Issue 43, Cuenca Expats Magazine

Photos: Courtesy of Metropolitan Touring and Cuenca Expats Magazine

This is the third in a 4-part series exploring the Galapagos Islands. See Issues 40 and 41 for previous articles

Thanks to LATAM, we had an on-time arrival to the small island of Baltra.  Before we landed, the flight attendants sprayed all the baggage stored in the luggage compartments above the seats with a WHO approved non-toxic disinfectant to minimize the risk of insects accidentally transported in hand luggage.  Another step in protecting the delicate balance of nature on the islands.  We taxied to the gate at the Seymour Airport, also known as Galapagos Ecological Airport.  It became in 2012 the world’s first green airport utilizing building materials recycled oil pipes from the Amazon, and clean, renewable technologies such as solar energy, wind farms, and seawater desalination, among other environmental innovations.

And, as a part of Metropolitan Touring’s neutral carbon off set (see Issue 41 article), our total trip, including round-trip air, was neutral carbon. Even though we are on the Equator, in September when we visited, temperature was a mild 71 degrees with a heavy breeze as we disembarked and walked to the terminal. Weather changes a bit year around, but there is no seasonally for tourism.

Inside the terminal, we needed to past two additional check points.  One was to show our Transit Control Card that we obtained in Guayaquil. When you travel here, remember to hold on to this card for your return trip, don’t loose it!  The second stop was to check-in with the National Park Service.  If you have your Ecuadorian cedula (ID), your fee is $6, if not it’s $100.  Then we were ready to pick up our luggage. We were met by Metropolitan Touring staff who took our bags and directed us to a bus for the short 8-minute drive to the tiny port of Baltra. We elected to follow in Darwin’s footsteps (sort of) and visit the islands in the same month as he did, some 187 years early.  September is in the dry season (June to November) so much of the island we saw driving to the port reminded of driving through western Texas, New Mexica or Arizona. On the way, we saw the piacular looking prickly-pear cactus of the Galapagos.


On certain islands the prickly-pear cacti have evolved into a tree form, which is directly connected to islands so that herbivores that feed upon them–mostly giant tortoises and land iguanas.

It is the first clear example of parallel evolution we saw, and showcased the importance of island variation. All species of cacti are endemic to the archipelago and are found nowhere else on Earth. Our Metropolitan Touring Galapagos adventure started at this little as our ship was anchored off shore.

There is only one dock in the islands and that is used solely by the Ecuadorian Navy. So, we needed to take a panga (tender) out to our ship’s anchorage about 400 yards off shore.

Our tender is a rubber rafts like you see in movies special forces use seating13 and powered by a 25 HP engine with prop guards to protect the sea life.

Ship's Capitan - Giovanni Mosquera - Issue 43

The sailors showed excellent seamanship ensuring there were no gaps between the tender and the ship, so it was safe for all of us to board and debark as this was the only way to get to the land and water expeditions during the trip.

We got our first look at the Santa Cruz II, that would be our base of operations for the next 5 days as we explored Galapagos.

With the Islands being some 53,000 square miles in size and 94% water, it seemed logical to us to choose a ship.  It happened out of three on board alternatives offered by Metropolitan, Santa Cruz II with its western Galapagos itinerary fit perfectly in our plans to see as many islands and as many of the Big 15 we could within the 5 days we had available. And, we like the fact our trip was “all inclusive” covering the costs for everything except liquor, extra soft drinks, and rental of wet suits. Btw, right now, until the end of the year, Metropolitan Touring is offering great deals–an expedition cruise could be from as little as $225 (plus taxes) per night! For details, please contact the Manager Marco Larrea: for personalized offers. Don’t forget to mention you are a Cuenca Expats Magazine Reader.

The Santa Cruz II ( was launched in 2002, refurbished in 2021.  It’s a little over 235 feet in length, has 5 decks, 3 of which hold 40 cabins. The ship has everything you’ll need (and more):


  • WIFI, hotspot (intermittent/low bandwidt)
  • Restaurant Safe box (in the cabin)
  • Terrace for cocktails and grilled sandwiches
  • in the open air
  • Reading room and natural history library
  • Gift shop Jacuzzi (2)
  • Gym
  • Multipurpose room
  • Satellite telephony
  • Air conditioning throughout the boat

The ship’s Capitan Geovanny Mosquera was certified in both seamanship and safety. There is a MD abord available 24 hours just in case you overdo it. The crew to guest ratio on our trip was 1:1. And, like all Metropolitan run operations, the service was excellent, the food outstanding and the ship immaculate. We were shown our midship cabins (luggage already there). 

