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The Wonders of the Galápagos - FAQ
With such a rich and varied itinerary and so many aspects to touring Ecuador, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure about where to start preparing for your Wonders of Galápagos tour. We are here to help. Below, you'll find some useful information that you'll need as you get ready for your Ecuadorean adventure.
Quito, the capital of Ecuador is 5 hours behind GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), and it does not observe daylight saving time, so conveniently during the time that we visit, Quito is in the same time zone as New York or EST, and 3 hours ahead of San Francisco. The Galápagos Islands are 6 hours behind GMT, in the same time zone as Chicago or CST.
There are many beautiful things to bring back with you from Ecuador, so make sure to leave some space in your luggage. You will not need any formal clothing on this tour. Some people like to dress up if visiting high-end restaurants and bars, but this is optional. Since we will be on the Equator, it will be warm, so you should bring an assortment of t-shirts, pants, shorts and other casual, warm weather clothing. However, for the few days we'll be in Quito, you may need a light jacket since we'll be in the mountains, in high altitude. For the Galápagos Islands, you will need comfortable closed shoes for hiking on rugged lava, but no hiking boots are needed. You will also need Teva or similar water sandals/shoes for wet landings, a couple of swimsuits, a sun hat, waterproof bags, binoculars, and a camera. For the domestic flights, the luggage allowance is 44 lbs. for the checked in luggage and 22 lbs. for the carry-on luggage.
Visitors to Ecuador require a current passport, valid for at least 6 months from the date of departure from Ecuador and with a minimum of two blank pages. Citizens of the US, Canada, UK and Australia do not require a visa to enter Ecuador. Before traveling abroad it's a good idea to make two photocopies of your passport, your driver's license and your credit cards. Leave one copy at home with a trusted person and another one in your suitcase.
|ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE INFORMATION |
This tour starts and ends in Quito, Ecuador (airport code UIO).
It starts on Monday, February 3, 2020, and we have arranged for individual airport transfers, so you will be met by a chauffeur on your arrival in Quito airport. You may arrive any time during the day, but most flights from the US arrive late at night, so you will probably be departing the US/Canada on the same day, February 3. Since no activities are planned for February 3, it is not necessary to arrive a day earlier, but we can make arrangements for early arrivals if you would like to spend the day at leisure before the tour starts.
This tour ends after breakfast on Tuesday, February 11, 2020. You can book your flight at any time during the day, and we will arrange for a private airport transfer in accordance with your departure time. If you need help with your flights to Quito, Ecuador, please feel free to give us a call.
The Galápagos tour group is limited to the maximum of 15 women + the tour director. The minimum group size is 6 women + the tour director. In addition to a professional Sights and Soul Travels' tour director, the travelers will be taken care of by a private guide and a driver in Quito and by the naturalist guides and the ship crew while in the Galápagos.
No vaccinations are officially required of travelers to Ecuador, unless you are arriving from a country that has reported cases of yellow fever, such as Panama. If so, you will be required to show a proof of yellow fever vaccination. As a tropical South American country, Ecuador presents certain health risks and issues. The most common ailments for visitors to Ecuador are common traveler's diarrhea and altitude sickness. If you are affected by altitude sickness, you may experience headaches, nausea, sleeplessness, and a tendency to tire easily. If you are experiencing these problems, try to rest, abstain from alcohol, and drink a lot bottled water. To help alleviate the symptoms, you can also take acetazolamide (Diamox); consult your doctor for more information. Eating shellfish should be avoided by those with weak stomachs. Although ceviche is one of Ecuador's classic dishes, you should know that the fish and shellfish in it are not cooked, but marinated. That said, most travelers eat it with few or no problems. Be very careful about eating food purchased from street vendors. You should limit your exposure to the sun, especially during the first few days of your trip and, thereafter, from 11am to 2pm. Use a sunscreen with a high protection factor, and apply it liberally. Don't be deceived by cool weather or cloud cover.
In general, the health care system in Ecuador is pretty good and can handle most emergencies and common illnesses. Although pharmacies are well stocked and widespread, you should still carry with you sufficient supplies of any prescription medicines you may need. Most over-the-counter remedies commonly available at home should be relatively available in Ecuador, although you may have some trouble figuring out what the local equivalent is. You should pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage, and carry prescription medications in their original containers, with pharmacy labels or they may not make it through airport security. Don't forget an extra pair of contact lenses or prescription glasses.
