August 23, 2013

Fearless Tortoises and Endless Craters

Santa Cruz is only one of the 14 islands in the Galapagos archipelago, but this island alone harbors an incredible diversity of landscapes and ecosystems. A drive up into the highlands of Santa Cruz to see the giant tortoises that make their home here was my first activity, and it absolutely set the tone for my unbelievable Galapagos adventure.

Our pangas pulled into the rocky shore, and we stepped out amid cacti and bone-dry, gnarled shrubs baking in the sun. Here, we boarded a bus and started the drive up into the highlands. I can’t begin to describe how quickly and dramatically the landscape began to change; the forested mountain terrain grew lusher and lusher as we reached higher elevations, and it soon looked like we had reached a completely different island than the one we had only recently disembarked at.

Within ten minutes, the air coming in through the open windows was substantially cooler. The dry plant life of sea level gave way to lush, tropical vegetation. We made our way up through misty mountains, passing secluded houses with roosters and banana and guava trees in the front yards, and started to come upon small farms and grazing cattle. The place was like a one-stop microcosm of all the beautiful green places in the world, where jungle meets farmland and tropical meets comfortably temperate.

After the half-hour bus ride, we set off on a leisurely walk through the giant tortoise habitat. These gentle creatures were roaming slowly all around us, some as old as 100 and quite enormous. They spend the first part of their lives trying to make their way up into these highlands, so we were really exploring the tortoises’ land of milk and honey. The most striking thing about these tortoises (even more evident in the iguanas, sea lions and birds of the Galapagos) is their total lack of any kind of fear of humans.

Unlike anywhere else on earth, you can stand a foot away from an animal in the Galápagos Islands and it won’t show the slightest bit of apprehension, because they have been so perfectly protected that they don’t associate the human form with any kind of threat. We’re not their natural predators, and tireless efforts have gone into making sure these islands represent only the natural circle of life and evolution, so they’re perfectly content ignoring our presence and going about their business.

On the way back down from the highlands, we stopped off at the site of “Los Gemelos,” or “The Twins,” which are two vast collapsed volcanic craters. We stepped off the bus and started walking down a path surrounded by lush moss and scalesia trees (found only in the Galapagos) when, all of the sudden, the earth opened up. The path dropped off into a deep sea of rich vegetation, bordered by a sheer rock face stretching all the way around. The mist made its way across the crater and sent shivers down my spine and I thought to myself: “This is just day one.

August 16, 2013

I wish I wasn’t in the Aisle Seat…

Flying to the Galapagos Islands

That’s a thought I never expected to cross my mind, but I realized a few days ago that to be two seats away from the window on a flight into the Galapagos Islands feels like a tragedy. Before I left for this trip to Ecuador, my highly general expectations associated wildlife with the Galapagos, and scenery and culture with the Andean Highlands – it didn’t take long for me to learn that the striking landscapes of the Galapagos are most definitely not to be overlooked as a huge part of what makes this natural paradise so extraordinary.

As we flew over the islands, it looked like someone had combined Mars and the US Southwest and plopped the result into the middle of the Pacific. Still, looking down on these arid, craggy, cacti-dotted masses of hardened lava on a deep blue backdrop, I had no idea just how unique this undisturbed ecological sanctuary would prove to be.

Once the flight touched down, it was evident that this place was going to waste NO time establishing itself as a destination like no other. After a 5-minute shuttle from the airport to the dock I was about to embark from, the sea lions of the Galapagos greeted me with a nice initiation to the next few days of my life. I hadn’t even boarded the small boat (called a “panga”) that would take me to the ship I would be staying on when I almost tripped over a sea lion lounging – carefree as could be – on the dock. A few moments later, a few more sea lions hanging out on the rocks beneath the dock started up a symphony of playful barks. Not a bad how-do-you-do from the most well-preserved ecosystem on earth…

October 23, 2012

Galapagos Islands: Fun Facts

Blue Footed Boobies!

I admit, before I went to the Galapagos myself there was a lot that wasn’t clear to me about these islands. But there are so many interesting things to know! Maybe if you start now you’ll absorb more while you’re there. Amaze your friends with these Fun Facts:

The Galapagos Islands are a volcanic archipelago belonging to Ecuador, set 550 miles west of its mainland.

