Ecoventura Origin hero

Emily in the Galapagos Islands

written by
Holly Tuppen
Holly Tuppen

Leaping mantas and ballerina sea lions

In part two of her trip report to Ecuador (read part one here), Holly Tuppen talks to Niarra Travel Researcher Emily Hunter, reporting back from Latin America's most-loved wildlife destination, the Galapagos Islands. 

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Tell us a little about your first impressions of the Galapagos? 

The flight to San Cristóbal (one of the archipelago’s main inhabited islands) from Ecuador is good preparation for what's to come. The sight of volcanic islands erupting from the big, azure sea is mind-blowing! I spent the whole journey looking for whales. 

On arrival, we met our guides for the seven-day cruise aboard the ten-cabin Ecoventura Origin — one of the best yachts for exploring the islands. Tommy is from Quito, while Ivan is from San Cristóbal. They were a perfectly balanced duo – Ivan was full of enthusiasm (he's even written a song about the Galapagos, which is on Spotify), and Tommy was quieter but full of facts. Ivan is known locally as the sea lion whisperer and having worked on the boats for 20 years, the sea lions greet him like an old friend. 

The first thing I noticed was how pristine the environment was. I didn't see one piece of litter. Perhaps this was because we travelled post-Covid-19 or because the islands are so carefully and strictly looked after. Either way, it was uplifting to be somewhere so unspoiled. 

Was there anything that you didn’t expect? 

Lots! These islands surprise and delight and every turn. 

We all associate the Galapagos with wildlife, understandably, but there's heaps of culture. Over 30,000 people live on its four inhabited islands. We loved our day in Puerto Ayora, watching a local football game, visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station, and wandering through town where sea lions bask in the sun on benches like cats. 

While it was great meeting people, one thing I didn't expect is how quickly you get used to life at sea. On days when we went inland to see tortoises and go hiking among verdant volcanoes, it took some adjusting to land. Being on the boat and in the water is so carefully managed, you hardly see another soul. Coming across other people was a bit of a shock.

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I enjoyed learning how to snorkel properly. I've never realised there's an art to it, but it's so much more enjoyable once you learn a few tricks. We spent hours in the water most days, so it was a great chance to refine the skill. 

The trip was much more sociable than I expected, which was welcome. Each evening the group on the boat would sit and enjoy cocktails and dinners together. Each night we sat with different people from all around the world, sharing stories, learning about other cultures and generally having a very jolly time. We made some new friends on the boat, and I know we will stay in touch forever. Experiences like that make me grow as a person and inspire me to travel to new places.

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Can you walk us through your itinerary?  

Our itinerary, called Beaches and Bays, revolved around experiences in the water. We moved between the islands of San Cristobal, Espanola, Floreana, and Santa Cruz. On the first day, we met our guides, the group and got kitted out with the wet suits and equipment that would be ours for the week. That afternoon, we headed to Leon Dormido, a vertical cone rising 150 metres from the ocean home to blue-footed boobies and frigatebirds.

From then on, our days followed a pattern of feasting, hiking, and swimming. Most days involved some form of onshore and at sea excursion. We snorkelled every day, but also mixed-up activities with paddleboards, kayaks, and the zodiac – allowing us to creep around bizarre geological formations, cruise into mysterious mangroves, and see seabird colonies in action dive bombing and nesting. After an afternoon hike or beach walk, we’d often cool down with a snorkel at a spot home to colourful fish like king angels and surgeonfish. Each evening, we would recount stories from the day or past travels over cocktails and dinner as the sun sunk into a pink and milky sea.

Ecoventura Galapagos tortoise

What were some standout moments? 

The Galapagos Islands are truly unique, and it is hard to describe the experience – I would compare it to Antarctica in that the remoteness is almost impossible to find these days. The wildlife had no fear of humans, and respectfully you can get very close to blue-footed boobies, albatross, and marine iguanas. Snorkelling with sea lions, sharks, and eagle rays was an incredible privilege. One day, manta rays leapt out of the water right in front of us, and the sea lions are so playful — they dance around you like ballerinas in the water. 

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Any top tips?

Before going, I splashed out (excuse the pun) on an underwater phone screen. I didn't think it would work, but the results were incredible. I'd recommend anyone going gets one so you can feel like an underwater camera pro without lugging all the kit.  Other than that, everything was so well planned that all I had to do was go with the flow and focus all my attention on the experience.

Ecoventura boobies

Who would you recommend the Galapagos to? 

This trip can be tailored to all needs, ages and abilities. Couples and older families will have an amazing time exploring by yachts, which can be booked out privately for larger groups, while those with young ones can stay at luxury lodges or safari camps on land, taking day trips to visit nearby islands. There are alternative itineraries for older people, including an incredible glass-bottom boat for those who can't spend as much time in the water snorkelling.

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