Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands have been described as an open-air wildlife museum, as they are home to an astonishing variety of species — enough to inspire a theory of origin that would change the world. The archipelago is also one of the few places on earth where adventurers can observe unafraid wildlife up close.
“The most unique draw of the Galápagos is that the animals do not fear humans, and that can make for some amazing, up-close-and-personal encounters with wildlife – swim with the fish, sea turtles, sea lions, marine iguanas, or maybe even penguins; dance with blue-footed boobies or walk amongst the giant tortoises in the highlands; or spot whales from the ship,” says Veronika Macas from Butterfield and Robinson.
Is there a best time to go to the region? According to Paul Barry, Avanti’s executive chairman, “There is no bad time to go to the Galápagos.” There are two seasons: June to December is the “dry season,” characterized by blue skies and midday showers; December to May is the “warm season,” with daily rain and cloudier skies, but calmer seas.
How about pricing? Frequently, travel operators offer short-term deals that help to attract visitors. These may include airfare from Miami, for instance, or a free overnight or sightseeing or offers for kids under 18 – at 25 percent off the published fares on particular departures.
Here are some of the programs and itineraries offered by cruise lines and tour operators:
Abercrombie & Kent takes clients beyond the classic Galápagos sites and onto Albemarle Point on Isabela Island — where few other travel companies are allowed — as well as other rarely visited destinations, including Black Turtle Cove on Santa Cruz Island, Punta Espinoza on Fernandina Island, and the pristine western region of the archipelago. Clients enjoy group sizes of just 12 participants on each departure, and multi-generational programs are available.
Avanti sells no fewer than 65 Galápagos cruise itineraries that can be customized per clients’ requests for land-based or island-hopping vacations (11 plans from two to seven nights among four islands). Land packages may not be booked more than one year in advance, while cruises may be due to restrictions set by the Ecuadorian government, but Avanti advises agents to book at least six months in advance, preferably nine months.
At Butterfield and Robinson, Veronika Macas has developed itineraries specifically for families. Children especially benefit from the trips as they learn about science and biology, as well as the flora and fauna, in a way where the environment becomes hands-on, fun, and memorable. They have real-life, up-close experiences with animals and plant life that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, nor can they get the same understanding from reading a textbook. The trips include child-friendly guides, menus, and activities, including kayaking and island walks.
Lindblad Expeditions has developed two compact and intense programs, the seven-day Galápagos and the nine-day Galápagos & Peru, both aboard the National Geographic Islander.
Odysseys Unlimited is celebrating 20 years of selling small group travel experiences this year. The new 10-day Galápagos Explorer debuts on May 4, 2019, with 10 scheduled departures through November 2019. It is priced from $5,972 from Miami ($5,395 air and land inclusive plus $577 airline taxes and fees), and is limited to just 12–20 guests, guaranteed. The program can be combined with the 16-day Machu Picchu itinerary for an ambitious experience.
Recently, Celebrity Cruises announced that its reforestation effort in the archipelago exceeded its goal by 150 percent, thanks in no small measure to its guests and crew members. Celebrity made cruise industry history when it hired Nathaly Albán, a native of Ecuador, the first female seafarer to command the ultra-exclusive Celebrity Xploration that travels in the Galápagos archipelago.
Additionally, Silversea signed a contract this month to construct the Silver Origin, a new expedition vessel that will serve the Galápagos Islands itinerary currently sailed by Silver Galápagos; it is expected for delivery in March 2020. “We are pushing the boundaries of ultra-luxury cruising, as well as expedition cruising in the Galápagos Islands and beyond, redefining the concept of immersive travel,” said Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, Silversea’s executive chairman.