Our holiday with SwimTrek was not cheap. Yet the experiences of this week will flash across my fading memory years from now.
If you're considering it there were a few practical aspects of this SwimTrek holiday in 2019 which you might benefit from knowing in advance.
I'll add them as we go. Oh, and if you wish to see more of my photos, check out this album.
The wildlife which inspired Darwin's thoughts on evolution by natural selection now inspire plane-loads of tourists - sometimes up to 9 aircraft each day.
It would not surprise anyone if access to these Pacific islands was soon restricted, either by permit or by price (or both).
Our group of 16 swimmers was split daily between two fast boats, each with its own SwimTrek guide and each with it's own Galapagos-born naturalist guide. This combination of expertise is highly successful.
|The swimming is great too|
This holiday is not all about the swimming. On Croatia and on Montenegro SwimTrek holidays there have been a few folk who were there for the speed, the distance and the training. Here you leave that attitude at Heathrow.
|Here it is not a race|
Distances are short - our longest was 4.5km but it was so heavily assisted by the tidal stream it felt like 2km. When a shout goes up (eg "Turtle!) everyone stops and treads water face down. The fins help you quickly re-position and follow what's been sighted.
|Another day, another type of turtle|
However, you do need to know about Galapagos Bingo. I was a Manta Ray short of a full-house. You get the idea. There were a couple of land-based excursions too, one of which took us around a colony of flamingos.
|Pico and Gustavo (centre)|
So to practical matters.
Flights. Price isn't everything - consider the type of aircraft used. We flew across the Atlantic with Avianca because our pilot friend advised the Boeing 767 Dreamliner had much better air quality and seat space than alternatives we considered (KLM). Plus we paid £100 more for extra leg-room both ways. The downside of Avianca is an aircraft transfer in Bogota, Columbia. Technically this is a Yellow Fever country, so to arrive in Ecuador from Columbia one needs a Yellow Fever certificate - fortunately we had these already. No-one seemed to check.
|This is your captain drying the wings|
If you don't want to explore Ecuador, or can't spare the time, a direct flight to Guayaquil missing out Quito altogether is probably a better option. One of our group who did this reported no queues in the airport for the TCT (see below) and, because the city is at sea level, none of the altitude related headaches and sickness which can come during a short stay in Quito.
Flights to the Galapagos. I've suggested SwimTrek emphasises the regulatory requirements to fly to the islands, because you need a specific piece of documentation, the Transit Control Card (TCT in Spanish). In theory you can pre-register but because SwimTrek doesn't provide a hotel code (unlike Booking.com) it doesn't work.
So in Quito you must queue at the domestic terminal for up to 90 minutes (we were early and it was still 45 minutes) clutching your passport, your hotel reservation document, your travel insurance documents, and your return ticket. It is absolutely essential to have print-outs of these.
|It took us 45min from point of step 1 arrow to reach the front so the people at the back would take well over an hour|
Other flight. In the middle of the trip, when we switch islands from Santa Cruz to Isabela, there's a rather loud, somewhat uncomfortable 2 hour fast-boat transfer. Three of our group elected not to endure this on the return journey but to fly, arranging this locally for about $200. It cuts out the 2 hour fast-boat, a bus ride across Santa Cruz, and a short, busy ferry to Baltra Island where the main airport is located.
What to take. Think of how much sunscreen you'll need, then double it. On the Equator some women in our group suffered particularly from butt-burn. The flesh below a swimming costume is as vulnerable as neck and shoulders and the sun extremely strong. Quite serious burns are not uncommon. Longer length swimming shorts or jammers, plus at least two long sleeve rash-vests (tight ones which won't fill with water) are absolutely essential if you're going to swim 'skins'.
Liz knows she's vulnerable to sunburn, so we spoke to Ben at SwimTrek when we booked. We both bought 'sting suits', 1mm dive suits that completely cover the body. These worked well for us when openwater swimming.
I also took a BlueSeventy sleeveless wetsuit because I'm not a great swimmer and like the extra buoyancy. However, I had to wear a high-neck rash-vest under that suit because the salinity of this part of the Pacific could easily cause neck and arm burns from the suit. At no point was I too hot in either the sleeveless wetsuit or sting-suit. Indeed, swims from Isabela are close to submerged volcanoes where cold water up-wells from the deep.
Aqua shoes, despite being on the kit list, are pointless because you have to remove your shoes as you get on the boat each morning. Keen sandals with toe protection or Tevas are more useful as they can be worn elsewhere. Again, I've suggested SwimTrek update their kit list.
Here's a map of all the swims we tackled. They're spread out, because the Galapagos Islands are spread out, but zoom into any you'll get an idea of the amazing scenery we enjoyed.
Sorry if it's not responsive on phones.