Home' CruisePassenger : Cruise Passenger 73 Contents SHIP REVIEW: CELEBRITY XPERIENCE
“Sea lions flop on the black beach, big-
eyed pups nestling next to their mothers”
HIGHS: Extraordinary scenery and wildlife.
LOWS: Cabins are basic and all meals are buffet.
BEST SUITED TO: Couples, singles, families with
older kids, wildlife lovers.
you’re ashore most of the time. Xperience has a shady
deck for snoozing at siesta time, a fleet of Zodiacs for
going ashore, four top-notch guides and decent snorkel
equipment and wetsuits (which you need for sun
protection). It’s all-inclusive, too, so while the upfront
cost is high, there’s nothing to sign for at the end.
Tourism in the Galapagos is strictly controlled by
Ecuador’s National Park Service: how many people you
can carry, which of several fixed itineraries you can
operate and when you visit is all pre-arranged. This is
a positive, as you’re rarely anchored within sight of
more than one other boat, if that.
The season is year-round: I’m on the Southern Loop
in February, so the sea is warm, the sun scorching and
the sea lion pups getting fat and playful, June and July
are better for whales and dolphins; and in November
you’ll swim with whale sharks off the northern islands.
We plunge in on our first day with a lengthy hike on
North Seymour Island, over black, spiky lava on which
pterodactyl-like frigate birds are puffing out their
scarlet pouches in courtship displays. Sea lions flop
fatly on the sparkly black beach, heaving themselves
in and out of the water, big-eyed pups nestling next to
their mothers. You’re not supposed to go within three
metres of an animal but it’s tricky when you’re
practically falling over them and they don’t budge. All
the wildlife is completely unafraid, so much so that in
2012 a German tourist was reckless enough to capture
four land iguanas to smuggle home in his carry-on.
Fortunately, he was apprehended at the airport and
sentenced to four years.
I quickly discover a week in the Galapagos is no beach
break. You’re up early for breakfast, then heading ashore
to hike or snorkel, grabbing a siesta as the ship sails to a
new anchorage, then ashore again, wildlife lecture,
dinner, drinks and bed. A degree of fitness and stamina
is essential; even getting off the ship is an adventure,
being ferried ashore by Zodiac and often having to jump
off into knee-deep water, camera held aloft.
All of the Galapagos is volcanic but the archipelago
has formed over millions of years, so some islands are
older than others and as such, different in appearance.
We explore high cliffs, sea caves, tumbled rocks and
jagged lava fields. Some islands are bone-dry, studded
with candelabra cacti, while others are covered with
frankincense trees. Some beaches are actually green
when there’s olivine in the rock, or glittering and black,
or icing-sugar white, turtle tracks running up from the
water to buried nests.
The wildlife varies, too; it was on noticing tiny
differences in birds and reptiles between neighbouring
islands when he visited in 1835 that Charles Darwin
began to formulate his theory of evolution. The lava
lizards are bigger and brighter on Española, while giant
tortoises are found only in the uplands of Santa Cruz,
and certain species of bird are more prolific in some
places than others. On San Cristobal, we clamber
through a hollowed-out stream bed, pushing our way
through spiky green shrubs to a high, rocky plateau and
an extraordinary sight: thousands of blue-footed
boobies honking and hopping from one foot to the
other in hopeful courting displays.
The underwater scene is just as spectacular. In the
aquamarine depths around Floreana, sea turtles glide
just underneath me. From Punta Moreno on Isabela
Island, shoals of yellow and purple angelfish shimmy
along a rock wall, sea lions frolicking round me like
puppies. I gasp as a shark cruises underneath me and
again as I surface from a dive right into the middle of
a flock of penguins. They bob around my head for a bit
and zoom off under the water like bullets, to fish. In
the cold, deep water off Española, black rocks on the
sea floor are pointed like witches’ hats, while buried
stingrays shake themselves off and dart across the sand.
Evenings onboard are jolly, like a big dinner party, as
42 of us, from Canada, Australia, the USA, Britain, and
Chile, swap stories over tasty Ecuadorian dishes –
curried quinoa, spicy ceviche, plantain chips and fresh
snapper in coconut sauce, washed down with Chilean
and Argentinean wines. It is homely, rather than haute
cuisine, but eating on deck, which we do on several
nights, is perfect, as the heat fades and the sky lights
up in one blazing sunset after another.
I am completely and utterly absorbed by the
Galapagos. Leaving is a wrench. I confess to sniffling
behind my sunglasses (and I’m not the only one) as
we skim across the water on the Zodiac to the dock
in Baltra for the journey home. I’d challenge anybody
not to be profoundly moved by this extraordinary,
Above: a cabin
and nature on
the Galapagos, a
Links Archive Cruise Passenger 72 Cruise Passenger 74 Navigation Previous Page Next Page