The islands are considered one of the most active volcanic areas in the world. Recent eruptions include Cero Azul on Isabela in 2008, and on Fernandina in 2009.

There are 13 main islands larger than 1 square KM; 3 small islands; and 107 rocks and islets.

Only five of the islands are inhabited; Baltra, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana.

Isabella (the largest island) and Fernandina (the youngest, at 1 million years) are still forming.

Espanola is the oldest island – 3.5 million years!

Floreana was one of the first islands to be inhabited, and since the 18th century whalers have dropped their letters off at its ‘post office ‘- a wooden barrel!

Isabela is the only Galapagos island the equator runs through, and it is the only island where penguins can be found in their natural habitat in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Humboldt Current brings cold water to the Galapagos; June – November the water can be 22C / 72F. December – May the water warms up to about 25C / 77F (brr!)

A REALLY interesting book about life in the Galapagos is My Father’s Island by Johanna Angermeyer. The Angermeyer Inn is still family run today on the island of Santa Cruz.

October 5, 2012

What’s Happening for the Holidays (v. 2012)

Paddle into the Underworld in Belize

Traveling over the holidays is a popular trend. Some families do it as a personal celebration; some do it to get away from the rush at home. But ALL families love seeing how other countries celebrate in their own way. Here are a few ideas:

Did you know that if you go to Baja over Christmas you may be invited to our guide’s home to help decorate the Christmas tree, Mexican style. Then afterward, how about hunting for scorpions with a black light? Pretty cool, yes? Or travel on our December 26 trip, and have the opportunity to celebrate New Year’s Eve with a bash at the famous Hotel California – we have a few tickets we’ll include with your adventure!

On December 24th the largest and best Christmas pagent in all of Ecuador takes place in Cuenca. If you join our Galapagos Islands and Inca Ruins December 22 you’ll have the chance to partake of the Pase del Niño festival, an all day event filled with music, floats, and costumes. Or try the Galapagos MultiSport Adventure December 25, and enjoy a miraculous New Year’s Eve stargazing from your campsite on the beach.

Belize will be celebrating an event we just might not ever see again. December 21 represents the end of the Maya calendar, and the end of the 13th B’ak’tun, the Maya’s linear long count cycle of 394 years. Though recently Maya calendars have been found that continue on in time, no one disputes this is expected to be a great time of change and transformation, and the festivities will be plentiful throught out the month. Arrive just in time for ‘the end’ on our adventure December 21, or come later (December 27) and celebrate New Year’s Eve on the beach. Either way, it’s a Mayan adventure from beginning to end.

Peru, Costa Rica, Panama – all of the South and Central American countires have deep traditons surrounding Christmas and the New Year, and each country tells the story in their own way. There can be special markets, festivals, fireworks. No matter your own traditions and holidays, why not learn how others do it?

Really you should be planning for December 2013 – so if you haven’t figured it out yet for THIS year it’s time to make a plan!

September 17, 2012

What our Guests are Saying….

Seeking in the Galapagos

We offer all of our potential guests a list of references, people who have traveled with us and are willing to share their experiences. Today we heard from a favorite guest who had recently responded to such a request about our Galapagos MultiSport Adventure. She decided to share it with us as a thank you for her wonderful Thomson Family Adventures. Here is her review in its entirety (and no, she does not work for us!):

“Hi there…

It sounds as if you are in for a treat and an adventure! I cannot say enough good things about the Thomson Family experience. The Ecuador/Galapagos trip was the second I made with Thomson. The first was on Safari with two of my grand girls, the second, the multi adventure Galapagos, with my grandson. This past trip was wonderful as the first.

The Thomson guides are terrific. they are dedicated to making this an extraordinary experience for you and your family. They pay attention to your needs. They are interested and interesting. They keep the kids busy and informed.

The accommodations are first rate as is the food. The trip in general and the daily adventures were well planned and tight but with time to fully enjoy each experience. We loved the multi sport as we did something different all the time.

