Hiking around Quito & Galapagos trip
Feb 12 - Mar 2, 2023
Tl;dr: I’d absolutely use kimkim and work with Alvaro again! It was overall a great experience. I’ll admit, I was a bit uncertain about it at first — I like being fully in control of all planning, and I’ve never used a travel agency before. Turns out it’s incredible to have local help with trip planning. All our guides were great (Hugo especially — he was our guide during the hiking, and was simply incredible) and there wasn’t a day I didn’t enjoy. Alvaro was wonderful throughout the process, helping us plan the entire trip beforehand and during the trip was incredibly responsive (despite it being over holidays in Ecuador!) to help us solve any problems.
A few highlights of Alvaro’s helpfulness:
- Alvaro strongly encouraged us to keep the two rest days between our hiking in mainland Ecuador. We’re fit and used to hiking, so we were going to cut them out — and we were SO glad he insisted that we keep them. Hiking at altitude is totally different from at sea level; we appreciated the rest days.
- When our flight from Quito to the Galapagos was delayed, Alvaro had been tracking our flight and rescheduled our afternoon tour before we even messaged him about it. It was so nice not to have to worry about that or be contacting multiple people!
- We got altitude sickness during our acclimatizing hikes, so had to cancel our plan to hike Chimborazo. In the moment, Alvaro helped us make a new plan and adjust our accommodations for those nights. It was a little stressful to change plans last minute, but he made it extremely easy.
- One of our tour guides was late in picking us up and — despite it being 7:30AM — Alvaro helped us figure out what was going on and had the local guide come explain the situation. (The other people in our group tour had overslept.)
- We left our larger bags in the kimkim offices during our time in the Galapagos, and one of their drivers dropped it off with us at the airport to help us avoid an extra 90 minute drive to and from the airport. It really was the little things like this that made working with kimkim/Alvaro feel totally worthwhile. We would’ve had to rent a locker at the airport or something, and not having to deal with that hassle was a huge help.
Suggestions / things I would do differently:
- Know who your guide is each day. We never knew ahead of time who our guide was going to be, or if they’d be the same later. It would’ve been nice to know ahead of time that we’d have the same guide for all our hiking, for example. The pickup timing / structure was incredibly well coordinated, so we didn’t have trouble with finding/meeting our guide, but knowing who would repeat would’ve made tipping easier. And speaking of tipping…
- Figure out tipping expectations. Tipping is always confusing, all the time, but we still wish we’d’ve known more about norms. Alvaro gave us a general guideline to go off, which helped, but I wish we’d’ve asked him about specific days ahead of time.
- Get the direct contact info of your guides. While Alvaro was incredibly helpful, it would’ve been easier at times if we’d been able to communicate directly with our guides. One day our guide didn’t show up or communicate a delay to us (they arrived 90 minutes late, after we messaged Alvaro and he messaged them); another day we were at the departure spot in town, but had to walk back to our hotel for a pickup to drive us back there — it would’ve been nice to be able to just message the guide directly and tell them we’d meet them at the dock.
- Be well prepared for the weather, especially when hiking. We didn’t quite have the right expectations for the weather when hiking. I expect this is partially due to weather on mountains always being variable, but I wish we’d’ve been in contact directly with our guide beforehand to know how to prepare. (More notes in the daily activities, but tl;dr, we were colder than expected.)
Overall, kimkim made the entire travel experience much easier! Alvaro was incredible to work with and we appreciate all his help and expertise; truly the trip of a lifetime!
Catered toward tourists: it's located in a touristy / wealthy part of Quito, the staff speak English, overall it was a very comfortable stay. Within walking distance of Quito's historical center, good restaurants, and a supermarket. - Breakfast (included) was incredible, seriously the best hotel breakfast I've ever had. - They have a laundry service, but it's priced per item and very expensive -- we ended up washing clothes in the sink. - Rooms and grounds are clean and well-kept. - The lighting is incredibly harsh and white. This seems to be the norm in Ecuador, but wow was it brutal turning on the lights in the morning. - Dinner (not included) is just okay; I'd go elsewhere for dinner. - Staff is very helpful! We left bags at the desk for a day while hiking (one night of camping, before returning to the hotel) and it was no problem.
Isolated hacienda on a hobby farm -- it is not within walking distance of anything, so expect to stay and eat here. Their food is good though, so for a rest day it's a lovely place to be. - They own a few friendly dogs that we played with outside. - Charming rooms; beds had heated blankets because it was a bit chilly -- no problems with temp for us. Rustic-feeling, but clean and comfortable. - Breakfast was simple and tasty (toast, eggs, cold oatmeal-type dish, GREAT coffee) - Dinner options were limited -- not really a menu, more of a "this is what's for dinner tonight, or you can have a sandwich" -- and tasty. They did accommodate vegetarians!
