Destination: Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands
Subject: Dan Austin, Director of Operations of AUSTIN
Today Norm Goldman, Editor
of Sketchandtravel and regular contributor to Lovetripper.com is pleased
to have as a guest Dan Austin, an expert on travel to Ecuador & the
Norm: Please tell our readers something about yourself and your
expertise pertaining to Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands.
Dan: Norm, my title is Director for Austin Lehman Adventures.
As Director I am responsible for the day- to- day operations of the company.
I have been at this a little over 10 years now and love it. For the last
10 years I have had the incredible opportunity to spend endless hours
with our guests and have really honed in on what it is that makes a great
adventure vacation. I have taken these key learnings and built trips all
over the Americas, most recently a new trip in the Galapagos and Ecuador.
After years of research and development, I spent a good part of this last
summer in South America with my family putting the final touches on this
great new program. My kids are often my guinea pigs for testing a new
is Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands and how easy is it to travel from
the United States, Canada or Europe to this country?
Dan: Ecuador is relatively small country (about the size of Colorado)
bordered by Columbia (to the North), Peru (to the South and East) and
the Pacific Ocean to the West. It straddles the Equator. The Galapagos
Islands are located approximately 600 miles to the west in the Pacific.
I need to emphasize that Ecuador is a lot more than just the launching
spot for the Galapagos; it is a truly amazing country in itself. Rich
with history and culture.
It really is quite easy to get to, in the same time zone as the Rocky
Mountain States. You can fly non- stop to Quito (The capital and second
largest city) from several US Airports, including Houston and Miami. Planes
depart Quito for the Galapagos, scheduled to rendezvous with the ships
that support the island tourist trade.
Quito is centrally located at about 9,000 feet and is the gateway to the
jungles, the Andes and the Galapagos. It is a city worth spending some
time in, one of the oldest cities in the Americas. Walk the cobblestone
streets and visit the 16th century churches and you will feel like you
stepped back in time.
you consider Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands a good choice for a romantic
getaway or wedding and honeymoon destination? Why?
Dan: Norm, I found the Haciendas of the highlands of Ecuador amazing.
People still live much as they did centuries ago. The locals were so friendly
and accommodating. Riding horseback high into the Andes is sure to set
off the romantic in any of us.
I am sure anyone would agree that sunset on a yacht; sailing off the coast
of exotic and remote islands is as romantic as it gets. Spending the day
swimming, snorkelling and hiking amongst the wildlife and then returning
to the luxurious comfort of a small yacht for a nice sunset dinner, a
little wine and relaxation, one forgets about the day-to-day grind back
home. Then there is the unlimited stargazing on deck as you relax in the
moonlight. Well, you get the picture.
If you had to choose five unequalled venues in Ecuador and the Galapagos
for a romantic getaway, honeymoon or wedding destination, what would they
be and why?
Dan: Thats a tough one. I think I would start with Quito and the
Swiss Hotel. The service is exceptional, the rooms comfortable and
the location to Colonial Quito excellent.
I would then say a trip to the highlands and one of the historic Haciendas
would be next in line, example: Hosteria Hacienda Pinsaqui. A charming
hacienda constructed in 1790 as a textile workshop. Located just outside
Otavalo, makes a trip to the famous Otavalo Indian Market Place an easy
Then of course it would have to be a week aboard a yacht (like
the M/S Alta a 125ft motor yacht). Sailing the islands of the Galapagos
by night and exploring the variety of islands by day.
An extension into the Amazon jungles and a few nights at a tent
camp would be an incredible experience and a chance to really
I would also suggest that as long as one is as far south as Ecuador an
extension into Peru would be quite worthwhile. Depending on the
time available, heading to Cusco and the heart of the Incan Empire and
staying at places as romantic as the Hotel Montasterio (a five-star
museum hotel, once a 16th century monastery) would make anyones
vacation highlight reel.
Norm: What should people know about celebrating a wedding in Ecuador
and the Galapagos from the point of view of requirements, experience of
the various hotels, etc.
