Better late than never…..this is a video I put together from our trip to Ecuador in 2015. We were in the Galapagos, Quito, Banos, Quilota, and Cuyabeno. Enjoy!
As 2015 comes to a close it was an incredible year. I got to travel to some new and incredible places, I pushed my body further than I ever had before, and I got to meet some awesome people along the way.
2015 Travel Stats
- New continents visited: 1 (South America)
- New countries visited: 2 (Ecuador, and Panama)
- New provinces visited: 1 (British Columbia)
- New states visited: 5 (California, Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, Wisconsin)
- Trips: 10 (New York City weekend, San Diego Training, Boston Marathon, Connecticut Challenge Quassy, Niagara-on-the-Lake wine tour, Lake Placid Training, Whistler Ironman, Whistling Straits PGA Championship, Niagara Barrelman, Ecuador and Galapagos backpacking)
- Nights away: 49
Where I’ve been in 2015
Challenge Quassy Half Ironman
New York City
Whistling Straits PGA Championship
Lake Placid Training
Niagara-on-the-Lake Wine Tour
Whistler Ironman Canada
Cuyabeno Reserve Amazon Rainforest
Quilota Lake, Ecuador
2015 Endurance Stats
- Hours of exercise: 619
- Time spent swimming: 78:12:08
- Distance swam: 204,170m (equivalent to Toronto to Barrie, round trip)
- Time spent cycling: 335:25:49
- Approximate distance cycled: 10,952km (similar to cycling to Nicaragua and back to Toronto)
- Time spent running: 164:42:59
- Distance run: 2,137km (same as running Toronto to Orlando)
- Races completed: 8
- Running events completed: 5
- Triathlons completed: 3
Flying home from Ecuador we had a 10-hour layover in Panama City. 10-hours isn’t a lot of time to clear customs, get into the city, see a few sights, get back to the airport, clear security, and make a flight. We did some research ahead of time and found that Panama City has a City Sightseeing Hop-on, Hop-off bus. The bus not only stopped at the locks (what I really wanted to see), but also Old Town, and a lot of the other popular attractions. We crossed our fingers that our flights would be on time and that we could make all of this work.
Getting to Panama City
On Monday morning we were up just before 4:00AM. Our bags were packed the night before, and we only had a 10 minute cab ride from our hotel to the airport. As you can imagine the security lines were light at this time of the day and we were through security by 4:30AM. Our flight was on time and we were on our way to Panama City just after 6:00AM. (We were flying on Copa Airlines, I’d never flown on Copa before this trip, and I’d highly recommend them. The food was the best airplane food I’ve had. Our morning flight was less than 2 hours, but they still serves breakfast. Lisa had pancakes, and I had eggs, sausage and hash browns.)
We landed in Panama City around 8:00AM. Our big backpacks would remain at the airport while we ventured into the city. It took us longer than expected to make it through customs, but by 9:00AM we were out of the airport. Our plan was to take a local bus for $1.25 as opposed to taking a $35 cab to get into downtown. As we were walking to the bus stop across the street from the airport a taxi driver who had just dropped off passengers offered to take us for $8 into downtown. We jumped at the offer. He didn’t want to wait in the taxi line at the airport, and the reality was that we weren’t entirely sure just what bus we should be getting on, so we got lucky.
We were dropped off at Multicentro at about 9:45AM and were able to find the Hop-on, hop-off bus stop there fairly quickly. The buses here aren’t as frequent as some other cities, they only come once an hour, so it was fortunate that we arrived in time for the 10:00AM bus (I’ll explain why soon).
To do the entire tour loop takes about 2 hours. The tour is about an hour before it gets to the Panama Canal (Miraflores Locks), and then about an hour to do the rest of the tour. We decided we wouldn’t get off until we made it to the Canal (though Lisa was awfully tempted by the massive Albrook Mall), so we just enjoyed the first hour of the tour; the sun was out, the bus wasn’t very busy, and the spanglish guide had some interesting information about what we were looking at.
It was about 11:00AM by the time we made it to the Canal. It cost us $15 each to get into the viewing area for the Miraflores Locks, a price at the time I felt was a little steep, but in hindsight was well worth it. Just as we were entering there was an announcement that the final few ships were about to enter the locks, and more ships wouldn’t arrive until until mid-afternoon (which is why we were lucky to make the 10:00AM bus). We immediately headed up to the observation deck, which was 4 floors up. It was really crowded up there, but because the ships are so grand, and because I’m tall-ish, I had a good view.
Watching a ship proceed through the locks isn’t exactly action packed excitement, but it held my attention. The doors closing behind the ship, the lock filling up, the crew ensuring the lock is functioning properly, the sheer size of the ships; it was all very interesting.
We had thought that the ship in the lock when we arrived was the last ship of the day, but there was actually one more. Most people had cleared out of the viewing area, so we had an even better view for the final ship. We watched the final ship and then caught the 12:00PM bus to continue the route.
Back on the bus
Back on the bus we headed parallel to the Panama Canal towards the Pacific Coast. We went by the Biomuso (a science building with flamboyant architecture), we were treated to panoramic views of the skyline as we drove along the causeway, and saw Flamencio (a posh area where it seemed like the rich and famous docked their yachts). After that we unknowingly passed Old Town, we were too focused on the fish market on the other side of the street to ask why everyone was getting off at that stop. We ended up getting off at the next stop, Multiplaza Mall.
