Category: Green

Review Of Andando Tours: Galapagos Luxury Worth The Cost?

The Galapagos Islands are not an easy place to describe because of all the places I’ve been to, I’ve never been anywhere quite like it. When Andando Tours invited me to try one of their tours, scheduling conflicts nearly had me declining what turned out to be a trip of a lifetime. No, I was no paid to write this and it’s not an advertisement. There are other ways to visit the Galapagos on a budget but this particular $4500 Andando trip, onboard the Mary Anne sailboat, ends up being a value if you can afford the upfront cost. Watch the video above or read on to find out why.

Comparing The Competition

No matter how you get to the Galapagos, there are costs upfront: tickets – and visa if you need one – to Ecuador (flights to the Galapagos can only leave from their mainland) and the Galapagos permit required of all visitors. Round trip flights from Ecuador to Galapagos plus the permit will be at least $500 total. Once you’re in the Galapagos, you’ll have to take a small dinghy to the only major settlement, Puerto Ayora. Without opting for a cruise, add in hotel (minimum $60 daily) and meal prices as well.

andando tours mary anne

The Galapagos are an archipelago of 21 islands spread over several hundred kilometers in the Pacific. Not all of them are easy to get to but there are 4-5 points which can be done as day trips from Puerto Ayora. Those would be primarily hiking trips, with a guide, leaving around sunrise and returning at dusk.

I’m laying all of this out to because the most frugal ways to visit the Galapagos limit what you can see with day trips to select spots on nearby islands, for roughly $1500 for 8 days if you’re very careful with spending. Other Galapagos cruises tend to stick to those primary islands as well, running about $2500-$3000 for short 3-5 day trips, or closer to $4000 for trips of a week.

What You Get With Andando

Given that the cost of the Andando Tour onboard the Mary Anne is just above those prices ($4500), these are the three area you’re really paying for broken down:

  1. The Boat
  2. The Experience
  3. Time

andando tours review

Let’s start with the boat. The Mary Anne is a former German racing sailboat, the only sailboat operating in the Galapagos. There are 14 tourists on the boat and roughly that many crew. The vessel is spacious, comfortable, and doesn’t feel like a floating hotel. The rooms are spartan, beds and small bathroom pretty much, but the rest of the boat is where you’ll be spending a most of your time. There’s a short boat tour in my video here.

2. The Experience

Again, I’m referring you to the video but the 8-day trip is broken down daily by your guide. In my case, our guide Fernando Ortiz whose credentials are impressive to say the least, split the days into several activities. Andando it seems gets priority in scheduling island visits (they’re limited to avoid over-tourism) and hiking activities are generally arranged to avoid the hottest parts of the day when the equatorial sun is especially strong.

nazca booby

You’ll hike, snorkel, kayak, see unique wildlife close up since they have no natural fear of people, across 2-3 activities a day. Between each activity you return to the boat for a meal or snacks, giving those who want to stay behind an chance to do so. Which basically was just this blogger and this one staying behind once or twice to shoot videos for their travel blogs.

The efficiency in which all of this is coordinated, the boat transfers, the rooms being clean whenever you’re not in them, the timing of the meals, when to snorkel with seal lions at their most playful, all of it was very, very impressive. I kept looking (and expecting) cracks in the presentation. You know, crew that looked miserable when they thought nobody was around, dinghies being late, a guide who bull-shot the occasional answer to a question – and encountered none of that. There was a warmth and personality of the crew, guide, and Captain Mario whose authenticity could not be faked, even for our benefit.

3. Time

Many of the outlying islands of the Galapagos archipelago cannot be done as day trips from Puerto Ayora because of the distances involved. Andando offers several itineraries, and the eastern route I was on covers many of them. Because of the biodiversity of the Galapagos, you often find multiple ecosystems within a very small area. The spots you’re taken to are planned for the best time and the efficiency of the route, day planning, and crew ensure in 8 days you see a lot.

andando tours blogger

Cruise Options

To compare everything, I planned out an individual trip for myself to see what it might look like. There are two major constraints I found. The first, is reaching the outer islands. Missing those mean you would miss albatross returning to land, for example. Additionally, trying to recreate this route using Puerto Ayora as a base would make each activity of the Andando trip (2-3 daily) a trip of an entire day. Not to mention most of the sites are limited to certain cruises, so individually they wouldn’t be as accessible (i.e. you would need to opt for one of the higher-end tours from any company to reach those destinations).

