‘The volcanic ISLANDS of the Galapagos are made up of thirteen large islands (of which only four are inhabited) and hundreds of islets and rocky outcrops. In isolation from the rest of the world, the wildlife has evolved in a way that makes 90% of the reptiles and half the birds totally endemic to the Galapagos. This remote region of the Pacific Ocean is where Charles Darwin conceived his theory on biological evolution.
With our origins in Africa, True Travel has a natural affinity with wildlife focussed holidays. So as we look to expand our horizons to another of Earth’s great wildlife destinations it seemed appropriate to dig a bit deeper into what makes the Galapagos such a special, bucket list topping, trip.
In late May I enjoyed a little escapism, catching up with the owner of Galapagos Safari Camp, Stephanie Bonham-Carter. Back in 2003 she, and her husband Michael, scrambled up a tree on Santa Cruz Island and fell in love with the views, the intimacy with nature and the raw beauty of the place, so they decided to make it home.
When we spoke, Stephanie was in Quito and as the rain lashed at my windows in London my computer screen was filled with palm trees swaying against a bright blue sky. She was on her way back to Santa Cruz Island for the first time in over a year and beamed with excitement about getting back home.
Traditionally, the Galapagos is a destination that’s best experienced afloat, the vast majority of visitors will still fly across from mainland Ecuador, hop straight on a scheduled expedition cruise on a week-long predetermined route. Being afloat certainly has its benefits, enabling visitors to experience many of the flagship species and to visit some of the more remote islands to witness wildlife endemic to those locations.
With this in mind, building a tented safari lodge, inspired by their experiences in Africa, could be considered somewhat of a rogue choice. However, the benefits of land safaris can be equally as enticing; flexible dates, private excursions and day-to-day timings of your own choosing – you are on holiday after all! “The reason we chose the African model was because it was less impactful and a lot more immersive. If one day we decide to cease operations there will be very little trace that we were ever here at all.”
In the Galapagos, the animals, birds and marine life are mostly all habituated, and fearless as they live alongside humans harmoniously. Stephanie explains that this is what makes the wildlife experience here so different. “When you are in another natural environment in the world, you are observing it as an outsider. In the Galapagos, whilst you might not have the exhilarating Big Five type wildlife, you are not just observing it, you become part of it – and this is what makes this part of the world so special.”
I’ve seen this level of coexistence playout first hand on a smaller scale and they make up some of my most memorable moments in Africa. Guiding in the Kalahari, watching my guests’ minds be blown as they sit with habituated meerkats, who go about their business with no care for this strange shaped mobile termite mound.
“You are not just observing wildlife – you become part of it”
An important part of the experience here is understanding the role tourism plays in the community, “We strongly believe that environmental education and awareness are the key to the sustainability of the Galapagos.”
Stephanie explained how the experience she and her husband have created on Santa Cruz Island has evolved over time, growing organically and directed by the guests who visit. At Galapagos Safari Camp each day is designed around the guests, and their wants, in a way that’s not possible from a cruise. You still get a chance to experience the flagship species on land and at sea with day excursions to uninhabited islands, but in addition to this you are provided with an opportunity to engage more fully with the Galapagos on a community level.
The hiatus in global tourism over the past year has placed extreme pressure on those remote parts of the world that depend on the tourist dollar. 97% of the land area is protected national park and the seas surrounding the islands form part of the largest and most biologically diverse marine protected areas in the world. It’s no surprise then that tourism is highly regulated, with strict visitor numbers and high park fees. Some question whether tourism should be permitted at all, but as Sir David Attenborough himself says: ‘if it weren’t for the receipts from ecotourism, and the incentive those give for conservation, the islands would already be almost devoid of wildlife’. It’s a fine line to tread, access to the natural world shouldn’t be an elitist pursuit, but pressure from mass tourism is a very real threat.
If the Galapagos is at the top of your bucket list, then we think the best way to experience this once-in-a-lifetime destination is a small expedition yacht combined with time at a land based camp, such as Galapagos Safari Camp. This will give you the opportunity to discover the further islands with the very best naturalist guides, enjoy the luxury of exploring in more depth on your own time and interact with the local communities who make these trips possible. You will want at least nine nights in the Galapagos, allowing travel time through Quito before and after. Despite sitting on the equator, the Islands do not have a tropical climate and so are very pleasant all-year round.’
Spend 6 nights aboard a luxury yacht and 3 nights at Galapagos Safari Camp including all meals and activities from £9,450 per person.
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