Ralph and I are sitting on the back patio, coffee in hand, making the final preparations for our Galapagos expedition cruise. We have two days pre-cruise in Quito, Ecuador, where we hope to take a full day guided adventure tour. We fly today from Asheville, North Carolina to Quito, spend two nights in a Marriott, then we board a regional carrier to the Galapagos islands.
There are a few questions we have before our trip: What will be the weather in Quito and the Galapagos? What will the expedition cruise company, Silversea Cruises, provide? What are the essentials that we need to bring? And ambitiously, can we pack it all in carry-on luggage?
We have been preparing for a few days now. We have laid out everything we think we want and need to bring; now we need to streamline what we pack. We queried members of the Silversea Passenger Facebook Group, and they were exceptionally helpful and encouraging. We reviewed the guide provided by Silversea, as well as information presented on IGTOA’s (International Galapagos Tour Operators Association) website, which we found informative. We looked at weather channels and weather apps to find out about our weather for this time of year in the Galapagos and for our two days In Quito.
The Weather Sets The Stage
Quito sits at an elevation of 9,350 feet, surrounded by peaks that are even higher. This week the forecast calls for chilly and windy, with some thunderstorms. This capital city’s weather sounds much like the weather that we will encounter in the Galapagos Islands. Looking at his phone weather app, Ralph says: “It’s in mid-60s and cloudy with a chance of rain today in the Galapagos; it’s going to be chilly.” It’s not something we had totally expected. We thought the Galapagos would be warmer, balmy almost, a tropical paradise.
Daytime temperatures should be in the low 60s to 70s Fahrenheit with some cloud cover and possible afternoon thunderstorms. At night the temperature can be as low as the mid 40s. The average water temperature will be in the high 60s.
Our research revealed that September in the Galapagos is the peak of Garua Season, the cool season that typically lasts from July through December. Garua means fine misty rain, which lays over the peaks of the islands. Even though the Galapagos are treeless, this Garua turns the elevation above 1,000 feet into a lush, vibrant green landscape. Meanwhile, the lower elevations are bone dry.
The IGTOA website explains that cold waters come up from the Antarctica region with the Humboldt Current making the Galapagos a subtropical rather than tropical climate. The northern islands are almost tropical, which is what we were expecting. It is the southern islands that feel the full effect of the cold ocean stream of the Humboldt Current.
The bonus to this season created by the Humboldt Current is that the birds and fish are at their most active. Feeding on each other and a sea rich with nutrients and a plankton bloom. It’s also a good time for green turtle sightings. The IGTOA website says that the Humboldt Current is strongest in September, which is cause for a choppy surface on the water. We’re taking sea-sickness tablets just in case, even though we endured four days of heavy seas crossing the Drake Passage this past November with no ill effect.
Now that we have a good idea about our weather, here’s how we are preparing.
What We’ll Pack – And How
Finding outfits that are multipurpose and versatile to meet all the different scenarios and weather is a challenge, especially fitting all the attire into carry-on luggage. Plus, we want our hands free, which means backpacks. Our goal is to always pack as if the airlines were going to lose our luggage.
We are bringing clothing and essentials which are suitable for air travel; two nights in Quito; seven nights on board the ship; and excursions involving zodiac travel, hiking and snorkeling. Definitely on our list: a swimsuit for snorkeling with wet suits and hot tubbing.
On our expedition cruise the attire is casual, and for that we are grateful. It means fewer shoes, fewer jackets, fewer dressy clothes. Jeans or shorts are not allowed at dinner, but no formal wear is required. Aboard our ship there is laundry service for a fee. We will probably use these services at least once during our time away.
Long-distance backpacking taught me the “rule of three,” which allowed me to keep my load light and less bulky: three pair of socks, three bras and three pair of underpants. This conveys into the one I wear, the one that’s dirty and the one that is drying from handwashing.
I have also discovered lightweight, fashionable, and functional adventure and travel clothing and footwear at our local outdoor specialist retail shops. These outfitter stores carry brands such as Patagonia, Columbia, Outdoor Research and Goretex, to name a few. Footwear suitable for both hiking and wearing in the water is by Keen and Merrell, for our choices. Dansko Mary Jane shoes are what I wear on the plane and around town. They are heavy but are easy to slip on and off. In addition I can wear them with jeans or a dress and a walk around town all day.
A layering system for clothing and outerwear allows us to adjust to conditions to protect ourselves and keep us comfortable. A list of what we pack follows.