Multiplaza is a very exclusive mall, it was filled with lots of stuffy designer stores. We weren’t really there for the shopping, we were looking for something quick to eat. We were surprised that all of the food options seemed to be American chains; Subway, KFC, Taco Ball, T.G.I.F’s, etc. There wasn’t any Panamanian food options, so after making Lisa eat at local markets and food stalls for the last couple weeks, I deferred to her and her old favourite – Taco Bell. It was quick, surprisingly cheap (we both at a lot for a combined $8), and easy, and we were back on our way. We had been turned off of the idea of shopping at the mall when we saw all the fancy stores when we walked in, but as we walked down the stairs to leave what did we see at the bottom of the stairs but a running store! And they were having a sale. Long store short everything in the store was 50% off. After an hour of trying on every pair of shoes they had in our sizes Lisa (broken foot and all) and I left with 3 pairs of runners, 3 pairs of shorts, and there might have been some socks.
After our unscheduled shopping spree we were short on time so we hopped in a cab to Old Town Panama City. We weren’t going to have a lot of time to wander around and explore but we wanted to see it. We spent about an hour walking up and down some of the street and into some of the shops. There were a number of really cool stores and cafes, and if we had more time we would have stayed longer, but we didn’t. It was back in a cab, and off to the airport.
Panama City in Review
Our 10-hours in Panama City was really successful. We covered a lot of area and got to see a ship pass through the locks in the Canal (the only thing I really wanted to see). Panama City is the banking hub for Central America, and the wealth here is evident (especially compared to other countries in the region). It had a feel almost like Miami with the hot weather, coast line, yachts, and skyscrapers. We met a number of Americans on our bus tour who either live in Panama City, or were down checking it out because they were considering retiring there. A lot of American influence can be seen in the downtown core; you see the same or similar stores in the malls here as you would in any big North American city. There are lots of places where you can spend a lot of money in Panama City if that is what you fancy, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. It cost us about $135USD for the pair of us for the day (not including what we spent on running shoes), and we could have trimmed that budget further if we had to.
- $8 – Taxi from airport to downtown
- $47 – City Sightseeing Bus Tour for 2 (purchased online the day before)
- $30 – Miraflores Locks Admission for 2
- $8 – Lunch
- $10 – Water and snacks
- $7 – Taxi to Old Town
- $25 – Taxi to airport
When we woke up we weren’t entirely sure we’d be able to get out of the airport and see any of Panama City, so I’d call this a very successful 10 hour layover.
Prior to leaving for Ecuador Lisa and I did a lot of research on the Galapagos Islands. Most of the information that exists about trips to Galapagos talks about cruises. Traditionally, most people who visit the area fly into Baltra Airport (GPS), and from there they’re shuttled to their cruise boat (they’re usually 14-20 person boats). They will live aboard the boat and cruise to different islands over the course of their trip. When their cruise is completed they will be shuttled back to Baltra to fly back to mainland Ecuador. This was certainly an option for us, but it wasn’t what we ended up doing.
For our trip we decided to do a land based tour. We spent most of our time on Santa Cruz, and did day trips from there. We also spent a night on Isabela, and a night on San Cristobal, doing day trips from each of those locations as well. Speak to other travellers, as well as travel agencies on the islands, we decided which day trips we would do. Finally, we flew into Baltra, and flew out of San Cristobal.
Land based tour pros:
- Flexibility to set your own itinerary – you get to pick the islands you visit based on the activities you want to do and what you want to see
- Move at your own pace – do as much or as little as you like
- Experience the islands that come alive at night with restaurants and shops
- Sleep on a bed on firm land
- More economical (at least in our experience)
Land based tour cons:
- There is always travel time to get to your destination (it took us a 40 minute shuttle, and a 2 hour boat to get to Bartolome, which is as far as you can go on a day trip)
- It can be overwhelming to plan because there’s so many tour operators and trips
- Some islands are too far to visit with a day trip
- You save travel time because the boat will go to the next day’s destination through the night (could be a con if you’re prone to sea sickness)
- No need to think, all of your activities are organized for you
- You’re able to get to some destinations not reachable by day trips
- You’re stuck on a small boat for at least 20 hours a day
- You are with the same people for the duration of your cruise (this isn’t just about getting along, if someone is a particularly slow swimmer or walker it will slow down what you can see snorkelling and on hikes)
- Very expensive, event last minute deals are usually over $250/day per person
- Itineraries are often very poor and have no flexibility, I was offered a 4 days cruise where 3 of 4 days were spent on Santa Cruz, the main island where tourists begin their trip doing activities that for the most part we could do on our own
Lisa and I paid just under $1900USD for 8 days in the Galapagos (that’s together, not each) doing our own land based tour. You will not find an 8 day cruise for $950 each. We visited 5 islands (Santa Cruz, Pinzon, Isabela, Bartolome, and San Cristobal). We got to see a lot of the Galapagos, and we were able to cherry pick the sites that we wanted to see. We had a list of a dozen animals we hoped to see in the Galapagos and we got to see all of them. It was a good decision for us to fly into Baltra (Santa Cruz) and out of San Cristobal, as it saved us time and money – we didn’t have to ferry back to Santa Cruz from San Cristobal. Knowing what I know now I would absolutely do the trip the same way if I had a do-over.
This post is not an unbiased comparison of land vs. cruise, it is very biased because it is my opinion of the two.