We booked our Galapagos itinerary through Adventure Life, tour company that specializes in Central and South America. They set up the cruise, the flights from Quito to the islands, and the hotel on the nights we were in Quito. They have staff in the city who met us at the hotel and again at the airport on the return from the islands.
One thing to note about the Coral tours – there’s a Coral I and a Coral II, the I being a good bit larger than the II. We went to some pain over the phone booking ourselves a ‘Moon Suite’ on the upper deck of the Coral II only to find ourselves below deck in a different kind of ‘Moon Suite’ on the Coral I. Our paperwork said we were booked on the ‘Corals’ tour, not specifying the ship. It took us a while to get over it, but we got over it.
Adventure Life has a good grip on Ecuador but we had less success planning a Costa Rica itinerary with their team. Costa Rica we ended up booking ourselves.
The usual guidebooks – Frommers, etc. – were fine.
I trolled Photo.net’s Costa Rica forum for advice. The forum is idle but the site search digs up good info.
Adventure Life urges (and may require) travel insurance. After a lot of analysis we chose Travel Guard, mainly because their flight delay window was the narrowest (coverage kicking in after a 12 hour delay vs. up to 48 hours with some other companies). The coverage cost about 5% of the amount we wanted to protect (the cruise price). Naturally we had no trouble meeting our ship, and nothing got stolen along the way. I did leave my beloved Adventure Life baseball cap in the back of a bus in Monteverde. Knucklehead.
I raided REI for Keene sandals and adventure pants. Don’t knock that drip-dry stuff; it’ll wash in the sink and dry in the shower. But yeah, in the photos I’m always wearing the same clothes.
I learned rudimentary Spanish from the Behind the Wheel CDs, and Melanie used the lessons to brush up. The three months prior to departure we spent running through the lessons in our cars on the way to work. I had no knowledge of Spanish when I started the process but managed to get comfortable (if not terribly conversant) in a short time.
The one thing I did was use an audio editor to split the long tracks into 1- to 2-minute bites, making it easier to jump back mid-lesson or pick up where I left off after swapping in some music.
Tropical Nature: Life and Death in the Rain Forests of Central and South America – I really enjoyed this book, and not just because it covers Costa Rica and Ecuador. The authors do a great job of describing the tightly intertwined plant and animal life cycles in the equatorial jungle and the tradeoffs that need to be made to survive below (or in) the canopy.
Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut. I had to. It made for a quick read on the boat. Can’t say it had much impact, but it was fun to be around the subject matter (more or less) while reading.