If you are reading this then the answer is YES! Yes you should go to the Galapagos islands, it is even more special and magical than you could ever imagine. For me it was a dream come true and the best experience of my life so far. I would 100% recommend this trip and Exodus, so much so that I have already started saving to do it all over again!
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
Sorry, it is impossible to choose just one. The first was landing at the airport on Baltra where a huge Land Iguana was sat on the runway basking in the sun! After that every day seemed to have its own unique and special moment.
Walking to the summit of Sierra Negra Volcano on Isabella and looking down into the 5 mile wide caldera. It was such a peaceful, awe inspiring place.
Watching a feeding frenzy up close from the panga where the water boiled with the action of Blue footed Boobies and Pelicans diving from above and Penguins and Sea Lions from below.
Sailing between the islands with a pod of hundreds of Bottlenose dolphins, riding the bow wave and leaping out of the water.
Seeing Waved Albatros nesting on Espanola.
Walking along idyllic, deserted, white sandy beaches with azure blue seas.
Keeping to the tracks as per park rules but having to step over Iguanas, Lizards and Sea Lions and around nesting birds. You must keep at least 2 metres away from the animals but no one seems to have told them that! One young sea lion even decided to come over and untie one of my Mum's boot laces!
The snorkeling was amazing. We swam into the darkness of a cave at Punta Vicente Roca, Isabella and when we turned to swim back out, the "blue hole" in front of us was filled with marine turtles just hanging in the water. So many fantastic underwater encounters and games with the sea lions.
Evenings spent sat on the gently rolling deck of the beautiful Cachalote with new found friends, enjoying a beer, looking up at the incredible starfilled sky and being accompanied by a group of Swallow Tailed Gulls - I wish I was still there!
- What did you think of your group leader?
Our leader was the aptly named Darwin Alvarez. His knowledge and passion for the Galapagos Islands, their geology, history and wildlife were incredible and truly inspirational. His english is excellent and his nightly briefings well organised, concise, clear and entertaining. His leadership during the walks on land is very relaxed, informative and friendly and he never made us feel shepherded or rushed. Darwin is an excellent swimmer so is also a wonderful snorkeling guide. He did his absolute best to meet all of the individual needs of a very diverse group of people and succeeded. A true ambassador for the Galapagos Islands and a job well done.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
I would definitely recommend doing the 2 week cruise in a small group. This allows you to visit most of the islands and you will often find that it is only your group at a visitor site.
The Cachalote is a charming, comfortable boat with excellent safety standards. Her crew were professional, hard working and friendly. However due to her size, the cabins are small and she rocks and rolls in rough seas. Some of the journeys between islands take up to 8 hours and are usually done at night. So if you want luxury or get seasick then the Cachalote is not the boat for you. If you want good food, comfortable accommodation, great service and enjoy life at sea then she definitely is. Although she has sails don't expect to see them in use as most of the sailing is done at night and always under engine power. All cabins and the saloon have air conditioning and the towels and sheets are changed every other day. There are good reading lights above the bunks. The food is plentiful and healthy. Breakfast - Cereal/yoghurt/fresh fruit/bread/eggs/cheese/ham. Lunch - soup, main course, desert. Dinner - main course, desert. Lunch and dinner are set meals, meat/fish/seafood (vegetarian/vegan if pre-requested) with dishes of salad/fresh veg and potatoes/rice to help yourself. Purified water is available at all times as is coffee and tea. Fruit juice/squash is provided at meal times and with a snack (biscuits/crisps/fruit) when you return to the boat after a trip to the islands. Any other drinks are not included and are put onto a tab to pay on your last night. The prices are very reasonable, a bottle of beer is $2, and Richard, the barman makes some great cocktails ($4 to $5).
