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CRUISE TO GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
ECOVENTURA M/Y ERIC TRIP

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Nothing we read or saw on video prepared us for the islands of the Galapagos. The best way to experience their diverse landscapes and fearless wildlife is on a Galapagos cruise.

Steering panga in front of M/Y Eric
Steering panga in front of M/Y Eric
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Located 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) west of Ecuador, the archipelago is comprised of 13 major islands, six minor islets and more than 100 reefs and rocks.

Ecoventura ships

Our Galapagos trip was on the Ecoventura M/Y Eric, one of three nearly identical superior first-class ships. The family-owned company also operates the M/Y Flamingo I and M/Y Letty yachts, as well as M/Y Sky Dancer, a live-aboard ship for diving.

The new premium-class yacht, the 20-passenger MV Origin, began cruising in the Galapagos in 2016.

Ecoventura is based in Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador. To get there, we flew on two comfortable Copa Airlines flights from Toronto, via Panama City. Although the total flying time was 7.5 hours, we had no jet lag, because Ecuador is on Eastern Standard Time.

How do you get to the Galapagos? After a relaxing overnight in the five-star Hotel Oro Verde Guayaquil and an included bountiful buffet breakfast, a 95-minute AeroGal flight brought us to San Cristobal Island.

Passengers in wetsuits in panga
Passengers in wetsuits in panga
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Cruise itineraries

From the Eric, we traveled by pangas, motorized inflatable rubber dinghies, to our landing spots or snorkeling locations. Landings were either dry (on shore) or wet (wade to shore).

Which Galapagos Islands can you visit? It depends on the itinerary.

Each Ecoventura ship offers two seven-night tours. To see the north, south, central and western islands of the Galapagos, you need to take both cruises. Combined, both cruises visit 29 sites.

Tourists can visit 70 land sites and 75 marine sites, but 25 are used much more than others. To minimize impact, Galapagos National Park restricts the frequency of visits to popular sites to once every two weeks.

National Park guides

Parque Nacional Galapagos Ecuador requires a park-certified naturalist to accompany every group of 16 or fewer tourists. A maximum of five groups of 16 can visit any Galapagos site at one time, whether they come from one ship or several.

Yvonne Mortola briefs passengers in lounge.
Yvonne Mortola briefs passengers in lounge.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Because Ecoventura ships carry a maximum of 20 passengers, we had one Galapagos guide for only 10 passengers. Our top-level naturalists, Yvonne Mortola and Cecibel Guerrero, were exceptional guides.

During our first orientation briefing in the lounge of the M/Y Eric, Ceci and Yvonne reviewed Galapagos National Park rules.

"Keep at least six feet (two meters) away from wildlife," said Ceci. "If birds, animals or reptiles approach closer, don't touch them. They're not tame, just unafraid."

What are some other rules for Galapagos tourists? Don't use flash for photos, because some species are nocturnal. Stay on trails marked by wooden posts so you don't damage vegetation and egg-laying sites.

Hugo Granda offers snacks.
Hugo Granda offers snacks.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Visitors are not allowed to smoke, eat or drink alcohol in the park. They are also forbidden to remove any souvenir, whether it is a shell, feather, bone or rock from the Galapagos Islands.

Cruise tours

During our voyage, we traveled 500 nautical miles and crossed the equator four times. Because M/Y Eric cruised mostly at night, we woke up at a new Galapagos island each morning.

Most days, we had morning and afternoon guided excursions. Galapagos Island tours ranged from viewing red-footed boobies on Genovesa Island and land iguanas on North Seymour, to photographing giant tortoises on Santa Cruz Island.

As we boarded M/Y Eric from our pangas, our bartender and server, Hugo Granda, greeted us with snacks. We devoured treats like Ecuadorian muchines, cheese-stuffed yuca (cassava) balls dipped in honey, chicken turnovers and chocolate fondue with fresh fruit.

Before dinner each evening, Yvonne and Ceci gave us a briefing in the lounge. They explained what to see and do on each Galapagos Island and what to wear for hiking the trails (sandy or rocky).

Lunch buffet
Lunch buffet
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

We usually retired early because our Galapagos guides woke us around 7 am with recorded Spanish love songs, followed by an announcement of "breakfast will be ready at 7:30." The aroma of frying bacon or baking banana muffins often woke us earlier.

Ecoventura meals

We were constantly amazed at the delicious, healthy meals prepared by Eric's two cooks, Julio and Ricky.

Julio cooks in galley.
Julio cooks in galley.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Breakfast was a buffet of fresh fruit, cereals, pancakes, toast, bacon and eggs, prepared in a variety of ways, from scrambled to baked with smoked salmon.

Lunches were also buffets of fresh salads, soups, meats, fish and vegetables, with delectable desserts, such as tiramisu and strawberry cheesecake.

Passengers had a choice of two main courses for dinner, such as chicken cordon bleu or coconut-braised shrimp, preceded by an appetizer and soup.

Desserts ranged from crème brûlée to chocolate mousse with pistachios.

With open seating at tables of four, we were able to socialize with different passengers at each meal, so by the end of the cruise we were all great friends.

Occasionally, during daylight hours, we dropped our forks and uttered ah! in unison, as jumping eagle rays and whales distracted us from our meals.

Each evening, two couples dined with the captain of M/Y Eric, who gave passengers an insider's view of the Galapagos, including his favorite places for snorkeling.

Passengers dine at the captain's table.
Passengers dine at the captain's table.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Deep-sea snorkeling

One of the joys of our cruise to the Galapagos Islands was the opportunity to go deep-sea snorkeling. Ecoventura ships provide free use of masks, fins and snorkels, as well as full Henderson wet suits for snorkeling in cool water between June and November.

Snorkelers returned ecstatic from swimming with sea lions that torpedoed up, down and beside them, cloaked in bubbles. Their underwater videos depicted yellow-orange chocolate chip starfish with short sturdy brown spines and flightless cormorants diving for fish.

Courting flightless cormorant-shaped towels on bed
Courting flightless cormorant-shaped towels on bed
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Returning to our cabin, we discovered a pair of courting flightless cormorants, fashioned from beach towels on our bedspread by Roberto, our room attendant.

There was plenty to do on-board after our Galapagos excursions. We reviewed several excellent bird, wildlife and plant guides in the lounge.

Passengers photograph sunset.
Passengers photograph sunset.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Other passengers edited photos on their lap-tops and ordered drinks from the bar. In case hunger pangs struck between meals, we had 24-hour access to coffee, tea and three bottomless glass jars filled with cookies and candies.

We often climbed up to the sundeck from where we photographed cavorting dolphins, gliding frigatebirds and golden sunsets.

A Galapagos cruise on Ecoventura's M/Y Eric is not for you if you want a spa, casino, pools, Broadway-style shows and spacious cabins with balconies. But if you love nature, learning vacations and the camaraderie of like-minded passengers and crew, then you will be smitten by the Galapagos, its landscapes and engaging wildlife.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Ecoventura: www.ecoventura.com

Copa Airlines: www.copaair.com

Ecuador Ministry of Tourism: www.ecuador.travel

More things to see & do in the Galapagos Islands:

Galapagos Travel - Incentive Programs and Corporate Meetings

Isabela Island Galapagos - Hiking and Kayaking at Tagus Cove

Puerto Ayora Santa Cruz Galapagos - Charles Darwin Research Station

Santa Cruz Island Galapagos - Lava Tubes and Pit Craters

Bartolome and Pinnacle Rock Galapagos Cruise Tour