Archive for the 'Ecuador' Category

The Quilatoa Loop

Upon arriving back in mainland Ecuador, we headed South from Quito to a mountainous area known as the Quilatoa loop. A set of small villages form a sort of “loop” you can travel and hike around, with the highlight being Laguna Quilatoa – a volcanic crater lake sitting at over 12,000 feet. We ended up basing ourselves in the village of Chugchilán and did several spectacular day hikes, including a hike from lake back to our hotel. The altitude and occasional wrong turns were challenges, but the experience was well worth the effort.

Before leaving the area, we checked out the weekly market at Saquisilí, one of the largest in the region. The market took over the whole town – something like 7 or 8 plazas and even included livestock (goats, pigs, cattle, llamas, alpacas, chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs, etc.) Quite a sight!

Cruising the Galapagos

Our 5 day cruise in the Galapagos took us around the Southeastern islands. Although we had already seen most of the animal attractions on Isabela (sea lions, penguins, flamingos, land tortoises, marine iguanas, etc.) there were a few new creatures we encountered. Chris and I agreed that the most interesting thing we saw was the courtship dance of the waved albatross. These birds fly over the ocean for months at a time and return to nest only in the Galapagos.

Albatross Courtship Dance from Rachael Gilg on Vimeo.

After the cruise, we returned to Isabela for one more week of snorkeling, exploring the island, and hanging out with the animals. This time we made it up to the top of Sierra Negra, an active volcano with the largest caldera of all the Galapagos volcanoes. We had plenty of time to observe the animals in all sorts of settings – check out the photo of the fish market, where sea lions, pelicans, and iguanas beg for scraps like dogs! I apologize for all the sea lion photos – they are just so cute I can’t help myself.

Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela, Galapagos

I think we have found our perfect island. After 2 hours of a very rough boat ride, we arrived at the westernmost and largest of the Galapagos islands. Despite its size, Isabela has the smallest population of all the islands – only about 2200 people live in the sleepy town of Puerto Villamil.

We stayed nearly a week on this island, becoming regulars at a great snorkeling site called Concha y Perla. On a daily basis we have been swimming with spotted eagle rays, green sea turtles, marine iguanas, and (on especially good days) sea lions and penguins. It turns out it takes a lot of work to keep a sea lion entertained! Dives, twists, and somersaults can prompt a young sea lion to demonstrate their own acrobatic skills, which naturally are much more advanced than ours!

The Galapagos are all volcanic islands (similar to Hawaii), and Isabela boasts some of the largest volcanos (last eruption in 2005). We took a day trip to an otherworldly landscape of half-submerged lava tunnels with crystal clear water. On the way we spotted huge manta rays swimming alongside the boat, and I saw more sea turtles that day than I have seen in my whole life.

Turtles at Tunneles, Isla Isabela from Rachael Gilg on Vimeo.

Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos

Our 3 month tour of South America (Ecuador, Peru & Bolivia) has begun! After a brief stopover in Quito, we arrived on Santa Cruz, the most populated of the Galapagos islands. I was amazed at how much wildlife we saw even on the first day: sea lions basking in the sun on the town docks, sharks cruising the waters beneath the main pier, blue-footed boobies dive-bombing the harbor while the fishing boats were coming in.

Boobies diving in Puerto Ayora harbor from Rachael Gilg on Vimeo.

On our first full day, we snorkeling tour to a few sites where we had our first encounters with marine iguanas on sharp black lava rocks. They actually get their food from the sea, swimming down in the cold water to find algae to eat, and then spend the rest of the time warming up on the rocks.

We are so glad we decided to do about a week of land-based travel here on the islands in addition to the 5-day cruise we booked in advance. Most tourists go right onto a cruise boat, and don’t have the opportunity to spend much time in the communities here on the islands. It has been a nice surprise that it is relatively inexpensive and very pleasant to stay on land – we are now even considering extending our stay in the Galapagos!