Believe the hype. Six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands are like the Garden of Eden before the Fall. With its high concentration of endemic species and virtually zero predators, the wildlife on this archipelago is so at ease that a Nazca booby might waddle up to peck your camera lens. There's plenty of controversy over the most PC way to see the islands. Hidden Places, owned by writer Maria Coffey and her husband, Dag Goering, has crafted an 11-day itinerary that's as eco-conscious as they come, thanks to the couple's local connections and commitment to environmental integrity. You begin in Ecuador's colonial capital of Quito, where you'll stay in a family-owned boutique hotel. Once in the islands, you'll cruise on a locally owned 90-foot yacht that holds only 16 guests, has a state-of-the-art waste-management system, and uses biodegradable products. Your guide, Ernesto Vaca, has been working as a park naturalist since 1989. Along the cliffs of Española Island, he might point out a pair of waved albatrosses engaged in their mating ritual: clacking their beaks together like swords. You'll also visit pirate sites, eat barbecue with one of the original Galápagos settler families, and watch tiny penguins zip past your snorkeling mask. Doubles from $4,850; hiddenplaces.net
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