Ready, Set, Galapagos!
A family vacation featuring hummingbirds, sea lions and waterfalls
So, the Galápagos Islands…. Maybe you remember some stuff about them from a biology class, maybe you don’t. In either case, here’s the gist. (Feel free to throw any of these tidbits into the convo at your next cocktail party when there’s a lull.) The Galápagos are a group of islands — an archipelago, if you’re fancy — found in the Pacific Ocean, about 600 miles from mainland Ecuador. So they are freaking out there. But this is what makes them so cool: That isolation has led to one of the most unique and diverse collections of plants and animals anywhere in the world. We’re talking tortoises and finches, and iguanas that could get cast in the next Jurassic Park sequel. In fact there are about 40,000 unique species on the islands. Which is also why that Darwin dude (real name Charles Darwin, but I think I’ll just call him that Darwin dude), who first visited in 1835, developed his theory of evolution after seeing all these unique critters.
So, like I said, kind of a big deal. But…in order to get to this awesome place, you must do a bit of traveling — car to airport, plane to Quito (well, first a layover in Panama City), bus to hotel, overnight in hotel, same bus back to airport, small plane to Baltra Island, bus to dock, tiny boat, and finally (at last!), to our destination: Hurtigruten Expeditions’ MS Santa Cruz II. An amazing ship, the 236-foot Cruz Dos was refurbished last year — she’s to be complimented on her work; I wonder which doctor she used — and with only 50 cabins and suites, is how cruising should be done (nautical cruising, at least): intimate and luxe. We partook in the In Darwin’s Footsteps adventure (I’m guessing he’s a size 8.5), having one amazing experience after another…7 days hopping (boating? yachting? sailing?) around more than a half-dozen islands where we got really up-close-and-personal with the incredible wildlife, wandered pristine beaches, and of course, enjoyed plenty of snorkeling, kayaking and swimming. And refreshing, fruity tropical beverages.
Was it less relaxing and more rigorous than my Spring Break-ing family was expecting? Yes. Were our 11-year-old children 30+ years younger than any other guest on board? Indeed. But was it a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that we will never regret and remember forever? That Galápagoes without saying. We loved it. Here are some of the highlights.
First thing to know: Sea lions are everywhere. They’re on every island, each lounging about and looking cuter than the last. It’s amazing. It’s like being in your own SeaWorld show if that were something that was okay to reference. We saw so many sea lions that after 4 or 5 days we almost started taking them for granted. Almost. Then we met this little one, and our collective hearts exploded.
ALL THE OTHER WILDLIFE
One of the exciting objectives in the Galápagos is trying to locate the “Big 15,” which are the most iconic breeds across the archipelago and, coincidentally, my prison nickname. And we saw a dozen of them! Each island had its own topography, unique vibe and amazing creatures! We saw giant tortoises, land iguanas, fur seals, Galápagos hawks, frigatebirds and the brilliantly named blue-footed boobies (tee heeee!). All truly remarkable, legit awe-inspiring. Made even more so by the fact that they have no reason to fear humans — all tours must be led by experienced, licensed guides — so you are completely allowed to coexist with thousands of unique animals.
While hiking in the Ecuadorian jungle to multiple waterfalls isn’t part of the Santa Cruz experience (we tacked on a few extra days to visit a cloud city on the mainland called Mashpi, but sadly didn’t see Lando Calrissian), I felt obliged to include it here (and in the very top photo of this email) because A) it was remarkable and B) allowed for some very photogenic opportunities. If this won’t get me on Survivor some day…I got nothin’.
Okay, again these weren’t in the Galápagos. More mainland pics. But come ON! You get to hold up a feeder and a swarm of kind and fearless hummingbirds hover around your face, resting on your fingers, lapping up sugar water, sending calming vibes…just remarkable. I keep trying to do this back in the States, but the NYC hummingbirds are cagey, yo.
Fine, this may sound sappy, but indulge me. Getting to share these experiences with my husband and our fifth-grade children made everything better. Watching Harper and Gideon recognize that this Hurtigruten cruise is completely carbon neutral, and having them take that in. Hearing them discuss the concept of discovery, learning the histories of Darwin and his unfathomable travels. Snorkeling together amid a school of wild dolphins! Dudes, it made me feel happy to be a parent. A husband. A person.
So, yeah. The trip is dope. I can safely recommend it. There may not have been waterslides or lazy rivers, but I’d take Indiana Jones-ing with my family any and every time. And if you wind up impressed enough to have a similar adventure, let me know how it went.
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