Galapagos Getaway

Exotic travels on Avalon Waterways

By: Naomi K. Shapiro

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 sounds ahead.

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’ comfort.

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 place.


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.