Just Back: Sailing the Galápagos Aboard Celebrity Flora

Ignacio Maza, executive vice president of Signature Travel Network, traveled to the Galápagos aboard Celebrity Flora and is back with this report.

As with many dream destinations, it takes some effort to get to the Galápagos. The islands are located about 600 miles west of the Ecuadorean mainland. Usually, travelers fly to Quito or Guayaquil, then board a domestic flight to Baltra island, the main airport in the archipelago. In addition, because 97 percent of the Galápagos is a protected national park, there are forms to fill out prior to arriving and a park admission fee. Having said all of this, are the Galápagos worth the effort to get there? The answer is absolutely "Yes!"

Ignacio Maza on Celebrity Flora

Here are my top reasons to visit:

First, the Galápagos are nature’s showcase, with the highest concentration of endemic wildlife. Over 1,000 bird, mammal, plant and fish species are found nowhere else. Think iguanas that swim, flightless birds, the only penguins north of the equator, and giant tortoises that live up to 150 years. Because the islands are very remote and have been isolated for so long, wildlife has nothing to fear. Sea lions will swim with you when you snorkel; birds will sit right next to you. You are the visitor. The wildlife is home. In addition, the landscape is like no other. With 13 active volcanoes spread out over the archipelago, evidence of volcanic activity is everywhere. Some islands are barren and desolate, others have green highlands and lush forests. Expect the unexpected.

The archipelago offers a wide range of activities on foot, zodiac and kayak, as well as swimming, snorkeling and diving. You will see beaches in every color of the rainbow, with black, white, red, ochre and olive-green sand. There are 19 islands to explore. On a typical cruise, you will visit anywhere from six to 10 different islands, each with its unique character. The Galápagos are a natural wonderland.

Sailing With Celebrity

Celebrity Flora

Although there are over 50 ships sailing the Galápagos, I chose Celebrity Flora for my island voyage. Here’s why:

Flora was the first purpose-built ship created specifically for the Galápagos. This means the ship meets the strictest environmental standards, has a large marina deck and gives more options for guests. Flora is large enough to include two restaurants, a small gym, two bars and plenty of deck space and public areas, yet small enough that the staff on board gets to know you by the second day of your cruise. The ship was launched in 2019, so the hardware is new and in great condition. 

All Suites: Celebrity Flora has 50 suites, ranging from 300 to over 1,200 square feet of space. Most have either a veranda or an "infinite veranda," meaning a window whose top opens to let in the fresh air. The Royal and Penthouse Suites offer the most space, with separate living areas and large bathrooms and terraces. 

All-Inclusive, Elevated: Flora fares include all meals, drinks, tipping, excursions, transfers and much more. Every guest is provided with snorkeling equipment, fins and a wet suit. When arriving on board from a shore excursion, expect drinks and snacks served on deck. Every detail is taken care of. The only extra charges are for premium wines, laundry and spa treatments. Note: spending the night on deck ("Glamping;" see below) has an extra charge.

More Time for Adventures: Getting on/off Flora is easy with next-generation tenders that can embark or disembark a group of 10 guests in under one minute; this means guests have more time to enjoy the destination. Typically, tenders carry up to 10 guests with a dedicate expedition leader. Every day, Flora guests have up to seven excursions and experiences to choose from; these range from easy coastal rides on a tender spotting wildlife to challenging hikes. There is also kayaking, snorkeling (both beachside and in the open ocean), and walking and hiking excursions on offer. 

Group aboard a Zodiak in the Galapagos

Exceptional Service Onboard: A team of almost 100 professionals delivers a very high level of service, with a staff to guest ratio of nearly 1-to-1. The expedition team is very experienced and knowledgeable. I was very impressed with the service levels, the quality of the lectures on board, as well as the commentary on all guided excursions.

Peace of Mind: The Celebrity team in Ecuador takes care of guests from the moment they arrive in Quito until they fly home; this includes all luggage handling, transfers, and COVID testing. As an extra safety measure, Celebrity tests all guests for COVID-19 in Quito the day before they fly to the Galápagos, exceeding local requirements. 

Great Pre-/Post- Packages (and an Exclusive Flight to/from the Galápagos): Celebrity is the only cruise line that has an exclusive non-stop flight from Quito to the Galápagos, and return. This avoids the stop in Guayaquil, and gets you to/from destination faster, with more space on board the aircraft. Celebrity’s pre-cruise package includes two nights in Quito at the JW Marriott Hotel with sightseeing and meals, as well as one night at the airport on the return, before guests fly home. Guests can choose from a 10-night package (Including Quito sightseeing) or a 16-night "Ecuador & Peru" package that also includes Lima and Machu Picchu

A fun option: Spend a night under the stars. Celebrity Flora is the only ship that offers guests "glamping" at sea. Travelers can spend the night under the stars, enjoying dinner for two (served al fresco in your cabana), a proper bed set up with all the trimmings, and breakfast in the morning.

Most of all, I think that makes the Galápagos so special is that you get to experience a living museum. In 1835, a young scientist named Charles Darwin visited the archipelago. His research and observation of endemic species in the islands and how they adapted over time helped him form the Theory of Evolution, which changed how science views life on earth forever. When you travel to the Galápagos, you walk in Darwin’s footsteps.

Practical Advice

The Galápagos are a year-round destination, and every season has its plusses and minuses. In general:

  • The driest weather is from June to November. This is also the season of cooler temperatures (especially in the evenings) and barren landscapes. Ocean temperatures are cooler and currents stronger this time of year. Ocean waters are clearer, better for snorkeling/diving.
  • The rainier period is from December to April. This means a warmer ocean and hotter temperatures on land. February and March are the hottest months of the year. Rain falls sporadically and mostly in the highlands. Rain brings out the vegetation, cactus flowers, and typically more bird activity.
  • May is a transition month, with greener landscapes (it's the end of the rainy season) but not as hot as February/March. Some of the guides I spoke to consider May an ideal month to visit.

What to pack?

Galápagos cruises are casual and relaxed. There is no need for formal/dressy attire. The No. 1 priority is being practical:

  • Protect yourself from the sun, which is intense; bring sunscreen (SPF 40 or higher), a hat and sunglasses (I also recommend long-sleeved t-shirts and lightweight hiking pants, ideally in neutral/earth tones)
  • A lightweight rain jacket and a sweater or light jacket for the evenings
  • Ziplock bags for your phone/camera, to keep them dry
  • A small backpack
  • Because you will have both wet and dry landings, bring water shoes and lightweight hiking shoes
  • Pack at least two swimsuits 

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