How to Travel the Galápagos Without a Cruise

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We just spent four wonderful nights in the Galápagos Islands without leaving the main hub of Puerto Ayora. 🌴 It took us a while to plan a trip here because we mistakenly thought you needed to take a cruise or guided tour to enjoy the islands. But that’s not the case—we had a blast exploring everything Santa Cruz Island had to offer.

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Tour Review: G Adventures Southern Discovery (or Southern Explorer Part 1)

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This trip could be done individually as the Southern Discovery or together with Southern Highlights as the Southern Explorer. Each part runs from Saturday to Saturday, so it’s designed well for Americans who can only take a week off from work at a time.

I was on the Southern Explorer, but I decided to split my review since we had a different tour manager and new travel mates for each part.

My Travel Style

First, in reading a review from me, you should know that I’m picky about pretty much everything except for accommodations. I can sleep just about anywhere, so long as it’s fairly clean and safe and doesn’t have too many bugs (this probably stems from my earlier hosteling days), but I still appreciate a nice vs. dingy hotel.

Also, I travel with tours mostly for the convenience, social interaction, and safety as a solo female traveller. However, I strongly dislike the super touristy things that often accompany a guided trip, such as glass blowing demonstrations and “authentic experiences” that are staged for tourists. It is essential for me to be able to wander freely and immerse into the true culture of a place. Trips that don’t allow for that are not for me.

Included Activities

G Adventures was a very good resource for my style of travel. The scheduled activities we did as a group included visiting a vineyard and a small ski resort on a volcano, and a beautiful lake crossing from Chile to Argentina.

The only touristy optional activity I did was a tango lesson followed by a dinner performance, and as far as these types of events go, it was actually a really nice experience. The venue was small, the performance was good (a little weird at times with flashing lights and airplane sound effects, but eh), and overall it was fun to learn a few tango steps from Alejandro 🙂

Since I am a really picky eater, but also like to experience local dining, I liked that there were no included dinners on this trip and that most hotels were located within walking distance to dining options.

Ease of Travel

This was my first trip with G Adventures. It is considered their “comfort” tour (pretty much meaning better accommodations and easier travel) and had a low physical grade. I can say, as someone who has physical restrictions, that it was perfectly fine for me, and if you wanted more physical activities, there were plenty of opportunities to hike, cycle, kayak, etc. Also, I didn’t have any problems bringing a roller luggage bag instead of a backpack (most people had roller bags).

Demographics

There were 16 travelers on this tour (the max allowed), which was a really nice size group – not so big that it slows you down or you feel like cattle, and not so small that you don’t have enough people to talk to.

The majority of the group consisted of single female travelers in their 30s. There were two couples and one solo male traveler. One of the couples was recently retired, and they fit in well with the group of thirty-somethings. I think if you are an active and engaging retiree (like my folks), you’d probably enjoy G Adventures more than the typical retiree tours.

Santiago to Northern Patagonia

I didn’t experience much of Santiago, but our visit to the vineyard was very nice. The winery owner gave an engaging, informative, and entertaining presentation, followed by a tasting in a cute little rustic room overlooking the vineyard.

If you get to Santiago and are disappointed in the quality and location of the hotel, don’t fret! It was pretty dingy and the morning coffee was not drinkable (at least the breakfast was edible). However, Santiago was no indication of what lay ahead.

The next stop in Puerto Varas made up for it. Our hotel there was fantastic! The view of the lake and volcano were amazing and visible from the room, lobby, and restaurant. It rained a bit, which is to be expected in this region. At least we had amazing weather for our volcano exploration!

Bariloche was equally beautiful and the hotel, although situated outside of town, was very nice. Taxis into town were easy to arrange, and the 20-30 minute walk was exceptionally scenic.

The tour ends with only one night in Buenos Aires. I would recommend spending an extra night in Buenos Aires at the end of the trip so that you have a full day to explore the city.

Tour Manager

Our tour manager, Viviana was great! She is from Argentina, so it was nice to have her local perspective. She was very easy going, always helpful and available, and organized suggested activities and meals if we wanted to do things as a group.

Language: Although it’s not critical, you will have a much easier time if you can speak a little Spanish in restaurants, taxis, and at hotel reception. If your Spanish is rusty (like mine), brush up a bit for those three scenarios or stick close to someone who’s Spanish skills are better than yours!

Vegetarians: I eat a mostly vegetarian/pescetarian diet. This was slightly challenging since most options included beef, but there was usually at least one veggie option on each menu. The staple vegetariano selection was a sandwich with lettuce, tomato, avocado, and cheese or you could get pasta dishes at better restaurants. There were vegetarian restaurants in most cities too – even Bariloche.

Also, to experience the local dishes, many restaurants had veggie empanadas. If you eat fish, you’ll have no problem in most cities.

Overall: I’m sure you can tell that I really enjoyed this trip. I met great people, saw an incredibly beautiful region, and even got to relax a bit more than the typical tour would allow. Try to go when the weather is supposed to be clear, and you will have an amazing experience!