I was not looking to go from island to island, living on a boat and so found our trip fabulous. We loved our accommodations in beautiful inns and hotels, and the opportunity to camp on the beach for one night! Swimming in warm waters with baby seals coming up to your face piece was awesome. There are always guides with you on land , on sea, and in the water…

Jake, my grandson, was waterlogged much of the trip but whether it was exploring places on foot, horse or kayak, or hanging with the other kids (a blessing so he didn’t have ‘just me’ all day plus the delight I had in enjoying a Vodka in the bar some late afternoons upon arrival) he was fully occupied.

Is it worth the money..Yep. As a grandmother who does extensive traveling with her 9 grandchildren and knows what it takes to plan a trip that is an adventure in and out of doors, I travel with Thomson to non-European locations (as they don’t as of yet travel there) as they do all the planning and heavy lifting. For my Thomson trips, we simply show up.

I doubt whether, when it comes to places like Africa, Galapagos and the like, if I would have the wherewithal to know of the special places they book for us..find to feed us at,..or even how to get to camp on a Galapagos island. I also love the day we spend at a school, sharing our language and enjoying the similarities and differences of our schools and lives. The children become so involved with each other many of them end the day walking us to our bus and still talk through the window as we pull away.

I hope I have answered all your questions. Feel free to contact me again with anything else. If I do not hear from you I will assume you are on your way to a trip your family will always remember..

Midge Gordon
E Greenwich, RI”

July 31, 2012

Look Who is Multi Sporting in the Galapagos…

Karen, Elaine, Rachel, and Ben – Let’s Go!

Meet Karen and her fabulous kids Rachel, Ben, and Elaine. They’re excitedly getting ready to explore the Galapagos Islands in December. They’ll fly into Quito and spend a few nights on the mailand. They’ll horseback ride, hike, and visit the Equator, small villages and famed Otovalo Market. Then off to the Galapagos Islands for a unique land -based discovery: kayaking, snorkeling, communing with fascinating sea life and watching soaring birds like they”ve never seen before. With two nights in a hotel and two nights camping under the Southern sky, plus a private catamaran to cruise the best spots for snorkeling this is a fantastic, up-close way to play in these islands. They’re looking forward to being a small flexible group, avoiding the crowds, finding unique adventure in out of the way places.

Now, who wouldn’t want to join them?

You can!!! December 25 – January 2. Call us now!


May 23, 2012

Top Five Spots for Teens and Older

The ‘kids’ bonding in Tanzania

Want to know what’s hot for you and your teenagers and graduates? Here are some great ideas for you to consider while trying to keep everyone happy.

1) Panama. Now, we don’t CALL this a teen trip, but really older kids are perfect for this adventure. With excitement like zip lines and white water rafting it has adrenaline pumping action. And with the engineering marvel of the canal, and the cultural attraction of the Embera tribe there is plenty of sophistication for your kids, and you too! Our guides will engage your family, and you’ll go home with memories you never dreamt of.

2) Costa Rica. This stands by as our most popular family adventure, and the benefit of having older, more tolerant kids is your ability to head to the remote region of Corcovado National Park. It’s far away, out there, and oh so worth it to get to. Surfing, hiking, snorkeling

3) Tanzania. A safari is a sedentary adventure by nature but our Active Safari takes every opportunity for you to stretch your legs and challenge your pre-conceptions. Bike at Gibbs Farm, enjoy walks and village visits at our exclusive private nature refuge, and hike partway up Mount Meru to overnight in a hut before hiking back down the next day. Interspersed with world class wildlife viewing, this adventure will stay with you forever. (And if this isn’t enough you could always think about a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro…….)

4) Peru. You don’t need to fight the crowds on the famed Inca Trail hike into Machu Picchu in order to appreciate all of the wonders Peru has to offer. In fact, we beseech you to NOT join that rat race. Come try some undiscovered trails, and enjoy world class hiking and gorgeous landscapes on trails where you may not see any other people, short of local farmers and their llamas. A Peru Trek can be the way to reassess your life while your older children begin to define their own lives. Prefer the comforts of a hotel? It’s easy to avoid the camping and still enjoy daily explorations. Let the energetic, able bodied kids do the hiking, and you can simply sit and contemplate the beautiful landscape. Want top of the line? Try our Smithsonian Peru Adventure, including Lake Titicaca.