Ultimately, if an Andando Tour is way out of your budget, then there are alternative ways to visit the Galapagos Islands. But if their prices are just a bit higher or around what you were planning to spend, I can certainly recommend their tours. Galapagos is a special place and suggest you treat this as a once in a lifetime type of trip – if you have the opportunity and the means, it’s not a place you want to skimp on.

Romania’s Bigar Waterfall Is A Remote Pitstop Photoshopers Will Love

bigar waterfall

Sitting along a winding, scenic, and out-of-the-way road cutting through the southwestern corner of Romania is Bigar Waterfall. An impressive sight but not one particularly worth going out of your way for – it’s not really close to any other major attraction. You may have seen the pictures and be asking, wait, doesn’t a glowing waterfall warrant a 3 hour drive from the nearest big city?

I’m sorry to disappoint you. The water isn’t illuminated in colorful hues using natural magic or artificial lights.

bigar waterfall

The main draw of Bigar is most certainly the highly colorized and edited photos of it floating online. I’m not going to link to them here, because this is what it will look like when you arrive. Not to say this isn’t impressive, however, if you were waiting for pulsating H2O radiating an alien blue – these images will gently refine your expectations.

Without a doubt many pictures (as these are) have corrections made to them, although where the spring water meets the stream below does not luminesce. There’s a massive artistic license being taken by photographers and clever tourism promoters so keep this in mind if you’re driving around Timisoara, former best cities Craiova and Targu Jiu, or even Belgrade nearby. The drive is beautiful, sights serene, yet Bigar Waterfall is actually water behind a lovely backdrop of green.

After 6 Years At Sea, These Are Pictures Of Galapagos Albatross Returning To Land

albatross espanola galapagos

There are 22 species of albatross, who use the largest wingspans of any bird to fly for 5-6 years out over the open ocean. One of those species, the waved albatross, nests in only one place in the world: along these cliffs on Espanola Island in the Galapagos.

espanola galapagos

Albatross accomplish these long journeys often without flapping their wings, eating fish to fuel themselves for an eventual return home to find a mate. I was fortunate enough to capture photos of them during their return for breeding season as part of my trip to Galapagos with Andando Tours.

albatross galapagos

Waved albatross lay one single egg, a large brown one, without having to worry about predators since they have none on Espanola. Some young albatross though are still cautions, this one keeping an eye on a resting hawk, half its size, nearby.

young waved albatross

Albatross are born a bit goofy looking – actually a bit Big Bird looking – but no, the rumors are not true.

albatross baby

They can be as cute as the nearby sea lion pups (some down by the beach on Espanola) and will mature over the next 10 months or so.

albatorss baby galapagos

As their flight feathers begin to grow in, you’ll see them along the cliffs opening their 2.5 meter (8 foot) wings to catch the strong winds whipping about. They’ll practice this pre-flight ritual many times, before taking off over the edge.

albatross

Their maiden voyage will be a long one of several years and 17,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) or more. Resting half their brains at once and using micro-sleeps, albatross spend their waking hours hunting fish and squid on a dangerous journey.

galapagos albatross

Of the 22 species of albatross, 17, including the waved albatross, are endangered. Although their nesting grounds are well protected in the Galapagos, out at sea fisherman using over 100 kilometers of baited hooks (long-line fishing) inadvertently drown an estimated 100,000 seabirds annually. The albatross is one of these birds, who also have to worry about fisherman hunting them directly as well, they’re often eaten by fishing crews illegally.

albatross

Back on land they’ll find a mate, who will be their partner for life. Well, mostly. Biologists have noted many albatross, if given the chance, will cheat on their partners. To get a mate in the first place though, male albatross use their beaks to passively sword fight. Facial fencing is also the language of get out of my way – yet it’s so gentle you can hardly take these guys seriously.

albatross walking

Albatross on land are delightfully awkward but simultaneously majestic. Despite their size, they weigh only 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) but still need a substantial runway of about 1-3 meters (5-10 feet) to land safely back home.

Which is here, the only place the waved albatross can be found, perfectly adapted to these cliffs.

albatross

Seeing these albatross took my breath away unlike any other wildlife I’ve seen before. Wandering around the cliffs, gigantic birds start popping up from behind the rocks everywhere. An airport for albatross who couldn’t care less you’re around. Despite the Galapagos Islands being full of various birds, beautiful landscapes, and animals without a healthy sense of fearing humans, the albatross stands out as an impressive manifestation of evolution on Earth.

