Your guide to a land based trip to the Galapagos Islands

For nature lovers there is no better destination to travel than the Galapagos Islands. It is the paradise with incredible wildlife that Charles Darwin put on the map where you can see endemic species of great curiosity. There are two options for visiting – a cruise or land based. There are pros and cons to both. When thinking about a cruise one benefit is you have the ability to access more of the archipelago. In the Galapagos there are 13 large islands, 6 small, and over 40 tiny ones. A con is that you don’t get to pick where you go, who you are with, and you have to pay a whole lot more. I chose a land based trip for freedom and frugality. While I could only visit certain islands, it was on my time and dime. If you’re an independent person who wants to experience the Galapagos at their own pace, here are some important tips to get you started:

Getting in

You’ll have to fly to mainland Ecuador and spend the night – it’s just the way the flights work out. Options are Quito or Guayaquil. Know that ALL flights from Quito stop in Guayaquil, but you may not need to leave the plane while other passengers come on and off to their destination.

Before heading to the Galapagos (Santa Cruz and San Cristobal have airports) you will need to acquire a Transit Card for $20 in the airport. When you arrive in the Galapagos you are required to purchase a $100 national parks pass. Keep your ticket stubs or you will be charged a small fee when leaving the islands.

Where to go

Santa Cruz

From the airport to get to the main town of Puerto Ayora it is a bit of a journey. As long as you know the steps to take, it is very easy to follow the crowds. First find the free airport bus, which takes you to the canal. Next, hop on the water taxi ($1 to get across) for a brief cruise. Last, find the $2 bus to the city (or take a taxi for a much higher price).

This island is the most populous and allows the most freedom to have adventures on your own, without a tour – many activities are free. There are options to join tours for places you can’t get to alone, with plenty of outfitters on all of the main roads. Here you’ll find the best food on the islands and the place to grab all your souvenirs for everyone back home.

Note that to get to the main beach it is a 1.5 mile hike one way (worth it), unlike the other islands which have the beach right beside town.

San Cristobal

From the airport it is a short taxi ride to the main city of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. It is a bit smaller and more posh than the city on Santa Cruz. This island has the biggest population of Galapagos sea lions we encountered, they seemed to have taken over!

Isabela

When you arrive on the island you must pay a $10 fee to enter. The pier is a 10 minute walk on the road or a 2 minute taxi ride from the main town of Puerto Villamil. It is the biggest island and by far the most laid back of the three we stayed on. Sunsets are glorious. It is down right sleepy, in a wonderful way that rejuvenates you completely.

How long to stay

Forever? Just kidding. I believe that 3 days on each island was perfect to get to know them very well. You can decide to take one or two day tours, visit the highlands, and enjoy the beaches.

Transportation

On Island

All of the islands feel like small towns. In most cases, walking to all of your destinations is possible. For places outside of the main city on the islands, cabs are readily available – be sure to agree on a price. To get to quieter coves there are water taxis.

Inter Island

To get from one island to another, there are speedboats. They have set departures and should be booked a day in advance to make sure you get a seat. Have change because on Santa Cruz and Isabela a water taxi will take you to the boat, you will need to pay them a small fee. If you are prone to seasickness, be warned this ride is no joke. If at all possible sit in the back of the boat. On our first experience we sat towards the front and went completely airborne, it was a miserable experience but we learned from it for our next three journeys! There are two departures a day morning and afternoon. I suggest morning and don’t eat breakfast when you arrive.

If going from Isabela to San Cristobal, consider flying. It is a bit more expensive but it will save you a lot of time. We had planned on doing this, but the island was experiencing a fuel crisis so we had to take two speed boats instead!

Currency

Ecuador uses USD as their main currency and in the Galapagos CASH IS KING. Really and truly, you will get charged ridiculous fees if you try to use your credit card and a lot of places will simply not accept them. ATMs aren’t always working and are all but nonexistent on Isabela Island. Bring plenty with you, the islands are extremely safe.

Supermarkets and cuisine

Best is on Puerto Ayora by the main docks. Enough fruit, granola bars, cereal, yogurt, and snacks to pack for your hikes. My favorite thing about this place is the café on the third floor – it’s a hidden gem. The view is incredible overlooking the green bay and many water taxis. Sit on the balcony and you can watch the fishermen selling their catches, while the heron and sea lions try their best to score some scraps. The coffee is good (on Monday’s its 2×1) and breakfast hits the spot.

