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Galapagos: Great Natural Beauty Teeming with Ecological Diversity

Step Back in Time in Style

When naturalist, geologist and globetrotting renaissance man Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands in 1835 as part of the five-year voyage of the HMS Beagle, he found a world seemingly untouched by modern influence. The Galapagos so inspired Darwin that he developed his theory of evolution from his time on the islands, recorded in his 1859 book, On the Origin of Species.

If Darwin were to visit the Galapagos Islands today, he’d find much the same environment he explored more than 184 years ago. In fact, the Galapagos still exists as a sort of ecological bubble. Situated off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, the Galapagos Islands are a nature lover’s paradise.

The islands also are a cruise lover’s paradise. After a quick two-hour flight over from the mainland, the very best way to see as many of the islands of the Galapagos National Park (itself recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is to do so by sea.

The first thing to know is that not every ship can visit the Galapagos; to go there, a ship has to be registered in Ecuador, crewed predominantly with locals from the Galapagos or the Mainland, and provisioned with Galapagos or Ecuadorian products. Ships also are limited to just 100 passengers apiece, and most vessels that sail there are markedly smaller, hovering around the 20- to 40-guest range.

Because of those regulations, the Galapagos can be seen aboard everything from a small catamaran carrying just a dozen people to a luxury ship carrying close to 100, where not a single detail is overlooked.

Ships can only call on a single island once every two weeks. That’s why most cruise lines keep itineraries loose and elect to sail Eastern and Western Galapagos itineraries that alternate each week. Nearly all cruises visit Santa Cruz Island, where the Charles Darwin Research Station is located in the town of Puerto Ayora. There, visitors can get glimpses of some of the giant tortoises kept at the breeding and research center.

Other popular stops include the mysterious, and oddly barren-looking, island of Floreana, which is home to a little outpost known as Post Office Bay. Located a little distance off a warm sandy beach is a wooden barrel, nestled in the woods, that's been functioning as a “post office” for centuries. Early whaling ships dropped mail and letters off there for ships bound abroad that would then be collected and delivered by another vessel. Today, visitors can leave a postcard of their own–and look for ones from their home towns. 

Then, there is Isla Bartolome, or Bartolome Island. It is one of the most frequently photographed spots in the Galapagos, and a hike up its maze of wooden staircases constructed by the Galapagos National Park Service rewards visitors with a tremendous view of its volcanic terrain and fluorescent-colored waters.

Impressively, no two islands in the Galapagos are exactly alike, which makes cruising there a joy. Many people consider this a bucket-list destination, if there ever was one. A vacation in the Galapagos is part expedition, part education. Cruising there can be an intoxicating journey through the world’s natural history.

Numerous cruise lines offer voyages in the Galapagos, including soft-adventure lines G Adventures and Lindblad-National Geographic. Luxury-line Silversea offers adventurous expeditions there aboard its 100-guest Silver Galapagos. Celebrity Cruises maintains one of the biggest presences in the islands, with a fleet of nimble ships and a brand-new vessel, Celebrity Flora, which just debuted this May. 

For ideas about how to plan an exotic trip to the Galapagos Islands, call 803.216.5260 or 877.910.4188 and ask for Laura at Expedia CruiseShipCenter-Lawrenceville.