It's Always Galapagos Time

By Scott Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 23, 2007

Q. My family would like to go to the Galapagos Islands. When is the best time of year to visit? Also, are there discounts for kids on the cruises?

Naomi Naierman, Chevy Chase

A. The bad time of year is when the water temperature is only 71 (September), while the good time is when the water is 76 (January). Otherwise known as There's no bad time of year in the Galapagos.

Given that the archipelago 620 miles off the coast of Ecuador has such a favorable year-round climate -- not to mention a great variety of endemic flora and fauna -- can't things get a little, well, crowded?

"A little too crowded, in my opinion," says Kristina Bell of Adventure Associates (800-527-2500,, a Dallas-based tour company recommended by the Ecuador Tourist Board. The expense involved in visiting is one way the country has controlled the number of tourists. Here's another: "The government is very strict about monitoring the Galapagos, so if they find an island is becoming too overrun, they'll pull vessels from that particular island."

When choosing a cruise, you'll want to consider the ship's size (boats hold anywhere from 16 to 100 passengers), the trip's length (usually three to seven nights), whether you'll get a break on children's fares (think bigger ships) and whether your kids are up for a strenuous cruise. ("Two times a day you're on and off the vessel visiting islands. . . . It's a busy trip," says Bell.) But while the islands themselves aren't a cheap destination, the place you'll fly through to get there -- mainland Ecuador -- is, at least relatively. Plus: "They use U.S. currency, so there's no conversion confusion," says Bell, "and the Ecuadorean people are delightful."

We'd like to go to the Burgas area of the Black Sea next summer, especially given the Bulgarian lev's exchange rate with the dollar. But I've heard the coast is very polluted. True?

Val Golovskoy, Arlington

Up until this point, at least, the Bulgarian coast has been a justifiably popular tourist destination, with everything from big resort areas -- Golden Sands ( and Sunny Beach ( are two -- to quaint villages such as Nessebar and Sozopol, whose architecture dates back to antiquity. There are balmy summertime temperatures, miles of gorgeous beaches and dependably powder-blue seas. Not black. Yet.

On Nov. 11, a ferocious storm in the Black Sea led to the loss of many Russian sailors' lives and the sinking of several ships, one of them an oil tanker. As a result, 1,300 tons of oil spilled into the Strait of Kerch, which connects the Sea of Azov to the Russian and Ukrainian coastlines along the Black Sea.

The spill is unquestionably an environmental disaster for the immediate area (thousands of seabirds are expected to die), but what will be the consequences for coastlines farther afield? The good news is that the seacoast town of Burgas is more than 400 miles from the accident site. Still, until we know the quality and speed of the cleanup effort, it's impossible to say Burgas won't be affected.

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