From Quito to San Cristobal to Silver Galapagos
Today, I finally embarked Silversea’s adventurous Silver Galapagos on San Cristobal, Ecuador – the most easterly of the Galapagos Islands. It’s been a long but rewarding journey filled with interesting experiences, and because so little has been written about it, I thought I’d add what is hopefully some useful information about the act of getting here in the first place.
I landed in Quito just after 1 p.m. local time yesterday, at the new Mariscal Sucre International Airport. Landing here is one of the most visually stunning approaches I think I’ve had anywhere; the airport is literally perched on the top of a mountain, with the city of Quito residing in the valley below.
As my American Airlines flight descended, the raw beauty of this area became apparent. Imagine someone took the Rocky Mountains or the Swiss Alps and shaved all the trees off of them. Bzzzt! Now dot that barren landscape with farms, houses, tractors, and fields that seem to descend into impossibly vertical angles. It’s striking.
Once I’d landed, I took my two completed customs and immigration cards and stood in line at Ecuadorian customs. Officials speak excellent English, and though the line took nearly 40 minutes to complete, they were friendly and efficient.
Luggage claimed, I was out in the main arrivals area of the airport, where I met my Silversea transfer. It’s also the part of the journey with the most crucial information.
Because the new airport is so far away from where most embarking Silver Galapagos guests will stay (the J.W. Marriott Quito) prior to flying to the Islands, departure is organized like a well-oiled machine. Depending on your arrival time, though, it’s a machine you may not like.
In order to make my 8 a.m. LAN Ecuador flight to San Cristobal, I – along with many other guests – was given a letter directly from Silversea, outlining the procedures for Saturday morning. I’m going to reprint it here verbatim; keep in mind that times and places may change from voyage to voyage:
- 4:00 AM – Automatic Wakeup Call
- 4:00 to 4:05 AM – Your luggage must be outside your room ready for pick-up. Do not lock your luggage, and be sure to attach your Silversea tags.
- 4:05 to 4:35 AM – Luggage inspection. If you wish, you can observe the inspection at the Reception Hall.
- 4:30 AM – Breakfast is served at the Bistro Latino Restaurant located on the ground floor.
- 4:30 AM to 5:30 AM – Please visit the Hospitality Desk for your SHIP ID, Boarding Pass, and Migration Card.
- 5:30 AM – Please meet in the lobby for your transfer to the airport.
- 5:45AM – Transfer to the airport.
For me, none of this really posed an issue. I hadn’t planned to do much other than catch up on some work in the hotel and order room service (mmm…clubhouse sandwich), so after an episode of The Big Bang Theory subtitled in Spanish, I was asleep by 8:30 p.m.
What I don’t advise, though, is flying in on the three later flights to Quito. American Airlines, Delta and United all offer late-night flights, with the United from Houston getting in the latest at 11:00 p.m. From the time my plane landed until I arrived at the hotel, two hours had passed. Thus, people arriving on the night run from Houston will find themselves very jet-lagged by the time they reach the J.W. Marriott, with no real options for sleep.
Don’t do it. Arrive earlier in the day, or a day before. Particularly here in Quito, it’s good to give yourself some time to acclimatize. The city is, after all, at an altitude of 9,350 feet – the second highest capital city in the world. Altitude sickness can also be a real concern here for some, and it’s all the more reason to put some time between your arrival and departure to Silver Galapagos.
As far as altitude sickness is concerned, I didn’t experience much mor