I stared at the blue-footed boobie and he stared back. It’s day two of a cruise in the Galápagos and I’ve already learnt that in these islands you don’t know who is watching you.
Charles Darwin landed in the Galápagos in September 1835 as part of a five-year expedition on HMS Beagle to chart the southern South American coastline and was hoping to find an active volcano when he went ashore.
Instead, he discovered birds and animals that had adapted to the different island environments in which they lived. There were iguanas that swam, finches that had evolved different-shaped beaks, giant tortoises with shells that differed in shape from island to island and much more.
Fast forward almost 185 years and I’m guessing very little has changed. Well apart from all the vessels docked off Baltra Island when our plane from Quito landed, waiting to whisk people off on what has to be one of the most memorable holidays ever.
Most were small boats holding just a handful of people, but there were also a few bigger, rather luxurious vessels (none allowed to carry more than 100 passengers) including Silversea’s Silver Galapagos and Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Xpedition.
This summer, anyone arriving in the Galápagos will spot another Celebrity ship. Celebrity Flora, more mega-yacht than cruise ship, arrived on the islands in June from Holland where she was built. I was lucky enough to get a peek at her before she left the shipyard and she looks fabulous, with light Scandinavian-style décor and all-suite accommodation.
A cruise is a wonderful and easy way to see the Galápagos. As you get on board, try and unpack before visiting thedifferent bays and islands where you can hopashore and get close to everything from impish lava lizards to lumbering sea lions on walks with Ecuadorian guides registered by the Galápagos National Park. They travel with the ships and talk about the flora, fauna and history of the islands while ashore and during evening lectures.
What wildlife you see depends on where you go, there are pelicans, sea lions and blue-footed boobies on Daphne Island and North Seymour, which is also home to frigate birds, easily identifiable from their puffed-up red chests. On Rabida Island, you’ll see Darwin’s finches, lava lizards, who communicate by a series of press-ups, and Galápagos mockingbirds. In Santa Cruz, trips to the highlands take groups search of the giant tortoises and usually allow free time in Puerto Ayora, the islands’ capital.
On my cruise, the guides also took us out in the Zodiacs to see the wildlife from the water (this added Galápagos penguins to my wildlife tick list). On several afternoons we went snorkelling with the playful sea lions, you can borrow snorkels and wetsuits on both Flora and Xpedition for free.
Although there are a lot of tourist boats around the islands, itineraries are managed so there is only ever one at each landing site and never more than 100 people ashore at one time. That’s important to avoid stressing the animals (Santa Cruz is an exception because it is a town) and means visitors get a real sense of how special these islands are.
As I watched the boobie looking at me, I wondered what it must have been like for Charles Darwin arriving in this remote spot, some 600 miles from the nearest mainland, all those years ago and discovering what to this day still feels like the land that time forgot. I really hope that never changes.
INTRODUCING Celebrity Flora
Celebrity Flora is a game-changer when it comes to cruising the Galápagos. Not just because she is brand new, beautifully designed and has neat features such as drinking water stations in each suite and solar panels to supplement electricity supply.
No, excellent as these things are, for me the real wow are the new front-loading tenders they are using in place of the rubber Zodiacs others use to go ashore in the Galápagos (there are no docks in the islands so tenders are the only way on and off the boats, even on embarkation day).
If you have ever had to get in and out of a Zodiac from a beach, you will know how hard it is unless you are a six-foot or over.
The new tenders are easy, they ‘lock’ onto the marina at the back of Flora and act like landing craft on beaches so getting in and out is easy. There are six on Flora, each with space for 12 people.
She has one indoor restaurant and an al-fresco Ocean Grill that’s open for lunch and dinner, a lounge bar that doubles as a lecture room and all-suite all ocean-view accommodation with either what Celebrity calls an 'infinite balcony', which has a panoramic window that opens horizontally, or a traditional outside balcony.
All suites are served by a personal attendant and prices include everything from drinks and gratuities to unlimited Wi-Fi.
- Blue Horizons
- Jane Archer