5) Galapagos! Whether you opt for a stint on a luxury catamaran or a unique opportunity to sleep in the islands themselves, the snorkeling, biking, and kayaking in the Galapagos is fabulous. Never just a beach vacation, this is a sophisticated exploration to challenge your mind. Did you know there is wildlife here you just won’t find anywhere else in the world? Come visit these volcanic islands for the chance to think differently.

6) You know me, it’s hard to stop myself. Last summer I went with my kids (18, 22, 25) to Thailand and we had the best time ever. Culture, cities, villages, hiking, zip lines, rafting, elephants, Buddhism, food, massage, wow. A fabulously exotic place that is so warm and welcoming, you might never want to leave.

February 26, 2012

Top Five Destinations for your Graduate. And You.

Who’s bold enough to try grasshopper?

Many popular destinations are just plain fun for a young child, but can be revisited – or seen for the first time – with very different eyes once your child is out of high school. Here are our picks for the most sophisticated and exciting places to visit, or visit again, with your graduate.

5) Alaska. It’s pristine, and so different from the rest of the continental USA. And it’s changing so fast, there may well be species, habitats and glaciers that will be disappearing in the future. Take your graduate to explore up close, with plenty of physical activities to challenge you both while you all learn about how climate change is affecting this part of the country.

4) Galapagos. On select dates we offer families with older kids the opportunity to explore the islands from a 16 passenger catamaran. Or, if you prefer, you can join our MultiSport Adventure with real beach camping and up close experiences with those frigate birds, seal ions, and blue footed boobies. In both options you’ll also have the chance to learn something about rock climbing, early Incan ruins, and the delightful culture of mainland Ecuador.

3) Peru. Whether you like to camp in remote mountains with no one but your camp crew nearby, or you prefer, thank you very much, to sleep in a comfortable hotel…Peru offers mystery and culture you can dive into, and breathtaking scenery to explore. Both versions, the Trek and the Land of the Ancient Inca offer great hiking and plenty of time to contemplate the wonders of Machu Picchu.

2) Turkey. Whether you choose a photographic journey, our Secrets of Turkey, or the special Smithsonian Adventure, Turkey is full of inviting people, scenery, and culture. Oh, and the food! Turkey is an adventure of history and art, Roman ruins, miraculous landscape, and the smooth Mediterranean. So much more than just a vacation!

1) Thailand With a fascinating culture, gorgeous temples, and a philosophy that invites conversation…. plus verdant forest to hike, retired elephants to care for, and rivers to raft…. here is an adventure to change your life forever.

0) It’s hard to stop when I’m on a roll.. how about Morocco? Wander the souks, watch a snake charmer, trek in the High Atlas Mountains, and ride a camel on the beach… Practice your Arabic as well as your French, and tantalize your taste buds in this exotic land of couscous and fragrant tagines.

The truth is, any one of our destinations can be sophisticated and enriching for your older kids, and for you too! Our expert guides are ready to talk up to your level, and challenge you to take home in your heart a piece of their country. Come join the like minded and similar aged families traveling with us in 2012 and beyond.

February 8, 2012

A Turtle by Any Other Name…

Galapagos Tortoise photo by MFawcett

Thanks to our alumni Katie Pickard Fawcett for sharing her post about the great turtles of the world….she writes a lovely blog!

In art, literature, and mythology the words “tortoise” and “turtle” are often used interchangeably, though turtle refers to an aquatic creature while a tortoise is the slow-moving land dweller. The Galapagos giant tortoise can weigh more than 600 pounds and survive for a year without food or water. The big guys can live to be more than 150 years old. They’re vegetarian and they take life slow and easy. Perhaps that’s the secret.

I used to see the Galapagos giants in their dusty enclosures at the zoo and figured they were doing okay with plenty of water and food and didn’t need much space. Most of the time they looked like big stones scattered about in the sun. You could stand forever waiting for one of them to stick out his head and take a step or two. Then we went to the Galapagos Islands and hiked in the Santa Cruz highlands where the tortoises roam free. They get out and about where they have the space to do so and, although these tortoises can live without water for long periods, they also enjoy a leisurely soak when a water source is readily available.

