Renowned for its guaranteed close encounters with unusual creatures, a trip to the Galápagos is a wildlife lover’s dream. Situated off the coast of Ecuador, this strikingly beautiful volcanic archipelago is home to myriad incredible species on land and beneath the waves. Whether you’re hiking along lava tunnels, spotting blue-footed boobies or snorkelling with sea lions, the thrill of exploring these extraordinary islands is second to none.
Our favourite boats are both comfortable and sustainable – with conservation at their core – and our unparalleled guides will ensure you have the fullest possible experience of this unique place. Christopher Wilmot-Sitwell, the Co-owner and Director of cazenove+loyd, took his family on the trip to the Galapagos, a trip of a lifetime. We asked him to explain why these islands are such a wonderful destination for all ages:
What were your first impressions of your trip to the Galápagos?
The islands – and particularly some of the beaches – were far more picturesque than I had ever imagined. They were a revelation. None of us had really foreseen their beauty and solitude. I was expecting windswept outcrops of lava, but some were truly spectacular and we had the chance to enjoy not only the incredible wildlife but also some great beach fun and bathing.
Did the Galápagos live up to your expectations?
If my children hadn’t wanted to go, I’m not sure the Galápagos would have been on my short list of personal must-see destinations – I find natural history endlessly fascinating but I am not a huge fan of ocean-going boats with eight of the 10 cabins taken by goodness knows who. However, I was wrong, of course. We had some wonderful travel companions with whom we really bonded – and the entire experience was magical, awe-inspiring and every bit as special as has been fed back by countless clients over the past 25 years.
What was the highlight of your trip to the Galapagos?
Every day was not just very full but very diverse – and each family member had his or her own highlights. I loved the birdlife, particularly seeing the waved albatrosses both up close and in flight. For others, it was the kayaking, the sea turtles, the leaping rays, the breaching humpback whale or those dolphins playing in our wake as we went to the shore.
Why would you recommend exploring the Galápagos by boat?
Travelling by boat is as much about the journey as the destination. It gives you the time to really understand a place. On the small expeditionary yachts that we work with, you land at a new island every day, but each one is completely different and you have time on the way there and back to talk to the guides and fellow guests about what you have seen and what you are about to see. This makes it a very interactive experience. It is wonderful not to need to pack and unpack repeatedly, but simply to arrive in another Sir David Attenborough programme each day, with top naturalists on hand to interpret 24/7. It is a voyage of discovery and of shared wonder.
How long would you suggest spending on a boat?
I still can’t believe that we were onboard for just a week. It was the perfect length of time.
Is the wildlife as incredible as everyone says?
Yes. You are almost guaranteed close sightings of all of the resident species – and migratory species, such as a breaching whale off the stern, are an added bonus. Getting so near to birds like blue-footed boobies and frigatebirds on their nests with their chicks is unbelievable, but the sight of an albatross on the wing, landing or doing a mating ritual is also phenomenal. Swimming with sea lions, dolphins or turtles is pretty much a daily occurrence, but the first time is still a very special memory.
What would be on your wildlife checklist for a client?
Actually, I wouldn’t go with any expectations of particular species. A keen naturalist will pick a season for specific reasons, but a generalist should just ‘go with the flow’ and, every day, something truly extraordinary will happen – and very close up.
Describe your most exciting wildlife encounter on the trip.
It has to be snorkelling with sea lions, as they dart and roll above and below you, just off the beach. They are so playful. The sea turtles were amazing as well, but the sea lions tumbling all around you is hard to beat.
Why is the Galápagos such a wonderful family holiday?
Nature and wildlife adventures are immersive, educational and mind-expanding experiences for children of all ages. For a generation of teenagers brought up on a TV diet of Sir David Attenborough and with conservation on every geography and biology syllabus, it is no surprise that – along with the African safari – the Galápagos is one of our most popular family holidays. Having teenagers with us, on our week-long trip onboard MV Origin, really made it. Our son knew every location we landed at and was already anticipating our guides’ explanations. It made the whole experience very dynamic. And because the animals are so habituated to humans, they demonstrate their behavioural traits in real time, making them much easier to observe and photograph.
What are your top tips for someone planning a trip to the Galápagos?
We did not travel with another family or friends but many clients do, and it does mean that you have a shared experience that you can cherish together for many years to come. It is that special that you really need to share it so that you can reminisce afterwards.
How does cazenove+loyd ensure that a boat trip in the Galápagos is sustainable and sensitive to the fragility of the natural environment?
We strongly believe in conscious travel. With the Galápagos, it is all about the boat. We know the best boats and routings, with the most passionate naturalist guides who care very much about sustainability. We always favour smaller, locally owned yachts, such as MV Origin and MV Theory, who we can trust and who have the habitat as part of their way of life. They have a vested interest in protecting the archipelago and are dedicated to conserving it. By travelling with us on one of these boats, you are supporting the Galápagos Biodiversity & Education for Sustainability Fund, which benefits the Charles Darwin Foundation and its many research, conservation and community projects.
How can clients make a positive impact when they travel in the Galápagos?
Just visiting a habitat makes a huge difference, as taxes, fees and salaries go towards maintaining the habitat and efforts to keep it pristine. Everyone involved works under strict national park rules to ensure sustainable practice is commonplace. Having our eyes and ears constantly on the ground means that we can ensure our boats continue to meet the high standards that such an important world resource deserves.