We took a boat around the Santa Cruz bay, stopping to observe blue-footed boobies, learn about some of the unique animals of the Galapagos, and snorkel. The water is beautifully clear, the salt water buoyant, and there is SO MUCH wildlife, snorkeling is incredible. We were within meters of iridescent rainbow colored fish, sea turtles, starfish, sea lions, stingrays… so much to see.
On our first day, we went on a walking tour of the historical center of Quito and visited the equator. The historical center had beautiful old architecture, gold gilded churches, and a market where we ate local tropical fruit. We then visited the equator at the Intinan Museum and the fake equator at Mitad del Mundo. (As a bonus, we learned the process for making shriveled heads.) Incredible start to the trip!
We hiked Guagua Pichincha, an active volcano! It was very cloudy at the top, so we couldn’t see the crater, but we could definitely smell the sulfur. And could definitely feel the altitude — it does make hiking (walking, moving, breathing) harder. At least for us: one of the many stray dogs in Ecuador was with us for the entire hike, more often leading than following. Instead of hiking back the way we came, we “land skied” by sliding on our feet down a sheer slope of sandy rocks. Our shoes were filled with rocks, but it was super fun!
An absolutely beautiful hike up the dormant volcano Pasochoa. We had perfect weather for hiking — and for getting sunburned. Getting there by car may have been more treacherous than the hike itself — we drove down a narrow cobbled road with holes / ruts / ??? that could swallow a few humans. If we were driving, we never would’ve imagined a car could make it through. The summit itself was incredible, passing through a short, verdant rainforest-like section, then leaping over a small chasm. 10/10 would recommend.
This was our first hike above 5000m. The way up was challenging but great: we had nice weather, were feeling pretty good after our past two acclimatizing hikes, and there was lots to look at. We reached the refuge at 4700 m feeling tired but good, ate some food, then put on our helmets and harnesses to hike the last 425 m. It got tough quickly, scrambling up rocks using hands and feet, and the altitude was starting to really hit us. Right when we neared the summit, a storm began approaching, so we took a couple quick pictures, then headed down. We didn’t quite beat the storm, as the entire way down was in dense fog and it hailed on us for a few minutes, but avoided the deluge that started once we were in the car on the way back. It is a tough hike because of the altitude, but non-technical and a great first hike over 5000m!
We started the day with a walk into the national park to Tortuga Bay, where we kayaked among sea turtles (!), little hammerhead sharks (!), marine iguanas (!), and so many birds. It was SO COOL. The water is shades of azure and teal — it truly felt like we were in a movie.
We took a boat from Isabela to Tintoreras Islet with a small group. Walking along the islet we saw lots of marine iguanas (they’re in their nesting season, so it’s only the females) as well as white-tipped sharks, crabs, and pelicans and lots of other birds. After the island walk we went snorkeling again and saw a pair of blue-footed boobies doing a mating dance.
The volcano hike was long (~9 miles) but still far easier than hiking in altitude! We walked up to the caldera (nearly 10 km across) then down the south side and saw the remnants of lava flows from the 2005 and 2018 eruptions. The landscape felt a bit otherworldly, due to the lack of vegetation and lava rocks / fissures. We also saw on our hike three Galapagos hawks — a rare sighting according to our naturalist guide.
Our guide for the day took us to the Charles Darwin Research Station, where we learned more about the ecology of the Galapagos and the efforts to combat ecological destruction. It’s pretty cool how committed the islands are to preservation and environmental sustainability. At the research station we also got to visit the tortoise breeding center where we saw baby tortoises (younger than 5 years, when they’re returned to the wild), as well as a few old ones who were recovered from their early life as pets and can’t be released into the wild. After the research station, we went to the Highlands of Santa Cruz Island to visit a lava tunnel and tortoises in their natural habitat. It was, in a word, amazing. Because of the relatively short time humans have been present on the island, and the lack of predators, the wildlife here is shockingly unafraid of humans. They’re certainly aware of us, and the tortoises moved away if we approached from the front (threatening), but in general are fine with us being close and wandering around with them.
An ideal final day in the Galapagos. The whole day we spent on a sailboat with a dozen other tourists and crew and took a 3 hour ride to an uninhabited island. There we did a short "hike" (it was climbing 365 stairs) to an incredible viewpoint — our guide kept telling us it’s been named one of the most beautiful places in the world. By whom, we have no idea, but it was beautiful. After the hike, we went snorkeling again. We saw sharks and a Galapagos penguin, the only species of tropical penguin. The penguins are tiny — no more than a foot tall at full grown. The boat ride back was close to perfect — warm air, sea breeze, a few sightings of jumping rays — a great end to a Galapagos vacation.
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