Cruising the Galapagos Islands on M/Y Grace

After spending five weeks in the Galapagos Islands, young Charles Darwin’s outlook on life was radically changed forever. Phewwwwt… it only took me a week of cruising these remote “Enchanted Islands – located about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador – to realize that this truly was a trip of a lifetime. After spending a few days exploring these strikingly beautiful volcanic islands, inhabited by such diverse wildlife, flora and fauna, it was obvious (well, at least it was after our exceedingly knowledgeable naturalist guide explained it all to us) how Darwin developed his theory of evolution.

Cruising the islands is like channel surfing for the best TV show

Every island showcases a completely different cast of characters ranging from the comedic Blue- footed Boobies, Red-footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies (birdy versions of the Lone Ranger), ballerina-like Flamingos, the clownish Galapagos Penguins, the sinister looking Iguanas who always looked like they were planning a heist or something equally shady, the adorable sea lions, or even a sex show put on by the randy 500 pound tortoises (not a pretty picture) as well as over a dozen species of the famous Darwin Finches.

Even though the islands are all in close proximity, they come in wide range of sizes, shapes and colors. One is composed of stark, black, ropey lava with tangled mangroves, while another has postcard-perfect, white sandy beaches, vibrant bougainvillea, and pristine, turquoise lagoons.

A day in the Galapagos cruise life

Some mornings would start at the crack of dawn (to avoid the crowds from the big ships or to catch the animals at their friskiest) while on other days we were allowed late sleep-ins. A hot tasty breakfast with fresh fruit, banana pancakes, ham, granola, hot-from-the-oven yucca rolls, and lots of rich, dark, Ecuadorian coffee would get us up and going.

Then we would climb into the panga (rubber dinghies that ferried us to shore) for a guided walk, where we’d learn all sorts of amazing facts about the island’s vegetation, birds and bizarrely tame animals from Juan Carlos (M/Y Grace’s fantastic naturalist guide). Next we would slither into our wetsuits (always more difficult those big brekkies) for snorkeling with the friendly sea lions, tortoises, penguins, shimmering, rainbow-colored fish, and possibly even some hammerhead sharks. Having worked up an appetite, we’d head back to the yacht for a huge lunch (always kick-started by one of Chef’s scrumptious soups, followed by a few different hot entrees like hornado-slow roasted pork, or humitas-Aztec style tamales, and some fresh baked sweetie for dessert. If we were lucky, there was also a shrimp or fresh fish ceviche, which was accompanied by fried plantains and popcorn.

Time for a little nap and then repeat the morning activities at a new spot.

My favorite islands

1. Isabela Island: black sandy beach where we saw flightless cormorants drying their wings, giant tortoises and a few shy, land iguanas amidst the perpetually-dressed-for-dinner penguins.

2. Bartolome Island: could be a movie set for moon landing. Climb to the summit for a breathtaking view of Pinnacle Rock.

3. Fernandina Island: the youngest island of the bunch, overflowing with a huge colony of butt-ugly marine iguanas off-set by the tangerine colored Sally Lightfoot crabs. The island is a nesting ground for the beautiful Galapagos birds.

4. Santa Cruz Island: Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, where the legendary, 100 year old, giant tortoise, Lonesome George, holds court. L.G. is the last surviving Pinta tortoise, a subspecies that once roamed the islands in the thousands.

5. Espanola Island: A birders paradise and perfect for bobbing and weaving in the ocean with the sea lion cubs. It’s all decorated for the holidays with vivid green and red marine iguana, appropriately named “Christmas Iguanas”.

6. Genovesa Island: The perfect island for twitchers, since it’s home to approximately 2 million birds, including great frigate birds, mockingbirds, doves, several of Darwin’s finches, and the crowd pleasing, clown-like, red-footed booby.

And the best cruise ship award goes to…

Because most of these sites can only be reached from the sea, the best way to see the Galapagos is by boat. After spending a week aboard the luxurious yet homey, M/Y Grace, it has my vote for the best small cruise vessel. This elegant, historic yacht (it used to belong to Aristotle Onassis who graciously gave it to Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco for their wedding present) makes the perfect choice for a truly memorable trip.

The M/Y Grace departs on a seven-night cruise every Saturday. Prices include all meals and non-alcoholic beverages on board, shore excursions with English-speaking guides, use of snorkeling equipment and wetsuits, Galapagos National Park fee and tourist transit card. This year, following the introduction of new rules for cruise operators, the M/Y Grace will offer two unique week-long itineraries.

Janice Nieder is Founder of Travel with Taste.

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Comments (1)

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  1. The dirty secret of Galapagos tours is that almost every tour goes the same places and sees roughly the same things. It’s all great, so that’s fine, but the ship you’re on is the real differentiator. I’ve had the chance to experience this one and it is quite nice.

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