Andy Mossack travels to Ecuador to experience life aboard a Silversea expedition cruise around the Galapagos Islands.
“Smell that? That’s the aroma of evolution.” Wise words uttered by our expedition guide Gianncarlo Totti on the sealion and iguana pungency greeting us as we clamber off our Zodiac at Punta Suarez on Española Island.
It is an extraordinary assault on all the senses; black marine iguanas so plentiful we have to pick our way over them to reach the trail, a large colony of sea lions within touching distance is lorded over by a gigantic barking bull warding off any potential suitors to his harem, bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs sun themselves on the rocks while mockingbirds teasingly flirt with us as we walk past.
It’s a welcoming committee from Mother Nature that far exceeds my expectations.
An absurd thought comes into my head. I realise I am standing next to so many species that can’t be found anywhere else on our planet, yet they have absolutely no fear of me. Gianncarlo again: “They’ve evolved with no major predators to worry about, so they simply see us as another species dropping in. They’re probably as curious about us as we are about them.”
The Galapagos is a very special volcanic archipelago. Its islands have never been joined to a mainland, therefore, their isolation has created a unique ecosystem that has nurtured individual species. And because each island is so different from the other, the species have adapted to be able to exist. No wonder it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sitting some 600 miles off Ecuador’s coast, all 19 Galapagos islands are thankfully well protected these days since the Ecuadorian government declared the region a national park and marine reserve. Naturally, there are strict regulations to limit traffic and keep the islands as pristine as possible and with 97% of the archipelago uninhabited, no more than 100 visitors can be on an island at any one time. It’s a regulation welcomed by the 96 guests aboard Silversea’s intimate Silver Galapagos because it means we’ll be entirely alone as we explore each island along our 7-day cruise.
That alone is worth the price of admission.
Speaking of the ship, it takes less than a day for the outstanding front of house team to learn my idiosyncrasies. A penchant for hot soup becomes a talking point backstage following my first visit to the restaurant. “How was the soup, Mr Andy?” “Delicious, but it could have been hotter.” From that moment on the default setting for any liquid-based food course served to me is close to boiling point.
My Explorer Suite on deck 3 is a generous living space with a couch and a desk and a very comfortable queen bed. A sizeable flat-screen TV adorns one wall with a large ocean view window on the other. A bowl stuffed full of fresh fruit sits very proud of itself on the desk, rock hard grapes lay draped on top crying out for attention. Free Wi-Fi is standard together with comfy robes, slippers and beach towels. In the corner, I find a pleasant surprise; a complimentary stainless-steel water bottle and water-resistant backpack for our daily expeditions. Jamal, my butler (every guest suite has a butler) takes careful note of my in-room food and drink preferences when I arrive and makes sure both are fully stocked every day. I must confess a fondness for toasted almonds and each fresh bowl is gratefully received. Even though this is an all-inclusive cruise, I find myself looking forward to his visits every afternoon armed with a selection of sundowner appetizers to graze on.
Seasoned cruisers might notice a few other changes to standard cruising procedure; the crew is entirely Ecuadorian by law, and all produce onboard is strictly controlled to protect the endemic wildlife and flora. Even our luggage was examined by the Galapagos authorities back in Quito, prior to our flight over to ensure nothing is brought in that could harm the fragile ecosystem that flourishes here.
Ultimately, the rewards of all this red tape are fully reaped as our twice-daily expeditions offer up an unforgettable cast of colourful characters; Attenborough and Darwinian moments to savour wherever you look. Giant tortoises, red and blue-footed boobies, sea turtles, magnificent frigate birds, pelicans, Galapagos hawks, Darwin finches, sea-lions and marine iguanas – the only ocean-going iguanas in the world. Let’s not forget the marine life – the rays, the hammerhead sharks, the abundant tropical fish, and perhaps a whale or two.
I have my own Attenborough moment lying on the beach at Rabida Island. All the other guests have gone back to the ship and I’m on my own with just a solitary Zodiac patiently waiting offshore to take me back. Just in front of me are three sea lions, a mother, pup and dad, rolling around enjoying the sun. I roll around too, hoping they might let me join the family fun. Mum and dad exchange looks for a moment as if to say what is this guy like and flop back down again. I wade out for a swim only to be joined by the pup who clearly sees me as his new BFF. What a joyful moment. A memory to treasure.
Life onboard swiftly takes on the heart-warming routine of pampered pioneering. My shipmates and I bonding over glorious shared experiences on land and sea. Every evening at 7 we’re given an excellent destination briefing on the hikes and activities for the next day by Aura our expedition leader. Activities with choices to suit most physical needs complete with hand-held videos of the terrain for anyone remotely uneasy. Every morning is an early start (Ecuador’s daylight begins and ends around 6) with a hearty breakfast followed by small groups, each accompanied by their wildlife expert, climbing into a Zodiac dinghy and driven over to shore for their guided walk. We’re back in time for lunch, a feast fit for royalty, before embarking on our afternoon adventures once again accompanied by expert guides. We’re back on board in time for tea, rest and relaxation, a lecture or a nap (perhaps both), before changing in time for sunset drinks and canapes and dinner.
