Along with Tamera Trexler, who documented our journey on Instagram, I cruised the Galapagos courtesy of Silversea and Seattle-based travel agency Cruise Specialists.
Last week, I gave you Tips For Cruising The Galapagos. This week, I am happy to share seven reasons to cruise the Galapagos with Silversea. Of course, you could also choose Celebrity, Lindblad, Tauck or any number of companies for your Galapagos cruise, and for your convenience, we highlight the major operators on our Galapagos Port Profiles page.
Not all of the seven reasons are specific to Silversea. My knowledge of a Galapagos cruise, however, is limited to Silversea. I encourage you to check with your cruise counselor about how the other companies compare.
Ready to come along with me on a journey through the Galapagos? Let’s get started.
Take Off & Landing
American Airlines flight 85 departs Charlotte, North Carolina, scheduled to land in Miami 1 hour and 27 minutes later. Our final destination: the Galapagos National Park and Marine Reserve, established in 1959, and today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tamera and I are looking forward to spending a week in these enchanted islands, but first, we have to get there, and even after decades of travel, air travel equals anxiety, this time because of connections.
Once on the ground at MIA, we have only a handful of minutes to make it to our next flight before the door shuts. Luckily, we packed carry-on. How on earth would our luggage make it otherwise?
At 7:40 p.m. AA flight 585 set a course for Quito, with us seated comfortably on board. As we approach cruising altitude, I turn to page 130 of the American Way magazine. There, laid out before me, is a map of South America. I trace my finger from Quito to our final destination, Baltra, an outpost situated near the equator that served as a U.S. military base during World War II.
We are on our way to a group of 21 volcanic islands, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, where a large number of endemic species thrive. Among them: blue-footed boobies, land and marine iguanas, green sea turtles, sea lions, flamingos, penguins (said to be the only ones in the Northern Hemisphere), Darwin finches – and many more species. These creatures were studied by the English naturalist, biologist and geologist Charles Darwin, who, inspired by his visit to the Galapagos during the months of September and October of 1835, popularized the theory of evolution in his books, On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. A prolific writer, Darwin also penned the definitive work on barnacles, and his final work must have made for riveting reading: The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through The Action of Worms.
My work on this page will be much less ambitious than Darwin’s. Here, I intend to lay out seven reasons to cruise the Galapagos, with Silversea. Let’s begin.
1. The Creatures
Something I could not say before my trip in September: I have snorkeled with giant sea turtles (you’ll see the video below). The spectacle of nature alone is reason enough to visit the Galapagos. While Silversea probably doesn’t expose you to nature any more than the other cruise lines operating in the Galapagos, Silversea does contextualize what you’re seeing better than most. That’s because the expedition team, which I will introduce you to in a moment, ranks among the best in Ecuador.
Silversea employs only Level III guides. That means the guides have a degree in something related to the activities in the Galapagos, biology, for example, and they speak at least two additional languages in addition to Spanish. During one of our hikes, we were amazed at how one guide, Andres, switched with ease from English to Spanish for our mixed group. Andres was informative, entertaining, enthusiastic and considerate. His vast knowledge provided immense context to what we were seeing and experiencing in the Galapagos.
2. Excursions, On Land And At Sea, Your Way
Silversea offers several excursions every day. There were hikes for those who were fit, hikes for those who were not. We could choose between deep-water snorkeling from Zodiacs, recommended for confident swimmers, or we could snorkel from the beach. Even those who had never snorkeled could feel safe in flotation devices and with personal instruction. One guest, who used a wheelchair but wasn’t confined to it, spent days ashore on the beach as well. Silversea did a great job of catering to all ages and ability levels.
3. Ecuadorian Culture & Cuisine
At either of the two restaurants on Silver Galapagos, we always had at least one selection that was traditional Ecuadorian. Some of the food items were completely new to me. Others came with a new twist. I was amused to discover that in Ecuador ceviche is embellished with popcorn and/or plantain chips, and being a fan of both, I enjoyed ceviche almost daily. Another favorite: the oh-so-delicious gluten-free Pan de Yuca, or Yuca Bread. To my palate, the food on Silver Galapagos was excellent.