Finches will join you for the meal and try to pick up the crumbs you leave behind. Free wifi, restroom, and a book exchange. We really appreciated this spot.

When eating around town know that ‘meriendas’ is a dinner option for $5 including a soup, entrée, and drink. Lunch is called ‘almuerzo‘ with the same. Asado is BBQ and it is a must!

Weather

I was surprised at the weather in the Galapagos. I expected that since it is on the equator for it to be HOT. However, the Humbolt Current brings cold water through the islands from June through November. It is much more pleasant snorkeling with a wetsuit during this time and the water is brisk for taking a dip. The colder water brings more wildlife! During this time there is often Garua, a misty rain which is a bit chilly. Best to bring a sweater, especially for nights (and the highlands). The seas are rough at this time, making for some nauseating speedboat experiences. The season warms up from January to June and becomes more tropical with daily rains.

Internet

Wifi is notoriously poor. I highly suggest the free app Maps.Me and downloading the maps for Galapagos ahead of time. You will be able to use it for direction on your phone without an internet connection.

Minnewaska State Park: Gertrude’s Nose

With its sky lakes, waterfalls, it’s hard to pick where you want to visit within the miles of trails at Minnewaska State Park [5281 Route 44-55, Kerhonkson, NY 12446]. On my most recent visit, I decided to tackle Gertrude’s Nose which is a 7.5 miles loop with 1300’ elevation gain. It is an incredible trail with wildly beautiful and unique views. A good trail map is very useful. Some carriage roads that are wide, flat, and gravel along with some rocky hiking trails.

I began on the familiar Lake Minnewaska trail blazed in red heading towards the MC – Millbrook Mountain Trail – in yellow. Patterson’s pellet is a peculiar sight perched on a cliff, all alone.

This galacial erratic left over from the ice age is a fun landmark. Descending deeply into the woods. Continuing on to the main event – Gertrude’s Nose trail is blazed in red. The quartz escarpment is cut with deep crevices.

Vistas are endless, but steep.

Use cautious while admiring the astounding views.

Be prepared for some light scrambling as you round out the trail and summit Millbrook Mountain. Continue onto the MM – Millbrook Mountain Trail – also yellow (different from the initial one because this is a hiking trail, not a carriage trail). Here we saw loads of vultures,

some caterpillars,

and distant views to Mohonk Mountain.

Hike back towards the far side of Lake Minnewaska trail to round out your trip.

Sam’s Point Preserve, Cragsmoor NY

Years ago I visited Sam’s Point Preserve [400 Sams Point Rd, Cragsmoor, NY 12420] for the first time, I remember falling head over heels for its beauty. I love the Gunks, but there was just something special about this park. I definitely didn’t make it to all of the trails then, so a second visit was always in the stars. Back then it wasn’t a part of Minnawaska State Park, but it’s own separate entity requiring a hefty $10 day pass fee. You still need to pay to enter the park today, unless you have the Empire Pass which allows entry to New York state parks for free. Getting a late start on a fall weekend was a recipe for disaster. The parking lot was at capacity and the attendants tried to turn me away, but really I wasn’t having it. I had just drove over two hours to get to there I’d squeeze in anywhere! After giving my sob story and stamping my feet a bit, they kindly helped me weasel my way into a tiny area…everyone else was turned away. Feeling extremely fortunate, my day was only going to get better. This preserve is worth fighting for! I can’t stress enough bringing a trail map with you, they provide them in the visitors center and you can also download one to your phone. Starting off on the gravel road it is easy to see why this place is so beloved.

Trails are very well maintained and even those with little hiking experience can enjoy magnificent views, the park is located on the highest point of the Shawangunk Mountains. My route included the Ice Caves, Verkeerder Kill Falls, and High Point, creating a loop of approximately 10 miles. It was very strenuous with rolling hills, but so truly rewarding. Down the familiar gravel road I welcomed sprawling views.

This time around I was ecstatic to visit the ice caves, which were impassible on my first trip.

Take the spur and descend into chilly air.