- Light rain jacket
- Full brim hat with chin strap
- Buff brand neck gaiter
- Lightweight insulated jacket
- 2 pairs lightweight quick-drying hiking pants
- 2 pairs lightweight quick-drying hiking short
- 2 technical short sleeve tops
- 2 long sleeve quick-drying shirts
- 2 packable travel dresses
- 3 pairs of lightweight fleece leggings
- Fleece sweater/jacket
Even if there is no precipitation, a rain jacket makes an excellent windbreaker on a sunny day and repels splashes on a zodiac ride. A mid-layer insulation piece can be added or removed under my rain shell to adjust my core temperature as needed. Buff neck gaiters can add warmth by covering my neck and also keep the sun off. Buff’s can also be used as head wear to tame the locks on a windy day or under a rain hood to add warmth. We lose heat through our heads.
For adventure clothing we bring lightweight, quick drying hiking pants, shorts, and short and long sleeve shirts for layering (two of each). The Galapagos Islands are treeless, so having these clothes will protect us from the sun. We choose technical socks, wool or synthetic, not cotton. Cotton holds moisture and can get chilly. Lightweight fleece leggings can be fashionable with dresses and functional by adding warmth under trousers too.
We are packing some items on this trip that we forgot to bring on other trips.
- We are bringing binoculars for viewing wildlife from the ship and ashore.
- Cash for gratuities, small purchases, and donations. In Ecuador the U.S. dollar is accepted currency.
- Cold medicine. Travel increases risk for catching a bug. On a ship, it can be difficult to find cold medicines if needed.
- Platypus brand water bottles. These are lightweight, durable and packable. They can roll up and fit in a pocket when empty.
- We will reuse and refill these from a tap, rather than using endless plastic water bottles.
- Gotube brand travel bottles. These are TSA approved and refillable. Another way to avoid the multitude of endless little shampoo and lotion plastic bottles.
- Command strips with hooks. Other travelers recommend we bring these to hang wet gear and clothes in our cabin. These are small, sturdy and easily removed without damaging any surface.
Can We Get It All In Carry-On Luggage?
We wanted to use carry-on luggage, in case our luggage is lost. And we were tired of maneuvering wheeled luggage up and down escalators, bumping into people, and rolling it through city streets with cobblestones or steps. Plus we found we overpacked when we had the luggage space.
I am using a 36 liter, “carry on legal” Osprey backpack. With a backpack I can be hands-free, and all the weight is on my hips not my shoulders when walking around. I feel there is an extra security in wearing my pack as long as I don’t have valuables protruding from pockets.
I have rolled my clothing to fit in nicely. Rolling reduces wrinkles; I do not do ironing. I have filled all the little nooks, crannies and pockets with my travel needs. My camera tripod fits in the outer pockets with cinch straps to secure it. My water shoes go into the other outer pocket. My Osprey backpack fits in the overhead compartment of the plane.
I am also carrying on a Silversea daypack for the camera, ipad, binoculars and other doodads. This will fit under the seat in front of me on the plane. Around my waist I wear my little Patagonia waist pouch. I keep my passport, cash, cards and phone on my waist at all times. It is low profile and unobtrusive so I can sit with it on the plane and still be comfortable.
When I am on the ship I can unpack and then I have the use of these packs for excursions. I am able to carry my camera gear, outerwear, extra shoes, and water. I am adventure ready.
Ralph is using a ULA Camino 2 backpack as a carry-on. It is designed for travel and for easy access. His shoes are Keen Aruba II, which not only slip on and off easily but also quick-drying and with shock-absorbing midsoles, meaning they’re good for long walks. For long walks and hikes, and for water sports, he has the Keen Newport Hydro, again, quick-drying and more secure on the foot with closed toes and back straps.
We’re also packing two Mirrorless DLRs with a variety of lens and filters, two tripods, a Joby Gorilla Pod 3K Pro and MeFoto Globetrotter S, a GoPro Hero 7 Black with a bunch of accessories, a 15-inch Macbook Pro, two iPads and much more. We managed to get all of that in a small roller that can also be hand-carried from Briggs-Riley.
Ralph too carries a hip-pocket bag. His is made by Thrupack, and amazingly accommodates two phones, a Kindle, passport, credit cards, cash, business cards, Apple Airpods and more.
Now It’s Up To The Airlines
At the airport, we’ll see if we’re allowed to carry on our backpacks and handpieces. If not, we have an additional backpack that folds into its own pocket. It will give us an extra bag in case we need to re-strategize.
The secret to being able to pack as lightly as we did was to start early, think about it, lay everything out, think some more, sleep on it (figuratively) and dispose ruthlessly. In about 10 days, we’ll be able to tell you if it all worked out. We certainly hope so!