By Sarah Sekula, published in Downtown NYC Magazine
“Look, Sarita!” says Ivan, my intrepid guide. He grins as he places his hand on top of his head, mimicking a shark fin. We’d been looking for reef sharks for the past several days, and finally while swimming along a tiny island called Chinese Hat, he spots one. “Swim down and peek into the shark hole, and you’ll see it,” he says matter-of-factly. Seriously? Perhaps this gorgeous turquoise water has clogged my ears. It sounds like his idea is to purposely insert face into shark territory.
I flipper-kick my way closer, though, and he points to a hole in the rocks about 10 feet below the surface. Ivan reassures me, in his endearing Ecuadorian accent, that they do this all the time. So I hold my breath, grab the craggy edges of the small cave and I’m eyeball-to-beady-eyeball with a 5-foot-long whitetip reef shark. Eeks! Fortunately, these slender-bodied creatures spend most of their time tucked away in grottoes and are rarely aggressive toward humans.
As if that was not thrilling enough, I’m happy to report all of my days in the Galápagos Islands were like this — new and unusual sights around every corner. And without such experienced guides, I’m sure I would have missed out on much of it. Luckily, my sister and I traveled aboard Ecoventura’s M/Y Eric, an eco-friendly, 20-passenger ship that covers seven of the famous archipelago’s 13 volcanic islands. This meant we had two expert naturalists with us 24/7. (You’ll need a licensed guide; the National Park Service requires it.)
For a once-in-a-lifetime trip like this, Ecoventura is an excellent choice. For starters, not only are they known for being the first carbon-neutral boat operation in the Galapagos, they also partner with the World Wildlife Fund, the International Ecotourism Society and Sustainable Travel International.
Impressive in itself. The accommodations followed suit; the ship features teak-finished cabins, a dining room, well-stocked bar and conference area with a flat screen TV, library and panoramic picture windows. I particularly loved the giant lounge chairs on the sun deck. As for the food, breakfast and lunch were buffet-style meals; and at dinner we had table service. With my high metabolism, I was also gracious for the ever-present array of snacks.
Most of our time, however, was spent off the boat; the carefully planned itinerary had us covering a lot of ground. Passengers choose from water or land-based activities, including kayaking past sea turtles, chasing down penguins via zodiac and tiptoeing past hundreds of marine iguanas. On one of my favorite days, we swam with sea lions near a cove off of Isabella Island. I was face-to-furry face with the supercharged sea lions as they bursted into a gentle swirl of back flips, leaving a trail of bubbles in their wake. It’s truly incredible to be part of their world for the day. Better yet, all of the animals we encountered were unruffled by humans, making for some stellar photos. At the end of my stay, I was ga-ga for the Galápagos Islands; chances are, you will be, too.
If you go:
Ecoventura is a family-owned company based in Guayaquil, Ecuador, with offices in Quito and Miami. In operation since 1990, the cruise company transports 4,000+ passengers annually aboard its fleet of three expedition vessels; Eric, Flamingo and Letty. For more information, call 800.633.7972 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.