Galapagos Classic with Finch Bay and Red Mangrove
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Although I knew the Galapagos Islands would be a fascinating place to visit with experiences amongst wildlife and rare species, I'll admit, my first few animal encounters took me by surprise: A sea lion scuttled past me as prehistoric marine iguanas and a couple of blue-footed boobies observed with curiosity. Later, I found myself swimming alongside a peaceful sea turtle while a sea lion circled playfully around us.
The Galapagos Islands are called the "Enchanted Islands" and I found that I was not immune to their spell.
Exploring the Galapagos
Each day of my time in the Galapagos had something different to offer, the third day likely being my favorite snorkeling day due to a frisky, young sea lion at Champion Islet (Floreana Island).
Floating on his back alongside us in the water, the young sea lion looked at me upside down for awhile before suddenly dashing toward me (within inches of my snorkel mask), and immediately dashing away, only to return a moment later. He did this three to four times! Even though I had been in the water for some time and was starting to feel chilled, I didn't want to get out until he got bored with this playful game. It was a good day to hit the Jacuzzi back on board!
Later, we had a fabulous Ecuadorian lunch en route to Punta Cormorant (Floreana Island). A large pod of dolphins surrounded our ship and we all rushed to the bow to watch them. I wanted to jump in and snorkel with them, too!
Once we arrived at Punta Cormorant, I boarded a kayak for a paddle. I was accompanied by a friendly pelican that swam along next to me most of the time. Later, I went snorkeling again, this time to see a few huge sea turtles and one rather large sting ray resting on the sea floor. It was so peaceful and amazing to watch them glide through the water below me.
Life aboard La Pinta
The seven days aboard La Pinta were filled with snorkeling, kayaking, glass-bottom boat excursions, explorative walks along trails with unique flora and fauna, and visits to conservation sites designed to keep giant tortoises and other endemic species flourishing in the islands.
A fresh, exotic fruit drink with an Ecuadorian snack like a small empanada was served when we returned to the ship each day. We would then warm up after our snorkeling excursions in the top deck Jacuzzi, relax on the sun deck, enjoy a cocktail and the passing view, or retreat to our spacious rooms.
The buffet breakfasts and lunches and plated dinner service were delicious and included a vast fresh fruit and vegetable selection, as well as a daily assortment of fish, poultry and meat options. Special meals were made for vegetarians and kids, and if passengers couldn't decide on a plated dinner, they could choose two and enjoy half of both options!
In the evenings, we would often socialize in the observation lounge and library before and after the nightly briefings, informative lectures or documentary movies. The lectures were brief, between 20 to 45 minutes, and covered topics such as the sea life, Darwin's evolution, and adaptations that the various species have undertaken.
There was a family with two young children on board. They loved that the La Pinta was large enough to be comfortable and to keep their kids entertained in the library with games and movies during down times, yet small enough for children to easily find their way back to their cabin.
I, too, loved the La Pinta. The beds were comfortable, the cabins and bathrooms were spacious, and there was an iPod dock in every cabin. There were even spare iPods loaded with a variety of music for those who didn't bring them too.
The crew and the naturalist guides onboard were friendly and knowledgeable with an excellent sense of humor. They joined us for karaoke, and even taught us the merengue! By the end of our week on board, we all felt a friendly bond with them and were sad to leave.
Red Mangrove Aventura Lodge
I spent two nights at the Red Mangrove Aventure Lodge, which offers both red mangrove view rooms and striking ocean view rooms. From my waterfront view window, I could watch pelicans and frigates swooping back and forth, and the ships of Puerto Ayora coming and going.
The environment was charming, because Aventura Lodge is literally built in the middle of a giant red mangrove. The brick-red coloring of the building and fluid, wavy lines of the architecture made it all feel very organic.
The restaurant and bar offered excellent food, including surprisingly great sushi! From the deck surrounding the restaurant and bar, guests can dine or enjoy a cocktail al fresco-style, and there were usually a few sleeping sea lions nearby. I almost bumped into a rather sleepy one on my first day while walking around!
The lodge is conveniently located next to the entrance of the Darwin Research Center, and at the end of the main shopping and dining street in Puerto Ayora. There were diving excursions, local day excursions, and lodge-to-lodge island-hopping trips available which are great options for those wanting to spend their evenings on the quiet islands, instead of sailing overnight on the ships.
Finch Bay Eco Hotel
The Finch Bay Eco Hotel was a relaxing retreat for five nights after my cruise. There were hammocks outside every room, a pool frequented daily by a crane and other smaller birds, and a nice calm beach that's great for kids. On the days the tide was out, there were sea lions playing in the water and sleeping on the sand.
The hotel is accessible by their private water taxi or a generic water taxi just across the bay. The ocean view rooms are large and offer an excellent balcony complete with an inviting hammock. The garden view rooms are comfortable, yet a bit smaller.
Two-hour kayaking rental is offered to a stunning bay that leads to Las Grietas, a sliver of deep water between two volcanic cliffs that create a sort of natural aquarium. Also, the Finch Bay team offers daily island excursions to nearby islands that depart early in the morning and return by about 6 p.m. The evenings were quiet and peaceful, with nearby restaurants offering stunning views of the ships in the bay at night.
My time in the Galapagos was a delightful and extraordinary experience, with every day full of new and incredibly surreal animal encounters. I am already looking forward to my future return, so I can share the experience with family and friends. The peaceful and serene atmosphere that encompasses these islands, and the many fearless and friendly animals that so unexpectedly charmed me while I was there, will forever stay with me.