Ecuador and the Galápagos Expedition:
Stories from the Field
Sea Lions & Sea Turtles
July 12, 2017
Today we headed off to the Galakiwi shop to get fitted for wetsuits and pick up fins and masks for snorkeling. We then took a very quick bus ride and a long walk to the snorkeling spot, Las Tijeretas. There, we were faced with a challenge when we noticed that a feisty sea lion was blocking our path to the water! But fear not, he was sleeping, and we just stepped over him. We split up into groups led by our wonderful guides, Gustavo and Sara. Once in the water, we were immediately met by groups of sea lions and large schools of fish. We also spotted many large sea turtles, and one group even caught a glimpse of an octopus.
Watching as groups of playful sea lions swam around us, mimicking our movements, was definitely a highlight.
But that’s not all! Right after, we took a long walk and another short bus ride to a beautiful, white sand beach on the other side of the island. There, we ate snacks, played frisbee, watched sea lions, and took photos, enjoying our last few days together. We then headed straight to lunch at Rosita’s and enjoyed a delicious meal. The afternoon was spent finishing our final on-assignment projects. At around 6:30, we headed off to dinner at Descanso Marinero and listened to a presentation on sharks and rays by our wonderful group leader, Florencia Cerutti. We ate our meal and walked over to a playground where we enjoyed some ice cream while watching the sea lions on the beach. We finished our day with a round of shoutouts and then headed off to bed. It was a great day, and while we’re sad that tomorrow is our last full day here, we’re so glad that we were able to have such a great time together.
July 4, 2017
Today is our last day in Cotopaxi. Everyone packed their luggage and worked together to get it on the bus after breakfast. Once we loaded the bus, we headed to the Cotopaxi Volcano. First, we stopped in front of the volcano and got a group photo with the National Geographic flag. Then, we drove up further to the parking lot. We got off the bus and prepared for our steep hike up to the base of the Cotopaxi Volcano. Even though the distance wasn’t that far, the volcano was extremely steep and there was less oxygen because of the high altitude.
Everyone got to the base at different times. The base is at an altitude of 15,953 feet. As we arrived, we each got delicious hot chocolate. This gave everyone time to relax and take photos. A student brought an American flag with him up the volcano.
In honor of the Fourth of July, everyone signed the flag and hung it up on the wall of the base camp. Heading back down the volcano was much easier. It was hard not to slip, but everyone did great. On the bus ride back we stopped at a park to have lunch, then continued our journey to Quito.
We arrived at the hotel and started to sort our packed items, choosing what we wanted to bring with us to the Galápagos. Everyone came together for pizza and circle time. We discussed positive things we wanted from our entire group in order to be a supportive community.
After everyone shared their thoughts, each person wrote something on a sheet and we created it into a flag, which we will now hang up in each place we stay at in the Galápagos. When we finished, we packed and went to bed early to rest for the long day ahead of us.
Ecuador on Horseback
July 6, 2017
Wow! Today was a roller coaster—we went all over Mindo. My group started in the mountains, where we learned about the importance of fungi and solar colors in the ecosystem. One amazing note we learned was that leaves with two colors, for example red on one side and green on the other, absorbs twice the amount of energy. This causes the plant to die faster because they take in too much, making them strong, but later leading them to become weak. Another cool fact that we learned was that fungi actually break down dead carnivores, causing them to release the nutrients within that carnivore back into the environment!
At the end of this amazing hike we, as a group, had the opportunity to experience a freezing, strong waterfall. This gave both the photographers and wildlife students the experience of photographing the movement of water. The hike back up had the majority of the group in a sweat, uphill the entire time, but by the end it was all worth it, when we got to ride the trolley across between mountains. The trolley followed with a trip to an amazing restaurant with a killer view, and incredible food. After our lunch break we hurried over to the butterfly conservatory, where everyone held a butterfly by smearing banana all over their face! After this wild experience, we ventured across the street to the river rapids, where we tubed over rocks and many other crazy objects. Laughing through the day we signed this day off by enjoying dinner at a local pizza place.
The next day we were caught off guard by the high altitudes and chilling temperatures of the highlands, our stay was certainly an unforgettable one. Today was our only full day in Cotopaxi, and it was full of horseback riding, hot cocoa, and long fireside conversation. Some of us started the day off with an optional morning hike, where we watched the sun rise over miles of highlands, and got our first glance of Mt. Cotopaxi. After the hike, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast served in our beautiful hacienda. We geared up in classic Chagra clothes, and went out for a long and picturesque horse ride in the highlands. Once back, and full of warm cinnamon tea, we worked on our on-assignment projects with a very tasty lunch before we split up for more active on-assignment work. We went on another sunset hike later in the night. While we watched the sunset over the hills, it was impossible not to be in awe at the beauty in such a wonderful place. We went back to the hacienda to pack for the next exiting part of our adventure.
Hummingbirds and the Equator
July 2, 2017
What an amazing first day of getting oriented in Quito, Ecuador, and getting to know each other!
We started with a home-cooked breakfast from the amazing family that is hosting us at their guest house. From there we headed up the mountain to Ichimbia Park, a beautiful park and cultural center of Quito. We played some games, got to know one another, set intentions for the trip, and prepared ourselves for the journey ahead.
Across the way we stumbled into a beautiful café with one of the best views in Quito. Not only is this café in an epic spot, with delicious food, but it’s also a charity and a shelter for stray dogs. We got the chance to see some of the friendly local dogs while taking in the view of the colorful hills of Quito.
We went up from there, climbing on the air tram known as the Teleferico, where we soared through the sky to arrive at about 14,000 feet, getting the highest view there is in this historical town. We capped the night off with a special dinner and a night tour of Old Town.
