Client Info: - Fred and Marsha J. (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Destination Name: Galapagos Islands
My wife & I booked a 2-week vacation in Peru & Ecuador with SA Expeditions and it was incredible. I can't say enough good things about our experience! We made our own arrangements for traveling to and from Lima, Peru, and our last 3 nights in Lima, but SA Expeditions handled all the rest.
Our first night was at the Costa del sol Wyndham at the Lima International Airport. After we cleared customs the hotel was a short walk directly across the street from the international terminal. The room was nice and clean and just what we needed after a full day of travel from our home in Las Vegas. The best part was no cab ride! The next morning we walked back across the street for our flight on Avianca Airlines to Guayaquil, Ecuador. After clearing customs, we were promptly met by Kristin from SA and driven to the Oro Verde Hotel in downtown Guayaquil. She was very pleasant and very helpful pointing out some points of interest in the city to visit and recommending some restaurants to us. The Oro Verde Hotel was magnificent! I travel for work and stay in a lot of hotels and the Executive Suite at the Oro Verde is one of the finest rooms in which I have ever stayed. My wife is not easily impressed and she was extremely impressed. The service, the food, the amenities….they were all wonderful! We both wished that we had had more than night at this hotel. For dinner that night, we took Kristin's recommendation of Caracol Azul about 2 blocks from the hotel. The service and food were excellent! The next morning we were met in the lobby by Francisco, another SA employee, and driven to the airport for our flight on Avianca to the Galapagos Islands. Francisco walked us right through Avianca check-in avoiding the lines. He could not have been more helpful.
When we arrived in the Galapagos Islands, we were met at the Baltra Airport by representatives of the Galapagos Legend Cruise Ship, put on a bus for a short ride to a ferryboat & ferried out to the Galapagos Legend, our home for the next 5 days. The ship's representatives took our luggage at the airport and delivered it to our suite onboard the Legend. We never had to touch our bags after we cleared security on Baltra. Onboarding the ship was a truly hassle free experience.
The Legend is a small cruise ship holding about 100 passengers. There are no really large, luxury cruise ships operating in the Galapagos. Cruising in the Galapagos is an adventure cruise and not a luxury cruise. With that said, our two bed suite with a private balcony on the Legend was very nice and suited our needs perfectly. The staff was very helpful and the food was good. The guests were broken down into groups of about 14 and assigned to a National Park Guide for all activities in the Galapagos Islands. You can do nothing in the Galapagos Islands without a National Park Guide. Day One consisted of lunch on the ship followed by our first adventure in the Galapagos, a zodiac excursion in Black Turtle Cove, which is part of Santa Cruz Island. It was a bird lover's paradise with only a couple of sightings of sea turtles.
The next 3 days consisted of hiking & snorkeling each morning and each afternoon in our assigned groups. We even had a National Park Guide with us for snorkeling. Day One was Sullivan Bay & Isabela Island in the morning and Rabida Island in the afternoon. Day Two was Urbina Bay & Isabela Island in the morning and Tagus Cove & Isabela Island in the afternoon. Day Three was Espinoza Point & Fernandina Island in the morning and Vincent Roca Point & Isabela Island in the afternoon. We sailed that night back to Baltra & Santa Cruz Islands. We disembarked the Legend after breakfast on Day Five and were taken to the highlands of Santa Cruz Island for a hike among giant land tortoises followed by a bus ride to the ferry port on Santa Cruz and then ferried over to Baltra for the flight back to the mainland. Again at disembarkation, our luggage was handled by representatives from the Legend and was waiting for us at the airport for check-in after our hike in the highlands. What can I say about the Galapagos…walking in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, seeing amazing wildlife & fauna and swimming with countless kinds of fish, incredible numbers of turtles and a few sea lions, sand sharks & stingrays….it was a once in a lifetime experience. The Galapagos Legend & SA Expeditions made it so easy to experience and enjoy the Galapagos Islands.
After the Santa Cruz Highlands adventure, we flew on Avianca back to Lima by way of Guayaquil and another night at the Costa del sol Wyndham. The next day we had a morning flight on Avianca to Cusco. When we arrived in Cusco, we were promptly met by Jacquelin, another SA employee. She escorted us to the JW Marriott Hotel and assisted with our check-in. She informed us that we had the afternoon free to explore or rest as we saw fit and that the next morning we would be met by Marco, our tour guide for the rest of our time in Cusco & Macchu Picchu. We were ready for a rest after all the travel and the action packed schedule in the Galapagos Islands. Again, SA Expeditions arranged for the JW Marriott Cusco to provide us with another lavish suite on the top floor for the next two nights! The service and food at the Marriott was top notch!
