7 trips that put families in close contact with local wildlife

Snorkel with Whale Sharks in Cancun

Fulfill your family’s ultimate once-in-a-lifetime bucket list adventure by taking a dip with whale sharks – the biggest (and most friendly) fish in the world! From May to September, families staying at sister properties CasaMagna Marriott Cancun Resort and JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa can embark by boat to snorkel alongside these magnificent gentle giants where the Caribbean Sea meets the Gulf of Mexico. Though they measure up to 40 feet long and weigh in at 15 tons, whale sharks feed exclusively on plankton and are totally harmless to humans. Added perk: guests at the Cancun Marriott Resorts can check out a GoPro HER04 for the day to capture unbelievable underwater family photo ops.

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Explore the Costa Rican rainforest

For an unforgettable nature-filled vacation, families should head to Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort, spread across 900 acres of natural rainforest reserve in Costa Rica’s northern region — an area responsible for 6% of the entire world’s biodiversity. With more than 500 species of local plant and wildlife on property, kiddos just might spot a coatimundis, toucans or howler monkeys. Families can have nearby animal encounters with activities like horseback riding, ziplining through the trees, rainforest tours and more. As an added bonus, the carbon neutral resort offers an eco-friendly environment that teaches kids about sustainability and how to protect the area’s natural resources.

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Tabacon_wildlife

Swim with sea turtles in Barbados

SUP dude? For an unforgettable animal encounter, families will love Colony Club‘s stand-up paddle board (SUP) and turtle swim excursion. Starting out on the white, warm sands of Barbados’ renowned beach, families will paddle out to The Lone Star Restaurant, one of the local, turtle hangouts, and dive into the crystal blue waters to get up-close-and-personal with the island’s friendliest marine animals – the once-endangered population of hawksbill and leatherback turtles.

 

Hangout with reptiles in Curacao

Situated on a 27 acre plantation of rare natural preserve, the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort in Curacao offers an island-within-an-island feel with some of the most varied and exotic flora and fauna in the Caribbean. Through the resort’s eco-friendly, locally inspired Camp Arawak program, kids will love the chance to feed the resort’s resident iguanas. Plus, in between watersport adventures like snorkeling and paddleboarding, families can observe hawksbill turtles nesting along the resort’s private beach every July through September.

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Paddleboard with Dolphins in Jupiter, Florida

Hotel guests staying at the oceanfront resort can head to the nearby Blueline Surf & Paddle Co., and work up a sweat navigating the mangroves of the Intracoastal Waterways on a 90-minute paddleboard eco tour, where you might see manatees, dolphins and sea turtles. Complimentary beach cruisers are also available for resort guests to get the heart pumping as they explore the charming, seaside town’s iconic landmarks, including the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and the Loggerhead Marine Life Center.  

Encounter sea lions, blue footed boobies and penguins galore in The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are home to some of the most unique species in the world, and Ecoventura’s fleet of eco-friendly cruises brings families face to face with daily excursions through the archipelago’s diverse islands. From swimming alongside sea lions (and plenty of curious sea lion pups) to watching the Blue Footed Boobies shake their feet in a mating dance, snorkeling with penguins off the islands of Santa Cruz and Isabella. In a destination as pristine and protected as the Galapagos, wildlife wanders freely and fearlessly in the islands, meaning parents and kids are in for the trip of a lifetime.

Ecoventura_Galapagos

Kayak through a bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico

A kayaking tour through the mangrove forrest of the Laguna Grande takes families to a secret hideaway — Fajardo’s bioluminescent bay. A short drive from San Juan, the magical waters are filled with millions of prehistoric organisms that when touched, leave a breathtaking glow in the moonlight. The excursion, organized by the family friendly San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, invites families to learn the history and science behind the twinkling trail in the bio bay while enjoying a ride under the stars.

