Winter Travel Guide 1996
Let's start with the food poisoning and the congealed spaghetti suppers and move on to the organized line-dancing classes on a beach strewn with sea lions and Darwin's finches. Or the chain-smoking guides who tossed their butts to blue-footed boobies. That was my nightmare cruise through the Gal¤pagos Islands on the 86-passenger Ambassador I, an "eco ship" that dumped its refuse overboard at midnight. In fact, the only thing scarcer than giant tortoises on this voyage were life jackets.
The moral? If you're heading for the Gal¤pagos, avoid ungainly Ecuadorian vessels at all costs (foreign-owned ships are now banned from the area) and opt for a small motor yacht. You won't see every inch of the archipelago--six main islands, 12 smaller ones, and more than 40 islets. But you will see your share of blue-footed boobies after landing on Baltra or San Cristübal to begin a classic seven-day voyage. Itineraries vary, but the best ones include Espaola, the sole nesting site of the waved albatross; North Seymour, where magnificent frigatebirds live; and Santa Fe, where the largest land iguanas hold court. And if you plan to watch a total solar eclipse pass over the islands on February 26, 1998, better book now--some boats are already sold out. The Latin American Reservation Center (800-327-3573) offers small yachts, like the ten-passenger catamaran Ahmara ($1,600 per person for a seven-night cruise). Inca Floats (510-420-1550) charters boats like the 14-passenger Parranda and the 16-passenger Reina Silvia, while Geo Expeditions (800-351-5041) offers the fleet owned by Quasar Nautica, such as the ten-passenger Nortada and the 16-passenger Alta (trips cost $2,695- $3,795 per person for a week's cruise and three nights in Quito, not including airfare). They'll provide the life jackets--honest.