Situated in the Pacific Ocean, around 1,000km from South America, the Galapagos Islands are a must-see destination for the avid expedition traveller. This group of 19 islands are located at the convergence of three ocean currents, making them a melting pot of marine life, I was lucky enough to visit the Galapagos on an expedition cruise with Celebrity Cruises on-board Celebrity Flora, follow my journal to find out more and plan your Galapagos expedition cruise.
Day 1 – Journey to Quito, Ecuador
My journey began from Manchester where I flew from and 11 and a half hours later, I had arrived in Quito, Ecuador. Once I received my bags I went to arrivals where I was greeted by a Celebrity Cruises representative with a clear sign. She took a photo of my vaccination status to prove I am fully vaccinated and meet the requirements for the cruise line and the destination. She then took myself and two other guests in a minibus to our hotel and provided us with water for the journey, giving us a brief introduction to Ecuador and Quito along the way. The transfer took around 35/40 minutes.
We arrived at the JW Marriot to be greeted by bell boys who took our luggage straight from the minibus to our rooms and checked in at Celebrity Cruises private check in desk in the hotel (not reception) where they gave us our room keys, information on breakfast and the following days tours and provided us with a hibiscus welcome drink which is supposed to help with the altitude sickness and a personalised Celebrity Cruises metal flask. I was greeted at my room and asked if I needed anything at all and a welcome rose from the room steward who was very polite and friendly. The hotel was stunning with a huge marble lobby with comfortable chairs and a pianist playing for a small duration in the evening. I ate at the restaurant in the hotel and the food was of a very high standard – a sign of more good things to come.
Day 2 – Exploring Quito, Ecuador
The next day was an early start and I went to have breakfast in the hotel at 7am (breakfast was served between 6am and 10am), which was included and again, a very high standard with a buffet style and an omelette station cooked to order. Lots of different breads and fresh fruit along with hot food. I then checked in at 9am with the Celebrity Cruises representative for the city tour of Quito to start at 9:15am, we were put into a group and assigned a tour guide and they also had a guard to look out for us in Quito. The group was only 17 of us and we got a private coach which could have seated over 80 guests, this way there was social distancing and we could leave our belongings on the coach whilst we were on the walking tour.
1st Stop – Viewpoint of Quito
Offering stunning views over the whole of Quito, we visited a building they call the crystal palace with an art exhibition inside, this was a quick stop.
2nd Stop – Walking tour of the old city
This was around 90 minutes long; where we saw some churches and the main square of Quito including the presidential home. We were then taken to lunch in a church which was booked out privately for Celebrity Cruises guests only, this was a buffet style meal with traditional Ecuadorian cuisine.
3rd Stop – Equator Museum
This was around 45 minutes away and we had another guide who explained about the history of Ecuador, the amazon and the origin of Chocolate, then we were taken along the equator line where we could stand at the southern hemisphere and the northern hemisphere at the same time.
On the way back to the hotel we were given a full brief on the evening plan and what was going to be happening the following day.
We met in the lobby at 18:05 for a 10-minute transfer to a local restaurant ‘La Gloria Restaurante’.
The meal was included with a set menu and soft drinks included, alcoholic drinks had to be purchased separately, we were then transferred back to the hotel and given details of what we needed to do for the following morning.
Our hold luggage had to be placed in a private hotel room by Reception so that security could check through our luggage to make sure we were not taking any food or unnecessary plastics into the Galapagos.
Day 3 – Quito to the Galapagos (Baltra)
Breakfast was included in the hotel and then we had to meet at 7:40am to do a temperature and oxygen test as well as an antigen test, then we met again at 8:45am to collect our boarding passes for the flight to Baltra and our national park passes. We departed for the Airport at 9:00am and arrived at the airport around 45 minutes later, for the flight scheduled at 11:05am, as this was a domestic flight there were no restrictions on liquids which was handy as we had handed in our checked luggage the night before. We had a FastTrack through security in the airport straight to our gate. The flight was only 2 hours with Avianca and they provided a drink and a meal on the flight. Upon arrival we left the flight and cleared security in less than 10 minutes, collected our suite key cards at the airport and jumped on a bus which took only 10 minutes to get to the dock, once we arrived here, we were given life jackets and in groups of 12 took a zodiac straight to the ship which took around 15 minutes. Before we had even got onto the Zodiac, we had already seen 2 Iguana’s and 5 sea lions on the jetty!
