In October 2012, I visited one of the world’s outstanding wildlife sanctuaries, cruising for 4 nights aboard the luxury 48 passenger yacht La Pinta in the Central and Northern Galapagos Islands. Wow, what an extraordinary experience! I’ve been fortunate to witness wildlife in Africa, the Antarctic and Arctic and I’d put the Galapagos right up near the top for encounters – unique not only in how unafraid the birds and animals are of us humans, but in that you’ll see as much in the ocean as on the land.
Like most ships in Galapagos, La Pinta is operated as an ‘expedition’ (albeit a very comfortable one with great food!) with several daily activities escorted off the ship by the National Park guides. They accompany every vessel at a maximum ratio of 16 guests to each guide.
Snorkeling in the Galapagos is a real highlight and absolutely superb – usually conducted off the pangas (zodiacs) as visibility is excellent and the water is warm enough to swim in togs or a short summer wetsuit. In four days, I snorkelled with green turtles, Galapagos penguins, white tipped sharks, thousands of tropical fish and of course, lots of playful sea lions!
When you step ashore, the first thing that strikes you is how ‘new’ the Galapagos Islands are – this is an area of constant volcanic activity, particularly in the West, and you are usually walking across huge expanses of lava fields, marveling at how hardy plants and flowers have adapted to survive in such harsh environments. The guides keep guests to strictly demarcated pathways to ensure minimal impact, but you’ll see plenty of the islands’ iconic species – Blue footed and Nazca boobies, land and marine iguanas, sally-lightfoot crabs, frigate birds and – on the forested and hilly island of Santa Cruz, the famous Galapagos tortoises.
Our itinerary also headed North to Genovesa (Tower) Island where we experienced the unusual thrill of watching owls hunting in the daytime, hiding in narrow fissures in lava fields to capture some of the many thousand seabirds as they returned to their nests before dusk. Genovesa is also home to Red Footed Boobies.
La Pinta is a superb small ship and run like a boutique hotel; the cabins are among the largest cabins of any Galápagos vessel with floor-to-ceiling windows in all cabins and the social areas have almost permanent visual contact with the islands through panoramic windows. There’s also a lovely observation deck towards the bow.
Before visiting the Galapagos, I’d highly recommend reading up on Charles Darwin as I enjoyed exploring the Islands with his theories on Evolution bouncing around in my head. It’s amazing to think that this young geologist formulated his ground-breaking theories based on the variances on the beaks of finch species he collected during the voyages of the research ship Beagle in the Galapagos. The ship’s library was full of excellent Darwin biographies and also very entertaining histories of the human habitation of the Islands – the 1930’s alone produced enough material for several soap operas!