Dan: I would first suggest they work with a good ground operator
like Austin-Lehman or one of the others. Work with someone with contacts
in country and that knows the lay of the land. There are several
good books on the market; one of my favourites is Frommers South
America. This book is filled with resources and good quality tourist information.
Any of the many five star hotels would also be a good source of information
and all too happy to assist.
Since things change constantly in South America as a general rule of thumb,
checking with the Ministerio de Turismo is a good plan. But
dont expect too much. Also check with the Tourist Information Center,
a center put together by a group of hotels and tour operators. They can
be found on the web at the TOURISM
INFORMATION CENTER, unfortunately it is in Spanish, but you can get
to some great links from there. Another one (In English) is ECUATORIANISIMO
Norm: How far
in advance should a couple prepare themselves for their honeymoon, romantic
getaway or wedding in Ecuador and the Galapagos?
Dan: Since the Galapagos has such limited access the farther out
one can plan the better. Six months would be a good target to have your
plans in place. That is not to say that one should give up if they do
not have that much lead-time, there is often last minute space, and it
is always worth a call.
Norm: How safe is it to travel to Ecuador
and the Galapagos?
Dan: Quito is like any Third World big city, one just needs to
be aware of their surroundings and not put themselves in a dubious situation
that can be avoided. That said, I traveled throughout the area with my
teenage children and never once felt threatened or concerned. Traveling
with a guide is always the best answer, these are professionals (some
of the best I have ever met) and they know their way around. Due to the
remoteness of the Galapagos it is basically crime free.
What is the best time to visit Ecuador
and the Galapagos from the point of view of weather, costs, crowds, and
the availability of flights from the USA, Canada and Europe and Australia,
Dan: Since Ecuador and the Galapagos straddle the Equator, anytime of
year is fine. There are very slight differences in the seasons, all having
their pros and cons. The peak season has nothing to do with
weather; it is from June through September, as this is when most Americans
and Europeans have vacation time.
As for weather in the Galapagos, June through September the air and water
are a bit chillier and the winds will be present on most days. From October
through May, the weather will be a bit warmer, but you can expect light
showers almost daily.
In the jungles it rains year round, but especially hard from December
through April. Temperatures average 80-90 degrees by day with cooler nights.
Humidity hovers between 75-100%.
Around Quito and the highlands, you need to remember youre starting
out at about 9,000ft. June through September is considered the dry season,
and the days are the coolest of the year. Last August we encountered a
snow- storm at 11,000 ft while hiking in the highlands. The temperature
really only varies a few degrees year round, with day time highs in the
high 60s and night time lows in the high 50s.
Norm: Could you give our readers an idea
of the costs involved if travel originates from the USA or Canada?
Dan: Norm, traveling to South America is so unique in that you can travel
at any expense level you desire. If you want to travel on a budget, you
can stay in hostels and low budget rooms for dollars a day or you can
go the Four Seasons route and experience South America in the lap of luxury
or any place in between. The Galapagos of course is a bit different in
that there really is limited access and the best way to see the islands
is by yacht and the best yachts are not cheap.
Airfare from the US is like airfare anywhere, it varies up and down, based
on time of year and demand. You can expect to pay in the neighbourhood
of $600-$800 to get to Quito from most major cities and another $390.00
to get to the Galapagos from there.
For a first class experience encompassing the best of Ecuador and the
Galapagos I would allow upwards of $400.00 a day.
Norm: What resources
are available on the Internet pertaining to weddings and honeymoon vacations
in Ecuador and the Galapagos?
Dan: Again, I think
I would start with the Tour Operators, they really know how to put these
things together best. If youre determined to go it alone, start
Tourism Information Center at TOURISM
INFORMATION CENTER. From there you will find endless links to other
great websites and resources. Probably the best site I have found is Exploring
Ecuador -- there really is a lot of good information and links on
this site. And of course your readers can just go to AUSTIN
LEHMAN ADVENTURES and let us do all the work.