Dr Latitude: Cruise on out to experience Galapagos wildlife

My husband and I are travelling independently to Quito, Ecuador next month via Santiago, Chile. Once in Quito we would like to book a short trip to the Galapagos Islands possibly within two days of arriving in Quito. Can this be done at short notice in Quito or should we pre-book from here? We would also like to go to an ecolodge in the Amazon area. Any suggestions? We then plan to head to Trujillo in Peru. Can this be done by train?- Denise Dawes

Booking a cruise to the Galapagos Islands through an agency here would be the most expensive way of going about things. Although you will have perhaps a little more peace of mind, you could certainly wait to book a trip in Quito.

Getting this booking organised pretty much as soon as you arrive in Quito is recommended. By late September, the tourist throng will be starting to taper off and you won't have any trouble finding a suitable cruise. There are last-minute operators who specialise in filling empty seats/cabins.

Try Andes Explorer Travel Agency (tel 290 1493; www.andes-explorer.com) and Galasam (tel 290 3909; www.galasam.com) in Quito or Moonrise travel agency in Puerto Ayora (tel 252 6348) for good last-minute deals. Other recommended agencies are Ecoventura (wwww.ecoventura.com) and Metropolitan Touring (www.galapagosvoyage.com).

You can either cruise and sleep on the boat, or you can be based on the shore and take day trips out to the islands. The second option might be cheaper, but keep in mind you will have to pay for accommodation at night and you get less time to explore the islands.

The least expensive boats cost around $115 per day, while you can expect to pay around $230 to $265 per day on a better boat. Anything more than this and you're getting into the luxury travel sector.

There are a number of ecolodges accessible from Coca in the northern Oriente. Coca is just a short flight from Quito and jungle tours, river trips and lodges can be booked in Quito.

Tropic Ecological Adventures (www.tropiceco.com) runs ecologically sound tours. Lodges include the (Napo Wildlife Centre), and the more upmarket La Selva (www.laselvajunglelodge.com) and Sacha (www.sachalodge.com). At Sani (www.sanilodge.com), all proceeds go to the Sani Isla community. There's particularly good bird-watching at Yuturi Forest Lodge (www.yuturilodge.com). All include travel, so keep in mind that a three-day package might only include one day actually in the forest.

There are many good lodges in the Iquitos area of Peru that will give you a rewarding look at the Amazon jungle. It is possible to just turn up in Iquitos without a reservation and find a lodge and tour. Explorama Lodges (www.explorama.com), Muyuna Amazon Lodge (www.muyuna.com) and Amazon Yarapa River Lodge ("a href="http://www.yarapa.com">www.yarapa.com).

To get to Trujillo in Peru from Quito you will need to get a bus. It's a long trip and involves a couple of changes. From Quito take the bus to Guayaquil (eight hours) and then a bus from there via Machala to Piura in Peru (10 hours). Then catch another bus from Piura to Trujillo (seven hours). Expect to pay only $35 to $40 for this trip.

Before heading off, be sure to read the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade's (MFAT's) travel advisories for Peru and Ecuador at www.safetravel.govt.nz.

It also wouldn't hurt to read the Australian equivalent at www.smartraveller.gov.au.

After reading the advice for Peru, you may well prefer to ask your travel agent about airfares rather than travel by bus between Quito and Trujillo, as it currently advises people not to travel in areas bordering Ecuador due to the risk of kidnapping by narcotics traffickers.

Family friendly Malaysia

We are two families, travelling with five children aged 1 to 6 years old. In December, we are attending a family wedding in Kuala Lumpur then plan to have a beach holiday, preferably at Kota Kinabalu. Could you recommend any family friendly resorts with self-contained apartment or villa-style accommodation in Sabah or elsewhere? - Michael O'Neill

Malaysia is very family friendly, and travelling with kids is generally a breeze. Most attractions and transport services offer discounts for children and many beach resorts have special family chalets. Be aware that cots are not widely available in cheaper accommodation, so if you're going budget you'll need to bring the necessaries. The website www.travelwithyourkids.com offers some good general advice.

Kuala Lumpur has some great ways to entertain the kids. Berjaya Times Square has a theme park but the one at Sunway Lagoon is better and it's just a 20-minute bus trip from the centre. Zoo Negara, 13km northeast of the city, provides a sample of native Malaysian, Asian and even African wildlife.

At Petronas Towers a kids' play park features a paddling pool and plenty of toy shops. There's a canopy walkway at the Forestry Research Institute, 16km from the city. If they want to be creative, your kids can try some batik painting or pottery at the handicrafts complex, Kompleks Budaya Kraf.

Kota Kinabalu (KK) is the large, sprawling and bustling capital of Sabah and doesn't really make for the ideal family beach holiday, but it's worth visiting as it has some great shopping, restaurants and nightlife, some lovely buildings, a good range of accommodation and an engaging atmosphere. Nearby is the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. The kids will love the five islands and reefs that make up the park and it's only a short boat ride from the city centre.

One of the best beach resort destinations for families with young kids is Pulau Perhentian, off the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia. Pulau Perhentian is made up of two islands - Besar and Kecil. Prices are a little cheaper at the latter.

On both islands you'll find crystal-clear waters, white-sand beaches and a range of activities Try Tuna Bay Island Resort (www.tunabay.com.my), which has family chalets on a lovely stretch of white sand or in the jungle behind for around $150.


Border crossing closed

We would like to travel in China and cross into India, either to Sikkim or into Arunachal Pradesh. We understand that the Nathula border was reopened to trade last year. Is it also open to tourists? Are there any other border crossings between China and Tibet and India? - Ron Witton

The border crossing between China and India is closed. The crossing at Nathula is strictly for local trade. There are, however, border crossings between China and Nepal and between Nepal and India. Because of Maoist insurgency, it is vital you check on the latest security situation before crossing from Nepal to India. Read the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade's travel advisories for Nepal and India at www.safetravel.govt.nz. It wouldn't hurt to read the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade's (DFAT's) advisories at www.smartraveller.gov.au, too.

The 920km road connecting Lhasa with Kathmandu is known as the Friendship Highway and it's a spectacular trip.

The best way to do this trip is to hire a 4WD through a hotel or travel agency, then organise a private itinerary with a driver. Visas for Nepal can be obtained in Lhasa or at the Nepalese border.

To get to India from Kathmandu, the most popular crossing points are Bhairawa (south of Pokhara) to Sunauli in Uttar Pradesh, and from Birganj (south of Kathmandu) to Raxaul in Bihar. If you are travelling to Delhi or elsewhere in western India, the route through Bhairawa/Sunauli is the most convenient. A bus from Sunauli to Varanasi (three hours) costs around $3.50. A bus goes from Kathmandu to Delhi from Monday to Saturday ($45, 36 hours). Alternatively, you can take the bus to Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh ($2, 2 hours) and then a train to Delhi from there.

- NZ Herald

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