Near the top of most people’s bucket list of things to do before they die is a visit to the Galapagos. The archipelago of islands off Ecuador’s coast is where Charles Darwin famously abandoned his age-old belief in the Book of Genesis and began to develop a theory of evolutionary biology that was so lucidly put forward in his most important book, The Origin of Species. The islands have played a critical role in our understanding of human existence, and anybody with an ounce of interest in the natural world longs to go there. For most it will be a once-in-a-lifetime visit, so getting it right matters. But how precisely and with whom to travel? There’s the rub.
Most tourists opt to visit the islands by boat, which makes perfect sense as many of the 75 officially approved landing sites are only accessible by sea. However the result is that the waters are rather crowded.
The key is to go for a smallish boat that offers great comfort and terrific guides, as well as the kind of itinerary and know-how that means visits to the main sites manage to avoid the usual hordes. Enter long-time Galapagos expert Ecoventura’s newest vessel, the MV Origin. The most luxurious of its four-strong fleet, it has just 10 double cabins, a lovely light-filled, elegantly laid out dining-room and large upper decks bountifully supplied with hammocks and chairs for lounging around in.
There are always two expert naturalists on board who lead excursions daily (either on shore or at sea) and give entertaining, informative talks each evening. The seven-day cruises alternate between the Northern and Southern itinerary. Each goes, like most boats, to the three central islands but the Northern loop also stops at outer-islands such as Genovesa, with its little-seen red-footed boobies. The Southern trip goes to Espanola (one of the earliest of these volcanic islands to be thrown up into the sea around four million years ago) which gives visitors the chance of seeing the huge waved albatross.
On these islands there are 14 endemic species found nowhere else on earth: stars such as the flightless cormorant, the marine iguana, the Galapagos penguin, the Galapagos hawk and, of course, at least some of Darwin’s famous 13 finches. These finches, whose beaks evolved in entirely different ways to cope with the varying food sources such as seeds and flowering plants, were a key trigger in shaping Darwin’s understanding of a species’ need to adapt if it were to survive. Crucially though, whichever island you’re visiting, the MV Origin somehow always manages to anchor up in bays where there are seldom more than another couple of boats, timing its trips ashore so that guests have the illusion of being quite alone in this most pristine wilderness.