18 January 2023 by Krishna Ghosh
Travelling in late October 2022, Wexas specialist Krishna explored Ecuador’s wildlife-rich Galápagos Islands, sailing aboard Celebrity Flora.
This was my first trip to the Galápagos, so I left London full of excitement and anticipation of exploring what is one of the world’s remotest and most naturally diverse destinations. It would also be my first time on a Celebrity cruise, and the chance to experience their new ship, Celebrity Flora – a 100-capacity yacht designed specifically for exploring the islands – was something I was also very much looking forward to.
My adventure began with a flight to Ecuador’s capital, Quito, where I spent two nights at the centrally located JW Marriot, a modern and stylish hotel located within easy reach of many of the city’s must-see attractions. As part of my stay, I enjoyed a full day’s sightseeing, focussed on the cobbled streets and colonial architecture of the picturesque old town – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I wholeheartedly recommend spending some time here before heading over to the Galápagos, not only to break up what would otherwise be a very long journey, but to enjoy a taste of Latin American life, a wonderful contrast to the days of island exploration ahead. Indeed, if you’re planning a similar adventure, speak to me about extending your stay on the mainland, perhaps with a few nights in the Amazon, or with some more time to explore in and around the city – a trip up to the equator, 16 miles north of the city, is another great option.
Quito's UNESCO-listed Old Town
For me, though, it was time to continue my journey with a flight to the island of Baltra in the heart of the Galápagos archipelago. And I must say, the flight with Avianca was excellent, with superb, personalised service and a good selection of food and wine on board.
On arrival in Baltra, I transferred to the waiting Celebrity Flora, checking into my elegant suite – think floor-to-ceiling windows, cashmere mattresses and spacious verandas – before a series of safety briefings, distribution of equipment and a free afternoon which I used to explore my new surroundings. The ship really is impressive, with a selection of excellent dining options taking in everything from succulent seafood to Ecuadorian and international specialities, all served in a range of immaculately designed venues. The Observatory is wonderfully designed to take in the views while the attached library is bursting with books on the islands’ unique flora and fauna. There’s even an onboard ‘glamping experience’ and stargazing deck for taking in those crystal-clear Pacific skies.
And so, to the islands themselves. The itinerary featured a full programme of immersive shore excursions which, rather than being bookable before travel, were explained in detail each evening so you could choose what to do as the voyage unfolded – a nice touch rarely seem on other cruise lines.
Galápagos penguin with Celebrity Flora in the background
Monday 31st October
On our first full day, I decided upon a morning tour of Santiago Island – the first island in the Galápagos to be discovered by Christopher Columbus. As we walked along the coast, I was thrilled to see sea lions at such close quarters, as well as penguins, land and marine iguanas and a host of different bird species indigenous to the Galápagos. Following the walk, we had the opportunity to snorkel, and swimming with giant sea turtles and shoals of colourful fish was an experience I'll never forget.
Then, in the afternoon, we sailed to Rabida island, where I kayaked and hiked, spotting the likes of flamingos, pelicans, white-cheeked pintails, boobies and Darwin’s finches.
Flamingos on Rabida Island
Tuesday 1st November
A morning tender ride brought us to the mangroves of Isabela Island on Elizabeth Bay. Here, I saw sea lions sleeping on a tree, giant sea turtles playing in the swell and flightless cormorants, and blue footed boobies perched on rocky islets. The waters off the island were some of the clearest I’ve ever seen, and it was a joy to watch schools of colourful fish flitting beneath the surface. Our guide also told us that, on some days, it’s possible to see sharks and whales here, too. Alas, it wasn’t to be, but I must say the sheer beauty of the surroundings more than made up for it!
After lunch, I took the chance to visit Tagus Cove to see Darwin’s Lake – a sheltered, deep-water bay which is reached via a steep hiking trail formed inside a volcanic cone. It had a stunningly beautiful viewpoint, marked by some ancient scrawl left by whalers from the 1800s.
Mangroves on Isabela Island
Wednesday 2nd November
This morning’s activity was a guided hike on Santiago Island – a spectacular experience and my first time I’d walked on lava rock. Along the way, we paused to take in the spectacular volcanic formations and explore tidal rock pools teaming with marine life.
This was followed by a deep-water snorkelling trip at Pinnacle Rock – a sea turtle nesting beach – then a long, steep hike to the summit of Bartolom Island, a climb along a 600-metre trail and up a wooden staircase for what has to be one of the finest views in the Galápagos. This was certainly a trip highlight as I looked out across black lava flows to Sullivan Bay and the rest of Santiago Island in the distance.
Swimming with sea turtles
Thursday 3rd November
Today we visited Santa Cruz for a leisurely stroll along its pristine sandy beach followed by a swim and snorkel in its impossibly clear sea. In the afternoon we visited the uninhabited North Seymour Islands (one of my favourites) and explored its rocky coast. Here, we saw fearless sea lion pups that came close enough to sniff my phone, and shoes!
The island is also a home to large colonies of breeding seabirds, including nesting blue-footed boobies and frigate birds. We also spotted plenty of land and marine iguanas, some at very close quarters.
Friday 4th November
The adventure continued on San Cristobal Island and our first encounter with civilisation since my arrival in the Galápagos. Here, we visited the Interpretation centre, learning how the the islands were visited by whalers, pirates and the Spanish from 1535 AD. Then, we headed on to Punta Pitt. It seemed to be like something straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, and a rather taxing climb saw us arrive at some truly spectacular views. This was also the place where we we saw all the three species of booby – red-footed boobies, which were nesting among the bushes; the emblematic blue-footed boobies; and the Nazca boobies, which make their home in the cliffs.
San Cristobal Island, Galápagos
Saturday 5th November
For my last full day in the Galápagos, we explored Santa Cruz Island, visiting the Charles Darwin Station and the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre. This was followed by a short bus ride to a reforestation project for a tree planting activity, and then on to a ranch to watch giant tortoises in their natural habitat – great initiative by the Ecuadorian government.
A giant tortoise, Santa Cruz
Sunday 6th Nov
Sadly it was time to leave and, following a pair of flights separated by a final overnight stay in Quito, I was soon back in London and a world away from the wonders I’d experienced over the past days.
The Galapagos is a unique place, a land lost in time, home to wildlife not seen anywhere else on this planet. It was a brilliant trip – a dream come true!