FEW places on earth are as unspoilt as the archipelago of Galapagos, comprising 13 main islands and seven islets, located approximately 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. I am spending five memorable days on board the recently renovated, award-winning Sea Star Journey, a luxurious intimate boutique yacht for 16 passengers, where all the spacious en-suite cabins have wide panoramic windows to admire the changing seascape.
A lazy sea lion
After boarding, our naturalist guide, Cesar, briefs us about the uniqueness of Galapagos. Over the centuries man has never hunted the abundant array of wildlife, so even the smallest birds or reptiles have no fear of humans. The Galapagos is probably the only place on earth where up-close viewings of wild animals are possible. Cesar explains that it feels like being part of a wildlife documentary. The Ecuadorean government has ensured that the entire archipelago is fully protected with national park status ever since Galapagos was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1978.
Sea Star Journey
We learn how we will visit a different island every day, stamina in tow, where we will hike to observe and learn about the indigenous fauna and flora, and during the night we will cruise to a different Island. Thankfully there is plenty of scheduled time every day to relax on the yacht’s sprawling sundeck or to enjoy a dip in one of the jacuzzis.
After each excursion, the staff helps us clamber back onboard and remove our lifejackets. All meals are a noisy and social affair, presented buffet style while enjoyed al fresco on the shady deck or in the interior dining area. Dishes are freshly prepared by the talented onboard team, having been personally trained by the world-famous Ecuadorean chef, Alejandro Chamorro.
Sea Star Al Fresco Dining
Our first excursion is to the flat, barren North Seymour Island, home to the famous blue-footed boobies, whose name is derived from their sometimes-foolish behaviour. We watch as the males try to attract females with a courtship routine performed by lifting their blue feet up and down slowly while craning their necks and displaying pieces of foliage in their beaks, which is meant to demonstrate their home-making skills.
On Genovesa Island we follow a bumpy trail of volcanic rock before encountering a group of red-footed boobies, whose feet seem to clash with their bright blue beaks. We spot a couple of perfectly camouflaged short-eared owls and witness Nazca boobies feeding their white fluffy new-born chicks by transferring food stored in their mouths into their tiny pink beaks. We then come across a gang of awkward looking male frigate birds competing to attract females by flaunting their puffed up bright red gular sacs while making high pitched squawking sounds.
At Santa Fe Island in the southern region of the Galapagos, I take a kayak to explore the marine life up-close. Turtles glide pass by, while golden rays stay close to the seabed with their expansive fins kicking up sand on the seabed. As I row towards some lava rocks dotted with loads of orange crabs, a group of young sea lions plop into the water, taking turns to playfully tug at my kayak’s tie-up chord. I grab the chord with delight as one of the sea lions pulls me slowly along the water.
A giant tortoise
As we disembark onto the beach at Santa Fe, we mingle amongst a colony of sunbathing sea lions. With the stench of salty fish in the air, we observe a pair of scarred bulls shifting themselves along the wet shore, while a few pups remain on the beach, suckling from their mothers. As we set out on the giant cactus-lined trail, we spot several camouflaged land iguanas. I crouch beside one of these prehistoric-looking creatures for a photo opportunity and notice its parched skin flaking off as it crawls past me.
A sea lion
And before I crawl into bed on my final night, I peer out from my window for the last time, reflecting on the mind-blowing wildlife encounters experienced in this Pacific haven. Everyone on board the Galapagos Sea Star Journey agreed that they had added another tick on their personal bucket list – I placed a gold star on mine.
by Amanda Bernstein
A 5 day/4 nights cruise onboard the Galapagos Sea Star Journey starts at 4.649 dollars per person & includes all transfers in Galapagos; Matrimonial/Twin cabin accommodation with private facilities; All meals, Water, Coffee and Tea. All excursions as mentioned in the itinerary (itinerary subject to change) with English speaking naturalist guide, snorkelling equipment & kayak equipment.
For additional information visit www.latintrails.com/