I put my head underwater and burst out laughing. There’s a turtle hovering there, close enough for me to reach out and shake his flipper.
I’m in the Galapagos Islands and there seems to be turtles just about everywhere.
Of course I had heard that there’s an abundance of animals in the Galapagos, and that they were essentially fearless. We’re just on the second day of my six day cruise and so far I’ve seen piles of marine iguana basking in the sun, barely blinking as I walk by. Sea lions waddling toward me to get a closer look. I’ve stood a few feet from flightless cormorant nests, and watched the mother and father switch spots to keep the newly hatched chicks warm.
But I hadn’t imagined I would be snorkelling in a scene from Finding Nemo (luckily minus the jellyfish). I slowly drift in the current, past the rocky shore of Isabela island. After the twenty third turtle swims past me, I stop counting. There’s such an abundance of porcupine fish and king angels, I don’t even bother starting to count them. The school of spotted rays is so big I can only guess how many — thirteen?
Seeing the Galapagos is magnificent, and the best way to do it is by live-aboard cruise. The islands are very spread out, and the animals on each island are very diverse. If you want to see them all, you need to be able to move locations overnight. The only way to do this is by live-aboard cruise. And of course one doesn’t want just any cruise.
A luxury cruise is really the only way to go.
Galapagos cruise ships are categorized as economy, tourist, first class, and luxury. The ships here are built to withstand the rough waters of the crossings between islands, so you’ll not find quite as luxurious quarters as you would on a Caribbean or Mediterranean cruise. But the scenery more than makes up for it.
Choosing a luxury ship will ensure you have the best quality guides — essential on an educational vacation like a Galapagos trip. You’ll be spending most of your day with your guide — an early morning panga ride, then a snorkel or kayak, an afternoon island walk, plus an evening slideshow — so you want the best.
One of the very best is with Haugan Cruises, which has three ships in the luxury category.
Aboard the Ocean Spray, Javier will teach you everything you wanted to know about the islands, make sure you see every animal, and find the best photographic opportunities for you.
A luxe boat like the Ocean Spray has the best quality equipment and the most comforts. Feeling chilly after your snorkel? The crew knows, so they’ll trade you a big towel and a toasty mug of hot chocolate for your gear when you climb aboard. After your hot tub, you can have an always-hot shower with L’Occitane amenities, and then gaze at the view from your large balcony. Meals are delicious and there’s a quality wine list. With just 8 cabins, you won’t have to wait around for stragglers and you’ll be able to get to know your fellow passengers.
Haugan has a range of itineraries and cruise lengths, so you can choose the exact one that is right for you. But make sure you leave a few days at the end of your cruise. Your days aboard will be full and tiring, and no one wants to return home from their vacation needing another vacation. You’ll want to book a few days at a hotel post-cruise so that you can relax.
The best hotel in Galapagos is the Royal Palm, in the highlands of Isla Santa Cruz, the island from which most cruises depart and a short drive from the main Galapagos airport. A member of The Leading Hotels of the World, the Royal Palm is serene and very relaxing. Whether you book one of the eight rooms or one of the 13 stand-alone villas, you’ll have a jacuzzi built for two. They royal suite, where Prince Charles stayed, has two. Villas also have romantic wood-burning fireplaces and high windows from which you can look down toward the sea. If you’re not quite done exploring Galapagos’ marvels, the Royal Palm has an amazing lava tunnel on their 190 hectare estate too.
The Galapagos Islands are a must-see, and seeing them by live-aboard cruise is the only way to ensure the turtles get to see you too.
Johanna Read is a freelance travel writer and photographer. Well travelled, she’s been on six continents in the past twelve months. As the Contributing Editor for LuxuryAndBoutiqueHotels.com, she’s an expert on luxury hotels and luxe travelling experiences. You can find more of her writing on her website www.TravelEater.net.