For anyone who’s dreamed
of going to the Galapagos Islands, Avalon Waterways (of the Globus
Family of Brands) has crafted a perfect combination: travel and
sightsee on Ecuador’s diverse mainland for five days, then fly to
the Galapagos Islands to board a 40-passenger luxury yacht.
Last fall, a four-hour flight from Atlanta brought me to Quito,
Ecuador. Proud of its moniker as “the center of the world,” I found
Quito to be cosmopolitan and cultured, with significant churches,
excellent museums, fine food and entertainment.
The Imbabura Province north of Quito offered a magical landscape
of snow-covered mountains, lakes and farmlands, where we observed
the handsome Otavalo people in their bright attire, shopping in
their native market; and then we visited the tourist market known
for its weavings, Alpaca hangings and other local crafts. We took a
thrilling ride through the Andean countryside on the Chiva Express
train, where we sat on top (in chairs with seatbelts), and watched
the world, including snow-capped Mount Cotopaxi, go by.
We also took an excursion to lovely Sacha Lodge in the midst of
the Amazon Rainforest jungle, home to fascinating animals and
insects. (Boots and ponchos are provided to deal with the rain and
mud.) After our land-based stay, we took a 90-minute flight to the
mystical Galapagos Islands. Comprised of 19 islands, 42 islets and
256 rocks that span a 20,000-square-mile area on the equator, the
Galapagos have been an Ecuadorian National Park since 1959, and a
Marine Reserve since 1986.
Upon landing at Galapagos National Park’s point of entry on
Baltra Island, we were immediately greeted by the staff of our
luxury yacht, Isabela II.
After a short bus ride to the dock, we received a quick safety
lesson, then boarded a waiting Zodiac inflatable vessel for a quick
ride to the anchored yacht. Onboard presentations provided
orientation and superb preparation for the various sights and
When we stepped ashore on
North Seymour Island the first afternoon, three sea lions waddled
through our group; lizards hunkered down in the warm sand to absorb
the sun’s waning heat; and crimson-throated frigate birds flew
overhead to their mating rookery nearby.
Due to the Galapagos’ location 600 miles west of Ecuador, they
experience unusual Pacific Ocean currents that bring unique climate
and nutrients to the birds and animals that have adapted to fit
these conditions. With no natural land enemies, the animals and
birds of these volcanic islands are unfazed by people. Our main
responsibility was not to disturb their natural behavior.
On our outings, we saw blue-footed boobies; a young albatross
testing its wings; a brackish lake populated by flamingos; iguanas
piled up together for warmth; and countless sea lions absorbing the
sun’s rays, including newborns with placenta still attached.
We waded with sting rays; sea-kayaked (where I saw the only
penguin species that lives in tropical waters); viewed fish and sea
life from the yacht’s glass-bottom boat; snorkeled among the seals
(Avalon provides the wetsuits and equipment); and star-gazed from
the yacht’s upper deck. Our tour culminated with a sighting of the
giant land tortoises for which the Galapagos are famous and a visit
to the Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island.
Although the islands were quite dry when we visited in November,
they’d soon be green and tropical with upcoming wet-season rains.
Fortunately, visits to the Galapagos are favorable year-round
because different species mate and birth throughout the year.
Our vessel featured 21 air-conditioned cabins and every amenity
you would expect on a fine cruise, including gourmet cuisine.
Everyone on the staff, from captain and crew to the onboard
naturalists, had an impressive range of experience that they were
willing to share unselfishly. Each of them was unfailingly polite,
congenial, unobtrusive and totally committed to their guests’
At the end of our Galapagos stay, we returned to the coastal
city of Guayaquil for some last-minute sightseeing before taking
flights home from Quito.
As our journey ended, I wasn’t the only guest sorry to be
leaving. Avalon has found a perfect way to combine just the right
amount of sightseeing with time to contemplate this magical
For 2008, Avalon Waterways is featuring an 11-day
Ecuador and the Galapagos cruise, as well as a 15-day Discover the
Galapagos and Peru voyage on the new luxury yacht, La Pinta.