The Galapagos experience has always been characterized as exclusive and remote. And today, more than ever, people are looking for remote destinations that will keep them away from big crowds as a result of the pandemic. When you combine this with year-round good weather, short flying distances from the US, small variations in time zone, and up-close wildlife encounters, the combination puts the Galapagos Islands at the top of the bucket list for many travelers.
The Galapagos Islands, an archipelago located on the equator some 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, is often viewed as the safari destination of South America.
Highlights include snorkeling with sea lions, marine iguanas, various rays and giant sea turtles. On land, travelers will get a chance to get up close to giant tortoises, many of which are over 100 years old. For birders, the Galapagos is truly a birding mecca, with blue-footed boobies showing off their namesake feet, albatross doing their mating dance with a snap of the beak, and a plethora of finches, penguins and hawks.
Charles Darwin made these islands famous as they were the source of his research on the theory of evolution. His visit in 1835 opened up a world of exploration and research. Today, these islands are home to marine biologists and other researchers studying the plethora of life and the topography of volcanic lava flows and giant lava tubes that still exist today.
There are various ways to explore these islands, including small yachts that journey from island to island during the night (when travelers sleep) so passengers wake up at a new destination each day. One such company is Quasar, which has an expedition yacht called the Evolution which has a maximum of 32 passengers in 16 cabins.
The Galapagos Difference
Quasar Expeditions was founded in March 1986 by an Ecuadorian couple—Dolores Gangotena de Diez and her husband, Eduardo. “We had explored most of Ecuador by the time we got married, and Galapagos had something really special,” says Diez. It is the perfect destination for wildlife lovers. It combines wonderful opportunities in the sea (kayaking, snorkeling, and diving) as well as walks that take you just inches from all the wildlife that inhabits the islands. In Galapagos, the wildlife does not fear humans.
“Our goal when we founded Quasar was to show guests the same Galapagos that I first encountered in 1969,” she explains. “Almost 40 years later, we are proud to be doing just this.”
About the Destination, Not the Ship
When researching which company to use in the Galapagos, some travelers focus on what the ship looks like and what amenities are offered on board. Quasar believes it’s the exploration experience that matters first. The boat, the food, and the accommodations come second. “For example, in small yachts like ours, when you have cabins with balconies, you normally eliminate the possibility of walking outside around the entire perimeter of the boat,” says Diez. “This is an essential feature of Quasar’s yachts because you have wildlife spectacles happening all around the boat every day, including dolphins swimming in the bow of the yacht, boobies diving in the water on a feeding frenzy, sharks swimming behind the yacht. So, when we have guests who contact us and their focus is on the comfort of their cabin and on the size of the balcony, we have to switch their mentality to that of exploration and explain why they should prefer a yacht where they can walk around its entire perimeter.”
“For Quasar, is really important to educate our guests when they want to book a trip and let them know exactly why we do things the way we do,” says Diez. This might mean rejecting some customers because it’s not a good fit. Setting the right expectations is key.
Cruising and Covid
Quasar, like most cruise lines, pivoted during covid by following strict protocols, doing constant testing, and educating the staff. Hygiene and prevention became a top priority. Diez says: “We have operated 56 cruises since March 2021 and only two of them had to be cut short, as some passengers tested positive mid-cruise. We have to adapt and understand this virus is going to be with us going forward, so the best solution is to deal with it in a normal way.
Highlights of the Galapagos
So what can travelers expect in the Galapagos?
On Daphne Minor island, travelers can see colonies of blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, frigate birds, short-eared owls and redbilled tropicbirds.
On Isabela island, flightless cormorants inhabit the shoreline. And snorkeling here offers the possibility to swim with sea lions, turtles, and spotted eagle and manta rays. Isabela is the largest island in the archipelago, accounting for half of the total landmass of the Galapagos. The giant land iguanas and tortoises can be found here, too.
In Punta Espinoza there’s a chance to get up-close to the Galapagos penguins. There are also red and turquoise-blue zayapas crabs dispersed across the lava shoreline, while blue and lava herons forage through the mangrove roots. There is also a colony of marine iguanas here that can also be viewed underwater via snorkeling. There’s also a chance to see dolphins and whales.
Bartolomé Island, famous for Pinnacle Rock which is a towering spearheaded obelisk, has a 2000-foot pathway that leads to a summit where travelers will have views of Santiago Island and Sullivan Bay.
Santa Cruz is the second largest island in the Galapagos and a hub for the archipelago. At the northern area is a major egg-laying site for sea turtles. The island also has a lagoon chock full of pink flamingos (in addition to a variety of other birds, including: great blue herons, common stilts, brown noddys and white-cheek pintail ducks). Snorkelers might be able to see sea turtles and sea lions, schools of stripped salemas and Galapagos sharks. On the southern part of Santa Cruz is the Galapagos National Park Service headquarters and Charles Darwin research station as well as the highlands. The Wild Tortoise Reserve in the highlands is often the highlight for many travelers as it’s the place to see the giant tortoises in their natural habitat.