Foreign visitors to Ecuador should drink only bottled water, which is widely available. Do not drink tap water, even in major hotels. Most hotels provide bottled water in the bathroom. Try to avoid drinks with ice unless you are sure that the water for the ice has been previously boiled. Agua con gas is carbonated water; agua sin gas is still water. You can buy bottles of water on practically any street corner. Small bottles cost about 30¢ (20p).
Public lavatories (baños públicos) are rarely available in Ecuador, except in museums, restaurants, and theaters. You can use the bathroom of a bar, cafe, or restaurant; if it feels uncomfortable to dart in and out, have a coffee at the bar. Public restrooms are labeled WC (water closet), DAMAS (Ladies), and CABALLEROS or HOMBRES (Men). Toilet paper is not always provided, and when it is, most establishments request that patrons throw it in the wastebasket rather than the toilet, to avoid clogging. It's a good idea to have a pack of tissues with you. Please keed in mind that some public toilets may require payment, so you should always have some coins in the local currency with you to pay for them.
Although most visitors travel freely throughout Ecuador without incident, simple theft and pickpocketing remain fairly common, especially in crowded markets and busy urban areas. Most thieves look for moments when travelers, laden with bags and struggling with maps, are distracted. You should use ATMs during the day, with other people present. In general, you should not wear expensive jewelry; keep expensive camera equipment out of view as much as possible; use a money belt worn inside your pants or shirt to safeguard cash, credit cards, and passport. Wear your daypack on your chest rather than your back when walking in crowded areas.
The Ecuadorean indigenous people are very uneasy about having their picture taken. Many, in the more touristy areas, have parlayed this into a means of earning a few dollars, by charging to have their picture taken. In the more remote and rural areas, a rude or disrespectful foreign shutterbug can earn the strong and sometimes vocal disdain of the local population. Always ask permission before taking photographs of people.
As is common throughout Latin America, Ecuador can be considered a typically "macho" nation. Misogyny and violence against women, while not rampant, are part of the social fabric. In general, the most prominent expression of this machismo is a steady stream of come-ons and catcalls. Ignoring them is often the best tactic. Still, women should be careful walking alone at night in big cities, and throughout the country.
During the Wonders of Galápagos tour, we will travel by a private bus, by plane, by boat and on foot. To be able to enjoy the tour and participate in scheduled activities, you need to be able to walk, at a leisurely pace, up to 4 miles throughout the day, including steps, and quite often on uneven surfaces. You need to be able to stand unassisted for up to 30 minutes, you need to be able to climb stairs, get in and out of vehicles and boats without assistance and manage your own luggage without assistance. This trip is not strenuous, but you should be of at least average fitness to enjoy all scheduled activities. To get the most out of our time in Ecuador, this tour is busy, and you must be prepared for some full days and early starts.
Ecuador is located right on the Equator (thus the name), so you should be prepared for warm weather. However, Quito is located at 10,000 feet, so it is never very warm there, and it has mild, spring weather throughout the year. In the Galápagos, the time period between December and May is considered the "warm season," when the climate is more tropical with daily rain and cloudier skies. The ocean temperature is warmer for swimming and snorkeling. During this season you may observe a large number of species around the islands such as marine iguanas, sea turtle, land iguanas, flamingos, white-cheeked pintails, masked boobies, marine iguanas, albatross, and blue-footed boobies.
In Quito, Internet is widely available everywhere, including a complementary WiFi in our hotel. In the Galápagos, there may be WiFi available onboard, when the vessel is close to settlements on the islands, but it is quite expensive. If you need daily Internet access, we recommend purchasing an additional Internet device, such as Skyroam.
The majority of outlets in Ecuador are standard North American style two- and three-prong electric outlets with 110-120V AC (60 Hz) current.
Ecuador's official language is Spanish. Indigenous languages such as Quichua are also widely spoken throughout the country, and Shuar is common in the Amazon basin. English is spoken and understood in most hotels, restaurants, and shops.