Once we had got on board, we had to visit the pool grill for a safety brief which took no longer than 5 minutes, and then we had free time until 7pm.
My Suite was the S1 Grade, Sky Suite, which was spacious, and very well laid out with the bed facing outside toward the Veranda. The Veranda was a good size with comfortable furniture and there were beers, and soft drinks already in the fridge and SPF 50 sunscreen was provided in the bathroom.
On the desk we had the full itinerary details for the week including what tours were available and what talks were going on and where they were being held.
Between this time and the talk at 7am we were called to the marina deck to pick out our flippers, snorkelling mask, and wetsuit which we would keep in our designated mesh bags for the duration of the cruise, this took only 10 minutes. We also had to fill in a disclosure form that was in our suite and bring this with us to cover the tours for the whole trip.
At 7pm the cruise director and the head adventurist gave a speech first and introduced the staff (all of the Adventurist professionals and the chefs, waiters etc.) which was nice and then we had a presentation on the following day and the available excursions, after this the staff waited with iPads so that you could book onto the excursions that you preferred for the following day. After this, the evening dining had opened, on the menu there is one page of standard meals which are always included (Shrimp Cocktail and Caesar salad are some examples for starters and Beef, chicken or fish of the day for the Entrée’s and a vegetarian option) and then the right side changed every day with specials. After the evening meal there was a pianist who played for half an hour in the discovery lounge from 9:30pm until 10:00pm.
Day 4 Exploring Galapagos Santiago Island & Rabida Island
I opted for the long walk and snorkelling tour, the tour started at 9am so I had to be there for 8:45am which gave me time to get some breakfast, this was a buffet style breakfast with an egg station for eggs cooked to order. There was hot food and plenty of fresh fruit and cold meats and bread.
After breakfast, I registered with the crew and if you were participating in activities with friends, you could register together to make sure that you were on the same zodiac/tour group and these were groups of around 12 each. We took the 10-minute Zodiac to the beach where we had a wet landing (knee-high water so we were advised to wear sandals/water shoes for this part and then change to trainers on the beach. As soon as we got onto the beach we could see lots of sea lions lying around and also so a baby sea lion with its mother. We then started our walk of around 2 miles, on this walk we saw lots of land iguana’s, marine iguanas, pelicans, sea lions and even a few fur seals, we also saw lots of crabs including one in the process of shedding its skin. The tour guide also spotted a very small snake which can be rare to spot! After the walk, we headed back to the same beach where we changed into our wet suits and went snorkelling, we had around an hour of this and saw plenty of colourful fish including king angelfish, yellowtail surgeonfish, and parrotfish.
We took a Zodiac from the ship to the beach for a wet landing, as we were about to set off from the ship the tour guide spotted some bottlenose dolphins in the distance so we took a detour and managed to get into the middle of them and spent 5-10 minutes circulating as they like to play with the waves that the Zodiac makes, this was an unbelievable and unexpected experience to start the trip. We then walked up from the beach and saw a lake with around 10 flamingos, and then walked up a trail to the top of a big hill spotting a lot of cactus plants and Lizards, at the top we had a great viewpoint of the island and the ship. When we got down, we were transported around the island to start kayaking, we kayaked around the shoreline back to the meeting point seeing Sea lions, Iguana’s, sea Turtles and also Blue footed Boobies. After this we were transported back to the ship, This evening they held a wine and cheese hour before the executive chef, the hotel director and the senior adventurist held a Q&A session. After this we had the daily brief about what to expect the following day, then dinner and then the entertainment was a BBC show with David Attenborough about the Galapagos on the big screen in the discovery lounge.
Day 5 – Isabella Island
In the morning I took a zodiac tour, I had the choice of 8am or 9:30am for this. The tour was around 90 minutes, we were transported to some nearby mangroves, on the way we saw lots of pelicans and then we were able to see the penguins swimming and standing on the rocks, once we entered the mangroves, we could see lots and lots of sea turtles of all different sizes and one eagle ray. We got back to the ship for lunch – an Italian buffet in the main dining room with lots to choose from and a fresh pasta station with pasta cooked to order.
