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Cruising The Galapagos Islands

On safari, you hope to see the Big Five. That’s the attitude I took with me to the Galapagos: If I’m lucky, I may see a Giant Tortoise from a distance, or maybe a bird with coloured feet, or one of those land dragon things… Ha! Within five minutes of disembarking the plane I had almost trodden on a snoozing sea-lion.  During our brief tender ride to the 38m STELLA MARIS we seemed to be dodging turtles left, right and centre.  I’m sure a pelican nearly landed on my shoulder.

It’s strange, to come across wild animals who show no fear of humans. To be able to stand just one metre from a nesting mother and her chicks.  To lumber about in your wetsuit while baby sea-lions use you as swim practice. To feel stingrays slide over your feet in the shallows.  This is the most truly natural place I have ever been. Our yacht’s crew includes a nature specialist and a photographer and I am grateful for both.  My inner 6-year-old is alive again – I want to learn about these species, this weird landscape.  And I really want some decent photographs to remember them by.  I shove my iPhone to the bottom of my bag and focus on listening and looking with my eyes, not through a screen.

Galapagos.  It literally means Giant Tortoises: The Islands of the Giant Tortoise.  But after a week exploring this other-worldly, volcanic island chain, 1,000 km off the Ecuadorian coast, I have to wonder how it is they decided the Giant Tortoise was the most remarkable thing about the place.  Because it isn’t just the Giant Tortoise that’s endemic here.  Every five minutes our guide is pointing out another species found, not just here in the Galapagos, but literally just here, on this one tiny island.

So, apart from the 170-year-old tortoise that’s practically the size of a Mini?  Well, the marine iguanas are living dinosaurs, hammering home the impression that nature rules here, not man.  Then there are Darwin’s Finches, another live history lesson. And all those Boobies, not just blue footed, but red footed, blue beaked and masked.  The Galapagos Hawks, the Waved Albatross, the Lava Lizards, who look like they’ve dipped their heads in the nearest steaming volcano. Even the crabs here are interesting.  Forget the pale, creepy spectres you’re used to.  Here the crabs are like a thousand, thousand jewels decorating the blackened, volcanic coastline.  I wanted to take at least 100 photos just of crabs. Crabs.  But seriously, do you see how red that crab is?

It’s easy to get carried away by the animals, but that shouldn’t detract from the rest on offer. No one mentioned quite how white the beaches would be, that the sea would rival the Caribbean for its shade of turquoise, or the way the volcanic sand would sparkle.  “Swarovski wos ‘ere!” we chanted in unison as we jumped out of the tender on one expedition.  Only instead of overweight, sunburned tourists, we encounter families of another kind enjoying the sun, surf and sand (just-the-right-plumpness they are, too). I’m not sure any beach will be the same again now I’ve body surfed with baby sea-lions.

Every day we explore both land and sea.  I don’t dive, but I have vowed to do my PADI after this.  I am told there are more than 20 excellent dive sites, but don’t underestimate how much you can see with a humble snorkel.  White tip sharks, hammerheads, (they apparently really don’t bite), turtles, penguins, hunting sea-bids, plus all the tropical fish you can ask for.

Galapagos Islands: Need-to-know Charter Guide

The Galapagos consist of 18 main islands, 3 smaller ones and more than a hundred rocky bits.  Forget the hotel, if you want to see all there is, cruising is the only way to go. Visit far flung spots that are otherwise unreachable. Your group will be the only one on this beach, in this cove, at that sanctuary.  Your crew are all Galapageños, with a lifetime of knowledge about the best dive, swim and snorkel sites, and just where and at what time is right to ensure close encounters with the native wildlife.

Practically untouched by man, you won’t find marinas or sophisticated nightlife. Beyond the luxurious comfort of your yacht, the Galapagos are wild and rugged, and the authorities are working hard to maintain this pristine nature reserve.  Yacht itineraries are carefully planned to minimise marine traffic.  Imports are limited too, so most of the food you’ll eat is locally grown.  The result is fresh, organic and healthy, albeit simpler than you might find in Monaco or ST TROPEZ, but the hustle of the French Riviera is a distant memory.

Our Advice? Leave The Ballgown At Home.

Instead, rouse your inner child: jump into a wetsuit or a pair of comfortable sneakers.  Embrace the fantastic mix of this natural wonderland and the Latin spirit of the locals. This will be one of the most unusual, unforgettable but utterly enchanting charters you will experience.

38m M/Y STELLA MARIS is one of only two private yachts available for charter in the Galapagos. From $180,500 per week for up to 14 guests. To book your charter in the Galapagos, CONTACT THE Y.CO CHARTER TEAM below.