Vacation of a Lifetime
This is a trip that you will likely do once in your lifetime so I would make sure you give it the time it deserves. I would plan to spend about 5 days in the Galapagos and 2 days in Machu Picchu. Since both places are VERY hard to get to, you need to build in travel time in your schedule. I explain more about the logistics below.
Chris always plans our trips and he still weighed in on this one, but Kensington Tours handled many of the details. They did a wonderful job. We traveled seamlessly, with peace of mind. They even printed out a magazine style itinerary for us. It was a nice touch! I would not recommend traveling without guidance unless you are very familiar with the countries. I felt much more secure having guides meeting us every step of the way.
This was the part that Chris meticulously researched. To see the Galapagos Islands, you really have to be on a boat. And the boats here are all owned and operated by Ecuadorian companies so if you are looking for the latest Caribbean Cruise ship, you won’t find it here. We decided to cruise on the Galapagos Legend because it was one of the faster, newer boats. It is also the largest which no doubt mitigates waves. The last thing you want is to get seasick on your vacation. They also catered to children (some cruises did not). We got two adjoining junior suites which were lovely. The windows were very large which made the cabins feel even bigger!
We did a 4-day cruise, which felt like enough time.
Traveling by Zodiac
While on the ship, you can stay as busy as you want. The schedule is ultimately up to you. The crew offered excursions/hikes in the morning and usually a snorkel/dive in the afternoon. You took a Zodiac (pictured above) from the ship to your island or snorkel destination by Zodiac. They split you up into animal groups (about 15 people) and then called your group over the loudspeaker when they were ready to depart. We were the “Dolphins,” which was fitting since I am a Le Moyne College Dolphin.
Espanola Island is the first island we visited and probably my favorite. You climbed out of the Zodiac onto a rock path filled with crabs. The crabs swiftly parted as you walked along the path onto the island where you were greeted by fearless sea lions and prehistoric looking Marine Iguanas. The giant Marine Iguanas can swim and drink salt water, which is how they survive and thrive here. The sea lions acted more like dogs, taking long naps, playing with sticks and even swimming alongside you. They don’t have predators in the Galapagos so they are not at all afraid of people. (Note the baby sea lion near me in the picture above) It’s like being in a zoo with no walls.
On our second day, we traveled to Floreana Island. This is where you saw Blue Footed Boobies (the birds with the blue feet and slate blue beaks) and also Flamingos. Again, this is NOT a zoo… these Flamingos were just hanging out. I loved the stark black volcanic islands jutting out against the light blue sea. The Galapagos Islands were formed by volcanoes. The landscape is very similar to the Big Island in Hawaii.
Santa Cruz Island
Another amazing highlight was seeing the Giant Tortoises that you can only find in two places globally. They get up to 500 pounds and live up to 130 years. It takes 5 men to move just one. They are really cool to watch! We walked around in a sanctuary where they release the turtles. It was like walking around a real-life Jurassic Park!! It is surreal. It’s also very muddy, but don’t worry, they provide boots.
Santa Cruz Island was the most jungle-like of all the islands filled with tropical trees, plants and flowers.
Another bucket list destination…? Machu Picchu. Getting there can be tricky. We had to fly into Lima, Peru and then stay overnight. Then we flew from Lima to Cusco. We stayed overnight again and took a train the next day. We spent a couple nights in Cusco going to and from Machu Picchu. I loved Cusco! It’s a beautiful city…
Cusco is at 11,000 feet. For those that aren’t used to altitude… I strongly recommend drinking a LOT of water, taking a couple Advil if you get a mild headache and staying away from alcohol. I also wouldn’t overdo it your first several hours. Think about checking into your hotel and then taking it easy.
In Cusco, we stayed at the Belmond Hotel Monasterio. It’s such a gorgeous hotel! We were lucky enough to be there on opera night. We dined at the restaurant and listened to two opera singers perform. It was magic! Opera is so moving and beautiful… I would say this hotel is on our personal “Top 10” list!
I think there is a lot of confusion about how you get to the top of Machu Picchu. People kept asking me if my kids could handle the hike. Well, there isn’t a hike. I wore jeans! You take a bus up a switchback road to the top of the mountain. You hike a tiny bit and tour around the ancient city ruins. When you are finished touring, you head back down the mountain on the bus. In other words, it’s pretty simple for kiddos. That said; this is NOT a place to bring someone on crutches, a toddler on the run, the elderly who have trouble getting around, etc. You climb the original Inca granite steps! I would recommend waiting until your kids are at least 5-years old.
Machu Picchu is extraordinary in many ways, but here is the headline: 1) The view is unreal and 2) It is fascinating to see the Incan architecture. You can’t understand how they built this city. Scientists estimate it took 30,000 people working EVERY DAY for 50 years to finish it!
You can also hike into Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail. There are several day tour options for that trip.
In Machu Picchu, we stayed at the Inkaterra Hotel and it was fabulous! You can see our cool room above, which the kids loved because it had a second story loft. It felt like you were staying in the most posh jungle hut.
You take a train to get in and out of Machu Picchu from Cusco. There are some luxury train options. We took the regular PeruRail train and it was lovely. This guy came out and danced with the passengers while traditional Peruvian pan-flute music played.
Chris and I love traveling and see it not only as an educational opportunity for the kids but also an opportunity for us to have a new adventure! We both feel that having a trip planned gives us something exciting and meaningful to look forward to, which is important to us. I can’t wait to start planning our next big adventure!
You might like to read about our trip to Iceland here. Or perhaps what we did in Japan here. I’ll cover packing and what I wore in another post. I linked some of the heavy hitters from my suitcase below.
What is one of your favorite trips of all time?? Please share in the comments below.