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More than 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, the Galapagos Islands are among the world’s most celebrated natural phenomena. For five days and four nights, Ocean Home explored the prolific archipelago aboard the intimate expedition yacht La Pinta.

Some 600 miles off the coast of South America in the heart of the Pacific, the Galapagos Islands are among the world’s most studied geographical sites. The archipelago has played a pivotal role in scientific research, having birthed myriad plant and animal species over millions of years with little to no human interference to impede their natural processes. Most famously, the Galapagos inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Today, thanks still to their abundant and diverse wildlife, the islands remain among the planet’s key destinations for research and discovery, and at the top of countless world travelers’ wish lists—including our own. That is, until recently, when we made the once-in-a-lifetime journey firsthand.

With so much to see and do in the Galapagos—there are 13 larger islands and 17 smaller ones—planning a visit here can feel overwhelming. In terms of logistics, multiple options exist. For instance, travelers can visit the islands on an entirely boat-based itinerary or spend some of their days and nights on land. Many Galapagos itineraries include pre- and post-tour stays in continental South American cities (see “Capital Connection” for information about Quito, where we began and ended our journey). Such decisions can be perplexing and are made easier with a little expert advice. For help in arranging our trip, we turned to Adventure Associates, a tour and cruise operator specializing in South America.

For clients traveling to the Galapagos, Adventure Associates offers three-, four-, and seven-night options aboard four flagship vessels—the yachts La Pinta and the Isabela II and the expedition vessels Santa Cruz and M/V Explorer—and itineraries on its fleet of smaller motorized yachts and sailboats. Guests who want to take up temporary residence on the islands can do so with a three-, four-, or seven-night stay at Finch Bay Eco Hotel on Santa Cruz island, exploring their immediate surroundings in depth and making day trips and excursions to nearby islands.

Each vessel in the fleet bears a unique set of characteristics, so there’s something for everyone. All of the fleet’s flagship vessels were designed with relatively limited capacity to ensure small group sizes and intimate educational opportunities on land. As each ship is staffed with a team of expert guides and naturalists who are endless sources of information (and often humor, we would learn), we thought the smaller the better when it came to picking our ship. So, we set out on a five-day, four-night journey aboard the fleet’s most intimate ship, the 48-passenger La Pinta, eager to see first-hand the wonders that exist within these mysterious islands.

For Adventure Associates’ Galapagos guests, the island adventure officially begins upon arrival at the archipelago’s capital, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island, as it did for us, or at Baltra, depending on the itinerary. Once on the ground, guests are greeted at the airport by members of their respective ships’ staffs and are subsequently escorted to a nearby shuttle bus for a quick transfer to the embarkation port.

Upon descending onto San Cristobal, through the small, foggy window on our flight we could see turquoise waters and green growth—a sure sign of island life—but the reality of our whereabouts didn’t sink in until we arrived at our embarkation point. There, on a jetty packed with eager tour participants, a lone, lethargic seal stretched out beneath a bench (unaware of or uncaring about his audience), an unexpected preview of the incredible things to come.

From the embarkation jetty, it was a short dinghy (or panga, as the ships’ crew call them) ride to our awaiting flotilla. After one windswept ride and a very careful exit from our panga, we arrived onboard La Pinta, our floating home for the next five days. Although we weren’t quite expecting from La Pinta the level of luxury one would find aboard, say, the Queen Mary, we were pleasantly surprised by the vessel’s neat-as-a-pin public spaces, its spacious cabins (relatively speaking), and its generally bright and cheerful ambience. In fact, increasingly throughout the expedition, returning from hours-long excursions to our double cabin—complete with central air-conditioning, an iPod docking station, a vanity with electrical outlets, and our own private bathroom stocked with eco-conscious toiletries—felt downright luxurious.

In addition to guest quarters, La Pinta offers a surprising amount of space in which guests can enjoy their aquatic surroundings. The ship’s upper level contains a large function space, which, during our stay, was dedicated to nightly educational lectures, itinerary updates, and pre-dinner cocktails, served from its bar by an always-amiable attendant. At any other time, that same room, which is encased by oversized windows, is an ideal place to sit back and take in panoramic views of the ocean and nearby islands. Additional on-board amenities include a cozy library stocked with books and complimentary tea fixings; a small fitness room; and a spacious, open upper deck. There, a handful of chaises and a Jacuzzi await—the perfect spots for al fresco observation or exchanging tales of the day’s adventures with fellow passengers.

Although La Pinta provides a cushy home base for exploration, its creature comforts pale in comparison to the almost incomprehensible beauty and wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. Each day from their floating base, La Pinta guests embark on a selection of land- and water-based excursions that are either deemed suitable for the entire group or rated in terms of difficulty (alternate options are available to guests who prefer lower-impact activities)—think swimming in the Pacific; hiking over black lava fields; snorkeling among playful sea lions; peering at masses of tropical fish on a glass-bottom-boat ride; tandem kayaking along rock cliffs; and exploring the history of this remarkable place at the Charles Darwin Research Station. However you choose to explore the Galapagos Islands, that it’s an eye-opening, perspective-altering experience is for certain. After all, as Darwin said himself of his beloved archipelago, it is “a little world within itself.”

Article By: Lindsay Lambert at OceanHome

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