The chef, the waiters, in fact, the entire crew, were Ecuadorian – or they lived in Ecuador. Two of the expedition guides, one from California and the other from Norway, had married Ecuadorians and moved there. At least one of the guides had been born in the Galapagos. This was an added bonus in that we learned about the islands from a local’s perspective. See our short interview with Cristian in the video below.
4. New Ship, Silver Origin
Sailing year-round in the Galapagos, Silver Galapagos began life as Renaissance Cruises’ Renaissance Three. Launched in 1990, the diminutive ship would remain in the Renaissance fleet until 1998, when she was sold to Canodros S.A. for service sailing the Galapagos Islands. Following a series of substantial refits performed in 2013 and 2014, Silver Galapagos began operations for Silversea Expeditions. Beginning in the summer of 2020, however, the 100-passenger, all-suite Silver Origin will replace Silver Galapagos. Read more about Silver Origin here.
5. Exemplary Expedition Team
I always get excited about the destinations that Silversea Expeditions takes me to. I’ve cruised Antarctica (twice on Silversea), Greenland, Russia’s Far East and more with Silversea. And while the destinations are the stars of those shows, they would not be the same without Silversea’s exemplary expedition teams. The team on Silver Galapagos was no exception. We learned from them not only ashore but also during lectures, recaps and briefings, and even at the dinner table. We enjoyed a few dinners (and lunches) with members of the expedition team. I’ve already mentioned how they are experts in the natural sciences. They are also enthusiastic, professional, thoughtful and courteous. As is the case with the Zodiacs, there would be no such thing as expeditions, at least in my mind, without the expedition team.
6. That Silversea Touch
From the very start of the trip until the very end, Silversea delivered a luxury experience. It began with the documentation, which you can see in the photo above. We were met at airports and taken care of during pre- and post-trip activities. On our way to the JW Marriott in Quito, our guide was inviting, informative and helpful. Silversea even thought to have water for us during our transfer to the hotel.
On our return trip, Silversea gave us a day room at a five-star hotel in Guayaquil so that we could rest before our 11 p.m. flight home.
On board Silver Galapagos, we found the same high level of attention and luxury. Our stateroom came with fresh fruit, champagne, mini-bar, room service, and of course, a butler who took great care of us.
Our cruise coincided with Tamera’s birthday, and she was delighted to return to her room on her birthday to find that the butlers had adorned it with candles (electric), cake and, again, champagne. The Silversea experience is the perfect complement to the destinations its ships take you to.
7. Two Itineraries (That Can Be Combined)
Silversea keeps it simple with its Galapagos itineraries, offering either Baltra to San Cristobal or the reverse. Each itinerary spans seven days, though stops and ports vary. Would I do a back-to-back? Absolutely. Tamera and I have no doubt that we’ll return to do the other itinerary. Additionally, there are pre- and post-cruise extensions for travelers who are looking to extend their journeys. You can read more about Silversea’s Galapagos itineraries and extensions here.
The Galapagos had always been on my bucket list. That said, it had not been high up on my bucket list. The islands intrigued me, primarily because all of the photos I had seen of the animals, but I didn’t feel a pressing urge to visit right away. On our first full day, the fact that the Galapagos had not been a pressing urge seemed to be confirmed – or so I thought. Just look at the landscape in the photo below. Seems devoid of life right? In fact, it is teeming with life. You can hardly walk 12 inches without something spectacular happening. Check out the video below the photo to see what I mean. I went to the Galapagos thinking that I would check it off my list, and that was that. By the middle of my week, I was already thinking of how I could get back to the Galapagos, as soon as possible.
Of Silversea, the company has provided me with many life-changing experiences, and indeed, the Galapagos was one of those. I can’t say how other companies deliver their Galapagos experiences, but at the same time, I can’t imagine how any of them could deliver a better Galapagos experience than Silversea. And with a new ship purpose-built for the Galapagos coming in 2020, Silversea stands poised as the leader in these islands. The Galapagos Islands have been enchanting visitors long before – and ever since – Charles Darwin’s visit in 1835. On my visit this past September, I discovered why the islands have such a powerful draw. The Galapagos should be on any avid cruiser’s – or nature lover’s – bucket list.