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12 minute read

Local Insight: Galapagos Tips from Tour Director Romy Bustamante

March 21, 2021

Welcome to sunny Ecuador, and specifically, to the world-famous Galapagos Islands. This South American archipelago, renowned as the "living laboratory" of Charles Darwin, offers a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience.

Romy Bustamante Ecuador
Romy highlights the interesting flora of Ecuador for Odysseys guests. Source: Mary Komoto

We've enlisted Romy Bustamante, a tour director on both our Galapagos Explorer and Machu Picchu to the Galapagos small group tours, to divulge some of her Galapagos wisdom for you. Read on for a slew of insider knowledge, including Romy's must-haves for a Galapagos packing list, her picks for the best seafood to try, and some fascinating insight into the unique (and friendly!) wildlife of the Galapagos Islands.

Galapagos Islands must-haves

Aside from the obvious staples when packing for the Galapagos (camera, sunscreen, wide-brim hat, insect repellent), here are Romy's expert suggestions for what to pack on a Galapagos adventure.

  • Underwater camera - For all the stunning scenes on offer above ground, the subjects below the waterline are equally photogenic. "Our expeditions are not only done on land, but underwater as well," says Romy. "There are marine iguanas that look just like Godzilla, [and] giant tortoises that were the inspiration for the movie E.T."  So keep that waterproof camera ready!
  • Zip-lock plastic bag - Even if your camera is waterproof, your phone/binoculars/sunglasses/etc. are likely not. Thus, it helps immensely to bring a zip-lock plastic bag to "protect from water when landing," according to Romy. With both wet and dry landings in the Galapagos, a zip-lock bag will quickly become a prized possession.
zodiac boat wet landing galapagos ecuador
An example of one of our shore landings in the Galapagos. Source: Mary Komoto
  • Backpack - "I need guests to be 'hands-free' when embarking and disembarking," says Romy, which makes a day pack or small backpack a crucial part of a day's touring.
  • Good walking shoes - "Our excursions take place on uneven and rocky terrain," so packing the right shoes is all-important. Your best bet is something with good traction and the ability to shed water, like a pair of TEVA sandals.
Backpacks and good walking shoes are a must when visiting the Galapagos. Source: Mary Komoto

Delicious Ecuadorian specialties

Romy's go-to for a scrumptious, authentically Ecuadorian food? The small yet flavorful shrimp found in these waters.

Ecuadorian shrimp
An Ecuadorian dish made with succulent local shrimp. Source: Mary Komoto

"For certain, Ecuadorian shrimp are some of the best in the world, good-sized and tasty. Ecuadorian shrimp have been awarded with the prized 'Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2016' [for] Fish & Seafood." Indeed, Ecuadorian chef Carlos Gallardo wrote the award-winning Camaron Ecuatoriano to shed light on this unique and savory species of shrimp.

"Besides that," she says, "shrimp ceviche is our remedy against a hangover...and it goes very well with a cold beer! Also, the heart of palm with glazed tree tomatoes is unique, and of course our banana cake made with real sweet and ripe bananas is always my recommendation at the Royal Palm [hotel]."

Galapagos wildlife interaction tips

Frigate bird Galapagos Ecuador
A frigate bird in full flight. Source: Mary Komoto

The Galapagos offer visitors unprecedented viewing opportunities of some of the world's most beautiful and fascinating wildlife. Romy has a few tips to make your wildlife interactions all the more special - and safe.

  • Remember your surroundings - "The fact that in the Galapagos there are no predators makes interacting with the animals a unique and unforgettable experience," she says. "Our animals have NO fear in the presence of visitors, therefore we enjoy their natural behavior. We are just another creature trying to coexist in the same environment."
  • Respect the animals - As the wildlife won't feel threatened by human contact, the temptation is to stray too close. "Do not touch them, do not feed them, and keep your distance. The minimum distance for successful wildlife observing is two feet," according to Romy. Which seems plenty close enough for a good inspection!
Blue-footed booby Galapagos Ecuador
A signature Galapagos blue-footed booby. Source: Mary Komoto
  • Stay alert - Just because some of the animals have no natural predators does not mean that they will not feel threatened. "During mating season, animals could be dangerous or get scared." Your expert Galapagos naturalist will be sure to warn you if any species are in mating season, or look particularly threatened, during your tour.
Seal pup Galapagos Ecuador
A seal keeps a close watch on her cub at South Plaza Island. Source: Mary Komoto

Key Spanish phrases to know

Romy advises us that a rudimentary understanding of Spanish will serve you well in Ecuador: "Ecuadorian people are very friendly, smiley, and polite. We always say two key words at the beginning of our phrases: por favor (please)."

"And we always appreciate what we get, [for which] we say Gracias! (Thank you)... When the day starts, before our morning juice, we say Muy buenos dias! (A very good morning)."

"During a meal... we say Buen provecho! Bon appetit, because we know our food is very fresh and delicious. Our guests love being able to eat salads that never make them sick."

Some parting travel inspiration

"Traveling to the Galapagos feels like going back in time. You meet pelicans and frigate[bird]s that remind you of The Flintstones," says Romy. "Just let us guide you along the path to an unforgettable experiences... there is always something amazing to see. Swimming with sea lions is a must."

And if that's not enough to persuade you, she finishes with a quote from the man who first made the Galapagos Islands famous:

"They are islands that time forgot." - Charles Darwin

Galapagos tortoise Ecuador
The famed Galapagos tortoise was the inspiration for E.T. 
Photo Source: OU Traveler, Mary Komoto
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