The itinerary on board is fairly packed. Typical example: 7am Breakfast, 8am wet/dry landing at a visitor site on one of the islands, 10am back onboard, 10.30am snorkeling, 11.30am back on board, 12pm Lunch, boat may stay anchored, or sail to next site, 2.30pm snorkeling, 3.30pm back on board, 4pm wet/dry landing at a visitor site on one of the islands, 6pm back on board, 7pm dinner and briefing for the next day. Overnight sailing to next island. Of course everything is optional, so you can choose to stay on board and relax but I think you need to be fairly fit and active to get the best out of this trip. Despite the best efforts of the guide and the crew, some of the landings can be tricky and a lot of the walking is over rough terrain. However with the exception of a couple of climbs to the summits of volcanoes, most of the walking is on the flat, at a leisurely pace and over fairly short distances (1 - 2 miles). Snorkeling plays a big part in the itinerary, happening every day and sometimes twice a day. Some of the snorkeling can be done from the beach but most is done from the panga in "deep water" where the currents are at times fairly strong. If you have never snorkeled before or are not overly confident then it is definitely worth getting some practice in before you go because you will have as many amazing encounters under the water as you do on land.
As a destination I would certainly recommend the Galapagos Islands. They are so peaceful, tranquil and largely unspoilt or untouched by man. The geology is incredibly varied from white sand to red, vast expanses of sharp black lava rock with small oasis of water and vegetation, and pristine mangroves to the misty, vegetated highlands. The wildlife is both odd and beautiful and has no fear of humans. Sea Lions will play with you underwater, Mockingbirds will search for insects in the sand beneath your feet and Blue footed Boobies will put on the most spectacular diving show right in front of your eyes.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
Pack light. Weight limit for Galapagos flight is 20 Kg and storage space in the cabins is very limited. Take a canvas kit bag that you can live out of. The Cachalote provides the following: Biodegradable shampoo and soap, towels (Shower/beach/hand), water bottle and even a T-shirt. You are also likely to buy a few souvenir t-shirts whilst there so don't need to take many. Most of the time you will be wearing shorts and a t-shirt although its a good idea to take some lightweight walking trousers (zip offs are ideal) and a light rain jacket/anorak for the highlands. There is no dress code onboard so just take comfortable clothes for the evenings. If you spend your evenings out on deck it can get a bit chilly especially when on the move so a windproof fleece/soft shell is ideal. Good walking boots/shoes are ESSENTIAL. Make sure they have good grip and if you need it, ankle support. Walking sandals are fine for some of the walks. You can either go barefoot or wear a pair of light shoes onboard but these need to be boat only shoes. If you have a mask and snorkel then take it, if not you can hire good equipment, cheaply onboard. They also have good quality fins so I wouldn't bother taking your own, just hire them. A shortie wetsuit (2-3mm) or a wetsuit t-shirt with board shorts is a good idea as the water can be quite cold and the sun very harsh. Take 2 sets of swim wear as you will often snorkel twice in a day. A dry bag is useful for keeping your camera gear, binoculars etc dry during panga rides. Its a good idea to take some ear plugs as some of the cabins are very noisy due to the generator and engine. All of the cabins have 110v power supply which require a 2 flat prong adaptor for UK plugs. Sea sickness tablets are provided onboard but its a good idea to take your own so you know what you are taking. Obviously sunglasses, hat and plenty of suncream. Also an alarm clock and a notebook and pen. With regard to camera equipment I took an SLR and 2 lenses, wide angle and 100-400mm zoom which proved ideal. Take plenty of memory cards or even better a laptop to transfer photos to and lens cleaners for the salt spray and condensation issues. An underwater camera is a must, even if its only a cheap disposable one. Binoculars are useful although if you are a keen photographer you probably won't be able to put the camera down long enough to use them! If your camera has a movie mode then don't (like me) forget to use it to capture the boobies incredible diving displays. Don't bother taking any form of flash as this is not allowed and if you have a compact camera make sure you know how to turn the flash off. Surprisingly there is often good mobile phone coverage - a quad band phone is required.
Other than your bar bill and cost of renting any snorkeling equipment the only other money you need on board is for tips. The recommended tip is $100 per person, per week for the crew and $40 per person, per week for the guide. Obviously you can give more or less depending on how you rate the service you receive. There is a box in the saloon for the crew and tips for the guide are given directly to him/her.
And finally, go for it and have the holiday of a lifetime, I certainly did.