FLYING halfway across the world to the Galapagos is no comparison to Charles Darwin’s gruelling voyage in the Beagle, however, once you arrive, your inner explorer is awakened. I landed at their carbon-neutral airport and handed in my entry fee to the National Park. Sustainability is not a new concept here. The Galapagos is arguably nature’s holiest land due to the significant lack of human interruption. Some islands are more developed, while others are untouched. Regardless, nature has right of way.
A short ferry ride took me to the shore of Santa Cruz Island where we drove into the highlands. The drive revealed the islands’ biggest asset – biodiversity. Rocky red stone turned into luscious greenery, and I made my way to greet some of the island’s longest inhabitants – giant tortoises. Continuing my journey on foot, I got a closer look at the 100-year-old creatures. They stroll around at their own pace, unbothered by voyeurs like me.
The Finch Bay
After a quick lunch in the reserve, I headed towards the Puerto Ayora harbour to board yacht La Pinta to dive straight into my Galapagos journey. I was greeted by staff members from Metropolitan Touring upon arrival on the boat, leaving the next 4 days in their safe hands. The Ecuador-based tour operator offers detailed expedition cruises around the islands merging luxury and exploration in equal measures.
Mornings on La Pinta began with a hearty Ecuadorian breakfast followed by an eagerness to disembark and explore. A panga ride to Eden Islet revealed the famous blue-footed boobies and I came at arm’s length with Galapagos penguins and sea lions whilst snorkelling off the coast of Chinese Hat Islet.
The guides were eager to show us the ‘Galapagos 15’, and by the end of each day, ‘eco hour’ in the evening provided me with information on wildlife I’d seen in the day. This was followed by a formal dinner, where chefs were able to express their flare for finer cuisine. All interest in the hot tub and gym had vanished. Spare moments were spent bird-watching on the sundeck.
When my time on board came to an end, I replaced the sight of volcanic landscapes with white sand at Finch Bay hotel. Here I enjoyed a slower pace and enjoyed the wildlife from afar whilst enjoying the essence of the island through a more luxurious lens. After my fill of hammocks, spa time and cocktails, it was time for me to pick up my exploring hat and embark on the last leg of my journey into the Ecuadorian rainforest.
Setting off early from Quito’s luxury hotel Casa Gangotena, I made the rickety journey into the Chocó rainforest to stay at the 24-room eco-hotel, Mashpi Lodge. The hotel is built into the canopy of trees, neighbouring the likes of toucans and hummingbirds. I immediately surrendered myself and embarked on a guided night walk where I encountered snakes, spiders and frogs. In contrast, the daylight revealed hidden lagoons, waterfalls and a sky-high cable car which offers a view over the entire forest. My last Mashpi encounter came in the form of a unique wellness offering of a massage under a waterfall. The soundtrack of water and birds is one you’ve heard prerecorded, but this was the real thing.
The Finch Bay
With conservation at the heart of Mashpi’s mission, news of their 10th new species discovery is a reason to celebrate. At a time when extinction is at the forefront of our worries, experiencing the thriving biodiversity in Ecuador and the Galapagos is a wake-up call. If you’ve ever questioned whether your efforts to reduce waste or live more sustainably make a difference, places like Mashpi and Galapagos are living proof that it’s vital for our planet.
by Katrina Mirpuri
Rainbow Tours offers an 11-night Ecuador & Galapagos itinerary incorporating stays at Casa Gangotena, Mashpi Lodge, Finch Bay and a four-night cruise on La Pinta from £7,995 per person.
rainbowtours.co.uk / 020 7666 1260