A seven-night, eight-day cruise of the Galapagos sounds like a lot of time, and a number of people commented about this to me when I was planning my trip, but I’m glad I picked the long version. Many people take three-night, four-day trips, but there is way too much in the islands for such a short jaunt. Plus, the first and last days include travel to and from the islands, so you don’t get as much island time, just a couple of hours on those days.
Getting to the Galapagos
I expected a small plane to ferry me the 600 miles (about 1,000 km), but so many tourists visit the Galapagos that I covered the expanse of ocean in a brand new Airbus. I picked up the flight in Quito, but many others hopped in at the stop over in Guayaquil.
The airport was originally a U.S. air base. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Americans decided they needed another outpost in the Pacific, so they took over Baltra Island, which is right next to the island with the largest population - Santa Cruz. Because materials are so scarce in the Galapagos, when the Americans left the islands’ few residents used wood from the buildings to erect thier own homes.
Today, the total human population of Galapagos numbers around 20,000, but they only live on five of islands. Santa Cruz houses more than half the population, mostly Puerto Ayora, which is also where the Charles Darwin Research Station is and where tourists depart on their excursions.
I arranged my trip through Tropic, an ecotourism company founded by in part by Andy Drumm, a former guide and divemaster in the Galapagos who is director of the ecotourism program for The Nature Conservancy. Although there are many tour companies and they all seem to book the same boats, I liked the idea that someone took a look to see which would meet some environmental standards.
The Beagle has SmartVoyager certification from the Rainforest Alliance, which is given “to tour boat operators in the Galapagos Islands who meet a set of strict conservation standards for protecting the environment, wildlife and the well-being of workers and local communities.”
There’s plenty of abuse of environmental standards in the area, so it’s impossible to really know what’s really going on, but I felt everyone on The Beagle was very professional and our guide was not only knowledgable, but genuinely concerned about the islands. In fact, all of the crew has lived in the Galapagos for many years.
The captain, as he says, is endemic — a word commonly used here in the islands to refer to species that exist no where else. Owner/operator Augusto Cruz comes from one of the islands’ first families. Any history of the Galapagos includes the Cruz family.
Augusto was born on the island of Floreana in the south of the Galapagos archipelago. His parents were among the first settlers of the inhabited regions of the islands, arriving in the late 1930’s from mainland Ecuador and carving out a home for themselves and their twelve children, an island home which is still in the family today. Augusto has worked on boats in the islands since 1977 and been a captain since 1981 on his own vessels…Read more
In between land and sea adventures, The Beagle is a wonderful, welcoming home with excellent food and outstanding service. To come in nearly shivering from snorkeling in the chilly ocean and find homemade hot chocolate made me want to take up permanent residence.
I was also blessed with a good group of fellow passengers — eleven of us in total (later joined by two more) — that ranged from age 16 to 79. Everyone was very respectful of the awe-inspiring experiences. No one was loud or chatty on the trail. Everyone was quiet when it was appropriate to be quiet. You could alone be if you wanted to, or there were plenty of travel stories to be swapped over hot tea, spiked limeade, banana chips and toffee-coated peanuts that tasted like Cracker Jack. In fact, three people on The Beagle the week I was there were taking a year off to travel.
First Stop: Seymour Island
I left my hotel in Quito for the airport at 7:30 a.m. By noon I was on The Beagle and by 2:30 p.m. I was on Seymour Island, stepping around sleeping sea lions and iguanas - both land and marine. Life here is abundant. Our guide, Camilo, says there can be as many as 2,000 or 3,000 marine iguanas per square kilometer.
The male frigate birds were in full regalia, with inflated bright red pouches to attract a mate, females circling around, checking them out. A few had already mated, and there were many nests tended by either dad, mom or both.
As we were leaving Seymour Island, one of those enormous ships with 80-100 people arrived, belowing announcements over the loudspeaker. What a relief to going back to The Beagle with excellent food, good company, peace and quiet — at least until 5 a.m. when they started the engines to take us to our next destination.