Galapagos adventures top many travel bucket lists. Blue footed boobies, sea turtles, and reef sharks draw travelers from around the world to the popular South American destination. Some people only dream of this experience, but travel writer Marilyn Jones researched the options, made reservations and had a great time. She shares her authentic travel experiences here because she – and I – want your travel dreams to come true.
Once I had decided to go to the Galapagos, the first thing I did was talk to two friends who had already vacationed there. Joyce stayed in a hotel and Cindy took a cruise. I wanted to learn the pros and cons of each option before making a decision about my own trip. I also did a lot of research to better understand my options beyond my friends’ experiences. This is what I discovered:
- Galapagos National Park includes 97 percent of the islands and 100 percent of the maritime area, so the only places not within the park are a handful of communities. This is where the hotels are located.
- There are more than 40 national park landing sites throughout the islands where travelers are permitted to go ashore or go snorkeling to see animals up close in their natural habitat. However, you must be accompanied by a Galapagos National Park naturalist when visiting sites within the park. Also, only a handful of landing sites are accessible from hotels.
Joyce liked her hotel, but wasn’t crazy about the long boat rides to get to the islands. She saw hundreds of birds, iguanas, and sea lions, but said if she were going again, she would probably take a cruise.
Cindy, on the other hand, said her days were filled with shore excursions. During the night, during mealtime, and sometimes during siesta, the ship moved to a new location just offshore, making the panga (small inflatable boat) ride minutes instead of hours.
I chose to take a cruise.
Sailing on the Eclipse in the Galapagos
I traveled with AdventureSmith Explorations aboard the 48-passenger Eclipse on the eight-day/seven-night Genovesa Galapagos Cruise. I chose AdventureSmith because they provide a naturalist guide for every 12 passengers. I also liked that Eclipse was designed specifically for upscale cruising in the Galapagos Islands and has an onboard infirmary with a full time MD.
On the first day, we were picked up at the airport in Baltra and transferred to the dock for check-in. Passengers ranged from children and young adults to senior citizens. After a short panga ride we were onboard the Eclipse. I was relieved to find that my stateroom was spacious with lots of room to unpack all my gear.
The adventures started right after lunch with a panga excursion to Black Turtle Cove on Santa Cruz Island. What a thrill to see two blue-footed boobies on our very first sortie. Also, in a maze of mangroves, we saw sea turtles, reef sharks, and a group of rays swimming just under the surface of the caramel-colored water. In the mangroves, we watched pelicans, herons, and bright yellow song birds fly overhead.
Back on board we enjoyed a delicious dinner. In fact, every meal on this trip was delicious, and servers and staff were always friendly and attentive. Some meals were served in the spacious dining room and others were served in an outdoor area.
More Galapagos Exploration
Of the 18 main islands, this cruise itinerary includes five. Of these five, there is often more than one landing on each island. Add to this kayaking, beach snorkeling, and deep water snorkeling. Days were full and guests were invited to enjoy as much or as little as they wanted to. With the exception of deep water snorkeling, I participated in every excursion. There is simply so much to see and I didn’t want to miss anything!
Everyone has their favorite island or landing in the Galapagos. Mine was Genovesa, the northernmost island that allows visits by naturalist cruises.
As we approached the island, I could see swarms of birds flying overhead. Millions! Some of the species are found nowhere else in the world. The panga docked and we stepped onto a rock outcropping and climbed Prince Phillip’s Steps – steep stairs carved into the rock leading to a plateau. Once at the top of the steps, there were birds everywhere — along pathways, in bushes, and in fight.
I saw red-footed boobies, frigates, swallow-tailed gulls (the only nocturnal species of gull in the world), lava gulls, short-eared lava owls, Nazca boobies, Darwin finches and other birds. We walked past a Nazca booby and her two chicks, and a massive group of giant shrub-like plants with red-footed boobies and frigates nesting side-by-side. Everywhere you looked there were nests in the trees.
Let me interject here the excellence of our naturalists. Yes, the ship was wonderful, the food delicious and the crew very friendly, but without the help and knowledge of the four full-time naturalists aboard the Eclipse, we would never have had such an unforgettable time. They offered a wealth of knowledge and made sure we were always safe. The guides are there for the animals, too, and to make sure no group stays on the island beyond the allotted park-approved time. Rules are strictly enforced to ensure the integrity of the islands and to protect the wildlife.
Iguanas and giant tortoises
When we visited Fernandina Island, I knew I would see marine iguanas, but I never dreamed I’d see massive mounds of hundreds warming themselves in the sun. Said to be one of the most pristine ecosystems in the entire world, Fernandina’s volcano last erupted in April 2009. Lava fields stretched towards the ocean in unusual patterns. We walked along carefully, stepping over narrow gaps in the landscape, over iguanas and past a Galapagos snake.
On Santa Cruz, we landed at Puerto Ayora, the island’s main population center, and traveled by bus to the lush, green highlands where we visited a tortoise reserve. Walking along overgrown pathways, we saw the giant tortoises under trees, in shallow water and grazing in tall grass. When guests made slight noises, the tortoises stretched out their long necks – as if to see us better.
Every day brought new experiences, new animals. and new landscapes. I know it is a cliché, but I must say it anyway, a trip to the Galapagos Island is truly a trip of a lifetime.