Since 2000, the official unit of currency in Ecuador has been the U.S. dollar. You can use American or Ecuadorean coins, both of which come in denominations of 1¢, 5¢, 10¢, 25¢, and 50¢. Otherwise, all the currency is in the paper form of American dollars, in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100. It's very hard to make change, especially for any bill over $5, and especially in taxis. If you are retrieving money from an ATM, be sure to request a denomination ending in 1 or 5 (most ATMs will dispense money in multiples of $1) so that you won't have to worry about breaking a large bill. If you are stuck with big bills, try to use them in restaurants to make change. Before coming to Ecuador, and whenever you make a purchase, get some smaller bills and coins. Petty cash will come in handy for tipping and public transportation. Many taxi drivers and small shop owners have trouble making change for a $20 bill. Consider keeping the change separate from your larger bills, so that it's readily accessible and you'll be less of a target for theft. The easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM. You can use your credit card to receive cash advances at ATMs. Keep in mind that credit card companies protect themselves from theft by limiting maximum withdrawals outside their home country, so call your credit card company before you leave home. Also remember that you'll pay interest from the moment of your withdrawal, even if you pay your monthly bills on time. ATMs are ubiquitous in Ecuador. You'll even find them in remote areas in the Galápagos.
All restaurants', guides' and drivers' gratuities for the Quito part of the tour are included in the price. When you are on your own, most people leave about a 10% tip for the waitstaff in restaurants. Taxi drivers are not usually tipped unless they provide additional service. You should leave about $1 per person, per day for the hotel maid who cleans your room. For the Galápagos cruise, it is customary to tip your naturalist guides and boat staff, although it is completely at your discretion and should reflect your level of satisfaction with the services you received. Recommended tipping amounts vary, but they tend to range between $20 and $25 per night.
As the country’s capital and most populous area, Quito has a wide range of shopping options. Shopping centers are a popular choice, but for authentic Ecuadorian items, Quito will not disappoint. At several market areas, most notably the Mercado Artesanal, hand crafted items like cheeseboards, rugs and jewelry are sold in abundance. The merchants also sell alpaca sweaters, wood carvings, weavings and paintings, and it is the ideal place to discover Ecuador’s artistic skills and pick up some unique souvenirs. You can also find a variety of aromatic herbs, exotic barks, leaves and seeds often used by indigenous people for medicinal purposes. An interesting item that is indigenous to Ecuador is so-called "Panama hat" (a good quality Panama hats can be rolled up and spring back to shape). The Olga Fisch Gallery shows off Ecuador’s artisans with exquisite pieces of clothing, paintings and crafts, and many indigenous tribes are apparent through their primitive paintings, trinkets and fine art. In the Galápagos, you can purchase t-shirts with an image of a giant tortoise or carefully woven local fabrics. Don't forget to pick-up some well known Ecuador chocolate and coffee. Bargaining is a way of life in Ecuador, and is totally acceptable in markets. Keep in mind that you cannot export animal products or pre-Columbian art out of Ecuador.
Rarely can you see and experience wildlife and nearly pristine landscapes like you can in the Galápagos Islands. To protect this unique place, the Galápagos National Park Service has established rules for visitors. Please familiarize yourself with them before your departure and follow them stringently while in the islands to conserve this one-of-a-kind archipelago — now and into the future.
- Fully cooperate with environmental inspection and quarantine services personnel during your visit. Introduced plants, animals, and certain foods not native to the islands are a serious threat to the delicate ecosystems here.
- While visiting the islands, you must be accompanied by a licensed Galápagos National Park guide.
- To help with conservation, stay in the officially approved areas and on the marked trails at all times.
- No plants, animals, or their remains (including shells, bones, and pieces of wood), or other natural objects should be removed or disturbed on land or in the water.
- Be careful not to transport any live material to the islands, or from island to island. Also, be careful not to transport sand.
- Do not take any food or drink other than water to the uninhabited islands.
- Do not touch or feed the animals. A distance of six feet between you and an animal is required. Also, do not allow them to touch you.
- Do not startle or chase animals from their resting or nesting spots. Flash photography disturbs them, so do not use it.
- Do not deface the rocks, trees, or walls. Making any type of graffiti is illegal.
- Do not leave any litter or trash on the islands or throw any off your boat.
- Smoking and campfires are forbidden in the national park.
- Do not fish from your tour boat.
- Motorized aquatic sports and aerial tourism are prohibited.
- Do not buy souvenirs or objects made of native plants or animals from the islands, especially black coral, volcanic rocks, native woods, sea lion teeth, or tortoise shells.
For updates and a more comprehensive explanation of the rules, please consult the Galápagos National Park Service.