The Silver Galapagos has two food options, the outstanding main restaurant which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or the alfresco grill on up on deck 5. In the evenings this is the Hot Rocks Grill where you barbecue your preferred meat on tabletop volcanic hot stones, but lunchtime is more like a relaxed diner with fresh seafood, salads and some daily specials. In both restaurants, there is no formal dress code and seating is completely open. There is, of course, the added delight of Alfredo’s keyboard skills, a talented gentleman whose encyclopaedic knowledge of 60s and 70s TV themes seems practically limitless. We bond over my recognition of many of them and high five each other every time we meet during the voyage.
Alfredo proves to be quite the character and in the piano bar after dinner, can turn his talents to anything from samba to soft rock once the early to bed crowd have retired for the night.
There was one night when Owen, a guest who assured me he has a few moves in his repertoire, got Alfredo to play all the tracks from Saturday Night Fever and demonstrated his Travolta moves on the dance floor. Let’s just say his best nights at the disco are far behind him.
Hikes and excursions are obviously at the heart of our Galapagos experience, but there is also snorkelling, and kayaking options included. On our first day, I am fitted out with a wet suit, snorkel, mask and flippers which I keep for the duration of the cruise on a numbered hangar at the back of the ship. Both beach and deep-water snorkelling are available depending on your level of experience and the kayaking and snorkelling is always led by a guide.
Our last night recap briefing is emotional. A time for farewells to the whole crew and team who by now are practically family. They all know our names and have shared our joyous moments together. They all come in and take a bow and I’m not ashamed to say there is a tear in my eye. The brilliant Zodiac pilots who navigated around the ship so brilliantly, Captain Marcelo Rojas and his crew who have kept us safe and sound, the front of house hotel team who treat us all like royalty and those excellent wildlife guides whose valuable insight just brought everything to life for us. And, like any great performance, there’s an encore. Cruise photographer Jorge Prigann premieres his video of our week together and the memories come flooding back. Another surprise; we have the video and 300 images waiting for us on two DVDs in our suites. What a finale.
Silversea has done a remarkable job with this Galapagos expedition cruise. It has managed to combine an extraordinary wildlife expedition experience with the outstanding luxury service its guests have come to expect. Despite the challenges of Galapagos restrictions on produce and goods, this is an epic experience on every level. There’s a saying here that the only things you bring back are memories, well I have a whole bag full of them.
Images (C) Silversea and Andy Mossack
Tell me more about Silversea Galapagos Cruises
Silversea offers a 7-day all-inclusive cruise around the Galapagos Islands from Baltra to San Cristobal onboard the new ship Silver Origin from 3 – 10 October 2020 starting from £8,300 per person.
The price includes return economy class flights to Ecuador and between Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands; a two-night pre-cruise hotel stay in JW Marriott in Quito; an evening tour of Quito’s historic city highlights; overseas transfers between airport, hotel and ship; Galapagos National Park fees; and guided Zodiac, land and sea tours, and shoreside activities led by the Expedition Team.
Other dates in 2020 are available at that lead-in price – 12, 19, 26 September; 10, 17, 24 October; 7, 21, 28 November; 12 December.
Andy sailed on the Silver Galapagos and took the North Central itinerary around the Galapagos Islands which sailed from Baltra and visited Genovesa Island (Darwin Bay and Prince Philip’s Steps), Santiago Island (Seymour Norte & Sullivan Bay) Rabida Island (El Eden Islet), San Cristobel Island (La Galapaguera, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno & Punta Pitt) Espanola Island (Gardner Bay & Punta Suarez) Santa Cruz Island (Puerto Ayora) Plaza sur Island and ended at San Cristobel Island (Puerto Baquerizo Moreno).
The brand new Silver Origin will start services in summer 2020
T+44(0)-844-251-0837 Click here to request a quote.
Getting to Ecuador and the Galapagos
Avianca flies daily Dreamliner services from London Heathrow to Quito via Bogota.
Silversea includes transfers to Galapagos from Quito generally using LATAM internal flights. Be aware, for these flights, regardless of travel class into Ecuador, checked luggage is limited to 23kg pp and one cabin bag of 10kg pp.
Parking at London Heathrow
One week’s Meet and Greet airport parking at London Heathrow with Airport Parking and Hotels (APH) costs from only £90.50. To book visit APH or call 01342 859536.