In this time of no travel, reflecting on our Galapagos Islands adventure rekindled the fires that fuel my love of travel.

We are living in strange, unprecedented times. One thing I’m discovering in the midst of this pandemic is a newfound appreciation for travel. Little nuggets of newness, uncovered while exploring unfamiliar places, enriched and impacted my life in immeasurable ways. With upcoming travel plans canceled, I’m reflecting on previous trips and seeing them through a fresh lens.


Editors’ note: Although the COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly changed the face of travel, we hope our stories stoke your memories of past trips and kindle ideas for future adventures.


Currently our movement is limited. Our lives are set against a backdrop of uncertainty and we are all navigating it in the best way we can. The precariousness of life can feel especially acute for seniors. During this pause I’m reflecting on how lucky I am for all I’ve experienced. I’m also planning for future trips, allowing that anticipation and excitement to build for a time when we can safely travel again.

Sitting outside on my deck, quarantined at home in San Diego, I’ve spent hours ruminating about favorite trips and places I’d like to revisit. Exploring the Galapagos Islands, a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a trip forever etched into my memory. Situated 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, these islands open the senses and invite an experience grounded in the cyclical nature of life.

A sustainable Galapagos Islands adventure (Credit: Ecoventura)

I felt the sheer joy and profound sadness of observing species in their natural habitats, sometimes witnessing weaker members of family groups struggling to survive. Underwater volcanoes created the islands roughly four to five million years ago, and the area evolved in relative isolation. Now it contains over 3,000 types of plants and animals. Twenty percent of this wildlife is only found on the Galapagos, the highest percentage of endemic species in the world.

A Galapagos Islands adventure in first-class sustainability

In researching for this trip, my husband and I prioritized finding a company well-equipped to operate in the delicate ecosystem with care and respect. Ecoventura is certified by the South American-based Smart Voyager program, which sets sustainable policies and requirements for participating members.

Our home for the duration of our Galapagos Islands adventure was a first-class motor yacht: With only ten rooms and twenty guests total, the attention to detail and personal service felt unparalleled. There were no long waits for meals or activities. The small size of the group created a sense of community, as we all experienced this once-in-a-lifetime journey together.

Sea lions bathing

Sea lions bathing

The huge windows in each state room provided endless views of the ocean and islands. In the morning, I would wake, open the curtains and take a deep breath as I gazed around at the natural beauty that surrounded me. After getting ready for the day, my husband, Larry, and I would join the other guests for a light breakfast of fresh juice, cereal and cooked-to-order eggs.

We were delighted to learn that the Galapagos are neither hot nor humid. Sited in one of the Pacific Ocean’s dry zones, the islands are cooled by the surrounding sea and have two distinct seasons. January to June is the warm and wet season; we visited during the cool and dry season that runs from July to December. We had the option of two or three excursions per day: With our knowledgeable guides, we visited the shore, hiked on the islands, swam and took photos while marveling at the remarkable surroundings. The guides (one for every ten passengers) provided us with historical context for the natural wonders we observed.

Blue footed boobies sighted during a Galapagos Islands adveture

Blue-footed boobies

A joyful path to appreciation & reverence

The wildlife is the main attraction in the Galapagos, setting an enchanting backdrop for all of our excursions and activities. During our week there, we came across 400-pound land tortoises, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, dolphins, manta rays, penguins and hundreds of sea lions and their calves. One afternoon Larry and I had the unique pleasure of playing tag with a baby sea lion, an experience of pure fun and joy. That playful interaction was without a doubt the highlight of our trip.

It is important to learn about the issues that pose a threat to the natural wildlife and environment, including the complex role that tourism plays

To witness this biodiversity is incredibly special. With this honor comes great responsibility. It is important to learn about the issues that pose a threat to the natural wildlife and environment, including the complex role that tourism plays. An increased demand to visit the Galapagos Islands results in the allocation of more boats and resources that strain this fragile ecosystem.

At the same time, the money from tourism plays a large role in the conservation of the Galapagos. It brings outside money into eco-friendly tourism, local workers, and organizations like the Galapagos National Park Service. From the guides we learned about the damaging effects of overfishing, illegal fishing, garbage in the ocean, as well as the warming and rising of sea waters.

An undersea volcano

An undersea volcano

During our last full day on the islands, we went snorkeling and sea kayaking. As we skirted along the water’s edge we encountered protected bays and stunning coves. The beauty of the islands felt different from this vantage point: with only a kayak to separate us from the brilliant blue water, I felt more connected to the wildlife and the cascading rhythm of the ocean. Upon returning to the yacht, we settled into comfy chairs on the view deck to sip a glass of wine and watch the sunset. Later in the evening we rejoined our new friends to dine on ceviche, pistachio-crusted mahi mahi, provençal vegetables and crème brûlée.

Marine iguanas

Marine iguanas

Conservation and preservation

On our return to the mainland, I watched with sadness and gratitude as the islands drifted away from sight. This trip changed me; it opened my eyes to a wide variety of marine and land creatures, as well as to the forces that threaten their existence. I believe that coming face-to-face with natural treasures of the world highlights the urgent need for conservation and preservation, a lesson I’ve carried with me every day since my return.

Appreciating the simple pleasures of life, whether at home or traveling, is one small way I enjoy the beauty of the world and minimize my ecological footprint. A thought came to me as we left the Galapagos that seems even more relevant now: so often we don’t truly value something until we are at risk of losing it.


What’s appealing to the over-50 traveler?

  • Ecoventura prices include 7-night cruise, all meals, snacks, guided shore excursions, snorkeling equipment, wetsuits and more.
  • Two naturalist guides are available to answer any guest questions.
  • Wifi is available and included on the Origin & Theory (though not on the Letty).

Take note

  • Visit Ecoventura’s website to read their guidance on physical activity and limitations.
  • Smoking is prohibited on the islands; aboard the vessels it is only allowed on the outside deck in a designated smoking area.
  • To reach the Galapagos Islands we flew from Los Angeles to Miami to Quito, Ecuador. Ecoventura provides information to assist in planning your travel.
  • I recommend staying two nights in Quito to rest before taking the flight to the Galapagos. We visited old churches, browsed through indigenous craft markets and ate grilled corn from a roadside stand
A baby sea lion on the beach sighted during our Galapagos Islands adventure

Baby sea lion on the beach sighted during our Galapagos Islands adventure


IF YOU GO


Photo credits: All photos by Ann Nelson except  for the featured image and those otherwise noted.


Disclosure:

The author was a guest of Ecoventura. All opinions expressed are her own.


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