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Feed alpacas and llamas in Cusco

The colorful city of Cusco and the surrounding Sacred Valley of the Incas is the perfect destination for adventurous families looking for a rich dose of culture. A short drive from the city center, Awana Kancha – a llama, alpaca and vicuña farm — brings families face to face with the region’s most loved furry animals in all shapes and colors. Upon arrival, guests are greeted by the resident animals eagerly awaiting to be fed giant handfuls of grass. The interactive feedings are followed by textile weaving demonstrations by the local women keeping the tradition alive. After a day long day of adventure, families can relax in  the historic JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, a 16th century convent turned hotel whose lobby is frequented by alpacas and llamas.
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~ Contributed by Julia Cavalieri, account coordinator at Diamond PR. Follow Julia on Twitter @diamondpr

How Not to Fall Sick on Your Next Vacation

You planned every detail, put aside savings, and waited all year for that two- week vacation abroad. The last thing you want to do is fall sick during your time in the magical new place and not be able to enjoy it.

Unfortunately, our bodies do get sick every so often depending on what we expose ourselves to. In our day-to-day life, we come into contact with co- workers, friends, kids and neighbors who could pass on an infection to us. Travelling intensely magnifies your chance of picking up germs, as you pass by thousands of people at airports, train stations and attractions. Add to that the changes in weather, time, altitude, latitude, sun exposure, air quality, food, water, and sleep patterns and your body becomes a lot less resistant to fighting the cocktails of bugs you may have picked up along the way.

After travelling to almost 50 countries, I still don’t have all the secrets that will prevent you from falling sick. I travel almost every month and do fall ill from time to time. What I have learned through my own pitfalls is that taking certain precautions can help keep you healthy while on the go.

1. Drink lots of water – but not tap water – throughout the trip. Make sure you drink only boiled or bottled water from reliable sources. Keeping hydrated will help you deal with many illnesses caused by heat, humidity and high altitudes.

2. Avoid taking ice in your drinks. Oftentimes, tap water is used for making ice, so be sure to ask the server if the ice is made from filtered water before consuming it. To be safe, drink only pre-packaged sodas, juices or hot beverages. A few weeks ago, I thought I was drinking a vitamin-packed fresh orange juice at a market in Cuenca, Ecuador, but ended up with a stomach flu due to the unfiltered water mixed in with the juice.

Eating at the market in Cuenca, Ecuador
Eating at the market in Cuenca, Ecuador

3. Carry a surgical face mask when travelling to cities where pollution may be a problem. Properly wash the mask from time to time or use a disposable one. Changes in air quality can cause respiratory problems, sinus and throat infections or even the flu. Not realizing that the valley trapped all the pollutants from motorcycle exhausts, I found that my expectation of breathing clean mountain air in the Himalayas was unmet. The moment I arrived in Kathmandu, I started coughing insatiably and had to run to the pharmacy for medicine.

Motorcycling through the streets of Kathmandu, Nepal
Motorcycling through the streets of Kathmandu, Nepal

4. Do yoga, meditation and stretches every morning. Even if you are not used to exercise, you will find that a few minutes of engaging your organs will aid in better digestion and give you more energy to enjoy the rest of the day. If your hotel offers group exercise classes or a gym facility, be sure to take advantage of it.

Doing yoga every morning in Bali, Indonesia
Doing yoga every morning in Bali, Indonesia

5. Do not forget to take your vitamins every day just as you would at home. If you take multivitamins, fish oil, B capsules, probiotics or any other supplements, don’t stop just because you are on vacation. My chiropractor swears that if you take 1000 mg of Vitamin C and 3 to 4 tablets of zinc daily, you will never fall sick.

6. Use your judgment before deciding where to eat. Don’t think that just because the restaurant is well-rated it will meet your sanitation requirements. Take a peek into the kitchen to ensure that the floors and counters look clean, there are no flies or insects hanging around, and the chefs are wearing gloves and hairnets for protection. Especially when travelling to third world countries, it’s important to understand that every culture has its own standards of hygiene.

7. Many people may say otherwise, but my advice is to eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables when travelling so long as they are peeled and properly washed. Constipation is the number one complaint that travellers have, so make sure you get your required daily intake of roughages. I love going to the Caribbean as there is always a variety of affordable fresh fruits available.

8. Don’t eat street food. It can be very tempting to eat where the locals eat so you can taste authentic dishes and save money, but try to have self-control. Know that street food is not always bad, but your stomach has not yet acquired the native enzymes to break it down properly. While in Honduras, I gave into temptation and tried Baleadas (wheat taco) prepared by ladies on the wayside and came home with a rare type of Caribbean hook worm.

