Hands-on Learning: A Scouting Trip to the Galapagos Islands

Person looking out at Kicker Rock Galapagos Islands

Today we have Kaitlyn, one of our adventure travel planners at Southern Explorations, joining us to talk about her recent trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. As a seasoned travel planner, Kaitlyn understands the importance of firsthand experience when it comes to recommending destinations, accommodations, and activities to travelers. Let's hear what she has to say about her most recent trip.

  1. Can you give us an overview of your trip?
  1. My trip started out with a five-day cruise onboard the Evolve, one of three luxury sister ships cruising the Galapagos Islands. It was the Evolve’s inaugural cruise and all guests onboard were travel industry professionals. It was a great opportunity for us to experience the yacht firsthand and provided a practice run for the crew. After the cruise I arrived on Santa Cruz Island, where I met up with my colleague and Quito local, Alex Paz. We had six busy days on Santa Cruz Island inspecting boats, hotels and lodges that we work with in the Highlands. We also tested out the restaurants that we recommend to our clients on land-based tours and found some new options to add to our list. We then headed back to Quito where I had the opportunity to stay at Illa Experience Hotel. Illa is a small luxury hotel located in the heart of the Old Town. They offer daily immersive experiences that highlight the local people and traditions. While in Quito I met with our local partners, inspected hotels, and tested out a new tour. I also spent one day birding my heart out at Bellavista Cloud Forest.
  1. In the travel industry we call these types of trips FAM tours (short for familiarization), can you explain the point of these trips?
  1. Familiarization trips help us stay up to date on the destinations we specialize in. For example, we work with over 50 different Galapagos cruising yachts, and seeing these vessels in person makes all the difference. During a boat inspection we tour every cabin, walk through the social areas and get details on the amenities each ship offers. This firsthand knowledge of each yacht helps me make better, personalized recommendations for each of our clients, who all have different preferences and wish lists.  
  1. Are these trips all work?
  1. Nope! I was able to enjoy a five-day cruise with my fiancé before the inspection extravaganza began. I also enjoy seeing the hotels and unique lodges we work with, meeting with our local partners that I have known for years, and eating delicious Ecuadorian food. Spending time with my teammate Alex in person was a real treat from our usual virtual office setting.
  1. So you toured a whole lot of Galapagos ships, any highlights for you?
  1. It’s hard to pick a favorite from such a well-curated collection of ships! With options from sailboats to catamarans to larger vessels there’s really something for everyone. This is a big part of the travel planning process, helping each group find just the right ship. That being said, a few options did stand out to me:
  • Bonita – Budget-friendly 16-passenger first class yacht with a friendly crew onboard.
  • Treasure of the Galapagos – Modern 16-passenger first class catamaran with private balconies in every cabin.
  • Elite – This 16-passenger luxury class catamaran has massive cabins with private balconies and spacious social areas.
  • Evolve/Theory/Origin – Three 20-passenger luxury sister ships that cruise the Galapagos together. Excellent service and open bar policy.
  • Lodges! The land-based options in the Santa Cruz highlands continually impress me. The Galapagos Safari Camp, Pikaia, and Montemar are all very special properties that are great on their own or paired with a cruise.
  1. Back on the mainland you toured around Quito and the surrounding area. Do you think most travelers should spend a few nights in this area in addition to touring the Galapagos?
  1. I personally love Mainland Ecuador and think that it often gets overlooked. If travelers only have a couple of days it’s great to focus on Quito and check out one of our day tours. If travelers have more time I highly recommend getting out of the city. For those interested in the Andes I recommend a few days at Hacienda Zuleta or our Haciendas, Hot Springs and Volcanoes tour. For nature lovers I recommend Sacha Amazon Lodge or Bellavista Cloud Forest.  
  1. Do you have any new tours that Southern Explorations will be offering?
  1. While I was in Quito I tested out our new Quito Cooking Class. After visiting a local market, we began preparing our three-course meal. Throughout the cooking experience we sampled local fruits, made our own cocktails, and learned about the dishes we were creating. I highly recommend this experience for anyone interested in not only sampling the local cuisine, but also learning how to prepare it themselves. We’re also making some improvements to our Luxury Ecuador tour and adding a new ship to our roster of exceptional Galapagos options. We’re also excited to start working with the stunning Hacienda La Danesa in the lush tropical region between the coast and Andean mountains, just one hour from Guayaquil.  

It's always valuable to get an insider's perspective on a destination, especially when it comes to adventure travel. Firsthand knowledge of the Galapagos Islands and the mainland Ecuador help us design the perfect trip for you!
If you’d like to start planning your next adventure give us a call at 1.877.784.5400 or you can contact Kaitlyn directly at kaitlynl@southernexplorations.com.

Galapagos Tortoise