Galapagos Trip Report
Just Back from South America
Outside GO's trip designer reports on her journey to the Galapagos & Ecuador on our ultimate South America safari
By: ROBYN GOLDBLATT
It was a Saturday night on Santa Cruz Island. The water was lapping and crickets were chirping peacefully… somewhere nearby. But in the main lodge at Galapagos Safari Camp, hair was flying, arms were whirling, and Latin music and laughter filled the air. I was in the midst of a group salsa lesson. Everyone had joined in after dinner, including the owner, Stephanie Bonham-Carter, the operations manager, Belen, the sales manager, Katrien, and even the chef, Sebastian. Despite our instructor’s great efforts, we were stepping on our own feet and creating moves that should never be repeated. Some guests were natural stars, while others (including myself) were utterly lost. But we were all having an absolute blast.
"The salsa lesson was a part of my six-day journey through Ecuador and the Galapagos last month."
As a trip designer at Outside GO, I was invited to stay at the African-inspired Galapagos Safari Camp and at Hacienda Zuleta, high in the Ecuadorean Andes, to get acquainted with the lodges to better serve our GO guests. I packed my bags just in time to catch a red-eye flight to Miami, change planes, and next thing I knew I was in a whole different world. The plane door opened and I stepped out below the equator, squinting. I breathed in the heavy, wet, hot air of Quito and immediately began to sweat. I wouldn’t be dry again for the next three days. We were met at the end of the walkway and escorted to the VIP lounge where we handed over our passports, immigration control cards and waited in the air conditioning with a fresh glass of coconut water in hand while our greeter cleared customs for us.
What transpired the next few days on Santa Cruz Island at the Galapagos Safari Camp was nothing short of enriching, renewing, stimulating, and simply wonderful. I did everything you would expect to do in the Galapagos—snorkeled through a mass of shimmery synchronized sardines, came face-to-face with sea lions and iguanas, strolled alongside 500-pound turtles, kayaked the turquoise waters around mangroves, documented a blue-footed-booby sighting with a hundred more photos than necessary, and trekked through the depths of an ancient lava tunnel, flashlights lighting my path.
"But what really made my visit special were times like when the staff waited for us at the top of that tunnel with a surprise picnic prepared."
Listening to the stories from our guide, Andre, with his sincere passion for the islands showing in the twinkle in his eyes; witnessing the gaucho herding his cattle down the bumpy road from the safari camp; and Katrien, the camp manager, meeting me at the entrance to camp after a long day of adventure with a cold towel and a warm smile at the read.
It was with a heavy heart that I left this place, onward to the next stop—Hacienda Zuleta. On the journey into the Ecuadorean Andes, lush green hills and valleys abound, with colorful villages and pristine lakes surprising you around every corner.
"You’ll find the equatorial line perfect for rite-of-passage photos at the center of the world."
Shortly after settling back onto the bus, we found ourselves pulling off onto a dirt road and through an unassuming gate. What materialized on the other side seemed to be Never Never Land. Acres upon acres upon acres of the healthiest, brightest green grass dotted with dairy cows and horses and tiny white houses put the size in perspective. The scene was a stark contrast to the sea, sand, and lava-rock island life we just came from. The dirt road became cobblestone and I soon found myself in the courtyard I’d seen in photos so many times before, trying to wrap my head around the 4,000 acres that belonged to one family.
As soon as I arrived I knew I was in paradise. As I was greeted by a member of the family and general manager, Fernando Polanco, and escorted into the main living area, my jaw dropped. Historic heirlooms and photographs lined the walls in such density that I couldn’t stop my eyes from darting madly from one to the next. But it rose to another level when I turned and stood in awe of two presidential portraits, two generations of Ecuadorean rule, one that must have been at least ten feet tall. And after wandering the building mouthing nothing more than “Wow,” I joined the rest of the group for wine and gourmet cheeses. After stuffing ourselves, we made our way across the courtyard into the next building for dinner. As we strolled by, a trio of musicians began to follow us, strumming their guitars and singing songs of their native land. It was then that I fell in complete and total love with this place.
I spent the next few days riding beautiful horses over the hills, exploring the expansive grounds, trying my hand at milking cows, and eating organic food right from the farm. My traveling companions, a variety of people from all over the world who were strangers just a few days ago, began to feel like old friends. We sat around the fireplace late into the night exchanging cameras and looking through photos that had us reeling with laughter until our stomachs hurt and tears streamed down our faces.
We said our goodbyes and parted ways the next morning, some of us taking the long drive back to Quito to board our plane back to the United States. Settled in my window seat, I looked down at the landscape disappearing from view with hopes of one day finding myself back in Ecuador.
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Galapagos Trip Report
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