After an absolutely amazing first day in Quito, we left this morning to journey towards Mindo. On the way, we stopped at The Equator, also known as the Mitad del Mundo, which is a monument to the Equator. We were able to climb up to a looking tower, where the village and mountains surrounding it were visible. At the Equator, there isn’t a strong gravitational pull, so there were activities to challenge our balance such as balancing an egg. There were very few students who could complete the gravity challenge.
We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant overlooking the beautiful Cloud Forest where an abundance of hummingbirds surrounded the restaurant. While we were there, most of the students had the chance to hike on a small trail through the forest, where we learned about many types of plants and animals that are indigenous to this region. The views were breathtaking!
After lunch, we arrived at our hostel in Mindo where we were all amazed by the beauty of afternoon. Then went to dinner at a butterfly restaurant and the food was delicious! When we arrived back at the hostel, we had time to talk to the group about the plan for the next day and reflect on the amazing day that had just passed.
We are loving each other and this country already. Can’t wait for more!
Interview with Student Alum Emily S.
March 8, 2017
Describe your most memorable experience from your trip.
My most memorable moment is probably still one of my favorite experiences from all of my travels- horseback riding in the Andes. I’ve always loved riding and the scenery there was just incredible and unforgettable. I hope to go back someday.
Were you especially proud of something you accomplished on the trip or a lesson you learned while in the field?
I was really proud of some of the photos I took during the trip and all that my trip leader Jes taught me. I still love taking pictures, but my photos from that trip were probably some of the best I’ve ever taken.
How would you describe the community with whom you traveled?
I think that having a small group with the same passions as you allows you to be yourself more easily, especially when you are somewhat introverted like me. My trip leaders were amazing- constantly sharing their knowledge and inspiring me to follow my dreams. Plus, I got to explore an incredible country in a unique way, through the eyes of a professional photographer and a wildlife conservationist. I saw the world differently than I otherwise would have.
What have you been up to since your trip?
After my trip I studied at the University of Vermont and graduated with a degree in Animal Science. While there, I participated in multiple wildlife volunteer trips to South Africa and did my study abroad with Semester at Sea, which allowed me the opportunity to explore 11 new countries! I graduated a semester early and got an internship at Cairns Tropical Zoo in Cairns, Queensland, Australia. Since then I’ve had a mix of jobs working with animals and internships at different zoos and sanctuaries. I am now in my final year of getting my vet tech certification and working as a vet tech in the process. My ultimate goal is to be a vet tech in a zoo or to do conservation field work in Africa.
Did traveling with National Geographic influence your studies or career?
Traveling with National Geographic was a great transition from high school to college. It gave me time away from my parents where I had to be responsible for myself. I was in a new environment with people I didn’t know, so was ready when I had the same experience at college.
Have your travels with National Geographic inspired you to take other trips?
I definitely would say I have the travel bug- I’ve been to 20 countries and some more than once! I can’t wait to see more of this amazing world we live in.
Alyssa’s Adventures, Q&A from Three Expeditions!
April 27, 2016
What made you choose these four Student Expeditions trips?
I first chose Ecuador because it seemed like something that was most familiar. I’m Mexican-American, so the fact that I could understand and speak the native language of the country made me feel more comfortable and close to home. Also, the opportunity to visit the Galapagos and get an up-close experience with the amazing nature there through learning about animal conservation really excited me.
Adventures in the High Andes and Ecuadorian Cloud Forest
July 28, 2015
Hello from the warm cloud forest in Mindo! Before arriving here after spending three wonderful days high in the Andes on the slopes of the Cotopaxi Volcano. We spent our first two days hiking and horseback riding along the green, rolling slopes beneath the Cotopaxi Volcano.
Our Top 10 on the Ecuadorian Mainland and a Galapagos Species Spotlight
July 18, 2015
We had an incredible time exploring Quito, Cotopaxi and Mindo. Here is our group’s top 10 favorite moments from the mainland!
Wild, Wonderful Galapagos
July 15, 2015
After an early morning and an easy flight, we finally stepped foot on Galapagos and met our guides, Danny and Jose Angel. Part of the park’s success is due to controlled access – our guides will be with us throughout the entirety of our time here and are a great resource for the students as they learn about life on the islands. We landed on Baltra Island, an old American military base that now is home to the busiest airport in the Galapagos, just off the coast of Santa Cruz Island. After having lunch in town in Puerto Ayora, we loaded up into a speed boat for a three-hour ride from Santa Cruz Island to Isabela Island. Isabela is the largest of the islands, making up about 60% of the Galapagos land mass.
Snorkeling with Sea Lions in the Galápagos
August 5, 2014
While snorkeling in the Galápagos, student traveler Alexandria V. came across a group of playful sea lions who were anything but camera shy! She submitted her video through our new photo- and video-sharing platform Snapshots from the Field. Check out her video below and then submit your own photos and videos!
Bird Watching in Ecuadorean Cloud Forests
July 14, 2014
We are excited to share this fantastic post from National Geographic Expert, Taylor Edwards:
We entered the cloud forest before dawn but it was already full of life. The sounds of calling birds surround us: male Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks displaying to females. Despite the loudness, the birds still remain elusive and fleeting glimpses of their bright red mohawks are all we see against the rising sun. I am part of the bird-watching group this morning and we are on an expedition to see some of the neotropic’s most elusive birds: the antpittas. This group of birds is notoriously difficult to see, but fortunately we are led by our local guide Angel Paz and one of the world’s foremost experts in antpittas, Dr. Harold Greeney. Antpittas epitomize the challenges of viewing wildlife in the tropics because despite being ubiquitous, they are secretive and difficult to see. They remind us that the rainforest is full of secrets that may not be apparent at first, but with a lot of patience can be revealed.