I am often asked which country or place is the best option to travel with family, as we have been making family trips with our daughter since she was 2 months old. We can now put Ecuador, the Amazon, and the Galapagos high on that list of places that are AMAZING options for family travel!
We started our time in Ecuador with a couple of days in Quito and a pre-arranged private driver/guide. Quito is a beautiful city, high in the Andes Mountains and definitely worth a day or 2 to visit. Highlights for us were the Equator Line, the historic centre of town and meeting the families of our local guides who were eager to share their city with us, introduce us to some Ecuadorian food and practice their English. The ceviche was excellent, and having popcorn in our soup for the first time instead of crackers was a novel thing (but soon to become a regular part of our daily diet). In the evening we met with our Galapagos group for the first time.
We chose a land based, small group active trip with G Adventures for our time in the Galapagos which we were able to do as our daughter is now 15 years old and can fully participate in all the ‘active’ options. These included biking down a volcano, sea kayaking, hiking, and snorkelling – both off the beach and in the deep waters off the boat at Kicker Rock. There are MANY options for visiting the Galapagos and they are all excellent!
We arrived on the island of San Cristobal by plane and after checking into our hotel we walked to our lunch spot, discovering sea lions all over the streets as our welcoming committee for this island. We have sea lions here at home in BC, but never this close up, and never this many! We were all like kids as we watched them sleep, play, swim and hang out on the streets, benches, roads – everywhere! It’s like when you go on safari in Africa and come home with a few hundred photos of elephants or zebra.
After lunch we headed inland and up to the highlands to collect our bikes. Biking down a volcano did have some uphill sections, but it was great to do something active and it ended at a beach for our first chance to see marine iguanas and do some swimming and relaxing on the beach – with sea lions! Our whole family are animal lovers – seeing that look of amazement and happiness on our daughter’s face is something that I’ll never forget – absolutely priceless!
Our second day on San Cristobal was spent out on the water in a boat. We had our first snorkelling opportunity in deep water, at Kicker Rock. This area is a fantastic spot to swim with sea lions, sea turtles, all kinds of fish and is also a great spot to see sharks. Reef sharks and hammerheads were there the day that we spent time snorkelling and I will say that while our daughter was keen to participate – she was very nervous about getting into the water initially and we had to get her pushed off the boat to get in. But, once in the water, seeing all the amazing creatures swimming with us, none of us wanted to get out! The sea lions are very curious, and love to play/swim and grab/bite at your flippers then get up close to see what your camera is.
Again, this is one of those experiences that we will remember sharing as a family for a long time – a glimpse into another world and truly amazing! And the sharks are all ‘resting’ at the bottom of the channel – so a relief for everyone.
Our second island was Floreana – which has only a couple hundred inhabitants. We had the opportunity to snorkel right off the black beaches here, swimming with some giant sea turtles, stingray and the ever present and curious sea lions.
Our 3rd stop was Isabela and I think it was our daughter’s favourite island. As we arrived and disembarked our boat, waiting for our luggage to be brought ashore, we were looking at all the animals – sea lions, frigate birds, cormorants, pelicans – and suddenly we see swimming right below us a group of Galapagos penguins. Our daughter had tears in her eyes as she got to see them in ‘real life’ for the first time! We had a chance to try out sea kayaking in the sheltered coves around the island – which was a first for us as a family, and got up close to more penguins and some Blue Footed Boobies.
Our 4th and final island was the island of Santa Cruz – which has the highest population and has seen tourism for the longest time – being the first, and for many years only island with an airport. While here we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station and headed up into the highlands to see the Galapagos Giant Tortoises in their natural habitat. The tortoise are incredible to see. Such awkward looking animals, but they do get around!
Our time in the Galapagos was incredible – full of activities as well as a great learning experience for all as we learned not only about the animals of the land, sea and air that call these islands home, but also how they have adapted over time, as well as the islands themselves and how they were created out of volcanic activity and continue to change.
After our time in the Galapagos we decided to add on a quick trip to the Amazon in Ecuador. This was our first time in the Amazon – and it’s known for its flora and fauna as well as many ‘creatures’ that live in the jungles. Like the Galapagos, there are many ways to visit the Amazon – everything from home stays with local families, boats and basic to luxury lodges. We opted for a mid-range eco-lodge and after a drive through the cloud forest of mainland Ecuador we arrived at our boat launch to our lodge.
Our first activity in the Amazon was a nightwalk. After dinner we put on rubber boots, grabbed our flashlights, and with a local Quichua guide, went searching for all those creepy crawlies. It was fascinating to learn where to find all these creatures (although our daughter’s question every single time we found one was, “is it poisonous?!”)
At breakfast the next morning we found the largest spider right beside the pool – a baby tarantula. Really cool. We also visited a clay lick that has hundreds of parrots who visit early each morning, saw a monkey nearby and had another walk in the jungle with our guide to learn more about how the Quichua live and the way they use the plants to eat and treat different ailments. We enjoyed some relaxing in the swimming pool (keeping an eye out for creepy crawlies) and slept to the sound of the rains pounding on the roof of our lodge at night.
We all loved our time in Ecuador and would definitely go back to see more of the mainland – there is so much to see in this country and we really only touched on it. Horseback riding in the highlands is another great option for families and something we just didn’t have time for this trip. I’ve said it before in other posts: travelling as a family is the best experience. There are so many opportunities for learning; cultures, languages, food, architecture, and wildlife. It’s also a wonderful way to connect as a family and come home with memories that will last a lifetime!
Click through the gallery below to see all of Laura’s photos from Galapagos Islands & the Amazon of Ecuador!