A trail takes you through the caves, be cautious as the name suggests there can be ice long into the summer.

Be ready to amble and bend and marvel at the unique geological formations. At the end of the route is another peaceful overlook – I didn’t get bored with these even for a minute.

Fall colors on the shrubbery were beyond incredible.

Continuously in awe, my happiness was through the roof walking the narrow trail in the midst of this autumn palate.

It finally gave way to a golden fern forest.

Complete with woodpeckers

and fuzzy caterpillars.

Even though the hike was long, it didn’t feel like all that much time to reach Verkeerder Kill Falls because of all the natural splendor. I was happy it was running, although not so strong – delicate and adorned with a rainbow.

A brief snack and back to it, getting to the high point’s where most of the elevation on this trail occurs.

This part of the park is less trafficked, there are so many incredible vistas and you’ll likely have them all to yourself.

Be vigilant following the markers on this part of the hike, they can go missing and the trail isn’t always obvious.

Back track and keep with it. You wouldn’t want to miss a spot like this.

Or this.

Stick with the high point trail until it feeds into the loop road.

By then I was truly exhausted (was getting over a cold!) and so happy to see a familiar sight, the huckleberry pickers shack!

Remembered it from all those years ago and then I knew the parking lot wasn’t far at all. No matter how far you hike at Sam’s, you’re in for a real treat because the views are generous in all locations.

Hiking the Catskill High Peaks: Wittenberg and Cornell

Thirty five peaks above 3,500’ in the Catskills are on many hikers bucketlists, to become Catskill 35ers and conquer the highest mountains in the region. Bagging Wittenberg and Cornell Mountains [GoogleMaps location: Woodland Valley Campground] can be done in a strenuous out and back 9 mile hike gaining +2,500’. During the high season you have to pay to park in the DEC lot – but an unseasonably warm 70 degree day in October there was no one there collecting.From the lot cross the road into the campground and find the trail.

Cross the bridge into the woods to find the register box of the trailhead.

One of the great things about this hike is it’s very relaxed navigationally. One trail the whole way – the red trail, and just one junction that is very well marked. So keep your eyes peeled for those red blazes and you’ll be gold. Start ascending right away, but another thing I loved about this hike is it gives some reprieve. It will level out and you can always catch your breath. After hiking what felt like forever, I was so thankful to see some sign of how much longer I had to go!

The trek really picks up pace with a steep incline closer to the summit and some rocky scrambling crops up.

Once again, the path levels out and the summit is not too far. The vista atop Wittenberg is relatively small, but the view is truly extraordinary.

You’ll find a perfect look at the shining Ashokan Reservoir, a much more relaxed hike! I had only planned on hiking Wittenberg. I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take, days were growing shorter, and we got a late start. However, we made impeccable time and I couldn’t resist bagging another high peak so close by! So we took the saddle road, along the same trail with some rolling hills. It wasn’t very riveting aside from the Cornell Crack.

A few people got hung up on this section of the trail, I suggest on the return having your back towards the rock and lowering yourself down. No, the view is not spectacular from Cornell.

This portion of the trail is for pure glory. Hiking all the way back is long and a bit monotonous, but worth it to gain number 7 and 8 on my 35ers journey.

Rosendale Trestle, Hudson Valley NY

In 1870 it was the highest span bridge in America, rising 150’. In one life the Rosendale Trestle [GoogleMaps location: Binnewater Kiln parking lot] hosted trains, but after years of sitting defunct was rejuvenated in 2013 as a pedestrian bridge. It is located along the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail which spans 23.7-mile from Wallkill, Gardiner, New Paltz, Rosendale, Ulster to Kingston. Across the street from the parking lot, head right it isn’t long before you’ll reach the bridge – but don’t hurry! There is a lot to see along quarter mile path to get there.

Perfect for a long run, hike, bike ride, or cross-country ski. The bridge is sturdy and a perfect little destination, just a quarter of a mile from the lot.

The view down to the Rondout Creek is very lovely.

Note a path that leads down to the water after you cross the bridge.

It gives a great view of the trestle frame.

Also, the creek is always a nice place to skip some stones.

Keep walking for many miles, or make this your turning back point. Either way, it’s an interesting destination along a wonderful community asset.