Located 600 miles from the coast of Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands were discovered in 1535 by Fray Tomás de Berlanga, bishop of Panama, whose ship was becalmed and swept westward along the Humboldt Current. The bishop was impressed by the giant tortoises, which he thought resembled a type of women’s saddle, known in Spanish as a galápago. In September 1835, Charles Darwin arrived aboard the survey ship HMS Beagle. Over the centuries, the islands were visited by mariners, pirates and whalers, who ate the tortoises, shot the fur seals and introduced alien species such as goats. Not until the establishment of a national park in 1959 could a process of environmental reconstruction begin.
The ideal time to travel is from January to April, when the warm Panama Current nudges the frigid Humboldt Current slightly south and the sea reaches a more comfortable 75 degrees. At other times, a wet suit is mandatory.
Cruise or Adventure
When planning a visit, it is crucial to decide whether your trip is to be a cruise or an adventure, a relaxing voyage or a wildlife odyssey. Only then will you be able to choose an appropriate vessel. All the boats in the Galápagos must follow a roughly circular two-week route prescribed by the national park. No flexibility whatsoever is permitted, so if you sign up for a seven-day cruise, you will see 50 percent of the archipelago at most. Those contemplating a Galápagos cruise must consider the size of the vessel carefully. Smaller boats are not for those prone to seasickness.
The Celebrity Flora
Celebrity launched this small cruise ship specifically designed for the Galápagos archipelago. Like the Celebrity Xpedition, the new Celebrity Flora will carry 100 passengers. At 333 feet long, however, it will be significantly larger than the existing vessel. Amenities include two restaurants, two lounges and a stargazing platform. Two 1,288-square-foot penthouses with floor-to-ceiling windows are also available. Additionally, the ship’s green credentials will be augmented by a desalination system to create potable water and a “dynamic positioning system,” which will allow the vessel to maintain its position without using an anchor and potentially damaging the seabed.
The M/Y Passion
The refurbished M/Y Passion is a 159-foot four-deck yacht that accommodates a maximum of 14 passengers in considerable style. All suites and staterooms come with air-conditioning and Italian marble baths, and the staff-to-guest ratio is more than 1-to-1. The boat’s owner, Angermeyer Cruises, has joined forces with WildAid, a San Francisco-based environmental organization, and each cruise makes a financial contribution to its field program in the Galápagos.