Tips before traveling to Galapagos
Even though planning your vacation to Ecuador or the Galapagos Islands might seem like preparing for a trip to Paradise, there's still a lot to think about to make it the ideal island retreat, jungle adventure or Andean experience; so consider some of these tips before traveling, and you're sure to have a great time:
- Pack in advance: Your number one motto for international travel is “Be prepared.” If you wait until the last minute to pack your suitcase, you will likely find you need to buy something additional or will forget something, and it could be something important. But if you pack a week in advance, you can review your packing list and double-check that you haven't left anything out.
- Pack for the multiple climates of Ecuador: Even if you're leaving home in the bitterly cold winter months of the northern hemisphere, remember that you will be landing in sunny Ecuador. The mountainous capital city, Quito, of the Sierra region, has a more temperate climate, so if this is your destination or even your layover on your trip elsewhere, pack a sweater for the chilly evenings. If your destination is the Galapagos Islands or anywhere else along the coast or in the Amazon, be prepared for heat. There is one thing in common with all Ecuador destinations: an intense Equatorial sun. Bring high SPF block, sunglasses and a hat. Here's a packing list for the Amazon region laselvajunglelodge.com/html/amazon-jungle-lodge/what-to-bring.html.
- Pack Light: Seasoned travelers will all tell you that this can make your trip much more pleasurable. That said, if you hire your trip through Columbus Travel, it's very likely you'll have someone to help you with baggage every step of the way once you get through customs. And if you just can't manage to pack light, weigh your bags. Most airlines will allow you to have 1-2 checked bags of 50 lbs or less per person, plus a carry-on and a personal item. Different airlines have different size requirements, so consult their website before packing.
- Make the most out of the space: To make the most out of your limited space, consider rolling your clothes. This is a trick backpackers swear by, as it will save space in your suitcase. If you're still pressed for room, put your clothes in freezer bags and compress the air out of them before sealing the bags.
- Save room for souvenirs: Only you know how many souvenirs you will be purchasing on your trip, but it's generally a good idea to think about that when packing so that you have enough space for everything on the trip home.
- Buy last-minute items before leaving: If you realize you need something else for your trip, buy the item in the United States. Airport and international prices on almost everything are higher because of how much it costs to import something. Buying things in your local stores at home before leaving will save you a lot of money in the long run.
- Pack extra batteries, chargers, and an empty water bottle: Batteries and chargers are easy to forget if they are plugged in at home or left in a drawer or closet, but don't let your camera or phone die on the second day because you forgot to pack extra batteries or the charger.
- Water bottles are a great way to save money on disposable plastic bottles. It's not recommended to drink tap water in Ecuador, but most hotels and cruises have drinking water available to refill your bottle. Just remember that airports do not allow more than 3 oz. of liquid through security, so it's best to leave it empty until you are through the gate.
- Tag your baggage visibly: Your name, email, phone and address should also be on the suitcase.
- Make sure everything you will need in your carry-on is accessible: This includes your Passport, Boarding pass, earplugs and headphones, any reading material, a laptop and charger, your cell phone, and an umbrella just in case it is raining upon your arrival.
- Make sure your Passport is up-to-date. This is easy to forget but entirely vital while traveling internationally. Passports are only valid for 10 years since their last approval, and for minors only until they are 18-years-old. Applying for or renewing a Passport is an easy process, but can take many months, so think about this well in advance of your trip. It's also a good idea to bring your driver's license or other forms of identification just to be safe.
- Make copies of your Passport: You can email yourself a digital copy of all of your important documents and you can also put these in different locations throughout your luggage. If you lose your Passport, you don't want to be stranded without a way to get home.
- Print your boarding passes for the plane: Most airlines now offer e-tickets or mobile boarding passes as well if you have a smartphone. Just make sure you know how to access this before arriving at the airport. You should always have a copy of your pass and reservation, just in case.
- Confirm all of your itinerary information: Before leaving, call your hotel or travel agency to confirm all of the logistical details of your trip. Many companies and hotels will coordinate your entire vacation, but if you are leaving this in their hands, then always confirm that they have planned everything according to your needs and desires.
