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June 14, 2011

Solo Traveler to the Galapagos

Blog written by Singles Travel International member, Diane G. from British Columbia

Wonderful! Magical! Moving! For me, those are the words that best describe the experience of visiting the Galapagos Islands as a solo traveler. Singles Travel International does a good job with Celebrity Cruise Lines in making this trip the best ever.

My trip started with a couple of flights from Western Canada to Quito, and the anticipation of how I’d feel at the altitude of the city (nearly 10,000 ft.). More on that later. Quito airport is pretty busy and you MUST show your baggage ticket before you can take your bags outside. They are also x-rayed before they leave the airport. If you’re arriving when a Celebrity rep is at the airport this is taken care of. If you are arriving a day or two early, you have to do this yourself. I actually recommend going in early and having extra time to enjoy the area and acclimatize. That way, you also get a chance to go to the famous Otovalo market or perhaps into fantastic rain forest areas to see stunning birds, etc. Accommodation in Quito is at the JW Marriott, a modern and well-appointed hotel with good security, offering a comprehensive (and included) breakfast buffet.

Quito was the first UN designated World Cultural Heritage Site and contains many fine churches and buildings. The Celebrity tour guides there made sure people were briefed about possible pickpocket issues which, I have to say, are equally as much an issue throughout much of the world, including Europe! I felt quite safe. You also go to the Equator monument and have your picture taken “on the line”! The fact that modern technology has found the Equator is actually a few hundred yards away should be ignored!

After flying from Quito to the Galapagos Islands, the week on the Celebrity Xpedition ship going to several of the islands is wonderful! Contributors to the Cruise Critic website have just ranked it as the number one cruise ship of ANY size! This came as no surprise to me! The experience of being so close to wildlife is amazing. In fact, there are many times when the humans have to back away from animals who want to be too close for their own good! Snorkeling is great when you find yourself swimming with playful sea lions, turtles, rays, and penguins, etc. The sea lions are fun as they swim around you very fast and like to blow bubbles! The Xpedition provides wetsuits and all the gear necessary which you keep throughout the week.

Every day you can go out on two excursions (one day has three). Every evening the Cruise Director (who is the chief naturalist) gives a short presentation on the following days’ activities and excursions, and advises re. appropriate clothing and footwear. There is always a choice of excursions – usually one easy walk and one more challenging. There are no restrictions on the maximum number of people who can take any excursion so there are no panics to sign up for your choice! None of the walks is very taxing although proper footwear is important on some, and it can be smart to use one of the provided walking sticks for support over small rocks. You leave the ship on pangas (like zodiacs) which are not difficult to get into, are quite comfortable, and accommodate about 16-18 people. Each panga has a driver and the naturalist who will accompany you on that excursion. Cold water bottles are free for anyone. The ship usually moves during the lunch break back on the ship and always overnight. It’s great to come back from the morning or afternoon excursions and have the latest exotic drink and cold cloths provided! Snacks are available on deck pretty much all day.

Cruising on the Xpedition is unlike any other ship. All your alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are included in the fare, plus all gratuities. This makes the apparently somewhat higher cost of the whole trip actually work out as a real bargain! The flights to and from the Galapagos (from Quito) are also included, as are all the excursions, tours, meals, snorkeling equipment, and two hotel nights in Quito. Add all of those things to any other cruise around the Caribbean, for instance, and the Galapagos islands trip is an amazing bargain! You can leave the ship with virtually nothing on your bill unless you buy something from the small shop on board or use the internet.

The guides and staff on the ship are informed, entertaining and completely obliging. The atmosphere on board is 100% casual so no need for any “dressy” clothes or heels! Many people still wear shorts at dinner. There is a notice in the Celebrity paperwork about this ship which says something to the effect that “gentlemen are requested to wear shirts in the dining room” – that’s ANY shirt, not a dressy shirt!! The staterooms are compact but comfortable. Paying more for a suite is a waste, IMNSHO, as you are out on deck or on excursions so much. In fact, being lower down in the ship is an advantage if the sea becomes a little choppy.

At the end of the week you leave the ship amongst a lot of sadness and even tears (from both sexes!). You are flown back to Quito and taken for some last minute shopping to an expensive but beautiful gallery housing goods from throughout South America and, close by, a marketplace filled with stalls selling more scarves, other fabric goods, clothing, and jewelry, etc. Another night in the Marriott and home again.

Back in high Quito again I’ll comment on altitude. I’d read about altitude sickness and had come armed with medication because, as a mature and relatively sedentary individual who lives at sea level, I figured it would hit me! It didn’t! In fact, I’ve now flown into Quito four times and have never experienced any problems with the altitude! It is a strange phenomenon because it may affect young or old, fit or lazy, fat or thin, or only on your tenth visit! However, if you DO happen to feel more tired than usual or feel a little woozy, the hotel will provide coca tea or oxygen to help. It really isn’t an issue to be worried about!

I first did this trip in 2009 through STI and had such a fantastic time that I did it all again with STI the following year! Would I do back for another visit? Tomorrow or ANY day! For anyone who loves nature, this is THE trip to choose.

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