You know you’ve arrived into a very different world when you stare into the eyes of a marine iguana, and it stares right back at you, unafraid. It doesn’t scurry around for protection or advance towards you as if you are a threat. It just looks at you, curious to see what you are.
Charles Darwin found much of the same environment when he arrived in the Galapagos Islands in 1835 aboard the HMS Beagle. His time spent on the islands off the coast of Ecuador would form his theories on evolution and contribute greatly to the scientific understanding of nature.
And, as I stare at the marine iguana staring back at me on the island of Española, it’s not hard to imagine that someone wound the clock back to 1835. With the exception of my ship bobbing at anchor in the distance and the dim mechanical grumblings of the inflatable zodiacs zipping guests to and from the island, many parts of the Galapagos feel every bit as remote as the deepest reaches of Antarctica or the High Arctic.
Taking me on my week-long journey to the Galapagos was Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic and its pretty National Geographic Endeavour II. One of two Lindblad ships offering weekly year-round departures to this amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site, the National Geographic Endeavour II was built in 2005 as Via Australis. Lindblad purchased her in 2016 and put her through a US$10-million refit program before officially welcoming her into service, where she took the place of the much-loved 1966-built National Geographic Endeavour, which has since been retired from the fleet.
With a capacity for 96 guests, National Geographic Endeavour II one of the largest vessels able to sail in the Galapagos (current regulations restrict ships to fewer than 100 guests). But her increased size offers greater creature comforts onboard, including a panoramic, forward-facing lounge; a cosy library stocked with reference books on all things related to the islands; a small spa and fitness centre; and 52 outside cabins, four of which are spacious suites.
National Geographic Endeavour II also features its own fleet of kayaks — perfect for an afternoon paddle around the still waters of these remote islands — as well as a glass-bottomed boat that helps to complement the on-shore offerings on Lindblad’s Galapagos itineraries.
In the Galapagos, Lindblad’s sailings include a pre-cruise stay in Guayaquil, Ecuador prior to the two-hour flight from the mainland to the Galapagos Islands. After landing, guests are whisked aboard the National Geographic Endeavour II, which charts a course through the Western or Eastern Galapagos that can be changed depending on conditions. Because of this, there’s always something new and exciting to discover each and every day.
On-shore activities are guided by an expert team of Galapagos-certified guides, who share their knowledge and passion for these islands with guests. Expect early morning wakeup calls to beat the heat; a 5:30 a.m. wakeup followed by a 6 a.m. disembarkation time isn’t unusual. It’s worth it, however: watching the sun rise over the island of Floreana as we, and nature, wake up at the same time is a breathtaking experience.
Hikes and gentle walks are offered on most islands, but terrain is challenging; this is not the voyage for those with mobility issues.
However, Lindblad also offers guests some amazing snorkelling opportunities, with all gear provided on board (except prescription masks). Scenic zodiac explorations of the shoreline, kayaking outings, and glass-bottomed boat rides complement moments of scenic cruising on board the ship, where wine and cocktail hours are held outdoors when possible, in addition to an on-deck barbecue during one night of the voyage.
Lindblad prides itself on being a family-friendly line, so expect plenty of families — and lots of kids (even at this price point) — on these Galapagos itineraries. I was at first surprised by this (kids on expedition cruises aren’t something I’m used to seeing), but the exceptional crew aboard the National Geographic Endeavour II consummately satisfied all onboard.
It’s expensive, and it takes a long time to get to, but the Galapagos is more than just a mere bucket-list destination. It’s a journey back in time, with the experienced crews of Lindblad at the helm.
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