Most of the low-lying islands in the Galapagos chain are flat, dusty, and dry, but Santa Cruz has six different vegetation zones. The highlands, where the tortoises live, are lush and green. These moist forests are speckled with ponds and marshes. Passion flowers and the poison apples of the manchineel grow along the trails. Some of the huge ponds are covered with red pond weed.



It’s hot and humid here, the forests are filled with bird calls, and the air is filled with the wet earth scent of a rainforest. The trip from the town of Puerto Ayora took us about 30 minutes on a recycled school bus with no air conditioning, but it was worth it to see one after another of these enormous fellows go lumbering by, crossing our paths. I know many animals in the wild are not as healthy as those kept captive and some don’t live as long as their caged kin, but there’s something about freedom that’s way more appealing.

Turtle/Tortoise Trivia:

1) Several Native American tribes believed that the earth rested on the back of a giant turtle.

2) The Chinese once believed that turtles were sacred; the Burmese thought them to be divine and kept them in tanks in pagodas. Temples devoted to turtles can still be found in Asia.

3) In The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck used the tortoise as a symbol of the tenacity of the “Okies” traveling west for a better life. For D.H. Lawrence the turtle was sometimes a symbol of aloneness and indifference.

4) Turtles figure prominently in Early Egyptian art and were used for medicinal purposes. Ancient Egyptians believed that turtles had a special knowledge of medicinal herbs and other remedies.

5) The Romans associated turtles with the god Mercury. One of Mercury’s first acts as an infant was to kill a turtle and turn its shell into a lyre.

6) Some early Christians considered them “heretical” animals that chose to live in filth and scum.

7) The tortoise appears in Hindu writings as a famous sage. One of the chief dieties, Vishnu, was believed to have descended to earth in the form of a tortoise to help the other gods stir the oceans in the search for the essence of immortality.

8) One of the most famous fables, of course, is the story of the tortoise and the hare.

9) Tortoise tales occur in many African nations and the tortoise is often portrayed as a cunning hero, a greedy intemperate creature.

10) Giant marine turtles, especially green turtles, played a major role in the settlement of the New World. They could be kept aboard ship for months without being fed and became a major food source for sailors on long voyages. The Galapagos tortoise, for example, was a food staple for New England whaling ships that spent several years at a time in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.


January 9, 2012

Top Five Reasons to go to the Galapagos (aka ECUADOR!)

Happiness in Ecuador

Funny, none of these particular reasons have to do with the Galapagos Islands. For years we’ve fielded calls from families wanting to go to the Galapagos. Yes, it is a really cool place to go. Do you want to spend your whole vacation in the islands? No. Why? Because mainland Ecuador has so much to offer – and you are flying through there anyway . Don’t miss out on what most of our families say is the very best part of their adventure! Why?

1) If you buzz right through to get to the islands you’re wasting no-value travel time and overnights to your precious vacation schedule. Stop and smell the roses – literally! Ecuador is one of the world’s biggest exporter of roses. See rose plantations and orchid gardens en your way to some real adventure. Don’t worry, we aren’t going to drag you through museums.

2) Did you know some of the world’s coolest rock climbing is right here in mainland Ecuador? We have an expert climber who has prepared a really cool beginner spot – just for us – for you to try your hand at rock climbing. Are you experienced in this sport? We have an option to knock your socks off.

3) While you are investing in your family memories you may also be interested in showing your kids how meaningful it can be to give back to the world. We’ve partnered with a school full of gleeful children – and a school in need of support from those of us who have something to give. Come visit and start up a game of soccer with these great kids! We’re building a play ground and delivering supplies to the classroom – you can help!

4) Villages, markets, artisans, cobblestone streets, country lanes… the local people of Ecuador are some of the most hospitable people you will ever meet. The opportunity to learn about their traditions and crafts is a highlight of our family adventure in Ecuador.

5) SURPRISE! This is the best part. No one expects it, almost everyone loves it best of all. Mainland Ecuador is full of opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, tasting great food, learning a new craft, and meeting interesting people. But we don’t want to tell you everything you might see and do…come be surprised in Ecuador. We’ll add you to our long list of families who found the adventure of a lifetime in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.