The Galapagos, Ecuador
I just returned from a fabulous trip to mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos. I had an amazing time, so much diversity and beauty in such a small country! There is a lot I want to share about the experience but I am going to attempt to limit myself to telling you about the Galapagos and my favorite property from the trip; Galapagos Safari Camp
Galapagos Safari Camp
I love Galapagos Safari camp for many reasons but two big ones were;
1) It is a great example of finding the safari experience outside of Africa. It encapsulates the feel and pace of an African safari; from the peaceful, intimate setting and the personalized service, down to the Meru-style tents designed in Kenya.
2) It is a land-based Galapagos experience and a way to explore this amazing area that is not a cruise. Don’t get me wrong, I saw some stunning boats on this trip, but if you are claustrophobic or easily sea sick, being on land is quite nice. It also means that you are also free to stay in the Galapagos as long as you like and arrive on any date you want versus the more rigid schedulig of many cruises. Finding Galapagos Safari Camp left me so excited for the kind of Galapagos experience a non-cruise-lover could have.
Galapagos Safari Camp (GSC) is a gorgeous tented camp perched on a hill on Santa Cruz Island overlooking the sea and a several of the most famous islands that make up the Galapagos. Both the tented rooms and the common areas are stylish, luxurious and make the most of the beautiful setting. I especially loved the big dinning table and communal areas, which are conducive to meeting other fabulous travelers.
In addition to the great setting the service is excellent and everyone from the staff to the owners make you feel welcome and at home. Stephanie and Michael, the owners have impeccable taste and the property feels very warm and welcoming. The chef Sebastian is eager to meet everyone and welcomes you into his kitchen. The real star however is Katherine who manages the lodge. I’ve been to many camps all over the world and she is one of the best managers I’ve ever met on all my trips. She makes sure your sandwiches are packed with your towels and flippers when you head out for the day! She is married to a local guide so she knows the place inside out. I can’t imagine anything Katherine couldn’t do!
Despite being land-based, GSC offer incredible access to all the snorkeling, sea lions, tortoises and blue-footed boobies you can handle. My two guides for the excursions, Andre and Socrates (yes Socrates) were knowledgeable and engaging. Andre was a sort of gentle giant who grew up in the Belgian Congo before landing in the Galapagos in the 70s. Socrates is young, charming and would be great for active travelers.Guests tend to alternate a day of excursions to other islands with days relaxing back at camp or exploring the island of Santa Cruz. Activities at GSC include everything from an afternoon relaxing on Tortuga Beach to mountain biking to learning to make ceviche with the chef. You can also spend an afternoon in Puerto Ayora for lunch and a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station.
You can get a full Galapagos experience from GSC or you can easily combine a 3-4 night cruise with 2-3 nights on land at the camp. Another great option would be to do 3 nights at GSC and then 2 nights on Isabela Island. This would allow you to spend time on a much less inhabited island (Isabela has 3000 inhabitants compared to 23000 on Santa Cruz) and to spend time on the two different types of islands that make up the Galapagos.
If it isn’t obvious already, I really like Galapagos Safari Camp. It is exactly the kinds of Out-of-Africa experience in the Galapagos I hoped to find on this trip. There are a few things to know about staying at GSC. The first is that while GSC's setting is peaceful the road to the property does not feel remote. This is because while GSC has its own private area on Santa Cruz Island, you must drive through cultivated, inhabited farmland to get to the camp. You also do not see wildlife from GSC and have to go to surrounding areas to see the iguanas, birds, sea lions and turtles that Galapagos is known for. Finally, you have to drive 30 minutes to Puerto Ayora for the day-long boat excursions.
GSC isn’t the only place you can stay if you want to see the Galapagos by land. A few other places I saw included
Finch Bay Hotel
Finch Bay Hotel definitely feels more like a resort (compared to the intimacy of Galapagos Safari Camp). At the same time it has a laidback, beachy feel and is great for families. It is also very close to the town of Puerto Ayora, compared to GSC which is a 30 minute drive away. This makes it easy to explore the area on your own which is great and I know is a priority for some travelers.
This is a very luxurious option on the other side of Santa Cruz from Puerto Ayora. Pikai is the perfect choice for a traveler looking for a Four Seasons type of experience. Everything is very beautiful and polished with stunning views and a high level of service. It was a little sleek for my taste but had amazing art and could be the perfect choice for someone.