After breakfast the next day, we went down to the lobby early and Marco was already waiting for us. Marco and his driver, Alberto, were the surprise highlights of our entire trip! Marco's knowledge of Peruvian history especially that of Cusco & Macchu Picchu was extraordinary. Alberto was a courteous and able driver. They were both true gentlemen and a joy to be around. We were scheduled for a half-day tour of Cusco and the surrounding area including the ruins of Sacsaywaman. Unfortunatley, after Sacsaywaman my wife was not feeling good from being at an altitude of over 11,000 feet for more than 24 hours. Marco arranged for Alberto to drop us off at the Temple of the Sun and then take my wife back to the hotel to rest. Marco & I spent more than half a day visiting several churches built on top of ancient ruins and other areas inside Cusco. He then escorted me back to the hotel. On the way back, he treated me to the best street tamales in Cusco. He introduced me to an elderly lady who sits in a shaded area just off the main square in Cusco selling her delicious tamales. Without Marco, I never would have experienced the best tamales in Cusco!
The next day Marco and Alberto were waiting for us in the hotel lobby at 7:00 am. We left for a tour of the Sacred Valley between Cusco and Ollantaytambo. The ride from Cusco to Ollantaytambo is normally just over two hours. However, we made stops to explore the salt mines of Maras and the pre-Incan & Incan ruins at Morey, two very fascinating places along the way. The trip is a descent in altitude and by the time we got to Ollantaytamba, my wife was starting to feel better from her altitude sickness. We had a wonderful lunch in Ollantaytamba at one of Marco's favorite restaurants. Marco also treated us to a tour of a private residence of some friends of his that was truly fascinating. Two women and a girl were washing clothes by hand outside the residence. They invited us inside their one room residence with a loft and gave us a look at how Peruvian people of this mountain region live. Their beds, a cooking fireplace, an altar for worship and an area for the handicraft work were all in a single room. It was a very colorful and cozy place filled with local aromas. Afterwards we toured the pre-Incan & Incan ruins just outside the city. At around 3:30 we left Alberto behind and boarded the train from Ollantaytambo to Macchu Picchu. The two-hour train ride is along a roaring river through a narrow mountain valley and canyon. It's an incredibly scenic ride. It reminded my wife and me of the Colorado River running through Glenwood Canyon in Colorado. Upon our arrival that evening, Marco escorted us to the El Pueblo Hotel located on the outskirts of town in a tropical rainforest area. He agreed to meet us in the lobby at 6:00 am the next morning for our journey to the ancient ruins of Macchu Picchu. The El Pueblo Hotel is another superb hotel. The rooms are quaint but nicely furnished with a wood burning fireplace and a private veranda enveloped by plants and trees. It is by far the nicest hotel in town and it even has its own restaurant. The staff was very accommodating and the service and food in the restaurant were excellent.
The next day Marco was waiting for us in the lobby at 6:00 am. He escorted us through town to the bus station. He moved us ahead of lines to a shorter line where we boarded a bus for the 45-minute ride up to the Macchu Picchu Park Headquarters and the entrance to the ancient ruins. We entered the park and made the short climb up to the main gateway into the plaza of the ruins. At that point, Marco suggested that we not head directly into the plaza of the ruins but that we go to the left and continue climbing higher up into the terraces above the plaza. We made a fairly strenuous climb for about 20 minutes up terraced mountain slopes to the upper terrace with clear vistas in 3 of the 4 directions. Before us and below was a magnificent view of the stone ruins, the green, grassed plaza and terraces and the two peaks that serve as a backdrop to all of it. To our left and our right in the distance were snow-capped peaks of the Andes. We could have gone higher up the Inca Trail to the Sungate or we could have gone right towards the Inca Bridge but we chose to stay right there on that upper terrace with it's magnificent views. Marco was right. Everybody seemed to be down below. There was hardly anybody up where we were. It was peaceful and quiet. The perfect place to sit and meditate or pray and take in all that Macchu Picchu had to offer. We spent over two hours in that serene place before the hordes started to ascend to where we were. Those two hours were the highlight of our Macchu Picchu experience. We eventually descended and enjoyed the rest of Macchu Picchu but nothing compared to the time we had up above in the early morning. Thank you, Marco! Our experience of Macchu Picchu would not have been the same without you. And thank you too for being so patient with us and helping Marsha with her bag and the climb.
