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As Darwin once noted, this incredible spot is a little world within itself
While the pandemic has kept many of us at home for the better part of the ’20s (but who’s counting), destinations around the world have been hit hard by the halt in tourism, battling unemployment, bankruptcy, poverty, unstable funding and an exhausting struggle to stay afloat. Travel was and still is a personal decision, but—with precautions in place—many wanderlusters are easing back into the world, and tourism-based economies are gradually reviving.
For myself and a small group of other adventurous souls, the time had come to venture out into the world and recharge our souls with a socially-distanced and highly-regulated trip to one of the most iconic bucket list destinations in the world: the Galapagos Islands were calling.
With its rich biodiversity, fascinating endemic species and unparalleled volcanic landscapes, located 1,000 kilometres off the coast of mainland Ecuador, Darwin was not wrong—Galapagos certainly does feel like a world of its own, far, far away from home. But we had a local tie that brought us comfort during these uncertain times. Not only were most of us Canadian or American, we came together through my business Adventurelust, which unites like-minded adventurers and wildlife lovers, and our chosen cruise line is owned by a fellow Canadian. Our cruise team at Enchanted Expeditions is familiar with navigating the international journey over to Galapagos, and was completely supportive, flexible and helpful when assisting with flights, PCR tests and ever-changing COVID restrictions.
These local ties and reassurance brought us the comfort we needed to take the leap and venture off to Galapagos. While all of our group members faced anxiety in the lead-up process and travel certainly isn’t as easy as it used to be, we had the trip of a lifetime and a little piece of each of our hearts is still out there in the Galapagos archipelago.
Cruising through the Galapagos Islands feels like entering a real-life issue of National Geographic mixed with Planet Earth, a destination where wildlife is everywhere you look and the creatures accept you as one of their own, where animals and humans coexist harmoniously unlike anywhere else in the world. Even in the towns, sea lions lounge nonchalantly on street benches, marine iguanas loiter unfazed by passing pedestrians, and birds nest in peace, unbothered by the admiring tourists.
Conservation in Galapagos is heavily enforced to keep the islands this way, with restrictions such as a mandatory accompaniment by a naturalist guide when exploring the national park (which comprises 97 percent of the Archipelago) and maintaining a two-metre distance between yourself or your camera and the wildlife. These rules have allowed the islands to remain pristine relative to many other renowned tourist destinations, and have created an environment where the animals are unthreatened by our human presence. It fosters an environment where captivating and intimate wildlife encounters are not only possible, but probable.
We spent our time cruising between the remote islands, discovering diverse landscapes—from volcanic lava rock to barren cacti-dotted vista, from pristine white-sand beaches to rugged and raw terrain. The animals were the stars of the shows, and we were able to check every single creature off our bucket list: blue-footed boobies, hammerhead sharks, giant tortoises, spotted eagle rays, dolphins, turtles, albatrosses, marine iguanas, Sally Lightfoot crabs, penguins, flamingoes and more.
Galapagos is the type of place that always delivers and could never disappoint, but even though you go there expecting a magical experience, it still manages to take your breath away.
Our cruise company, Enchanted Expeditions, was one of the pioneer small boat cruise operators in Galapagos, with a completely local crew, as well as onboard food and supplies that are sourced locally wherever possible. Enchanted runs with sustainable practices including its green national park certification, eco-friendly products, waste management and separation, and financially supports causes in Ecuador, including orphanages, elderly homes and programs for children with HIV.
As 90 percent of Galapagos’ economy relies on tourism, it was nice to know our dollars were going towards this delicate and precious ecosystem and community, and it was also comforting and inspiring to have the Canadian connection with founder Judy Carvalhal, who resides on Vancouver Island when she’s not at her home of Santa Cruz Island in Galapagos (a true island gal at heart). Judy relocated to Galapagos 44 years ago with a degree in evolutionary biology, became a naturalist, started her cruise company with the goal of sharing her love of Galapagos and adventure with visitors from around the world.
My favourite thing about British Columbia is its raw and natural beauty, and this is what drew me to Galapagos as well, but on another level,” shares Judy. “It feels like stepping back in time to a world where there is no rush, no place to be and nothing to do, but witness these incredible animals in their national habitat. The pandemic has impacted Galapagos greatly and we welcome tourists back with open arms. It’s a place I wish everyone could visit in their lifetime.
I am beyond grateful to have been able to experience the magic of the Galapagos Islands, and being able to connect with a fellow British Columbian in Judy, whose heart has also been stolen by this magnificent place makes it a little extra special. My hope is for Canadians and adventurous souls from around the world to be able to experience a similar magic. When you’re ready to travel, remember: Galapagos could never disappoint.