9. Eating at people’s homes can be a bit trickier. You don’t want to sound like a snobby foreigner and also want to be grateful to your host. Be polite and use your good judgment. In India, it is considered rude to decline food or drink when you are invited into someone’s home. It doesn’t matter whether you are hungry or not, you simply have to accept it.

10. Long flights, strange beds and flat pillows can cause back and neck aches that make a trip less enjoyable. I always take my own Tempur-Pedic pillow with me, even if all I have is a carry-on bag. If you don’t find the bedding comfortable, ask the hotel’s housekeeping staff to bring you a firm pillow, preferably with an anti-allergy pillow cover.

Disclosure: I am not a medical professional and this article is not meant to appear in a medical journal. These tips are based solely on my own personal experience of working as a travel writer and crisscrossing the world every few weeks.

La Mundial Boot Factory in Quito

Looking for local artisans and traditions, I found La Mundial boot factory in Quito, Ecuador. The new facility is a quintessential place where only top quality leather is used to custom-make hand-sown riding boots. You will typically find professional jockeys, equestrians and riders wearing La Mundial, but they also offer everyday fashion boots and shoes for those who want to enjoy a luxurious accessory.

La Mundial custom riding boots

In 1906, Don Francisco Rivas opened a small shop in Quito, Ecuador and began handcrafting custom boots for horse riding enthusiasts. He worked side-by-side with an Italian shoemaker who came to Ecuador to showcase techniques in constructing tall riding boots.

La Mundial boots

Today, La Mundial (meaning the world) has become an internationally recognized brand utilizing a local community of cobblers, latest technology and worldwide reach, while maintaing the 100 year old craft.

Here is the ten stop process the artists use to create these masterpieces.

1. When you express a desire to custom order a La Mundial boot, a local representative will be sent to you. He/she will take over 20 measurements of your foot, ankle, calf, and leg to get the most accurate dimensions to ensure superior fit.

using technology to customize boots

2. Using your measurements and digital equipment, the will create a mold called “lasts,” of your leg. The prototype also has your specified patterns, colors and designs. The leather is imported from Italy, Argentina and around Ecuador. Colors include Cognac, Whiskey, Tobacco, Dark Chocolate, and of course, classic Black.

boot molds

3. Next, leather is sent to the cutting table, and each component of the boot is cut with the utmost precision.

4. The cobbler carefully assembles the leg of each boot by joining together all the components required. The boot comes out of this step with the entire calf area constructed.

boot factory Quito

5. Now the leather is stretched and finishing touches are completed by hand to make sure the leather is smooth and fitted around the entire foot area.

6. To ensure durability and high quality, the soles and heels are made out of leather at the factory.

7. After the boot is assembled, they shape the soles to ensure the edges are finished to perfection.

boot factory Quito

8. Next, the boots are shaped around wooden trees (piernas de madera in Spanish) selected for the size and shape of your leg. Then they are heated to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, and immediately cooled to cure the leather and allow the boot to maintain its proper shape.

La Mundial boots

9. Polish, conditioning and finishing touches are added to every boot. They are even personalized with your name engraved on the inside.

la mundial engraved boots

10. The boots are placed in customized bags and shipped off to your destination. If you are unhappy with the product, need to refit or repair, just sent it back and they would take care of everything.

Want to get a pair of your own? Order them online or visit a horse show in your area. Check out their schedule. You can also visit the factory store in Quito, Ecuador by appointment only. It is open Monday-Friday from 9am-4:30pm. You can also book a guided tour to visit the factory through Tropic Journeys.

~ My visit to La Mundial was arranged by Tropic Journeys, an Ecuador based company specializing in responsible, community-based tourism that offers vacations in Ecuador Amazon, the Galapagos Islands, the high Andes and cloud forest.

Shop at a confession booth in Cuenca, Ecuador

The monastary of Carmen located in the basement of Catedral Inmaculada Concepcion is home to nuns who don’t make any contact with the outside world. They do sell homemade jams, jellies, honey, wine, pastries, and trinkets, but without a shop or a display window.

cathedral carmen Cuenca
The product list is stated on the board. You simply ring the bell for an attendant. A nun will come to the wooden window but you cannot see her. Tell her your order and she will send it across the rotating screen. Similarly, place the money she asks for into the chamber and complete the transaction. It feels like going to the confession booth at a church, with a nice prize at the end.

