Traveling to the Galapagos Islands is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. The Islands are a world of their own. Separate from the rest of the world, nature dominates the volcanic landscape with man secondary.
The primary and best way to visit the islands is by taking a cruise from Baltra Island. There is a wide variety of cruise ships that range from back-packer style to deluxe accommodations. The lengths of the trips can range from three days to fourteen days under sea.
Extensive research in finding the right boat for you can begin at GalapagosIslands.com cruise finder. However, knowing that this is a U.S. based company, after selecting the ship we wanted, I chose to make reservations through Surtrek Travel based in Quito, Ecuador. Communication with Surtrek was superb with prompt email replies in English. Payment was done through wire transfer in cash. Credit card payments required a surcharge.
When choosing a boat, my friend and I wanted a smaller boat with just the right amount of guests. The Eclipse run by Ocean Adventures, met our criteria by having 46 passengers, snorkel equipment, and kayaks included in the cruise.
In making our flight arrangements, we chose to travel through Guayaquil instead of Quito. It just didn’t make sense to us to subject our sea-level bodies to 9,000 feet of altitude for 24 hours, only to return back to sea level. Guayaquil ended being a closer departure city from the mainland to Baltra – Galapagos Islands. Traveling on a chartered AeroGal flight booked by travel agents, we arrived to Baltra, a desolate and deserted Island.
During World War II, the U.S. Sixth Air force set up base here to protect the South American and Panama coastlines from the Japanese. The remaining extensive runway is now for commercial use.
The Eclipse staff met us just outside the small customs and immigration for Galapagos and whisked us away in buses towards the harbor. While waiting for departure, I began to ponder on the leafless trees. Seems these stick trees are actually alive.
We’re now on Island time and things begin to go slower. But the tourism at Galapagos is a well-oiled machine. The Ecuadorians know how to professionally, tactfully and effectively move large amounts of people to and from the ships moored in the harbor. Donning life jackets and given a brief orientation on boat safety, we loaded onto the “Pangas” one by one.
Seems a Brown Noddy was thinking of hitching a ride with us.
Heading closer to the Eclipse ship we had our first view of our week’s home-away-from-home.
The M/V Eclipse is 210 feet long, carries 48 passengers and 35 crew including four naturalist guides. Considered a mid-size ship and rated by Conde Nast as a “Top Small Cruise Ship,” the Eclipse is a sea faring vessel with luxury aboard.
After learning that the naturalists in the Galapagos Islands are independent contractors, the massive National Geographic ships with around 100 guests can hold no candle to the beauty and exclusivity of the Eclipse. Because of its smaller footprint, the Eclipse is able to go to landings that a larger vessel couldn’t. Also, it was learned that each ship is only allowed to have no more than 48 passengers on land at a time. Up to twelve visitors are grouped with a Naturalist and are required to stay with the naturalist at all times.