When the great naturalist Charles Darwin first ventured to the Galápagos in 1835 such was its uniqueness that it altered his entire perspective of genetics, forming the fundament of his theory of evolution.
Almost 200 years later, it is still utterly beguiling, holding secrets, species and landscapes seen nowhere else in the world. This anomaly of ecology, cast some 600 miles off the western coast of Ecuador, is the reason the term ‘once in a lifetime’ was invented. Not literally, of course, but a journey to the Galápagos is unlike any other experience around the world, and one that will surely remain with you for the rest of your life.
When I first visited the Galápagos in late 2014, I traveled aboard a 48-berth motor yacht. I will admit that I am not particularly fond of cruises, but this was a wonderfully enjoyable journey. The larger vessel offered almost complete stability – a valuable asset for those suffering from motion sickness – yet there were still few enough guests to provide a pleasant camaraderie and never feel over-crowded.
Because the Galápagos are so valued in their natural significance, the creatures of the island lack all fear of humans, allowing one to share eye-to-eye connection with birds, seals, penguins and many more of the islands’ adorable and captivating inhabitants.
Here are my five top reasons why the Galápagos should feature on your list of top travel destinations:
Wonderfully Close, Beautifully Remote
At just over six hours’ flight time from either US coast, the Galápagos offer an easily-accessible experience that is at once rich, diverse and appealing to all types of traveler. In this socially distanced world we now find ourselves, the Galápagos are also wonderfully remote, with the 79,000 annual visitors dispersed throughout the archipelago.
Cruise ships offer your own secluded floating accommodation, fellow guests usually numbering less than 20, providing a more intimate retreat at the end of your day’s activities. Likewise, this minimizes the likelihood of crowds at any of the more popular attractions. Tours rarely overlap, but even when they do, crowds will remain wonderfully diminutive.
Of course, with current travel concerns, this also appeases those concerned with COVID. With far fewer people and less interaction than almost anywhere else, social distancing is par for the course. The added benefit of abundant fresh air and plenty of wide-open spaces, even onboard your vessel, only increases its appeal as a safe haven from viral infections. The Galápagos have also been declared COVID-free – one of the few global nations to overcome the pandemic – making them one of the safest places in the world to visit at this time.
The Unique Galápagos
The list of the Galápagos’ idiosyncrasies is extensive. As Darwin discovered, the islands host a wealth of flora and fauna seen nowhere else in the world, from the charismatic blue-footed boobies to the vibrant Galápagos flamingo and the giant tortoise for which the islands are ambiguously named*.
With only three percent of the islands inhabited, the animals haven’t developed a fear of human interaction, allowing you to mingle with colonies of seals, packs of iguanas and flocks of birds.
While this trait has been exploited in the past, tour operators, regional laws and the locals are now the conservators of the atolls. Landing spots are carefully monitored, as is all environmental impact and interaction, and while guests may venture close to wildlife, they are closely supervised, ensuring that animals aren’t touched, harmed or even disturbed from their daily activities.
The abundance of life extends beyond the coastline and, with a comfortable average water temperature of 72ºF (22ºC), snorkeling opens up a colorful wonderland beneath the ocean surface.
The landscapes as well are of their own design, quite literally. The volcanic archipelago is continually changing, islands gradually rising and falling, with live volcanoes expanding the landmass and the carbon-rich soil providing a fertile bed for a profusion of plantlife.
*Galápago roughly translates as ‘riding saddle’ in reference to the shell of one of the islands’ most iconic inhabitants, the giant land tortoise.
Luxury on the Move
The drawback of many luxury accommodations is that they are steadfastly static. With such a small portion of the islands providing habitation (over 97 percent of the Galápagos is national park), accommodation is almost exclusively of the floating variety.
One of my favorite ways to experience the Galápagos is aboard Haugan Cruises’ ‘Camila’ luxury trimaran. This exquisite craft hosts just 16 guests in spacious, fully-equipped cabins and offers a wide lounge area, plenty of external deck space, jacuzzi and a wealth of watersport equipment to give you a more immersive, indeed immersed experience of the Galápagos.
One of the beauties of your luxurious floating hotel is in the ever-changing horizons. Mooring for more than enough time to fully explore each destination, your captain will transport you, sometimes overnight, to a new harbor offering its own diversity of attractions. The carefully-curated itinerary allows you to indulge in the varying locations with travel timed to not impinge on your daily experiences.
Another benefit of this is that you will never be far from home. Some activities may last longer than others and, for a more diverse group of travelers, this may not be ideal. The elderly or infirm may not wish to undertake a two-hour hike or go kayaking around the coastline, but they can still enjoy an appetizer of these activities before being whisked back to the comfort of their cabins or to simply sit and enjoy some quiet repose on the coast.
The majority of vessels offer expedition cruises, so there is always an activity to entice you. While some of your party may enjoy meeting the locals of Penguin Island, others may snorkel amongst the vibrant coral. There is always entertainment, without it becoming an exhausting onslaught of exploits.
Travel with a Conscience
Such an extraordinary location only increases our ecological awareness and highlights the need for conscious travel. Haugan Cruises offer complete carbon offsetting and endeavor to operate as close to ‘zero waste-zero impact’ as possible. Onboard, services are sustainable, waste is limited to an absolute minimum and the M/T Camilla has been both built and equipped to be energy efficient and environmentally low impact.
On land, staff pride themselves on their extensive knowledge of the region’s unique ecosystems. Not only does this provide you with wonderfully informative guides, it also ensures that your impact on land is never at the detriment of wildlife and ecology.
The Galápagos have two distinctly different seasons; a hot season, running from December through May, and a dry season for the remaining months. Each season has its advantages; during the hotter, more humid months, the landmass is verdant and lush and, for those wishing to a more subversive vacation, the water temperature is a few degrees warmer. The dry season turns the landscape brown and arid, though this also has its appeal and makes nature spotting far easier. The gentle trade winds and calm oceans can also make life on the ocean a little more pleasant, though throughout the year, rough seas are rarely seen and your yacht will invariably be comfortable and stable.
These seasons are a little deceptive though, as the Galápagos are located almost directly on the equator, the climate year-round varying very little. The humidity of the hot season is the more changeable factor, though again, it is rarely unbearable and your accommodation will be comfortably air-conditioned.
The appeal isn’t confined only to seasonal change and, whether young or old, every visitor will benefit from this remarkable destination. Children will be fascinated by the wildlife, getting up-close and personal with the islands’ inhabitants, or paddling across the crystal clear waters. Seniors will adore the comfort of life on board, the vessel offering not only absolute luxury, but also a wonderful vantage point for whale and bird watching. Attentive staff provide regular trips ashore and work with the client to provide them the most complete and quintessential Galápagos experience, regardless of age and abilities.
The Galápagos are far from the conventional choice of vacation destination, yet in this lies their charm. They are unwaveringly unique in every aspect, and still wonderfully accessible and accommodating for every level of traveler.
Whatever your vacation desires, consider the Galápagos as one possible destination and, as always, contact our Travel Designers for advice and assistance.