Category Archives: Cruise

Galapagos for the Whole Family

Thinking of taking young kids to the Galapagos? Many parents have doubts of taking their kids to a country so adventurous and exotic as Ecuador, and cruising around the Galapagos Islands, but if your kids can handle a few basic requirements, the Galapagos are sure to become your kids’ all time favorite vacation.

How old should children be?

Eric Sheets, owner of Galapagos Expeditions, a tour operator specialized for in Galapagos for families says, “Usually, as soon as children are old enough to appreciate animals, the beach, the ocean, walk for an hour or so in the heat, and stay on a boat, they’re old enough and mature enough to go on a Galapagos cruise. So, depending on your children, kids as young as three can have an amazing experience in the Galapagos.”

If that sounds like a challenge for your little ones, the option of staying in a hotel on the Galapagos and doing land based tours or day trips is even easier on kids than taking a cruise.

The daily routine if you’re on a boat consists of getting up around 6am, having a buffet breakfast, boarding a dingy to an island to go on a morning hike, coming back for lunch on the boat, then doing a second afternoon excursion to an island or sometimes snorkeling. But, you can always skip an excursion if the kids (or parents) get tired.

If your child can snorkel, it opens a whole new world under the sea. So if possible, it’s recommendable to buy snorkel gear ahead of time and practice snorkeling in a pool or the tub first to get used to the mask.  The boats usually provide snorkel gear, but not usually small sizes for small children. The water is normally quite cold and wet suits are used.

An unforgettable family vacation

My own son, who has gone to the Galapagos three times between the age of 3 and 8 claims to have been there four times, the first time being when his mother was seven months pregnant claims, “I remember, I could see the animals through my mama’s belly button, I swear!” If you ask any of my kids which they prefer, Galapagos or Disney World, they unhesitatingly say Galapagos, always.

For more about traveling to the Galapagos with kids, pick up a copy of  VIVA Travel Guides Galapagos book, and eBook, by  Crit Minster, whom is the father of two preschoolers and is married to a guide in the Galapagos

The Cartagena-Colón Ferry Returns

After 16 years, ferry service between Cartagena, Colombia, and Colón, Panamá, has resumed. This service, which will begin May 10, now will give travelers the most economical way to travel between South and Central America.


For a short time in the mid-1990s, travelers could rely on the Crucero Express to safely shuttle them from Central America to South America. At the time, it was a god-send: Just a few years earlier, it became prohibitively dangerous to walk the Darien Gap, the jungle between the two countries, and most backpackers could not afford the airfare between Panama and Colombia. The only other choice was to find a way to Puerto Obaldía, the last Caribbean Coast town in Panama, then take the chalupas (twin-engine speedboats) down the coast to Turbo. In that decade, though, that trip was not without its adventures. But suddenly, without reason, the Crucero Express ceased operations in November 1996.


Now the Greek-staffed Nissos Rodos will be making the trip. Service begins May 10, 2012. The passenger-cargo ferry has a capacity for 1,484 passengers, 500 autos and 2,000 meters of cargo space, with the capacity to haul 175 shipping containers. The ship will sail from Cartagena, Colombia, on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday, and from Colón, Panamá, on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. It will leave port at 6 a.m. and arrive at approximately 6 p.m.


Passengers have the choice of traveling in reserved seat ($99-119), dormitory ($209) or private cabin ($598-678). Reservations must be made at least 48 hours in advance, with payment.

In Cartagena, reservations may be made with Promised Land Tours (Calle de la Media Luna 10-113, Getsemaní. Tel: 57-5-660-2565, Cel: 57-300-449-1906 / 317-355-1186, E-mail:, URL: The agent in Panama City is Pan American Seaways (Tel: 209-2000 / 380-0900 and via or E-mail:, URL:


Find out more about the Colombia-Panama Border Crossings and Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guide, available in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from and Barnes & Noble.


On the Road — Colombia: Along the Río Magdalena

Some days the news from travelers coming down from the North isn’t good. Apparently the rains that have been soaking Bogotá have also been affecting other parts of the country. Trips are taking several hours longer than normal. Indeed, the continued possibility of roadblocks — in this case, landslides on the highways between the Cordillera Central and the Cordillera Oriental.

But travel on I must. Rocinante (my knapsack) and I await buses heading North and further North, in search of dry, warm weather. We do have luck, encountering only remnants of the destruction. Sometimes road shoulders no longer exist, having caved into the depths far below. Only a guardrail protects us from the abyss. Sometimes the highways have stretches of rough wash board. Broad earthen ripples vibrate beneath the bus’ tires. Dregs of a landslide recently cleared.


Some of those travelers coming down from the North have other tales to tell, of an adventure they undertook that proved to be the highlight of their stay in Colombia. They had never heard of it before. The most commonly used guide makes no mention of it. Not until they checked out V!VA Colombia or talked with Shaun of Macondo Hostel in San Gil, did they know of the possibility of taking this historic highway. No, this thorughfare is not paved, nor in danger of being blocked by landslides. It was the road the Muisca nation, and later the Spaniards and Simón Bolívar, used to the coast: the Río Magdalena.

Paseo por el Río Magdalena. Photo by Talaigua Nuevo municipality.

I know their excitement. For years, I also dreamed of slicing the muddy river. But when I came to Colombia in May 1999, there already had been over 200 kidnappings on the river meandering through the country’s then-Red Zone. I would have to delay my dreams until mid-2004.

Investigating, asking every town-step along the way — in Cartegena, Mangangue, in Mompós and finally El Banco — I felt I could do it. Every one (including the Policia Nacional) assured me it was safe. In El Banco, I hopped a launch heading upstream to Barrancabermeja. For 7.5 hours, we stopped at every port village along the way. Cattlelands and savannahs stretched along both banks. Over the years, I passed the word. Even still, not many foreigners carve a wake into the earthen waters of one of South America’s greatest rivers.


Northward we travel, Rocinante and I. The weather is such a relief after weeks of Bogotá’s chill rain. Even though the sun sets at the same time as in the capital, the days seem longer. By noon, the heat swells, driving people inside for a post-lunch siesta on a hammock in interior courtyards. Walking around the cities and pueblos updating V!VA Colombia, I must take care against sunstroke. It isn’t all about hotels and restaurants, banks and internet cafés, however. I also search out the cool river balnearios for a dip, searching tree tops for howler monkeys and colorful macaws. The calm, warm waters of the Caribbean, though, are yet kilometers away.

Editor’s note: Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road in Colombia, updating our 2011 edition of the book. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

Galapagos Luxury Ship Burns, Sinks

On January 14 the Parranda, a luxury-class Galapagos Islands cruise ship operated by Quasar Nautica, caught fire, burned and sank near Bartolome Island. All 15 passengers and crew were rescued safely by the Coral 1 and the Darwin, two tourism boats that were nearby at the time. A team of park rangers has been sent to the site to investigate possible environmental damage. Early accounts indicate that the Parranda is not salvageable.