450 pound, 100 year old Tortoises; world-famous Blue-footed Boobies doing their comical mating dance; giant Albatrosses, ungainly on land soaring gracefully off a cliff; Frigate birds strutting giant red throat pouches; and, sea lions, oh the sea lions, virtually everywhere.
The Galapagos, a loosely connected chain of islands 600 miles off the west coast of Ecuador, are the combined size of Puerto Rico, with a diversity of look and feel that is truly astonishing: from lava flow and desert-like vistas to a wide range of shrubs and greenery. It’s an eye-opening look at what nature and biology have created.
When Charles Darwin visited these islands in 1835, he spent about five months exploring the four main islands. But while Darwin had his HMS Beagle, a scientific vessel, I had a week’s cruise on Celebrity Cruises’ Xpedition, a very upscale way of exploring the area.
After boarding Xpedition in Baltra, about a three hour plane ride from Ecuador’s capital, Quito, there’s a short time at sea before you get to North Seymour Island, where different shore excursions were offered: High Intensity, Medium Intensity and Low Intensity. Some included climbing as many as 360 steps to the top of a hill. Some were zodiac (in local parlance, “Pangas”) rides along the shoreline.
There are expert naturalists aboard. By Galapagos regulation, no guide can take more than 16 people at a time and each group must stay within specifically set boundaries for walking. Not to worry: right from the very first excursion, it was a flat-out-knock-out triumph for animal lovers.
On North Seymour, we saw the Magnificent and Great varieties of Frigate Birds, with their wonderful red pouches as part of the mating ritual; the playful, or often sleeping, sea lions; and, of course, lots of the world-famous Blue-Footed Boobies.
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Subsequent excursions gave opportunities to see albatrosses, penguins, fur seals, marine and land iguanas, Galapagos Hawks, Masked Boobies, flamingos, sea turtles, pelicans, lava gulls and many, many MANY more. The animals are almost completely unbothered by the presence of humans; we just do not appear to be a threat to them.
Upon returning to the ship at any of the two-a-day excursion programs, guests are welcomed back by cold towels, fresh fruit and tropical soft drinks and juices. It was easy to kick back and enjoy the ultra-casual nature of being on board a high-quality expedition ship.
The 294-foot long vessel carries only 100 guests. The suites and staterooms, while not huge, are comfortable, with amenities such as good bedside lighting and full-length mirrors. No high-quality expedition cruise is going to be inexpensive but with everything that’s included (such as tips and most alcohol), it’s a good value.
This is an ideal experience for families and couples, friends and relatives of all combinations as long as they like animals and are reasonably physically fit.
An avid traveler and an award-winning journalist, Ralph Grizzle produces articles, video and photos that are inspiring and informative, personal and passionate. A journalism graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ralph has specialized in travel writing for more than two decades. To read more cruise and port reviews by Ralph Grizzle, visit his website at www.avidcruiser.com