Spending seven days in The Land That Time Forgot is a cruise unlike any other. The Galápagos Islands, straddling the Equator some 965km off Ecuador’s Pacific coast, were the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, where he espoused his theory of evolution through natural selection. More than 1,900 of the islands’ creatures can’t be found anywhere else on Earth. This serendipitous ecological wonderland comprises just 13 islands.
Formed five million years ago by erupting volcanoes, they owe their idiosyncrasies to the fact that while they are in the equatorial belt, they’re cooled by the Humboldt current rushing north from Antarctica. After flying into the airport island of Baltra, you meet up with your guides who have been trained at the Darwin Research Station. In the comfortable ship’s lounge, they explain that the cruise will visit the islands of Daphne, Española, Floreana, Isabela, Fernandina, and Santa Cruz. Sailing from one enchanted island to the next, there’s the chance to enjoy close encounters with marine iguanas, frigate birds, sea lions and giant tortoises – all of whom have no fear of humans – during twice-daily Zodiac adventures from the delightful 92-passenger ship. You can also relax on a volcanic beach while mockingbirds peck at your toes, then swim with turtles, penguins and hammerhead sharks before strolling through noisy colonies of sea birds a beak’s length from their nests.
As part of the package offered by Celebrity Xpeditions, there’s a two-night stay in Quito before heading out to Baltra. Wandering through the Spanish colonial quarter of broad cobbled plazas, whitewashed buildings and cathedrals that boast an embarrassment of gold is little short of intoxicating.
Celebrity Xpeditions (0844 493 2043, http://celebritycruises.co.uk) offers 10-night cruises of The Galapagos Islands all-yearround. A departure from Baltra on 16 December costs from £3,769
per person including all flights, ship and hotel accommodation,
as well as tours and shore excursions