|Pinnacle Rock is a popular snorkeling site on Bartholome, Galapagos.|
Swimming lizards, massive tortoises and blue-footed birds aren’t computer-generated fantasy creatures in a Hollywood movie but real-life critters in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. Much of the landscape—protected as a national park—remains as it was in 1835 when Charles Darwin arrived in the islands on the HMS Beagle.
Starting this fall, Silversea Cruises’ new 100-passenger, all-suite Silver Galapagos begins year-round luxury expedition cruising in the Galapagos. Among other options, Celebrity Cruises’ 96-passenger Celebrity Xpedition provides an inclusive, eco-focused premium product, while National Geographic Expeditions, Metropolitan Touring, Quasar Expeditions and Ecoventura also offer small-ship voyages.
|Seals and blue-footed boobies are among the Galapagos’ indigenous species.|
Small vessels allow clients to explore in little groups. Landings are made on uninhabited islands via Zodiacs. Guests view wildlife and birds in their natural habitats. Each island in the Galapagos is different. Clients will find the most “civilization” at Santa Cruz, home to the Charles Darwin Research Station, and San Cristobal, both with about 6,500 year-round residents. Only a few of the islands are inhabited, the rest are home only to wild critters. Isabela has two accessible volcanic craters.
Silversea Expeditions, which offers two seven-night cruise itineraries, also just unveiled eight new shorter Silver Galapagos voyages of just three and four days during 2013, which can be combined with pre- and post-cruise South America land adventures to create packages of eight, 10 or 11 days. So guests can not only visit the Galapagos but also head out for the Amazon, Puno and Lake Titicaca or Machu Picchu.
Silver Galapagos’ new four-day Baltra-to-San Cristobal expedition voyages visit the islands of Santa Cruz, Genovesa, and Seymour Norte, with departures on September 28, November 9, November 23 and December 7 of this year. The new three-day San Cristobalto-Baltra voyages meander on a route through the islands of Espanola, Santa Cruz and Plazas Sur, departing on October 16, November 13, November 27 and December 11.
Silversea’s new cruise and land packages include all-suite accommodations, complimentary expeditions ashore with naturalists, Silversea’s Galapagos air package (between Quito or Guayaquil and the Galapagos), the Galapagos National Park entrance fee and much more.
The line also offers pre- or post-cruise South America land extensions. Land programs include deluxe hotel accommodations, all transportation, transfers, guided sightseeing and some meals. Air travel between the guest’s home and Lima, Quito or Guayaquil is not included, but optional air packages are available.
Celebrity Xpedition, the small-ship expedition product of Celebrity Cruises, offers seven to 13-night options. Guests enjoy an inclusive product, onboard pampering, Celebrity’s touches of luxury, naturalist lectures, Zodiac explorations and other shore options, onboard cultural programs, open-seat dining in Darwin’s Restaurant and other inclusions, such as a one-night pre-cruise stay in Quito.
Celebrity Xpedition’s seven-night “Galapagos Islands A Cruise” option departs roundtrip from Baltra to Daphne Island, Gardner Bay and Punta Suarez (Espanola); Cormorant Point and Bahia Post Office (Floreana); Punta Moreno, Urvina Bay and Punta Vicente Roca (Isabela); Punta Espinoza (Fernandina); South Plaza, Dragon Hill and Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz).
In addition, the ship departs on a seven-night cruise from Baltra on a “Galapagos Islands B Cruise” itinerary, that includes Daphne Island, North Seymour and Rabida (Galapagos); Puerto Egas, Bartolome Island and Sullivan Bay (Santiago); Elizabeth Bay and Caleta Tagus (Isabela); Las Bachas and Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz); P. Baquerizo, Kicker Rock and Cerro Brujo (San Cristobal).
The line also offers pre- or post-cruise stays, a combination Galapagos voyage and Machu Picchu journey, and exclusive charter air for 10-night-or-longer packages.
Lindblad Expeditions operates yearround, 10-day National Geographic Expeditions on the 96-passenger National Geographic Endeavour and National Geographic Islander; guests explore by Zodiacs, go kayaking or hiking, all under the tutelage of a team of expert naturalists.
One unique feature is that the ships carry a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), which can dive to 500 feet—far deeper than scuba divers can safely explore—giving guests onboard a glimpse of the deep sea life. Clients also might combine the cruise with a “Land of the Incas” journey for a 16-day vacation.
Metropolitan Touring offers four- to six-night cruises on three classic small ships, the 40-passenger Yacht Isabela II, the 48-passenger Yacht La Pinta and the 90-passenger flagship M/V Santa Cruz. A Young Pirates program helps kids aged 7 to 12 enjoy their Galapagos vacation.
Santa Cruz was recently refreshed with new carpeting, reception-area updates, new armchairs in the bar-salon, updated decor and furniture, as well as new crockery and cutlery in the dining room; a revamped library-Internet room and new sundeck loungers. Many cabins have new wallpaper. All accommodations boast new desk tops, new blinds and new off-white sheets, pillow cases and blankets for a lighter, more spacious feel.
The ship also has new snorkeling buoyancy aids, perfect for those less comfortable in the water; a new “SplashCam” video camera; and a hydrophone so that guests can hear the calls of dolphins and whales. The line has also added new shore options in Santa Cruz.
Quasar Expeditions operates the 32-guest Evolution, which has three suites, eight premium staterooms and five deluxe staterooms, all with private facilities.
Interestingly, Quasar’s 18-passenger Grace Yacht was once owned by the late Princess Grace of Monaco.
Cruises are seven-night voyages roundtrip from either Baltra or San Cristobal. In addition, the vessels operate family-themed cruises, with a kidfriendly naturalist, board game nights, movies, kayaking for kids, star gazing, and children’s menus.
Another operator, Ecoventura sails the Eric,Flamingo and Letty, superior first-class 20-passenger motor yachts. Departures are every Sunday on two different seven-night itineraries; one visits southern/central islands, the other the northern/western islands. Clients can combine the two for a two-week trip.
For experienced scuba divers, the 16-passenger Galapagos Sky offers diving in the northern islands of Wolf and Darwin. Guests stay onboard, participate in multiple dives and head out on several land adventures.
What’s new? Ecoventura has been upgrading kitchens onboard its vessels. Menus have been fine-tuned and built around natural and organic foods that are purchased locally.