Fan­tasy is­lands

Hong Kong Tatler - - Features -

A trip to the Gala­pa­gos is a once-in-a-lifetime ex­pe­ri­ence so make sure it is planned to per­fec­tion

Cruise Con­trol

The choice of tour op­er­a­tor is of par­tic­u­lar im­por­tance in the Gala­pa­gos. This trip was ar­ranged through Lon­don­based Ja­cada Travel, which spe­cialises in African and South Amer­i­can lux­ury travel, and its lo­cal part­ner, Met­ro­pol­i­tan Tour­ing, which op­er­ates La Pinta. The yacht of­fers three tours—of three, four and seven nights—each tak­ing in a dif­fer­ent sec­tor of the ar­chi­pel­ago. The seven-night Western Gala­pa­gos Is­lands itin­er­ary (as de­scribed in this fea­ture) takes in the is­lands of North Seymour, Fer­nan­d­ina, Is­abela, Flore­ana, Santa Cruz, Rabida and San Cris­to­bal. Hard­core nat­u­ral­ists can com­bine the tours for an itin­er­ary of up to 15 days. ja­ca­da­travel.com

Land Ahoy!

While a cruise is almost cer­tainly the best way to see the Gala­pa­gos, it is not the only op­tion. There are a num­ber of small ho­tels on Santa Cruz, the ar­chi­pel­ago’s com­mer­cial cen­tre, in­clud­ing the Finch Bay Ho­tel, a mod­ern, well-ap­pointed bolt­hole reach­able only by boat. From th­ese you can ar­range day trips, div­ing lessons and more, re­turn­ing to terra firma each night. The Gala­pa­gos Sa­fari Camp pro­vides an al­ter­na­tive for those who want to see another side of the is­lands and aren’t keen to spend so much time on a boat. Set amid the lush green­ery of the Santa Cruz high­lands, this small eco-re­sort fea­tures nine large lux­ury tents, an in­fin­ity pool with sea views, a cen­tral lodge with a roar­ing log fire, and great food. finch­bay­ho­tel.com gala­pagos­sa­fari­camp.com

Rules of En­gage­ment

As you might ex­pect, con­ser­va­tion is top of the agenda in the Gala­pa­gos, and there are var­i­ous reg­u­la­tions de­signed to min­imise the im­pact of tourism. Vis­i­tor num­bers are limited, and groups vis­it­ing in­di­vid­ual is­lands must be no larger than 16. Touch­ing or feed­ing the an­i­mals is pro­hib­ited. Vis­i­tors must also stick to the marked trails and be ac­com­pa­nied by a regis­tered nat­u­ral­ist guide on all is­land ex­cur­sions.

Cap­i­tal Ideas

Most vis­i­tors pass through Ecuador’s cap­i­tal, Quito, on the way to and from the is­lands, and it’s worth fac­tor­ing in a cou­ple of days to ex­plore this fas­ci­nat­ing and beau­ti­ful city. The Old Town is a Unesco World Her­itage site re­plete with elab­o­rate churches and pic­ture­post­card squares, all watched over by the Vir­gin of Quito, a 46-me­tre statue perched on El Panecillo hill. Flanked by tow­er­ing vol­ca­noes, Quito it­self sits at a lofty 2,800 me­tres, mak­ing it the sec­ond-high­est cap­i­tal in the world. Stay at Casa Gan­gotena, a gor­geously re­stored his­toric man­sion on the cor­ner of pretty San Francisco Square. casagan­gotena.com

el­e­gant ex­plo­ration One of the best ways to see the Gala­pa­gos is by yacht, and La Pinta of­fers cus­tomised tours

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