In the afternoon I took part in the deep-water snorkel, we were tendered to a nearby spot and were given direction on which order to swim, here the water was a bit darker but we did see some fish but also a sea turtle and a penguin under the water, plus marine iguanas and blue footed boobies on the rocks by the side.
We got back to the ship and had around an hour to get ready for the final activity of the day, this was an extended tender ride followed by an uphill walk up to see Darwin’s lake. On one tender ride we visited numerous caves with Galapagos Herons, lots of Pelicans and blue footed boobies, we also saw hundreds of Crabs, and some penguins including an infant penguin which is quite rare. On the walk to the Lake, we saw a Galapagos Hawk circulating above and then it perched on a branch just next to us so we got some great pictures. At the top we got a great view of the lake.
Day 6 – Santiago & Bartolome islands, Galapagos
Santiago, Sullivan Bay
This morning I took the short tender tour with a Lava Rock tour. The tender ride took us to a picturesque beach, important for the nests of sea turtles and we also saw a young sea lion playing in the shallow water here, we then drifted along the cliff side spotting blue footed boobies, herons and marine iguanas sat on the rocks.
Once we docked for a dry landing, we took a walk for approximately 40 minutes along the lava rocks where the lava flows from one of the main volcanos of the islands, the land was completely fossilised, we got some great pictures of this. We also saw a couple of lava lizards; a Heron catch a locust and some rare lava cactus bushes as not much can grow in these places.
In the afternoon we took part in another deep-sea snorkel, here we saw a lot more than the previous day, we saw hundreds of king angelfish, yellowtail surgeonfish, and parrotfish, we also swam with a sea lion up close and personal, a few penguins and we also got close to around six sting rays and five white tip reef sharks.
After the snorkelling we had an hour or so again to get ready for the final activity which we chose the hike to the top, here we had a dry landing and we walked up approximately 380 steps to the top of the hill, we stopped at numerous view points and were given information from the adventurist, once we reached the top we had a fantastic view of all the close by islands and also the scene from the famous film master and commander.
In the evening I was lucky enough to have beem invited to the Penthouse suite as I had met the couple that were staying in there during the cruise, they were allowed one ‘in suite dining experience’ for up to 6 and they invited me to join them, this was a 5 course wine pairing menu including, carpaccio, soup, tuna, a beautiful lobster and cheese risotto dish and a strawberry dessert, all with different wines and sparkling wines to go with the dish. With this we had one waiter dedicated to our party, and they set up a music playlist in the background for ambience.
Day 8 – San Cristobal Island
We took a tender to the town of San Cristobal, we were then transferred by coach to the interpretation centre, this was a museum brimming with information on the history of the Galapagos (from Charles Darwin to present day). Another option was an uphill hike where guests could visit a statue of Charles Darwin first. Once I’d finished visiting the museum, I decided to walk back to the town as I had noticed a beach on the way with around 100 sea lions resting, I managed to walk along the beach between the Sea Lions. Once I reached the town there were lots of souvenir shops and sea front bars, restaurants so I stopped here for some lunch after getting all of my souvenirs.
In the afternoon we sailed to the western side of the island. This is one of only 3 places in the Galapagos islands where you can spot the Red Footed booby (the other 2 are on the outer loop). We took a tender to three different hotspots where we saw them in the distance in two of the spots. We then docked on a beach for 30 minutes to an hour of beach activities, here you could relax on the beach or go for a swim (not snorkel), luckily on the beach a Red Footed Booby swooped down to get nesting materials right behind us which we were told by the activist is extremely rare so we managed to get some great pictures of this.
After our evening meal we had a silent disco, around 60% of the ship joined in with this so it was a great atmosphere and the director said to us that they do this usually every Friday as it is an easier day so everyone is not as tired and it is later in the cruise when most guests have got to know each other, there were three channels to choose from (80’s & 90’s, Latin and Noughties).
Day 9 – Santa Cruz
So for our final day on the ship we met in the Discovery Lounge at 8am for our tender to the pier of Santa Cruz, once we arrived we walked a short distance to an area where a bus could pick us up and we were taken to the Charles Darwin research centre, here they breed tortoises and keep them here until they are ready to enter the wild, we saw infant tortoises, all the way up to those that were almost ready to leave into the wild and given lots of information about the breeding process, finishing with a gift shop and small museum.
