For my fortieth birthday, my mother wanted to take me on a trip of my choice. When I struggled with my decision, she handed me a catalog from Wilderness Travel. She had taken trips with the company and had rave reviews of their guided tours. I immediately said, “Let’s do the Galápagos!” I wanted to explore the islands just off the coast of Ecuador ever since reading Maiden Voyage, the true story of Tania Aebi’s sail around the world at age 18.

The WT trip is a 10-day guided tour (all tours have to be guided in this national park) on a 216-foot brigantine sailboat with sixteen guests. The unique wildlife consists of seabirds, iguanas, turtles, penguins, sea lions, and tons of marine life. With such a diverse ecosystem, how can you get bored?

We arrived in Quito, which is at an elevation of almost 10,000 feet and is the capital of Ecuador. There’s a lot to see in the city. It turns out they have amazing chocolate and coffee and scarves and accessories there. So if you are ever in Quito, bring an extra empty bag to fill with your finds. After two nights and one day we headed to the Galápagos (about a two-hour flight).

The first day, the magic was already apparent. We headed to a large mangrove lagoon off the coast of Santa Cruz Island, home to pelicans, the famous blue-footed boobie, and sea turtles. The next day we landed on the magnificent Darwin Bay and visited the famous Prince Phillips steps. Here we saw the red-footed boobie, and we were introduced to many new species indigenous to the Galápagos, including the famous Darwin finches and frigate birds.

Our next stop was Bartolome Island, with lava formations and killer views of the islands from Pinnacle Rock. This was followed by stops at Rabida to see flamingos, yellow warblers, and land iguanas, and Mosquera Islet, with its massive sea lion colonies. The finale at Espanola Island was spectacular. There we saw huge, neon, Christmas-colored iguanas, Nazca boobies, and the island’s famous blowhole.

Every day was a new adventure on this trip. Packed full of activity, with enough eating and siesta time to make sure you come home relaxed and revitalized yet also with an extra layer of pounds to burn off! The flora and fauna changed throughout the islands and the snorkeling was amazing. One day a sea lion swam all around us and gave us an authentic Sea World show—just the ball balancing on the tip of his nose was missing.

I was happily surprised to discover that this popular destination is very well preserved and isolated—93 percent of the islands are protected land. It’s easy to imagine that the sights and animals Darwin saw here in the early part of the 19th century were not so different.

The boat that was our home base for the trip was beautifully maintained and the food was fabulous. We had two chefs aboard, and they made elegant, interesting local and international meals. Our cabin rooms were cleaned every morning while on excursions, and animal figurines crafted from towels patiently awaited our return. The staff took great care of us, cleaning our snorkel equipment and walking shoes. They also zipped us all around on the Zodiac boats. It was a fantastic way to see the wonders of the archipelago’s Eastern Islands.

The whole experience was truly magical! Let’s keep it between us…

–Photos and text by WT Adventurer Daria Maneche, Galapagos Adventure.

–This post was first published on the Firestone Sisters blog.

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