cathedral carmen CuencaThe monastery has been around since 1682 and located in the Cuenca city center. Visit the cathedral any time of the day and you will find local devotees. Also, there are flower markets outside every day.

flower marken in Cuenca

Street Food Scene of Quito

Ecuadorians like to eat all the time. They don’t follow strict rules about it either. There are no set breakfast, lunch or dinner hours, and most locals eat when they are hungry, which seems to be all day long. If you stroll through Old Quito during the hours of 10am and 4pm, you will see street vendors selling soups, hole-in-the-wall establishments making fresh tortillas, and casual cafes always packed with snackers. In fact, whatever formal sit-down restaurant there are in Quito, seem to cater mostly to visitors. The locals prefer cheap eats on the go that are satisfying and similar to home cooked meals.

Here are some of the sights from Quito’s street food scene…

My entire concept of “soup” changed after visiting Ecuador. Here you eat soup off the street. Vendors cook locro de papa (potato soup  with potatoes, onion, garlic, cumin, achiote and cheese), and calso de Manguera (made with pork intestines, stuffed with blood and rice), at home, carry it into the markets in buckets and sell it by the cup to busy workers. Every family has their own style of preparing these traditional Ecuadorian recipes. The regulars know which ones they favor and often wait for their lunch to arrive in the city. Potato salad and ceviche are other two famous bucket dishes found especially in the historic Cruz Verde (green cross) neighborhood.

street vendors sell soup in Quito

Seafood is another important ingredient in Ecuadorian cooking. With access to the Pacific Ocean, lakes and rivers, there is always an abundance of fresh shrimp, fish, clams, mussels and even oysters. Where else in the world can you stop for couple of oysters on the half shell on your way to the office?

street food oysters in Quito

Lunch is generally the main meal of the day in Ecuador. Restaurants in Old Quito advertise lunch specials “Almuerzos” for $1-2, which include soup and traditional entrees such as Arroz con carne (rice with meat) or Fritadas (roasted pork with potatoes).

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For your next backyard party remember that plantains are not always fried. You can grill them whole on charcoal till they are slightly charred. Makes for a delicious and healthy side dish.

quito food 5

Street food doesn’t alway have to be unhealthy. In Quito, you will find fruit vendors selling fresh cut watermelons, pineapples and whatever else is in season. Grab a cup of fruit cocktail snack just for a few pennies.

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School kids line up at food stalls in the afternoon just to snack on Tortilla De Tiesto, a corn pancake made fresh to order. It is usually had with coffee or hot cocoa.

quito food

If Italians love gelato, Ecuadorians can beat them to Espumilla consumption any time of the day. It looks like ice cream, but is actually a dessert made with freshly whipped meringue cream and fruit extract, such as guava or passion fruit. The best part about it is that it doesn’t melt so street vendors sell it from their baskets, scooping out Espumilla in cups and cones.

quito food 7

If you want to go on a guided food tour of Quito, Metropolitan Touring offers one-day and half-day walking tours.

Read more about what to eat in Ecuador.

 

Typical Day On A Galapagos Cruise

Cruising the Galapagos Islands is for those who seek nature, adventure and an active vacation. One-week cruise aboard The Letty, a 20-passenger yacht run by Ecuador based company, Ecoventura will show you the very best of islands flora and fauna. Expect to get up close with animals and marine life, enjoy delicious meals and learn about Darwin’s evolution theories.

sunrise in the Galapagos IslandsA typical day aboard The Letty starts early in the morning. Watch the sunrise as you eat a healthy breakfast inside the dining room of the yacht.

cruise day 3The first activity for the morning is a hike or walk to one of the islands, where you will get to see amazing landscapes.

wildlife in the Galapagos IslandsDuring the island visits, expect an up close encounter with endemic wildlife, such as pelicans and iguanas. The Galapagos Marine Iguana is the only marine lizard to exist in the world.

giant tortoise of the GalapagosBe astonished by the Giant Tortoises that inhabit the islands. A Galapagos tortoise can weigh up to 595lb (270kg) with a carapace length of 4ft (1.2m) and outlive most humans.

snorkeling in the Galapagos IslandsBy 10am, the sun is up and it can get pretty hot, so time to cool down with a swim, snorkel or kayak. The convergence of three major oceanic currents brings an incredible mix of marine life to Galapagos.

