The most frequently asked question on Trip Advisor about vacationing in the Galapagos is, “Should I take a cruise or do a land-based tour?”
According to recent visitor statistics released by the Galapagos National Park, during the first quarter of 2012, 42 percent of the 31,780 foreign visitors to the Galapagos chose hotel based, port-to-port or island-hopping tours; the other 54 percent selected a live-aboard cruise, reports Doris Welsh, spokesperson for Ecoventura’s (http://www.ecoventura.com) environmentally friendly fleet of 20-passenger yachts.
This playing field reflects two scenarios: an increase in island-based accommodations over the last few years, the main cause for most of the recent growth of tourism to the islands, plus new governmental controls on where, when and how tour boats can operate in the region.
“Ecuador’s concern over this collection of islands that is a world treasure has pointed the cruise business in this region in new and far better directions,” says Welsh whose company since 1991 has guided visitors through the fragile eco system of the Galapagos that is a national park as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Welsh notes that Ecoventura’s three expedition yachts are among the 80-plus live-aboard yachts and cruise ships that continue to receive licenses to sail in these waters with passengers who number from 16 to 100 per journey, depending on the vessel’s capacity.
While cruising may not be for everyone, those who do enjoy being on the water reap a more bountiful harvest of experiences, Welsh believes. For starters, the most spectacular islands of Espanola (Hood), Genovesa (Tower) and Fernandina aren’t available to land-based guests. According to most guide books, these are the “must see” islands in the entire archipelago, with the highest level of endemism and the largest colonies of sea birds with the most diverse species; including waved albatross, red-footed boobies, Galapagos penguins and flightless cormorants.
Other benefits of cruising that she outlines include being able to avoid populated towns, time-consuming small plane or ferry transport between islands and packing and unpacking at different hotels during a multiple lodge, island hopping itinerary. On a land based tour one often experiences more of the human population than wildlife.
She notes that it is a generally accepted fact that the best guides in the region are those employed by live-aboard yachts. All are naturalist-certified by law. In the case of Ecoventura, cruise-related activities such as shore excursions, snorkeling and kayaking are always escorted and included in the cost of the cruise, as is all the equipment needed. Ecoventura maintains a maximum of 10 guests per 1 guide on all shore walks, one of the most generous guide-to-guest ratios of any land or sea-based tour.
“And our food is superior to that available in most land-based kitchens here,” Welsh says. “The Ecoventura chefs attend regular training classes and low fat, nutritious, healthy and flavorful recipes and menu items are constantly being added. We take special care to prepare meals for vegetarians, vegans, and those with food allergies. Providing gluten-free and/or low sodium choices are getting easier every day.”