By 1:00 pm we were back in the town and Marco took us to his favorite restaurant, Indio Feliz Bistro. WOW….what a great meal! It was the best food in our entire trip. Owned by a French born gentleman named Patrick, the food and the service were both superb. Indio Feliz Bistro would be successful in any town in the world but to find it in this little town was a real surprise. If you went to Macchu Picchu and didn't eat at Indio Feliz, you missed a real highlight! Again, thank you, Marco! Our experience of Macchu Picchu would not have been the same without you. At 3:30 we were on the train back to Ollantaytamba. When we arrived two hours later, there was Alberto waiting to help us with our bags and drive us back to Cusco. We were back at the JW Marriott in Cusco in about 3 hours because of traffic. Marco & Alberto helped us with our bags and check-in. Then we shared some sad “goodbyes” with Marco. His time with us had come to an end. We have traveled to many parts of the world and have had tour guides in many different countries. With Marco we never stood in line to buy a ticket. He had pre-purchased tickets for everything that we did thereby avoiding all the lines. He also had a sense for when to provide us with the history before our eyes and when to leave us to our own thoughts and devices. He could not have been kinder or gentler with my wife when she was suffering from altitude sickness. When it comes to photography, Marco knows the best locations for photo opportunities at every location that we visited. I can't count how many times my wife or I would be ready to take a picture and Marco would suggest that we shoot it from over there or over here where there were less people and a better view. MARCO, YOU ARE ONE OF THE BEST!!!
The next morning got to sleep in since our pick up for the return ride to the Cusco airport was scheduled for noon. Right on time, there was Alberto to help us with our bags and drive us to the airport. With him was Carmen, another SA employee. She was there to help with our bags and our check in at the airport. Again we had another sad parting. Marsha and I had grown fond of Alberto. He had taken great care of us with his driving and always made sure we stayed hydrated with plenty of water. Every time we got in his car there was a fresh bottle of water waiting for us. THANK YOU, ALBERTO!
We flew from Cusco to Lima on Avianca. When we came out of baggage claim, we were greeted by Santiago from SA Expeditions. He and his driver helped with our bags and escorted us to the JW Marriott Lima where he assisted with check-in. On the drive to the Marriott, he pointed out some points of interest along the way and recommended several restaurants for us to try in the Miraflores area of Lima where our hotel was located. We tried two of his recommendations, Tanta & Mangoes, and they were both outstanding.
The next day we scheduled a half-day tour of Lima with SA Expeditions. Promptly at 9:00 am were met by Rina, our SA Lima tour guide. Rina was well versed in the history of Lima and the surrounding areas. We visited parks and pre-Incan & Incan ruins inside Lima. Lima is made up of numerous neighborhoods and we visited a number of them. One of the highlights was the Museo Larco, which is an outstanding museum housing a massive, private collection of pre-Incan & Incan artifacts, all of which were amazingly well preserved. After that, we toured the original city of Lima and the main plaza. Lima was the first Spanish capital of South America and the main plaza and several of the churches surrounding it are original structures from the early 1500s. The second highlight of the Lima tour was the original house of the first Spanish Governor of South America. Rina had arranged a private tour of several parts of the house, which has been continuously occupied by the relatives of the first Spanish Governor for 17 generations. The relatives occupying the house today have private apartments in the structure, which we did not tour. However, one of the descendants, a very elegant lady was leaving her apartment during our tour. She and Rina exchanged pleasantries and it appeared that Rina was acquainted with her. The Spanish Governor's house was a special experience. Thank you, Rina.
Our last day in Lima was a relaxation day. Our flight back to the US was scheduled for 12:50 am on July 14th. Santiago was scheduled to pick us up at 9:00 pm on the 13th for transfer to the Lima International Airport. He was right on time and helped us with our luggage at the airport. SA Expedition truly made our vacation a memorable one by eliminating the language barriers, expediting us through long lines at many different places and providing a first class experience everywhere we went. MANY THANKS TO RIVA BACQUET AND HER ENTIRE TEAM!