kayaking in the Galapagos IslandsExpect to see beautiful coral reef, sharks, sea lions, penguins and lots of bird while you are out at sea.

cruise in the galapagos islandsAfter a busy morning, return to your boat for an authentic Ecuadorian lunch of ceviche, salads, grilled tuna, rice and beans prepared by experienced chefs. After lunch, its time for a Latin style afternoon siesta while your boat sails off to the next island.

sea lions in the Galapagos beachOnce you have renewed your energy, go to an undisturbed beach for a walk and some more sea lion watching. The Galapagos fur sea lions don’t feel threatened by the human paparazzi as long as you keep a safe distance.

blue footed boobies on the GalapagosBird watching is one of the highlights in the Galapagos. The islands are home to Nazca boobies, Darwin finches, frigids, cormorant, Blue footed boobies, and an occasional owl. Get your cameras ready to capture males performing mating dances to attract females.

sunset in the Galapagos

Enjoy picturesque sunsets of the Galapagos from the deck of the yacht while sipping a glass of wine.

eating in the Galapagos After a long day, its time to enjoy another scrumptious three course dinner. If you are lucky, you may even get a seat at the captain’s table.

To book a cruise to the Galapagos Islands with Ecoventure, click here.

Read more about traveling to the Galapagos Islands 

Limpia – Natural Healing in The Andes

I never heard of Limpia before I arrived in Ecuador. My guide Giovani with Metropolitan Touring tells me that Limpia is a cleansing procedure which is typical of Andean medicine. It involves the use of natural herbs, oils and rubs to cure diseases, reduce symptoms, and ward off spirits.

In Quito, we visit the Mercado de Santa Clara, a municipal market located in historic Old Town that was established in 1904. I am overwhelmed with the sights and smells of this large building that houses vendors from all over Ecuador. Most of them are indigenous people who live outside Quito in neighboring villages and have come to sell their produce. After passing through stacks of fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, housewares and just about everything, we see a row of “clinics.” These clinics distinguish themselves from each other by nothing more than the booth numbers and the names of the ladies who run them.

limpia in Old Quito

We step into number 8: clinic of Senora Rosa Lagla. The clinic is a narrow 8×2 feet booth packed with plants, most of which are unrecognizable to me. On one corner of the clinic is a bench where Rosa asks me to sit down while she examines me. Limpia is not performed only when you are ill, rather as part of a wellness maintenance program. Giovani explains to her that I am a writer and would like to learn more about Limpia. Rosa doesn’t speak English, but I can understand her slow and articulate Spanish.

herbs used for limpia

She decides to demonstrate her work by rubbing a particular kind of herbal leaves on my arm. I couldn’t identify what this was and my skin instantly starts stinging. Small rashes develop and I rethink this research on “natural medicine.” Rosa instantly rubs rose petals on my skin, which helps calm down some of the irritation. She tells me that these herbs are used to whip kids when they behave badly. That this is also the first step in Limpia because it helps you get control over your feelings, namely “pain and suffering.” It is suppose to heighten your senses and increase your awareness. You see, Limpia is an act of bodily, as well as spiritual cleansing, and you can’t cleanse your spirit unless you first control your mind.

limpia healer in Quito

Rosa then shows me her collection of fresh herbs she uses for her practice. She picks up  huge bundles of fresh mint, sage, rosemary, rue every day from the market. There are also scented oils, lotions and medicinal drinks that she prescribes to her patients.

Limpia patients include adults who still believe in this practice, and a lot of kids. Ecuadorians have a custom to take babies from birth until the age of one or two to a Limpia clinic on a regular basis. This is mainly to release past life and birthing traumas, balance their energies, and keep off bad spirits and diseases. As we leave Rosa’s clinic, we see a few parents lined up with babies in their arms. I ask one of the dad’s if I could film the treatment being performed, and he tells me no.

