Sadly, few places left in the world feel untouched by humans. But one of them has to be the Galapagos. And if the remote destination has been on your bucket list like it is mine, now is the time to check it off. Why? Well, with tourism still very much down, visitors have the opportunity to see the islands as Charles Darwin experienced them 200 years ago. What’s more, is some select cruise operators sail uncommon routes to less-visited islands, making an even rarer experience.
Leading tour operator INCA (International Nature & Cultural Adventures) runs the luxury yacht Integrity designed to explore the natural wonders of the Galápagos Islands the way Darwin did. That means fewer passengers, a smaller ship to reach intimate locations, and scientist-created itineraries. Compared to other operators in the region that can bring upwards of 100 guests on one trip, INCA has limited their group travel size to no more than 16 travelers at one time. Plus, the company just introduced an exclusive use option granting private use of the entire yacht for groups of four to 10 travelers.
Whether you do the full buyout or just book a cabin, the yacht’s signature 9-Day Galápagos Adventure provides an unbroken eight-day cruise itinerary, sailing east-to-west – or west-to-east – instead of the traditional north-to-south route through the archipelago. This allows guests to see hidden gems they would otherwise miss.
Integrity’s eastbound route, for example, starts in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island, where travelers can see the wild habitat of giant tortoises, bright Yellow Warblers, Darwin’s finches, and famed Woodpecker Finches. Guests then spend the remainder of the week on outlying Islands, showing more than any other Galapagos program, and end with snorkeling amid small sharks, sea lions, and Galápagos Penguins playing in turquoise waters off a white-sand beach on Sombrero Chino.
“Now is a great time to visit the Galapagos because the wildlife sightings are exceptional,” Bill Roberson, CEO of INCA, told me. “Our guides are reporting abundant special experiences with seabirds, rays, sharks, penguins, dolphins, sea turtles, tortoises, and more. The Islands have not returned to full tourism numbers, so you are less likely to encounter other groups of travelers on the trails and at the airports. The seas are still warmer, and the snorkeling is great.”
In between explorations of classic and uncrowded sites, there are guided activities, including shore visits, lectures, water sports, and hikes. And all of this takes place through the only operator in the Galapagos founded and is still run by a scientist, educator, and former Galapagos naturalist guide. “We’re all about crafting authentic adventures, exceeding expectations, and delighting travelers with personal touches and unexpected treats that deliver their travel dreams,” added Roberson.
Of course, the yacht operates under constraints devised by the Galápagos National Park Service to protect the islands’ biodiversity, and Integrity was the first yacht cruising the archipelago with its own wastewater treatment system.
And, if you’re up for more wild exploration, INCA offers an array of extended journeys like the 11-day Galapagos Safari, which includes two full days of active exploration of the highlands, beaches, and trails on Santa Cruz Island. Or, pair it with the 14-day Galapagos and Amazon Jungle adventure includes where you can spend the night at a luxury eco-lodge in Amazonian Ecuador. Both grant access to more untouched parts of the world.