There Are Lots Of Animals In Galapagos But Here’s Photos Of Just Sea Lion Pups

sea lion pup

The Galapagos Islands are one of the most bio-diverse places on Earth, in fact, 97% of the land animals there can be found nowhere else on the planet. During the week I spent visiting the archipelago as a guest of Andando Tours, I took over 300 photos and more than 12 hours of video footage of blue-footed boobies, lava lizards, giant tortoises – as much wildlife as possible.

There is though, one animal any camera seems unable to avoid, so much so, it became a running joke onboard the Mary Anne: sea lion pups always steal the spotlight. Our guide Fernando Ortiz (whom I can’t recommend enough) confirmed every group is the same – unable to resist the baby sea lions.

To be fair, the sea lion pups often do their best to pose and grab your attention.

sea lion pup galapagos

I’ll be posting more about the Galapagos and its wildlife as a whole soon but these photos are a reflection of what happens as you hop from one island to another. At most stops there are more than a few cute sea lion pups hanging out, and no matter how many you see, you’ll take 40 more pictures of them.

sea lion pup galapagos

The general rule is to stay 2 meters (~6 feet) away from all the animals in the Galapagos where possible. With even an average zoom lens, you’ll be able to capture shots like this.

sea lion pup

Sea lions for the most part behave a lot like dogs, except the adults ignore you, and the pups are cautious but inquisitive.

sea lion galapagos

They…

sleeping sea lion

…also,

sea lion cute

sleep…

sea lion family

a lot.

sea lion pup sleeping

For the most part during the first year of their life, sea lions stay on land not venturing out beyond a few meters into the water. (Nearly always under the attentive eye of an experienced mom.) Otherwise sea lion pups are vulnerable to shark predation; instead they spend much of their time entertaining tourists.

sea lion galapagos

As they grow older and become more independent, adult sea lions will start to spend weeks at sea eating fish. (The book Why We Sleep explains how this is possible – sea lions lightly sleep half their brains at a time in the open ocean.)

Still, when they return to land, they’re adorably tired.

galapagos sea lions

The adults leave the posing to the pups while they take a well-earned rest. Even in this state, sea lions are incredibly photogenic, despite being the occasional snotty sneeze. (The 2 meter rule is more for you than them.) I’ll have more on what travel to the Galapagos Islands is like, showing the incredible animal diversity here in the coming weeks – but as they did during my trip – the sea lion pups have taken over for now.

A Galapagos Review Of The ABOX Budget Action Camera

There are a lot of budget action cameras on Amazon averaging less than $200 of GoPros that were new in 2016. Unfortunately, the last GoPro clone I reviewed left a lot to be desired, except for the price tag. Recently I got my hands on the ABOX 4K and wondered what would happen if I took a budget action cam to the perfect place. Under ideal conditions, how good or bad would the footage look?

abox 4k action cameraABOX 4K Action Camera

buy from amazon

So I decided to take the ABOX to the Galapagos Islands. You can see the results (and sea lion pups!) in the video above. Let me know what you think of the footage in the comments below!

Save Money On Utah’s Mountains By Visiting In Summer

alta mountains

Right now it’s a frosty few degrees below freezing, with light snow in Alta, Utah, an idyllic place to ski, but such popularity on this very expensive real estate comes at a price. Starting at over $500 a night during the cold months on average, come summer, hotel prices drop to well under a hundred dollars in what’s some of the best hiking territory in the Rocky Mountains.

Road Trip It

The first time I visited Alta was by happenstance during a road trip I took when Ford gave me a car. Wandering up into the mountains after visiting the “Up” house (long story) before the next day’s drive, I came across Alta Lodge. Inside was mostly empty in the cozy ski lodge posing as a summer hotel. The regular rate for a four-person suite was $99 a night which they gladly reduced even further with a bit of gentle negotiation.

alta lodge utah

The hiking is incredible and these views you’ll have pretty much all to yourself, are genuinely special.

alta utah lodge

Salt Lake From Above

Those of you visiting nearby Salt Lake City on a road trip adventure of your own should considering adding Alta as one of your stops.

alta utah skiing

Off-season prices are less than a quarter of ski season with some of the most accessible hikes of all levels in this part of the United States.

alta utah

Aside from an excuse to post these pictures, I write this because Alta is so simple that without the skiing, it’s not a destination you’ll find much about during the greener months.

best photos alta utah

For many people who love the outdoors though, Alta is a unique spot neglected by large groups of people – much like Iceland in winter.

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About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutI'm the blogger and computer security engineer who writes foXnoMad while on a journey to visit every country in the world. I'll show you the tips, tricks, and tech you can use to travel smarter. Read More


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