My hotel in Old Town Quito, Casa Gangotena offers personal in-room Limpia service that allows for privacy as one does need to take off their clothes for a proper ritual. The following day, Rosa comes to my hotel room to perform with her bag of herbs and oil. She makes house calls for $30 (it costs only $10 to see her at the clinic and no appointments are necessary). She sets up in the large marble bathroom and places a chair in the middle. I volunteer my husband to be cleansed, so I can observe and make notes, or so I tell him.

limpia spiritual cleanse

He strips to his shorts, takes a seat in the chair and closes his eyes, while Rosa treats him with a number of plants, flowers and oils in some order that she only understands. Most of this involves tapping him on the head, shoulders, legs and body with bushes. It lasts for 15 minutes and doesn’t feel spiritual or magical. Just a lot of dusting leaves and brushing the skin.  There is a huge mess on the bathroom floor, as if a strong wind went through a garden and Spring turned to Fall in matter of minutes, but Rosa cleans it all up.  I ask my husband how he feels afterwards and he uses “refreshed, relaxed” as if he came out of a spa session.

Perhaps the treatment really works because he doesn’t fall ill during the rest of our travels, but mostly the outcome of personal Limpia is to generate blessings of peace, harmony and prosperity. Traditionally though, Limpia is not a one-time fix, rather than a maintenance of a healthy balanced body, as most holistic wellness methods are.

Read more about traditions of Quito

Book your stay at Casa Gangotena with TripAdvisor today!

The Artisans of Old Quito

Quito is not just Ecuador’s political capital but also a beautiful city with colonial architecture, well preserved Catholic churches, Spanish squares and cobblestone streets. While its easy to get overwhelmed by the must-see attractions Old Quito offers, it is also important to take a behind the scene look into Quito’s artists and traditions.

You may pass by these tiny stores, not realizing they hold a part of Ecuadorian history, so make sure to pay attention and watch out for these highly recommended stops.

Restauraciones Carrion

(Carrion’s Restorations), Imbabura 823 y Rocafuerte

artist in Quito restores Baby Jesus dolls

Here you will find hundreds of chipped, burned and discolored statues of Baby Jesus of all sizes. It is a tradition in Ecuadorian households to keep a Baby Jesus in the living room, typically dressed in the occupation of the family members. You can see Jesus doctor, farmer and even a soldier carrying a gun. 

The statue is considered to be a part of the family and instead of throwing of replacing a broken one, Ecuadorians bring it in to the restoration shop, sort of like they would take a family member to a doctor if something was wrong.

Some of the statues are made from paper mache, others are ceramic or plastic. The artist, Gonzalo Carrion, uses a special family secret recipe to create the color of skin that makes the dolls looks natural. He says this skin color is also good for treating human skin diseases, so he bottles them up and sells it in his store, although it is not used as make up.

Baby Jesus dolls in Quito, Ecuador

 

Colociones Cruz Verde (Sweets in Green Cross Area)

Bolivar 8-97 y Chimborazo

candy shop in Quito, EcuadorThe traditional candy shop run by Luis Banda, makes sweets the same old fashioned way that his family has been doing for generations. He uses a heavy bottomed wok heated with charcoal and continuously rocks it with a rope. Molasses, nuts and coloring are added to it to make different concoctions. The locals eat these sweets as a midday snack between 10-11am and pack them for road trips.

 

Sombrereria Benal Cazar

Av. 24 de Mayo

hat shop in Quito, EcuadorCesar has been running his family hat shop for over 50 years. Hats have always been an important part of the Ecuadorian culture, as different ethnic and social groups were identified by their hats. The porters wore a flat white hat, while the countryside folks wore another rounded style. Rich landlords wore tall black hats.

Cesar hand makes every hat in his closet size work room behind the store using traditional ways. The shop sells hats, costumes and sandals that are worn during carnival and festivals. At new years eve, people wear masks, mostly faces of previous presidents.

traditional hat shop in QuitoRead more about Ecuador.

Cruise Ships and Naturalists Conserve the Galapagos Islands

Often times, once a destination gains popularity, tour companies and travelers pour in from around the world, threatening the sanctity of the place. Finding a balance between allowing for outside visitors and not destroying the natural habitats, can be a challenging feat. It was however, humbling to see the extent of preservation initiatives in the Galapagos National Parks of Ecuador during my recent visit.