- Keep a copy of emergency contact information: You should have a copy of all of the important phone numbers and emails for friends and family at home, and vice versa. Many people prefer to use their vacation as a retreat from the worries of home, but don't let an emergency while on vacation ruin the trip – give your home contacts your hotel's or cruise line's information in the event of an emergency.
- Have your travel agency's and hotel's contact information on-hand: On packaged tours, you'll almost always have someone from the agency you booked with that meets you at the airport when you arrive. But it's better to be safe than sorry in case a mix up happens with your pickup.
- Bring your wallet with some cash, a debit card and a credit card: Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar, so there is no need to convert your money. However, as a tourist, there is a stereotype that foreigners carry more money, making you a target for pickpockets, so it's better to carry only the money you will need for traveling and your first few days in country. Once you arrive at your destination, most large towns and cities have local ATMs to withdraw money from your account. Credit cards (Visa/Mastercard and to a lesser extent American Express) are commonly accepted in restaurants, stores and hotels. It's a very good idea to advise your bank before your departure that you will be using it internationally, so that they do not freeze your card for unusual foreign charges.
- Use discretion when packing jewelry and valuables: It's not bad to pack a few elegant accessories for a finer dinner or a romantic evening, but remember that the more you pack to travel, the more you risk losing if the airline loses your bag or if someone steals your luggage.
- Buy traveler's insurance before leaving: This is important to have to be prepared for the unexpected – lost baggage, emergency medical procedures, stolen property, etc. Companies like World Nomads offer competitive prices for great coverage.
- Get your vaccines: Check with your physician before leaving and see what specific vaccinations they recommend for your region of travel. For tourists to Ecuador, the Center for Disease Control recommends Hepatitis A, Yellow Fever, and Typhoid vaccinations, but depending where you travel within Ecuador, one or more of these many not be needed.
- Check travel advisories and weather reports: It's always good to know what's going on in your destination country or city. This is as much a safety precaution as it is a helpful tool for travel. The more you know about a country's current events, the more you will be able to interact and get to know the locals. Planning for the weather is always important, especially if you're traveling during Ecuador's rainy season between late December and late April.
- Figure out how you will make international calls: If you own a GSM phone (ATT in US and most operators in Europe) you may be able to either use international roaming (very expensive!) or buy a chip in Ecuador from operators Claro or Movistar along with a prepaid voice and/or data plan. Other travelers opt to buy a cheap cell phone ($40+) and prepaid plan. See this article for a complete review of phones in Ecuador. If you are bringing your computer, tablet, or smartphone, a cheaper and easier option would be to arrange Skype calls or Internet calls. Most hotels have WiFi access. There are also online phone services, like Pingo and Skype Calling, which allow you to call from your online account to a landline or cell phone for a small rate.
- Remember to respect the culture and society of your destination: In Ecuador, you are the foreigner. The more Spanish you speak, the easier it will be for you to enjoy your experience. In tourist-heavy areas like the Galapagos, Quito, Cuenca, and Guayaquil, almost everyone in the business will be bilingual, so you don't have to worry about communicating; but it does show greater respect if you attempt to communicate in their first language.
- Always ask before taking a picture of a person: Of course you will want to capture the whole experience to share with loved ones at home, but be sensitive to the fact that if you travel to places like the Amazon or other indigenous regions of the country, the people are inviting you into their homes and into their lives, and it's important to ask their permission before snapping a picture. A good rule of thumb for this is, “Take pictures of stories that you experience, not random places and people.”
Checklist for leaving your home
- Before leaving home, turn everything off and unplug it: Since you will be away from your house for an extended amount of time (more than 24 hours), it is a smart idea to turn everything off, unplug it, and switch the circuits off in the breaker. This serves multiple functions: 1) It will save you money on electricity. There's no reason to keep power running to an empty house, especially with things like the air-conditioner or heater. 2) It will protect your house against power surges and other potential electrical hazards. Just remember not to unplug your refrigerator or security system.
- Lock all windows and doors.
- Empty all trash cans in the house.
- Have a friend or neighbor mind the house: Give your keys and the security code to a trusted friend, neighbor, or relative who can stop in every few days to pick up the mail and make sure that the house is in good shape.
Article writen by Brian Bayer January 2016.