travelers booked an 8 day tour, and
they all seemed to regret not doing it afterward. Days are usually split, with at least one or two hiking excursions and one snorkeling outing every day.
The Amigo - Our cruise boat was hardly luxurious, but it was a clean ship, we were lucky enough to land an aft cabin (no bunk bed!) and the food was quite good throughout the trip.
If you have your own snorkel gear, feel free to bring it. Otherwise, you can rent gear for the week for $20 (or a partial equipment rental for less).
Tiputini Biodiversity Station - One of the biggest disappointments in my recent travels. Tiputini came with a lot of hype. Scientists and researchers we had spoken to
had labeled Tiputini as "the best place for wildlife" in all of Ecuador. Several factors contributed to the disappointment we felt after we hardly saw anything. Our expectations
were undoubtedly the main culprit. Besides the hype, we had already enjoyed an excellent wildlife adventure in Costa Rica, and this was supposed to trump that. Another factor that
left a sour taste in our mouths is the difficulty in reaching Tiputini, and more importantly, the cost.
Visit Tiputini's treacherous canopy tower, if you dare.
To reach the station from Quito, one must travel by plane, by car, by boat, through a military checkpoint, by truck and by boat again. This takes around 6 hours (only 25 minutes in the
plane). You are journeying into the heart of the Amazon, so it's an adventure. However, the high cost of lodging and reaching the station make it prohibitive for
non-reasearchers to stay there. Tourists, photographers and birders must pay $180/person/night (vs. the researcher rate of $35/night), in addition to the travel costs.
We were haunted by few wildlife sightings and bad luck to be sure, despite having an excellent guide. As a professional photo excursion, it was a waste of money. As a travel adventure,
it was highly disappointing. I have mulled over our Tiputini experience several times, and have come to the conclusion that it is difficult to recommend the station to anyone but
the wealthy traveler or to serious birders seeking out specific species. We did get glimpses of a number of birds, but viewing opportunities may be better at more tourist-friendly eco
lodges. Tiputini is also known for having an unsually dense jaguar population. Don't expect to see one though. It takes serious good luck, even in the peak months of August and
If you go...
Your luck is bound to be better than ours. Request Mayer as your guide. Despite the poor wildlife experience, it is easy to say that Mayer is the best guide we've ever hired during our
travels (some knowledge of Spanish is useful). The lodging at Tiputini is quite good, by the way. Cold water and partial power are minor inconveniences. Rubber boots are provided by
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Sacha Lodge - Our luck improved dramatically with a visit to Sacha, located on the Rio Napo. The definition of a luxury eco lodge, the accomodations at Sacha were first
class. More importantly, the guides at Sacha (specifically Seth From Chicago) recognized that our photographic needs were different from the rest of the travelers who had come in
at that time, so they arranged for us to be guided privately during our stay. Seth even set up some night excursions to photograph nocturnal creepy crawlies, which were highly
successful. In addition to the night critters, we saw 6 different species of monkeys in 2 days, and spent time in Sacha's butterfly house. A trip split between Sacha and neighboring
Napo Wildlife Center might make for an excellent Amazon wildlife viewing trip.
Sacha's canopy walkway (30m up) is great for birdwatching.
Two of us (one male, one female) were traveling in Ecuador and the Galapagos for 3 weeks. Due to a various climates, we were forced to be prepared for anything. The cloud forest can be wet and
cold, the rain forest wet and hot, and the Galapagos dry and warm. I was required to pack rubber boots for Yanayacu, which really weighed things down. Most lodges and some research
stations will provide boots.
Hiking shoes, sandals, zip pants, swim gear, various length shirts, waterproof fleece jackets, ponchos and other minor gear were carried in one large hiking backpack and a smaller
duffle bag. Clothes were stuffed in our favorite travel compressor
bags, while we also carried a small day pack for books and other items. In hindsight, we would have ditched the large pack for our slightly smaller
travel backpack, to which the day pack could be attached.
The different environments meant traveling with additional gear this time around, so I brought my
Photo Trekker AWII camera pack in addition to the
Mountainsmith lumbar waist pack I use to carry gear for day hikes.
One of the two new lenses I brought with me was the Canon 100-400mm IS,
which was touted as the best lens for use in the Galapagos. This lens really did the trick and was the ideal lens for Galapagos wildlife. I used it on occasion in the Amazon as well,
with a flash extender, with mixed results. Another fine addition for this trip was the Canon SD700,
which worked well for point and shoot, as well as video footage. Combined with the underwater housing made specifically for this camera, it occasionally produced decent underwater shots.
Underwater video quality was excellent.
During hikes, lenses would be attached to the waist packs straps with a couple caribiners. Note: if using a waist-type pack to tote gear or any valuables, always carry the pack in
front (on your tummy) in urban settings. This isn't entirely comfortable for one's back, but it's the best way to avoid giving thieves easy access to your stuff. A small combination
lock on the main compartment works well as an added precaution.
3 bodies: 2 x 20D, 10D (used by Jenn)
6 lenses: 100-400mm IS, 70-200mm 2.8IS, 24-70mm 2.8, 10-22mm, 50mm macro, Tamron 28-300 (Jenn)
SD700 for point & shoot, video, underwater
Underwater Housing for SD700
580EX Flash, Better Beamer flash extender
Extra Batteries, Memory Cards, Film
Lens Wipes/Brush, Rain Gear, Polarizer
Audio recording device
Epson P-2000 storage device