First, I found that tour operators must pay a significant license fee to the park to obtain permits. These can range from $25-100k, depending on how many guests the tour agency plans to bring per year and how much they charge per person. Once the National Park gives permissions to visit the Galapagos Islands, they assign itineraries that must be strictly followed. This means that the tour companies are told which routes to take, which islands they can visit at what times of day, how long to spend there, etc. By doing so the Park ensures that visitors don’t constantly walk around in the same areas and disturb the wildlife each and every day. It also means that tour operators cannot travel the same route two consecutive weeks and have to offer different programs to their clients.

cruise ships in the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador

Visiting Galapagos Islands by small to medium size cruise ships is very popular. Private boats can be arranged for 10+ passengers, while most vessels are designed for 16. There are also a few ships that take 100 passengers at a time. Unlike other cruise docks, the ships and boats in the Galapagos are only allowed to anchor themselves far from land. Most islands do not have a port, so transfers have to be made via water landing. Even the islands that have small ports, such as San Cristobal and  Santa Cruz, allow only fishing boats to be parked near the docks. When travelers get out for day excursions, they have to transfer from the cruise boat to land via panga (dinghies). Even when going kayaking and snorkeling, they have to jump off the panga at the sites. As a result, you could see sea lions, iguanas and pelicans welcoming visitors at every island. It seems they did not feel threatens by humans, as the boats here do not produce loud noises or oil spills.

panga used for water landing in the Galapagos Islands

Thirdly, naturalists who work for the park accompanied the tourists throughout their tours. It is required by the Park to have at least 1 naturalist for every 16 passengers, although companies like Ecoventura organize 2. They not only educate visitors about the flora, fauna and history of the Galapagos, but also act as eyes and ears of the park. They made sure that the humans did not touch the animals, walked off the trails or wandered on their own. The naturalists were required to report any hazards seen on the islands to the park authorities.

sea lions resting on the beach in Galapagos Islands

While most islands in the Galapagos looked pristinely beautiful with white sand beaches and turquoise blue waters, water currants would occasionally bring debris on to shore. It was good to see that the naturalists made sure to collect any garbage they saw. They even asked the passengers to collect it during our excursion and took it back to the boat for proper disposal.

naturalist pick up trash from the Galapagos IslandRead more about the sustainability efforts of the Ecuador based cruise ship company, Ecoventura.

Read more about our experiences with the Galapagos Sea Lions.

Galapagos Sea Lions

I was so impressed by the sea lions on the Galapagos Islands, that I decided to post a photo blog just about them. The first time I saw a sea lion in the wild was when we set out to board our Ecoventura cruise “The Letty” on San Cristobal island. All the passengers got very excited and started taking photos of the handful of sea lions resting on one of the abandoned boats.

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Little did we know that over the course of the next one week, we will be spotting more sea lions than humans.

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The Galápagos sea lion (Zalophus wollebaeki) is a species of sea lion that exclusively breeds on the Galapagos Islands and – in smaller numbers – on Isla de la Plata, also in Ecuador. Being fairly social, and one of the most populous species in the Galápagos archipelago, they are often spotted sun-bathing on sandy shores or rock groups or gliding gracefully through the surf. (Source: Wikipedia)

sea lions1Both male and female sea lions have a pointy, whiskered nose and somewhat long, narrow muzzle. The young pups are almost dog-like in profile. Another characteristic that defines the sea lion are their external ear-like pinnae flaps which distinguish them from their close relative with which they are often confused, the seal.

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Breeding in sea lions takes place from May through January. The cow will nurture a pup for up to three years. In that time, the mom (known as cow) and the pup will recognize each other’s bark from the rest of the colony.We were able to see lots of pups chasing their moms, making demanding sounds and sucking on milk. The age of maturity for Galápagos sea lions is estimated at about 4–5 years. The total life span of Galapagos Sea Lions is estimated to be at 15–24 years.

When wet, sea lions are a shade of dark brown, but once dry, their color varies greatly. The females tend to be a lighter shade than the males and the pups a chestnut brown. Born with a longer, brownish-black fur, a pup’s coat gradually fades to brown within the first five months of life. At this time, they get their adult coat.

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Majority of the 20,000-50,000 Galápagos sea lion population is protected, as the islands are a part of the Ecuadorian National Park surrounded by a marine resources reserve. Although the Galápagos Islands are a popular tourist destination, strict rules protect all wildlife from disturbance. Their main threats come from el Niño weather events, sharks and killer whales.

Galapagos sea lions in front of light house

With a life that revolves around swimming in crystal blue waters, sun basking on white sand beaches, an occasional neck stretch and harmonious mates, what more can a Galapagos sea lion ask for?