After this we had around an hour before heading to the next stop so you could wait for a bus back into town or walk back (a short 15 minute walk) which I chose to, having a chance to look at some nice local jewellery and art shops.
We met at the pier again and were taken to a nearby forest (30-minute drive) where we were given 2 seeds to plant to help sustainability in the Galapagos, this also gave us a nice feeling that we have something that will always stay in the Galapagos. This only took around 20/30 minutes. We were also provided with wellington boots for this (they had asked for our shoes sizes earlier in the week).
Afterwards, we drove around 15 minutes to a local tortoise ranch for lunch, this was a great buffet-style lunch with traditional dishes and drinks were included. After lunch we were entertained by some performers who performed some local dances which was for around 20 minutes or so, the group ranged from adults to children as young as 3 years old!
After this we ventured into the forest where the tortoises were free to roam in the wild. We saw over 100 of these (including from the bus driving in and out) but managed to get up close and personal with lots of giant tortoises fort some great pictures and also walked to a close by swamp were a lot of them were staying to cool down.
We were then transferred to the town, and we had around 3 hours free time to explore (tenders back to the ship were every 30 minutes though so you did not have to stay for the whole 3 hours).
In the discovery lounge before dinner, Lauren the hotel director held a farewell toast to end a brilliant week on-board Celebrity Flora. For the farewell toast, Lauren had all of the members of staff walk through the discovery lounge and all of the guests gave them a round of applause, and then we had a slideshow of pictures taken from the adventurists over the course of the trip, including group pictures of guests. This was a great recap of the week and the slideshow was given to us the following morning on a USB stick as a keepsake.
Day 10- Disembarkation and back to Quito
We were asked to have our luggage outside of our room by 7:30am (I left mine out the evening before) and these would be transferred all the way to the hotel in Quito. In the morning we were asked to leave the suite by 8am. I left just before and went for breakfast (available until 9am). After breakfast everyone met in the Explorer lounge where Lauren the hotel director hosted a general knowledge quiz for fun, after the quiz the naturalists gave us our boarding passes, bus passes and tender number in order to disembark. I waited until 10:45 before I was transferred by tender to the dock and then by bus to the Airport (drinks were still included this morning in the discovery lounge).
Once I arrived at the airport, I was sent through a fast-track route, and through security, this took no more than 10 minutes and I was through to departures, there are plenty of souvenir shops and with Celebrity Cruises I had access to the VIP lounge including soft drinks, snacks, and WI-FI.
The flight seemed shorter on the way back and once I arrived, I did not have to go through any customs and went straight to the baggage claim, once I had collected my bags I was directed to the right place in arrivals. Some guests went back to Quito, some had an airport hotel and some were rechecking their bags in for their flight to Lima for Maccu Picchu. The coach was around 40 minutes to the JW Marriott again, on the coach the guide double checked our flight times for the following day and let us know what time our transfer would be to the airport the next day, she explained that we had until 2pm to check out which was great and explained that dinner was included this evening in the hotel as part of the Celebrity Cruises package.
Once we arrived at the hotel, we were greeted at the celebrity desk again with a welcome drink and given our room keys, the dinner was a 3-course meal with a selection of around 4 starters, 5 mains and 4 desserts including soup, steak, pasta, cheesecake, chocolate cake and included a bottle of water and one glass of wine per person.
Final Day – Flight home
In the morning I went for breakfast as this was still included and then I had until 1pm to wait for my transfer. For those leaving later the rooms are available until 2pm for Celebrity Cruises guests.
The transfer to the airport was included and again around 40 minutes, once I arrived at the airport (2 hours before the flight) the Celebrity Cruises guide showed us where to go and then said their goodbyes. It was time for me to head home after an amazing expedition experience!
The whole experience with Celebrity Cruises exceeded all of my expectations, nothing was too much trouble for the excellent staff and crew, the dining was incredible and all the tours were carried out to perfection with extremely knowledgeable, friendly adventurists and good sized groups. The whole trip from touching down in Quito to being dropped off back at the airport at the end of the trip was seamless and completely taken care of by Celebrity Cruises, you felt like you were in safe hands from start to finish. My personal highlight of the trip was being able to swim with penguins and even managing to capture one of them on video underwater!
If you want to know more about expedition cruises, or visiting the Galapagos contact us today on 0808 278 4192 or explore itineraries online.