We have always wanted to go to the Galapagos, but the idea of being stuck on a boat did not excite us. Now, with the opening of the super cool, 14 room Pikaia Lodge, we can’t wait to book our tickets to explore one of the world’s unparalled destinations for wildlife viewing. Our good friend, Nicole Mestanas sets out once a year on a girl’s trip with an old childhood friend. Just back from the Galapagos she shares the highlights of her trip with Daytripper here.
How to go…Pikaia suggests flying to Guayaquil International Airport to avoid the altitude sickness some experience staying overnight at Quito. The flight down to the Baltra Galapagos airport takes one hour 40 minutes.
Why not end your trip in the Spanish colonial city Quito. Ecuador's capital, is a Unesco World Heritage site high in the Andes Mountains.
Details…Pikaia offers fixed four, five or eight day all inclusive exploration packages. Due to park regulations they are not allowed to book shorter stays.
When to go…The Galapagos is a year-round destination with two distinct seasons. Dec-mid June is hot and tropical, the best time for those who want to snorkel and scuba dive. (Yes, it rains, but mostly overnight) The drier season runs July-November and is the peak time to see the rare giant tortoises in large numbers.
Stay: The new Pikaia Lodge, located on Santa Cruz Island, sits atop an extinct volcanic crater with stunning views from all of the rooms. Pikaia is a sustainable hotel, the first of its kind on Santa Cruz, and offers a wonderful and luxurious land-based stay for those looking for an alternative to staying on a boat. The staff is attentive without being cloying and the Lodge employs many locals making for an authentic experience. Pikaia is a verdant respite from days spent yachting, snorkeling and hiking under the blistering equatorial sun. We were amazed daily by the different weather patterns that swept through Santa Cruz. Awaking to cool mists, fog and rain, we were convinced our excursions would be cancelled only to find ourselves slathering on sunscreen and searching frantically for hats--just two hours later.
The lodge has two boats, we set out on the larger of the two, the Pikaia 1, a small yacht that’s a retired diving boat and very comfortable. (We even had our own cabin, which comes in handy on longer day trips) Heading to North Seymour, we snorkeled among abundant schools of fish. A playful sea lion came to greet us showing off his amazing aquatics. Weaving in and out, he barely contained himself as a disinterested Galapagos Shark cruised by without stopping to say hello. (We all sighed silent gasps of relief.) Our guides were amazing, all local, and they identified every living creature we encountered. (So many finches!) Lunch was a hearty and delicious buffet of chicken and fish, prepared simply, and accompanied with rice and beans. We weary snorkelers were happy to be fed and I even had seconds. Then on to Bachas Beach where we walked along white sand beaches watching salmon colored Flamingos wade through a lagoon in search of the shrimp that make their feathers pink. We arrived home tired and happy, collapsing onto our comfy beds and staring out into the misty darkness that enveloped the hotel.
The day started with a civilized breakfast at the Evolution restaurant in the hotel. I was so excited--this was the day of the giant tortoises! I could barely contain myself as we donned rubber boots and trudged through soggy grass and mud, watching the tortoises enjoying their mud spa treatment. The animals, in the Galapagos, are not fearful of people, as they do not see us as predators. It’s a modern Eden. The giant tortoises grazed on the “all you can eat” grass buffet as we snapped away on our cameras. Bliss. Back at the Lodge, I tried every ceviche on the menu. The afternoon was spent at the beach among lizards trying to warm up before their arduous walk down to the water for a tasty meal. I could really commiserate with the lizards trying to get every inch of themselves touched by the sun! We treated ourselves to massages at the spa, I had a coffee scrub, which smelled a little like hot chocolate, and was the best massage I have ever had. Rosa, my therapist, went well beyond the 60 minutes and I left loopy, dopey and drowsy as the sun disappeared for the day.
Our third and final day had us rising early for a 6am cruise to Bartolome Island. The cabins came in handy and after breakfast I napped for a bit. We hiked on the island, climbing 300 steps to the summit. There was more snorkeling and the search for the Galapagos penguins…alas we only found a few and were surprised by their small stature. There were too many sea stars (starfish) to count, like pavers on the ocean floor. We returned to the boat for lunch. The simplicity of the meal, shared with our fellow guests, felt warm and familial. We all had some wine and laughs and retreated to the upper deck while en route to Sullivan Bay. There we all walked the Pahoehoe lava flow forms of the Bay. The hardened lava looked like ribbons of black licorice as we hopped from rock to rock. The deep red Sally Lightfoot crabs made a stark contrast against the ebony of the lava. Tired and hungry we arrived back at the Lodge for our last dinner. Over Chilean Pinot Noir we pronounced this trip a big success.