This was a dream trip. It was not how I had expected my adventure to the Galapagos Islands would go, and that’s because I didn’t know what to expect on any trip (I didn’t know it was a destination I’d ever get to see). I understood Lindblad Expeditions would be a high-end cruise with nature guides and some educational experiences, but I didn’t know how the day-to-day tours would operate. It was all a pleasant surprise.
This was a family vacation — I could not afford such a trip on my own (even a sort-of independent tour of the Galapagos would be a stretch). Everything on the tour was included except for the flights to and from Guayaquil, Ecuador — Lindblad arranged the hotel in Guayaquil as well as flights and travel permits for the Galapagos.
Aside from the day before departure for the Galapagos, everything was meticulously planned and ran smoothly. In fact, we probably weren’t supposed to go wandering around Guayaquil as we had to have a pre-departure Covid test at the Hotel Oro Verde. We planned to arrive the evening before most everyone else on the tour to ensure we weren’t affected by flight delays. The following evening, there was a welcome dinner at which we were given our Covid test results (no one tested positive). We had the private dining room for breakfast the next day before boarding buses for the airport. We were kept away from locals for the most part and encouraged to wear a mask when not in our rooms.
Part of the adventure is flying in and out of the Galapagos airports — we arrived at Baltra, which is the smallest airport I’ve been to. Flights land, turn around at the end of the runway to allow passengers off and more passengers to board, and take off again for Guayaquil. I was also pleasantly surprised that Galapagos stamps passports on arrival (there’s also a special travel card that travelers need to hold during their stay).
Expectations in Galapagos
Lindblad collected our luggage and boarded us on Zodiacs to take us to our ship — the National Geographic Endeavour II. Aboard the ship, we were given a lengthy welcome briefing and introduced to the crew and naturalists.
The cabins were comfortable and small, which is to be expected on a small cruise ship. I didn’t ask to see any additional cabins to see if there were larger ones for families. This isn’t like more popular cruises — the ship doesn’t have a pool or multiple restaurants or large open spaces. This is an expedition cruise ship. There’s a lounge/bar big enough to accommodate everyone and a dining room. There’s also a small gym, library, shop with local artisan goods, a no-cost doctor, and observation deck. What else do you really need?
Everything on board and off was taken care of (aside from souvenirs, obviously). At least twice a day, we were taken off the ship on the Zodiacs — groups of no more than 16 passengers with each naturalist, and it was easy to choose which group you wanted (I usually went for one of the first groups because I was excited to go).
There were multiple briefings throughout the day. There was usually one after the first activity, before we went to the dining room for lunch, and another before dinner. There were also lectures from the naturalists mixed in, including multiple photography seminars and some history lessons. I only skipped a few of these for a nap (I may have also fallen asleep in the lounge during a couple).
Many of the daily briefings with the cruise director were necessary — Carlos would go over the schedule for the next day or activity to ensure everyone was prepared. We had to know whether it was a dry landing or not; how difficult the activity would be; whether we needed to wear hiking shoes; and, of course, what time to be ready. Those were also the briefings that provided everyone with the schedule for breakfast — if we disembarked earlier, we had to be up earlier to get breakfast.
Lessons on Lindblad Expeditions
There’s something to be said for an open bar on a cruise, and it’s “YES!” That doesn’t mean it’s a great idea. There were themed cocktails each day, but none of them were great. They were lighter, which was likely intentional.
Because I was with my brother and sister-in-law, and there were some people around our age on the ship, I stayed up a little later having a few drinks. There were some beers brewed in Galapagos as well as well cocktails. There was also a sunset wine tasting with Ecuadorian wine as we sailed across the Equator. It was fun getting to know our fellow travelers over drinks, but it wasn’t a great idea to stay up late and tipsy when we had to wake up before 7 am every day.
Then there’s breakfast. It was fantastic every day with all the fresh fruit, yogurt, oatmeal, and whatnot. There is a warning, however. Don’t drink so much coffee at breakfast because you will be disembarking soon after and there are no restrooms on those lovely trips. Yes, you will have to hold it for about three hours. Best advice is to have a cup with breakfast and another upon return to the ship before lunch.
Speaking of meals, the food was always wonderful, but don’t expect anything particularly spicy (they’re catering to a wide range of tastes with limited food options). It is possible to ask for half servings of each option when you can’t decide which to order. I did this a few times, and it was the best choice.
The other great choice in the dining room was dessert. I don’t often eat desserts, but I couldn’t pass up the offerings — they were intriguing and decadent. How could I saw no to passionfruit mousse? I suppose the slow nature walks and kayaking helped burn off some of those calories.
Overall, traveling through the Galapagos with Lindblad Expeditions was amazing. Any mishaps (*cough* breaking my camera *cough*) were my own fault. The crew and naturalists were fantastic — it was fun to get to know the naturalists beyond their expertise as well; they were happy to tell us about growing up in the archipelago and their families. It was a memorable trip every step of the way (and I wish I could afford to go again).
Have you been on Lindblad Expeditions or to the Galapagos? What did you think?