Of all the bucket list destinations that I kept adding to my list year after year, I have no idea why the Galapagos Islands never made it on there. Had it not been for COVID, I think it would have been many, many more years before I ever step foot on Ecuadorian soil, if at all. Praise God for leading us to Ecuador though, and to the Galapagos Islands. Not only did this turn out to be one of the best trips we’ve ever taken, but we made some incredible friendships along the way!
Our COVID tests in Quito came back negative, so we got the green light to pack our bags and proceed to the Galapagos Islands. It’s about a 3.5 hour flight from Quito to Baltra, with a quick stop in Guayaquil. We arrived to Baltra in the late morning, and after a fairly quick line through customs, we met with our cruise guide and the other passengers of our cruise.
The Galapagos had just reopened for tourism, so we were one of the first people to enter the island again since its closure after COVID hit. Therefore, the cruise that we booked was the only cruise operating at the time. Fortunately, it was a cruise that met all our requirements in terms of date, size, and pricing so it all worked out splendidly! We booked a southeastern island 5 night cruise on the Alya, a luxury catamaran that carries just 16 passengers at a time.
From the airport, our guide led us on a short bus ride to a nearby dock, where we transferred onto a panga that took us to the Alya.
We received a warm welcome from the staff on board, got assigned our cabin numbers, and were given a little time to get settled in before we gathered for lunch. Alan and I shared a cabin, and Bridgette got her own cabin which she was super excited about. Perks of growing up, I suppose! 🙂 Each cabin was fairly spacious and comfortable, with its own small deck and bathroom.
The Alya has 3 decks accessible to passengers. The Main Deck includes several cabins, the dining area where we gather to have our meals everyday, and a living area where we gather to chat and go over the next day’s itinerary every evening. The upper deck has access to the Captain’s bridge, the remainder of the cabins, and a small outdoor deck for dining. At the very top of the catamaran is the sundeck, which includes an outdoor jacuzzi (though this was closed due to COVID restrictions), some day beds and comfortable seating areas.
After we got settled in our respective cabins, we had to go through a safety drill before we all gathered in the dining room for our first lunch on board. We got to meet the other passengers, some of which were local Ecuadorians, and others included another couple from the States, an American retiree that lives in Ecuador, and a Japanese gal working for the Japanese Embassy in Ecuador. It was a cool mix of people from very different facets of life, separated into 2 tables– the English speaking table and the Spanish speaking table. 😏
We couldn’t have asked for better company on this cruise. We bonded so quickly and so deeply with those that sat at our table, and our time with them was constantly filled with laughter and joy. I am always incredibly amazed at how God brings such different people together, and shows us the power of community when we are willing to come together with a generous spirit, a kind heart, and a genuine desire to love others.
Okay, back to that first afternoon….following lunch, we all jumped onto the pangas and began our adventure on North Seymour Island. It’s a small island that was formed by lava formation, and when I stepped foot onto the island, it felt like we had gone to another planet!
The whole island was covered with low, busy vegetation, and we got our first glimpse of the endemic blue-footed boobies!
Our guide, Juan, was just a wealth of knowledge, having been born and raised in the Galapagos. Bridgette stuck close to him and bombarded him with a ton of questions as he taught us all about geology, wildlife, and so much more. It turned out to be a super fun, yet intense, week of education for all of us. Definitely a Worldschooling FTW kind of trip!
Each time we returned to the Alya from one of the islands, we would be greeted with a beverage and snack by the crew on board, which was a very nice touch, especially after the more strenuous activities. Think hot chocolate after snorkeling in the chilly ocean water!
The wonderful thing about taking a cruise in the Galapagos is that you’re sailing to a different island as you sleep each night, so when you wake up the next morning, you are ready to explore a whole new island! I had read online ahead of time that the sea can be a bit rough during some of the night sailing, so we were prepared with our motion sickness wristbands which we wore at all times. Indeed, there were some rough waters as we sailed, but it actually made me sleep better because I felt like I was on a waterbed! 😂
The not so great thing about a cruise though, is that the schedule is pretty intense. We basically woke up between 6am-7am every morning for breakfast, and our first activity would began by about 8am. On most days, we’d have between 2-3 activities. We always go back on board for lunch in between, and would get a small break in the afternoon at times, but generally, we’re just jam packed with activities! Even for hard core adventurers like us, we had to sneak in a quick nap whenever we had a break!
You can always opt out of the activities that you don’t want to join, but we wanted to soak in every little bit of the Galapagos so we participated in everything!
Day 2 was spent on the islands of Santa Fe and South Plaza, where we saw an abundance of sea lions and cactus trees. The sea lions were so curious about us, and some would waddle right up to our feet! The baby ones were the cutest, and I almost wanted to wrap my arms around them since they were so friendly, but ofcourse, touching the animals is a big NO-NO on the islands.
One of our favorite moments of the cruise was when a staff member spotted a whale in the morning, very close to our boat. Many of us were still finishing up with breakfast at the time, but our guide immediately instructed us to hop into the dingy so that we could get closer to the whale. It was a moment filled with excitement and anticipation as we moved in as close as possible to the whale without scaring it off or causing it to feel threatened. I cannot even describe how amazing it was to be in such close proximity to the whale, while sitting in a small dingy! We were all literally squealing with joy like little children!
Snorkeling is ofcourse one of the key activities when in the Galapagos. As much wildlife as there is to see on land, there are a million more to discover in the sea! The Alya provides all the wetsuits and snorkeling equipment for its passengers, although we brought our own snorkels for this trip. The water temperature was not too cold, but the wetsuits protected us from jellyfish stings and the coral reefs. The amount of sea animals we saw on this trip was mind-blowing. From an abundance of sea turtles to the most colorful schools of fish to white tip sharks to stingrays to the most playful sea lions, we were constantly turning our heads in all directions to try to take everything in!
Stay tuned for more about our experience on the Alya!