Darwin, Lava, or Galapagos
The most important thing you need to know about the Galapagos is that it’s amazing!!! This is a place unlike anywhere else in the world due to its remote location, the unique flora and fauna, and the ability to walk right up to all its incredible creatures without them running away. You will also quickly learn that 90 percent of all the flora and fauna either starts with Darwin, Lava or Galapagos, so you have a pretty good chance of guessing the name. We saw many Darwin Finches, Lava Lizards and Galapagos Sea Lions. We had a good giggle every time a new species was introduced to us by our guides.
We researched all the boat tours and checked to see which boats the major travel companies in the USA were using and all pointed to the La Pinta. But their prices for this luxury yacht were over $6,500/person, which still didn’t include the flight from Quito to the Galapagos or the $100 National Park fee. So we went straight to the La Pinta, which is owned by one of the oldest families in the Galapagos Islands, Metropolitan Touring. Three weeks prior to the date we were looking for, they quoted us $4,000/ person. We ended up booking 14 days prior to our October 26th sail date and the price dropped down to a little over $3,000/person. Since the budget and first class boats were $1,800 to 4,000 we felt it was great deal for this top rated luxury yacht. And once we saw our beautiful mini cruise ship and the other smaller budget and first class yachts/sail boats we knew we had made the right decision. It was the perfect size, not too big like the 100 person cruise ships, but not too small like the 20 person or fewer boats. The La Pinta offers large spacious rooms with large sea view windows, an internal dining room, a sun deck for snacks and cocktails, a library, gym and hot tub. Fitting 48 guests and 31 crew, we lucked out as only 26 people booked, making the already spacious yacht even more intimate and roomy. Another major plus of the La Pinta (there are many) is that it does a solid 8 day trip without picking up or dropping off passengers. Most, if not all other tours stop for a change over on the fourth day. The three guides, all having 10 to 25 years of Galapagos experience brought different knowledge to every nature walk or daily mini lecture. It also allowed for our group outings to consist of 6 to 13 people.
Tourism in the Galapagos has gone through many changes over the last several decades. Today it’s highly regulated. The National Park determines the itineraries of the different boats and where and when they can go to certain spots. On one side this is wonderful because most days we didn’t even see another boat or even another tour group on an island at the same time, whereas before there would be multiple at one time. On the other hand, being freedivers each boat is restricted to certain dive spots. So as we watched other boat tours snorkel in prime spots, we had to dive in a less desirable area on a given day. If we had known, we would have stayed on one of the Islands for a few more nights after our tour and done day trips out to more snorkel/dive spots. The La Pinta doesn’t offer weight belts on board, just basic snorkel gear and spring wetsuits. Luckily for us we brought our own Cressi snorkel gear, thick Cressi Dive Wetsuits and requested weight belts ahead of time for the week. The Galapagos also used to offer combo boats for scuba diving and Island tours. Today you either have to go on a Scuba Diving boat, which starts at $4,500 per person (you don’t get to go on the Islands) or on a land/snorkel boat, like the La Pinta. The current in the Galapagos moves very quickly, so the water may be very clear one day and murky the next. In our opinion, being able to have the balance of exploring the land and sea of the Islands is the only way to fully grasp the Galapagos. But we would have preferred longer dives and shorter time on some of the Islands. Some days we spent an hour and half to two hours only walking a 500 meter loop. That was a bit frustrating for us and others.
Another important part of the Galapagos is conservation. Metropolitan Touring also has created Fundacion Galapagos Ecuador. They contribute to the conservation of natural resources which focuses on the well-being of the local population by promoting education. As well as developing projects that actively contribute to find solutions for actual problems like rapid growth, urban and coastal contamination and extractive activities. To learn more or help, visit http://www.fundaciongalapagos.org/
Our 8 days were filled exploring 10 different Islands, 5 snorkel spots, kayaking, eating delicious meals, drinking wine, and enjoying the company of other passengers and crew. We landed on Baltra Island, quickly boarded The La Pinta and over the next week visited North Seymour Island, Isabela Island (Punta Vicente Roca, Urbina Bay & Tagus Cove), Fernandina Island (Punta Espinoza), Rabida Island (Jervis), Santa Cruz (Cerro Dragon, Puerto Ayora- Charles Darwin Center, & the Highlands), Floreana Island (Baroness Cove, Post Office Bay, & Punta Cormorant), Santa Fe Island, South Island Plaza, and finished at San Cristobal Island. Over the course of our Galapagos adventure we saw blue-footed boobies diving into the sea from hundreds of feet in the air or resting with their hatchlings, frigate birds inflating their bright red pouches in order to get some action from the females above, mocking birds, yellow warblars, and black marine & yellow terrestrial iguanas. The weight belts allowed us to dive to greater depths where more sea turtles, sea lions, diving birds, colorful fish, and sharks frolicked. These wonders of the ocean made us smile ear to ear as they followed us and we followed them with our GoPro cameras. But what really made our jaws drop were the two creatures you rarely see and get to swim with, the equatorial Galapagos penguin and giant manta rays using their 15 foot wingspan to just glide by us. Not to mention, our guide, Carlos had a magical bird call that charmed over 40 small birds from all around to fill the bush in front of us. Incredible!
If you’re debating whether or not to visit this wonderland, don’t think! Just go! It was by far one of the most amazing places we have ever been. Thank you Jim and Sandy for helping make the Galapagos so special for us!