One cruise destination that escapes the recognition of many travelers is undoubtedly the Galapagos. However, the Galapagos is becoming a more popular destination, and with the addition of two ships to the area by 2020, now may be the time to consider visiting the Ecuadorian islands.
Situated some 500 miles off the western coast of Ecuador, the islands first appeared on maps toward the end of the 16th century. By 1793, the Galapagos Islands was used as a base for numerous whaling operations. Fast forward more than a century and a half later: In 1960, tourism began to develop in the area. Cruising, on the other hand, is a relative newcomer to the Galapagos.
The Galapagos, a loosely connected chain of islands 600 miles off the west coast of Ecuador, are the combined size of Puerto Rico, with a diversity of look and feel that is truly astonishing: from lava flow and desert-like vistas to a wide range of shrubs and greenery. It’s an eye-opening look at what nature and biology have created.
When Charles Darwin visited these islands in 1835, he spent about five months exploring the four main islands. But while Darwin had his HMS Beagle, a scientific vessel, today’s cruisers have a selection of upscale vessels to see the area.
For most of us, getting from North America to the Galapagos is something of a multi-connection wonder. Most will be routed to Ecuador or Peru. From there, a two-to-three hour flight will transport you to Galapagos Islands — airport code GPS, also known as Baltra or Isla Baltra, depending on your itinerary.
If you board your ship in Baltra, there’s a short time at sea before you get to North Seymour Island. For the active guests, some excursions include climbing as many as 360 steps to the top of a hill. Some are zodiac (in local parlance, “Pangas”) rides along the shoreline.
There are expert naturalists aboard all ships. By Galapagos regulation, no guide can take more than 16 people at a time and each group must stay within specifically set boundaries for walking. Not to worry: right from the very first excursion, it will be a flat-out-knock-out triumph for animal lovers.
On North Seymour, you’ll see the Magnificent and Great varieties of Frigate Birds, with their wonderful red pouches as part of the mating ritual; the playful, or often sleeping, sea lions; and, of course, lots of the world-famous Blue-Footed Boobies.
450 pound, 100-year-old Tortoises; world-famous Blue-footed Boobies doing their comical mating dance; giant Albatrosses, ungainly on land soaring gracefully off a cliff; Frigate birds strutting giant red throat pouches; and, sea lions, oh the sea lions, virtually everywhere.
Subsequent excursions give opportunities to see albatrosses, penguins, fur seals, marine and land iguanas, Galapagos Hawks, Masked Boobies, flamingos, sea turtles, pelicans, lava gulls and many, many more. The animals are almost completely unbothered by the presence of humans; we just do not appear to be a threat to them.
Currently, guests can sail the Galapagos aboard Silversea’s Silver Galapagos; however, she will be joined by Silver Origin in 2020.
Silver Origin will feature technological enhancements to make her more environmentally friendly. The ship’s dynamic positioning system will allow Silver Origin to automatically maintain position to protect the sea floor; freshwater purification systems, installed in each suite, will enable the ship to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic bottles; an advanced Waste Water Treatment System will meet the strictest regulations in the market; and Silver Origin will meet the highest standards of energy efficiency in the segment.
Silversea only offers two itineraries in the Galapagos, Baltra to San Cristobal or the reverse. These sailings are 7-days.
Celebrity has two ships that sail the Galapagos. Celebrity Xpedition has been sailing the region for years and in 2019, Celebrity Flora joined the fleet.
The 100-guest Celebrity Flora will feature Celebrity’s new Infinite Veranda concept in 50 percent of its suites, allowing guests to have what feels like a true balcony without having to sacrifice space in their stateroom.
With the launch of their newest ship, Celebrity had the opportunity to blend exploration and research by equipping Celebrity Flora with oceanographic research equipment, known as Oceanscope. The program builds on a more than 20-year relationship with University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science that benefits from a cruise ship’s consistent itinerary to create a perfect and cost-effective way for scientists to gather and measure ocean circulation dynamics.
The system will track and map the region while measuring sea-surface temperatures and gathering data critical to research prediction of El Niño and La Niña. All findings gathered by Celebrity Flora will become open source data.
Prices for Celebrity’s Galapagos itineraries start from US$3,862.
Celebrity hosts a number of cruises ranging from seven to sixteen nights. Itineraries may include land tours in Ecuador and Peru.
Tauck operates four itineraries in the Galapagos. Most notable, however, is Tauck’s Wonderful Wildlife Bridges itinerary. Bridges itineraries are crafted for young travelers, and while Celebrity has children’s programs on its Galapagos voyages, this itinerary is the only one that is catered specifically toward children.
It is important to note that Tauck does not own any ocean ships, so all ships will be chartered.
Lindblad offers six Galapagos itineraries aboard both its 48 passenger National Geographic Islander and its 96 passenger National Geographic Endeavour II. These itineraries range from 7 to sixteen-days, with fares starting at US$5,730.
Simply put, these are some of the most scenic and diverse islands you’ll come across. They are incomparable to nearly any other destination, with their stunning mix of wildlife and landscapes ranging from stark and barren to lush and verdant. The islands are also one of the few places on earth that lack an indigenous population, which makes them highly unique.
For lovers of strange and exotic wildlife, these islands are a veritable paradise; one that should be a part of any Avid Cruiser’s destination bucket list.
Be sure to check out…
Avid Cruiser Posts, Photographs and Videos Featuring the Galapagos.