It has been said that you should listen to signs …
I have been getting quite a few inquiries and expressions of interest about travel to the Galapagos Islands lately.
Since I have been here and rightly believe it should be high on everyone’s bucket list, it seemed like an opportune time to write an article about this fabulous spot.
The Galapagos Islands are located on the equator, 600 miles west of mainland Ecuador, and are famed for their vast number of endemic species. They were studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle. His observations and collections contributed to the inception of the Darwin theory of evolution by natural selection. Ninety seven of the islands are National Park land, and all traffic is strictly controlled and regulated by the Galapagos National Park Service to minimize the impact of tourism. As of January 2012, new itinerary laws came into effect and itineraries are no longer back-to-back, which is a good thing as there is a better rotation of vessels and all groups are staggered. It is even possible to do a 14-day trip without repeating any island — for those really into the Galapagos.
Most trips, however, are between five and seven days in the islands and the majority of people do this by boat. There is much discussion as to what size of boat to go on and it probably just boils down to personal preference and your budget. The largest boats take 90 to 100 passengers and these have seven naturalist guides. The 40 to 48-passenger boats have seven naturalist guides, the 20-passenger has three guides and the 16-passenger has one guide. All groups that land on each island are however maximized at 16 people.
There are arguments for each size. The larger boats have more facilities, for example a gym lounge, Jacuzzis and so on. There are usually fewer passengers per square feet, so more privacy and you can get away, if for some reason you don’t like your fellow passengers. And the bigger boats tend to be more luxurious. La Pinta, one of the favorite luxurious 48-passenger yachts, is going to be facing stiff competition from the new Silver Galapagos. Silver Seas bought the Galapagos Explorer II, and as of August it is being refurbished and will be the most deluxe option in the Galapagos.
The smaller boats have more passengers per square foot, so there’s more interaction between passengers. You will usually have the same guide and they tend to be less expensive. The boats are still plenty comfortable and if the boat is not considered deluxe, the experience still is! I actually was on a 15-passenger boat with my son and everyone got along really well, so we had a wonderful experience.
Cruising the Galapagos offers more range and more access to remote islands with endemic wildlife than a land-based option. There are opportunities for underwater sights and lectures with naturalists. We snorkeled among the sea lions and were so close that one actually nibbled on my hand (a thrilling if somewhat painful experience!)
There are land-based options as well and again this would depend on what you are looking for from your trip. Finch Bay Eco Hotel on Santa Cruz Island (where the Charles Darwin Research Station is located) is close to the town of Puerto Ayora, so you have access to town facilities and have a base for a multi-sport and nature-based options. Trekking, biking, kayaking, snorkeling and scuba is available. You do still have to take a boat from Baltra Island to Santa Cruz and even though it’s only about 100 yards, it can be choppy. For those of you with enough time, it would be possible to do a few nights at the end of your cruise to relax, and enjoy another side of the Galapagos.
For the avid divers, a live aboard is the best option (although scuba is still offered one or two days on the cruise boats). The diving is strictly controlled and is only for advanced divers as the current is very strong. Here you see the large animals and not so much of the crystal clear waters and coral reef of a barrier reef. Twenty percent of the world’s fish species is found in the Galapagos, and the best time to go is December-May when the winds are low and there is better visibility.
Seasons of the Galapagos Islands
There are two seasons in the islands: the rainy, hot season, from December to June, when humidity is high and average temperatures are in the 80s. There may be occasional showers, but the days are generally warm and sunny.
May actually is a great time to go, and certain companies are offering a 20 percent discount for May, as well as the first two weeks of December.
From June to November, you can expect cool winds, occasionally bringing with them a light misty-type drizzle called “garua.” Temperatures average in the 70s during the day and lower at night. We went in June and had great weather.
Another great option for a family reunion or a special birthday is to BYOG (bring your own group). With eight-paying passengers, you get one free cabin. Contact me for details.
A visit to the Galapagos can be combined with other countries, Machu Picchu being another bucket list destination that I have also had the great fortune to visit.
Rosie Holliday is an ex-pat Aussie and longtime local travel agent, who owns Holiday Adventures, an affiliate of Andavo travel-A Virtuoso Agency. While she can and does book the world, her specialties are Australia, New Zealand, Africa and any kind of active travel. You can reach her at 970-748-9818, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.hollidayadventures.com.