Our recent trip to the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador is hands-down one of our favorite family travel experiences to date. Although the destination itself is extraordinary, much of the credit for our joy in the Galápagos goes to Lindblad Expeditions, the company behind our ship for the week, the National Geographic Endeavour, and program.
The action-packed itinerary provides a true journey of exploration and discovery, Lindblad’s mission. Every sailing includes a fleet of professionals to enhance and enrich the guest experience, from National Geographic certified photo instructors to trained naturalists with an average of 10 to 12 years of experience. Some of the naturalists onboard are from the Galápagos Islands, while all of them are deeply passionate about this very special place.
A 10-day trip includes two nights on either end in Guayaquil, the group meeting point, and seven nights on the ship. There is not a moment wasted; the afternoon we boarded included an introductory visit to an astounding white sand beach filled with life. It is here that we learned our first lesson around the fact that few predators on these remote islands means the animals are comfortable with people, and you can get amazingly close to them. These animals are still wild — distance must be respected — but you can get far closer to them than in any other wildlife destination that I’ve experienced.
Conservation rules dictate that the island route the ship takes must be modified each week to ensure that fragile places don’t receive too much traffic, but the overall experience between the two routes is the same.
Each day includes a visit to a new island. Despite their close proximity, the islands are all quite different from one another. Lindblad Expeditions has run these trips for 16 years in the Galápagos; the itinerary is truly optimal in terms of variety and engagement.
The Galápagos is both a land and marine sanctuary and both must be explored to really understand the ecosystem. Almost every day includes at least one snorkeling trip in ‘deep water’ with a current, as this is where there is the most viewing action. It’s intimidating at first, but that goes away and there is always a zodiac nearby, available for anyone who needs or wants to leave the water quickly. Kids under 12 must wear additional flotation devices.
Almost every day includes a walk or hike of some kind, so passengers don’t feel locked on the boat. From fitness-driven fast walks to leisurely docent-led educational strolls, there’s something for everyone.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime educational trip, in addition to being an unforgettable family vacation. Read more.
Mornings start early to optimize every moment of the day; there’s a daily siesta after lunch for a few hours so guests can rest before afternoon activities commence.
The group always gathers from 6:30p to 7:30p for an information session regarding the next day’s activities, followed by a naturalist-led education session. There are professional underwater and land videographers onboard who showcase the week’s events and activities at points during the week.
The educational opportunity for each and every passenger onboard is second to none. Lindblad naturalists are experts in their field and are equipped with stories and facts that are ready to share. The fun part about the Galápagos is that there is almost always a live example available to demonstrate a point.
Videos are also used as educational tools. It’s impossible not to be engaged with the information dissemination at some level, given the multimedia presentations and varied content.
Everybody has heard of Darwin and his work with evolution, but this is the place where his theories took root. The story of evolution is told from the beginning to end, and more importantly, you see evidence of evolution in action, as each island has life that has distinctly adapted to the unique, remote environment.
As one of the naturalists explained, “The difference between human beings and animals is that animals must adapt to their environment to survive, while humans can get the environment to adapt to them.” We all know that the latter is not always a good thing.
The National Geographic Endeavour was built in 1969. The ship is in amazing condition given its age. It’s comfortable and well-sized for the passenger count. Guests can always find a quiet corner to relax. There’s a small swimming pool, a fitness room, and even a spa treatment room. The library is filled with books and there is plenty of seating for lounging as a family or solo.
Head to Expeditions.com for more detailed information.
There are 72 to 75 staff onboard for 96 passengers, a very nice ratio for personalized service. The restaurant staff is a trip highlight. They are so friendly and go out of their way to please. By the second morning, my coffee was presented just the way I like it … without asking! This level of onboard service enhances the week for everyone.
The cabins are well-equipped with comfortable beds and, believe it or not, nice showers. We had a triple with a sofa bed and two twin beds. Families of four people need to get two rooms.
The food on the Endeavour deserves a mention. Meals are consistently very good; ingredients are fresh with fruit and vegetables served during each meal. There’s always protein available and always a decadent dessert or two.
You get insanely hungry given the activity level, and the food is substantive with enough variety for even picky pint- and full-sized eaters.
We were on the ship over Thanksgiving. The ship served a fantastic traditional Thanksgiving dinner. They also offer a wonderful, special Ecuadorian lunch showcasing food from around the country.
Of the 96 passengers on our trip, 25 were kids, ranging from ages 5 to 18. I recommend this trip for ages 8 and up so that the kids can fully appreciate the educational side of the trip. This is a wonderful all-family experience and there are daily programs just for kids involving crafts, photography, games, swimming, journal instruction, and, to the delight of our 11-year-old, the chance to drive a zodiac.
The program offers a perfect balance for families to relax together and for kids to have the chance to join and play with other kids. To that end, the trip is ideal for multi-generational trips, as the destination paired with Lindblad Expeditions’ programming is compelling for every age and stage; there’s just enough adventure to draw families together in this extraordinary experience.
TIP: Grandparents need to be in good health and active, as the land excursions in the Galápagos are on rugged terrain.
Lindblad Expeditions doesn’t just talk about the importance of conservation; this company puts their money and time to work in the destinations they cover. There’s so much to say on this topic that I’ll save the details for a separate article.
For now, suffice to say that Lindblad Expeditions has a long history in the Galápagos Islands and, for a time, their contributions were as high as 80% of the funding spent on conservation. These days, there are more and more people inspired to be involved and donating, but Lindblad continues to have a consequential positive impact on conservation in Ecuador.
The starting rate for Lindblad Expeditions’ 10-day Galápagos itinerary for 2015 is $6,290 per person based on double occupancy on the National Geographic Endeavour; take $500 off that rate for each child under the age of 18.
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Editor’s Note: Ciao Bambino received a media rate to experience the Galápagos with Lindblad Expeditions. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy.
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