In the Galápagos Islands, the rules for us were clear: stay six feet away from the wildlife.Apparently, the wildlife didn't get the same memo.
No matter how scrupulous you are about sticking to the well-marked pathways on the isolated Galapagos Islands, you'll be accosted by albatrosses, seduced by sea lions, and befriended by boobies (the feathered kind) at every turn. Incredibly, the beautiful creatures you've come to see are equally keen to see you.
Hundreds of miles off the coast of Ecuador, the islands enjoy UNESCO World Heritage Site status, hunting is banned, and there is no large-scale harvesting of anything aquatic, so even the underwater world is welcoming. Humans stay obediently on the path, but the creatures go wherever they choose, making for the most incredible wildlife experience imaginable.
Courtesy of Silversea Cruises
A cruise to the Galapagos Islands had topped our bucket list so boarding the Silver Galapagos had a pinch-me feeling to it. We were to follow in Darwin's footsteps, seeing the natural world that inspired ‘On the Origin of Species’.
The Silver Galapagos is an expedition ship, designed to navigate where larger vessels can't. Smaller than other Silversea ships, it nevertheless has all the amenities necessary - a gracious dining room and a top deck grill for outdoor, casual dining. Our suite was well-appointed with a private balcony, but we spent most of our time in the Explorer's Lounge, as our guides prepped us for our adventure ahead.
Days begin with an island hike that lasts several hours, snapping photos of preening boobies, sun-drunk sea lions, and love-sick male Frigate birds puffing out their chests in hopes of luring a female.
Then there’s snorkeling or kayaking, surrounded by fish such as a school of Burrito Grunt fish, wagging their brilliant yellow tails, swimming so close that their fins brush against you. We also saw a leopard spotted stingray flapping her graceful wings, while two sea turtles paddled past.
However, our hearts were stolen by the sea lions that swooped around us. On shore, they splashed and wrestled before collapsing, into an instant sea lion stupor, punctuated by the occasional barking of a pup in search of mum.
From stunning wildlife experiences, to heart-stopping moments under the waves, fine dining and fascinating guides, a cruise on the Silver Galapagos has just one downside. It might just ruin you for anything that comes after.
Originally published in Vacations Magazine, Spring 2016 issue.