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Package tour is best way to see Galapagos Islands


Q: We are planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands but do not know where to start in our arrangements. How does one go about it?

A: The most convenient way is to buy a two-week package that includes a cruise to the islands -- typically four to eight days -- with the balance devoted to other parts of Ecuador, within

whose territory the islands lie.

It is also possible to fly to the Galapagos and make your own arrangements, staying at one of Santa Cruz Island's small hotels and hiring a boat and a naturalist guide once you arrive. Tour operators say it is increasingly difficult to find a good independent guide, however, so for most people the package is the more realistic option.

Most packages take the following form:

The traveler flies to either Quito or Guayaquil and from there to one of two islands, San Cristobal or Baltra, just north of Santa Cruz. In general, cruises use either a fleet of yachts holding from eight to 20 passengers, or two 90-passenger boats, the Santa Cruz, from Baltra, or Galapagos Explorer, out of San Cristobal.

Prices for the larger boats are $500 a person for a four-day cruise, $600 a person for five days and $900 for eight days. The smaller boats are priced at about $400 to $700 a person in double occupancy for four days, visiting four islands, $500 to $900 for five days and seven islands, and $800 to $1,900 and 10 to 12 islands for eight days.

The prices usually include meals, accommodations, transfers, excursions and the services of a licensed naturalist guide. All airfares are extra. Five airlines, American, Continental, Ecuatoriana, Saeta and Ladeco, fly to Ecuador from the United States.

Following are some of the many agencies handling trips to the Galapagos Islands:

* Galapagos Specialists, 501 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10017; call (212) 370-0555 or (800) 872-4256.

* Galapagos Network, 7200 Corporate Center Drive, Miami, Fla. 33126; (305) 592-2294 or (800) 633-7972.

* Galapagos Inc., 7800 Red Road, South Miami, Fla. 33143; (305) 665-0841 or (800) 327-9854.

* Adventure Associates, 13150 Coit Road, Dallas, Texas 75240; (214) 907-0414 or (800) 527-2500.

* International Travel and Sports, 2441 N.W. 93rd Ave., Miami, Fla. 33172; (305) 591-9494 or (800) 982-0209.

* South American Fiesta, 910 W. Mercury Blvd., Hampton, Va. 23666; (804) 825-9000 or (800) 334-3782.

Those who prefer to go it alone should fly to Quito or Guayaquil and then to Baltra or San Cristobal by either San Airlines or Tame Airlines, Ecuador's domestic lines. Two hotels in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, the Galapagos and the Delfin, charge $50 to $100 a person and a daily cruise would be $50 to $100 a person.

Q: I understand there is a club for travelers who have been to more than 100 countries. Do you know about it?

A: The Traveler's Century Club is open to people who have

visited at least 100 countries, territories or island groups. Only a handful of members, out of a worldwide membership of 1,400, have visited all 311 countries recognized by the club.

Membership in the organization, at 8033 Sunset Blvd., Box 9, Los Angeles, Calif. 90046, is $120, plus annual dues of $20. Travelers who have visited 75 countries can become "aspiring members" for $30 a year, which entitles them to take spaces not filled on tours organized for members.

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