Experiencing The Galapagos - Nature's Paradise
Previous Page: Ecoventura And The Galapagos: A Perfect Match For Families
Upon arrival in the Galapagos, we found our welcoming party snoozing. Although we were barely a foot away, the sea lions lazing on the dock at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island could have cared less. We couldn’t help but notice that there were sea lions everywhere and - in a preview of things to come - they barely acknowledged our presence or ignored us completely. Most of us snapped picture after picture, sure that our proximity to these languorous creatures would be one of the highlights of our visit.
Boy, were we wrong.
Over the course of a week, our group had more close encounters of the animal kind than I could count. The wildlife was spectacular - and the scenery was just as incredible. In addition, the camaraderie aboard the ship was everything I had hoped for, adding up to an unforgettable adventure and one of our family’s peak experiences.
Our graduation cruise mates aboard the M/Y Eric consisted of 10 parents and 10 teens, all ready to have fun and celebrate together. Juvenile sea lions greeted us as we made our first wet landing on Ochoa Beach and cavorted with us as we snorkeled in the water. Periodically, several would break away from the pack to visit parents relaxing on the beach. Our group’s teens and young adults did likewise. It was fascinating to watch the parallels between human and animal behavior around here.
The group started out as separate individuals, but quickly coalesced. Televisions and cell phones didn’t work well in these remote islands, so personal connections happened more quickly. Adults forged new bonds, shared pictures and travel stories, and lounged together on the sundeck. Teens started taking nature hikes as a group and kayaking and snorkeling together. They also came up with their own unplanned activities like moonlight card games, jumping off the top of the ship with the captain’s permission, and dancing at an impromptu graduation party courtesy of the captain, crew and guides. Our unique cruise allowed teens to make new friends and explore together while still having the opportunity to make lifelong vacation memories with their families.
Our Galapagos experiences were rich indeed. Here at the earth’s first World Heritage Site, travelers are able to see exotic wildlife and experience them up close in their natural habitats. Each island offers something different and, in some cases, the only place in the world these species can be found is here. One must take care to step around the iguanas and seals sunning on the paths. The animals do not fear humans here – they simply don’t care.
We strolled past mating and nesting birds that were oblivious to our presence, watched waved albatross and blue-footed boobies doing their intricate mating dances, and swam with groups of giant sea turtles and tuxedoed Galapagos penguins that catapulted by us at breakneck speed. Strolling along dazzling white sand beaches, we sat and viewed sea lions nursing their pups with eyes closed in peaceful contentment. We snorkeled with playful sea lions – some blowing bubbles and darting within inches of our faces. Our hikes took us over black sand beaches, past wild Galapagos tortoises, along rocky cliffs, and through lava tubes.
On Fernandina Island, our group carefully stepped around thousands of prehistoric-looking marine iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks and hiked across huge black lava fields to see huge sea turtles and colorful Sally Lightfoot crabs in tidal pools and flightless cormorants standing on the rocks. Of course, the troops of sea lions were ever present.
Our band of merry adventurers climbed 369 steps to the top of Bartolome Island’s barren moonscape (some of the teens ran!) and snorkeled near peaceful white-tipped reef sharks near the Pinnacle, a famous rock spire that is one of the most photographed sites in the Galapagos. When Buzz Aldrin visited the Galapagos, he said that volcanic Bartolome looked more like the moon than any place he had visited on earth. For the rest of us, this is probably as close to viewing a lunar landscape as we’ll ever get.
Favorite memories? Wandering among 15-20 wild giant tortoises in the Santa Cruz highlands and posing for pictures. Kayaking with my daughter behind a massive manta ray as it swam and spread its wings. Watching as a doe-eyed sea lion pup waddled over to within inches of Katie and gazed up at her as if to say, “Are you my mother?” Jumping off the top of the M/Y Eric and wondering how long it would take for me to hit the water. Snorkeling within inches of schools of penguins, gigantic sea turtles and groups of kamikaze sea lions rolling and darting about. Staring slack-jawed as a pair of waved albatross did their complex mating dance, ritualistically bowing to each other and clacking their beaks. Walking arm in arm with Katie along a white sandy shoreline littered with sea lions at Gardner Bay, easily one of the most spectacular beaches in the world. Taking photos of the kids making human pyramids on the sand. Staring up at an equatorial night sky filled with stars of both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres and feeling so small – and yet so connected to life.
Here in the Galapagos, we saw more colorful animals than I’ve ever seen in one place: bright orange and red Sally Lightfoot crabs, huge green sea turtles, red- and blue-footed boobies, male frigate birds with brilliant red neck pouches, black and white masked Nazca boobies, bright pink flamingos, great blue herons, big yellow and orange land iguanas, sprawling black sea lions and massive brown fur seals, Christmas colored marine iguanas with red and green patches on their black skin, and creamy white albatross with soulful eyes and distinctive lemony beaks.
Sitting in the lounge after dinner one night, I spent some time talking with Ivan Lopez, one of our two outstanding naturalist guides and a teen favorite. Ivan has five years of experience as a naturalist guide in the Galapagos and nine years as a dive master. In addition, as the father of two children, he understands what it means to be a parent.
“We are a family boat,” he said, “and it is my job to stimulate adventure, interest and exploration in both kids and parents.” Here in the Galapagos, the quality of the guides is critical in having the best vacation experience. The right guide will be able to gauge his guests and make their passion for the destination match his own. “My job is like the movie, 50 First Dates,” said Ivan. “Each week I get a new group of passengers and I need to have them fall in love with me.”
And fall in love we did. As our group packed up to go, parents and teens hugged Ivan and asked him for his e-mail address. The Galapagos are magical islands full of enchantment and Ecoventura offers the perfect match for families.
Believe me, this is one date you won’t want to miss.
If You Go:
- For more information on Ecoventura, visit www.ecoventura.com or call 1-800-633-7972. These Galapagos cruises can also be purchased through Austin-Lehman Adventures, recently named as the Best Tour Operator in the World by the readers of Travel + Leisure magazine. For more information on Austin-Lehman, visit www.austinlehman.com or call 1-800-575-1540.
- Children must be at least 7 years of age to take Galapagos cruises aboard Ecoventura’s ships. The Galapagos National Park Service has stringent regulations and access to the islands is strictly controlled, so children must be able to follow rules and listen to their guide’s instructions when necessary.
- This cruise is best for active travelers. Passengers must be able to walk several miles daily and step in and out of boats with assistance. Terrain on the islands is varied and landings may be wet or dry. Bring hiking or running shoes with good support, Tevas and flip-flops or comfortable sandals to use onboard the ship.
- Cabins aboard the M/Y Eric and its sister ships are comfortable and compact. Storage space is at a minimum, so pack lightly. Soft-sided duffles are best.
- Currents are strong in this area and the extensive itinerary necessitates traveling long distances – including crossing the Equator three times – so there is some rocking and rolling aboard the ship at night. Bring along some Bonine or Dramamine in case you need it.
- While the wildlife and vistas on land are amazing, underwater life in the Galapagos is equally spectacular. Plan to do lots of snorkeling here. Ecoventura provides snorkel gear and wetsuits are also available. Guests can bring along their own snorkel masks if desired and having a good underwater camera is highly advisable.
- When scheduling your flights, plan on spending an extra day in Quito or Guayaquil before departing for the Galapagos if possible. Flight cancellations and lost baggage could result in hassles or even possibly missing the ship. Plan accordingly and purchase travel insurance for added protection.
- Bring along plenty of film or storage cards for your camera. You’ll take many more pictures than you might imagine. The Galapagos Islands are truly an unforgettable place.
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