The ship’s Capitan Geovanny Mosquera was certified in both seamanship and safety. There is a MD abord available 24 hours just in case you overdo it. The crew to guest ratio on our trip was 1:1. And, like all Metropolitan run operations, the service was excellent, the food outstanding and the ship immaculate. We were shown our midship cabins (luggage already there). 


There are no interior cabins, so everyone has a view (5’x 31/2’ window). The cabins are spacious with comfortable queen (or twin) size beds, and roomy bathroom. 

The first priority was safety– a life boat drill.  Life vests (with light, reflectors, and whistle) were in the cabin closet, so by floor we were call to our station and given safety instructions for the voyage. After the drill, we all went down to the Ocean deck to have the first of outstanding meals at the Beagle Restaurant.  The server brings out a menu and takes your order for diner at lunch (and for lunch at breakfast). We live in the highlands of the Andes, so Cuenca is not known for its fresh seafood, so we took full advantage of the many different seafood dishes at both lunch and dinner. Our server Bosco took excellent care of us for all our meals.

As we eat lunch, the ship cruised a short distance to our first outing—the northern part of Santa Cruz Island. Before we debarked for our first adventure, we were divided up into 5 groups. The objective was to allow personal attention from the Naturalist Guides, so the groups were kept small. We were given life jackets to keep for the entire trip as we were required to wear all on tender rides on and off the ship (always safety first).  We joined the English-speaking group of 13. Each group was named after an iconic species (ours was “Boobies”), and you stayed with this group through all the land and most of the water activities. We had a very interesting make up of our group, all experienced travelers—newlyweds for South Korea on their honeymoon, a Silicon Valley couple celebrating their 26 wedding anniversary (they liked to go to unusual places to celebrate—last year was Easter Island), a young Kiwi from New Zealand who had traveled the world and now lived in Chile, two young Chinese friends—one an economist for the UN in Geneva, the other in Hight Tech in Amsterdam, professional musicians—he from Argentina, she from Bulgari, business professional  couple from Miami, and the two of us. We really enjoyed getting to know our little group of fellow explorers from round the world.


So, we don’t forget, we need to pause before taking you with us on our first island exploration and give you some on board observations and travel tips. First, if you have cruised before, this isn’t like it. In most cruises the ship is the star with its nigh clubs, gambling, 24/7 food, spas, etc.  The goal is to have fun on board. The destination is secondary (Alaska cruise an exception).  On the three vessels of Metropolitan Touring, the destination (exploring land and water) is primary, the ship a means to get you there.  Of course, life aboard offers great amenities (Cordon Bleu trained chef as an example) that rivals any cruise liner, but the ship’s purpose is destination exploration.

The second take away, the adventure is very active. The mornings and afternoons alternate with either land or water exploration.  The goal is to take full advantage of the 12 hours of sunlight on the Equator. That said, Metropolitan doesn’t force you to do any activity, but activities are the reason the trip is booked. As a side note, we never saw the gym in use, as there was plenty of exercise for all during the day, and the decks were deserted by 10 p.m. as everyone had gone to bed early after an exciting day of adventure.

Some travel tips. Dress. The life aboard was causal—especially at breakfast and lunch.  Dinner was a mixture of men in slacks, jeans, few women worn dresses, most dressy jeans. The exception was the special evening cocktail hour on the outdoor terrace on the Panorama deck.

A little dressier. Never saw a coat (or tie) for men, or anything formal for women. We overpacked.  We didn’t wear half the clothes we brought.  Metropolitan has a useful guide on what clothes to bring. You’ll want to have a good pair of sneakers or hiking boots for the land excursions. The islands are volcanic, so you will need to walk on some hard and sometime sharp terrain. No flip flops!  The best piece of clothing we brought along were our $8 water shoes.  Excellent for all water activities and wet landings. Even though we were on the Equator, there was a cool breeze at night, so a light jacket or windbreaker is advisable. 

Our first exploration that afternoon was Dragon Hill on the north side of Santa Cruz Island. We tell you about this and all our other fabulous adventures when we continue with Article 4 in the next issue of Cuenca Expats Magazine.

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