Nearly 40 years ago every Sunday evening my parents and I, along with 17 million others around the UK sat mesmerised by the BBC series Life On Earth. Presented by David Attenborough, I vividly remember the episode where he spoke about Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as he stood by Giant Tortoises on The Galapagos Islands. As a teenager from South London, never would I have believed that I would meet these tortoises first hand.
Friends who are dedicated ornithologists were green with envy when we informed them of our proposed trip and I know secretly thought that the experience would be totally wasted on my husband and I as we can just about identify a Robin in our back garden. Luckily you don’t have to be able to spot the 13 different varieties of Darwin finches which are indigenous to the islands as on our cruise there was always an expert guide on hand who had encyclopaedic knowledge of every species.
We travelled to the Galapagos Islands via Ecuador where we spent 2 nights in Quito. The city is nestled in the Andes and is the highest capital city in the world, at 2,850 m above sea level, and was the first city to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site back in 1978. Whilst we only had one full day we made the most of this by visiting the colourful and vibrant old town where every few steps you come across spectacular churches.
From Quito we flew to St Christabel, one of the few inhabited of the 13 major Galapagos Islands, from where we boarded our home for the week: the Silversea ship, Silver Galapagos.
It is difficult to articulate what an amazing and unique experience we had and how privileged we felt. One thing we realised very quickly was that this was not a ‘drop and flop’ holiday; each morning and afternoon different excursions were arranged and everyday there were choices to be made snorkelling, hiking, swimming from a fabulous beach, zodiac trips etc.
On the first day we were kitted out with our snorkelling gear which included wet suits. I would think that at least 75% of the passengers participated in the first snorkelling trip and whilst it had been many years since I had donned a mask and snorkel I was so pleased that I overcame my nerves and braved it. In fact my biggest challenge was getting in and out of the wet suit. For us ‘snorkelling newbies’ there was a quick lesson to get us familiar with the mask and to ensure we were confident to be let loose in the water. The variety of fishes and marine life were breathtaking and later in the week I actually swam with penguins, turtles and sea lions – the experience is most definitely up there in my top 10.
Each day we moored by a different island and were transported to them by zodiacs, around 12 passengers at a time, accompanied by a dedicated guide. Zodiacs are not the most comfortable of vessels but this adds to the expedition experience, and we soon got the hang of climbing in and out of these sturdy, rubber inflated boats with the help of the crew. Some of the landings were ‘wet’ which meant you disembarked on the edge of the beach so wet shoes were essential. On the second day we visited Fernandina Island where we were told we would see, amongst many things, marine iguanas and sea lions. The first iguana was spotted immediately we disembarked from the zodiac and we all excitedly gathered round and took photos only to walk further onto the island and realise there were literally hundreds. The same applied to the sea lions who were so cute and had obviously not read the rule book about keeping a distant of 6ft from humans: as we moved away, they would come closer.
What I hadn’t appreciated was how different each island is, both in terms of landscape but also fauna and flora not to mention the wildlife. One day we would be visiting mangroves via the zodiacs and spotting sea turtles, penguins and a whole host of birds and the next we would be trekking through rugged terrain marvelling at magnificent views being ’buzzed’ by a Galapagos Hawk.
All ships to the Galapagos Islands are small by cruising standards due to the tight restrictions laid down by Galapagos National Park. Our ship, Silver Galapagos, is one of the most luxurious touring the islands, the food was tasty and mostly sourced locally and we were thoroughly spoilt throughout our stay by all the crew and our butler. The ship holds a maximum of 100 guests and when we travelled there were 96 on board, so due to the size and the fact that we were all experiencing new things, there is a real camaraderie spirit. The average age was probably 60 but all were fit as you have to have a reasonable degree of agility to get on and off the ship by the zodiacs but also to partake in the excursions as you are walking on uneven ground most of the time. The morning excursions started early, normally 7.30am so come 10pm most of us were tucked up in our cabins recovering from our adventures of the day. As everything is included, at the end of the week the only extras I had to pay for were my spa treatments.
This is not a conventional cruise as the entertainment is the wildlife and nature that you experience during the day. Although one evening, we did see the most amazing cabaret: a performance by seven sharks which were swimming alongside the ship accompanied by a school of flying fish.
On our last day on the ship we visited the island Santa Cruz where, like David Attenborough, I met the Giant Tortoises. What a fantastic and apt end to a truly magnificent trip, totally unique and one we will revisit often as we flick through the hundreds of photos that we took.
Silver Galapagos sails on 7-night cruises among the Galapagos Islands all year round. Fares include all meals, drinks, butler service, excursions ashore, Wi-Fi and tips. See Silversea’s website for up-to-date prices and itineraries.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Silversea.