The prospect of exploring the Galápagos Islands, where it feels as if you’re standing on the far edge of the world, always stirs a thrill within me. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978, this remote archipelago of 21 islands and more than 100 islets off the coast of Ecuador seems like another planet, since the animals dotted around shrubby lava flows, surreal cactus stands and gleaming beaches haven’t developed any fear of humans. Iguanas, boobies, sea lions and giant tortoises all go about their business, often next to or on top of footpaths, seemingly unbothered by camera-toting tourists just a few feet away.
What drew me back this time was a new 164-foot-long superyacht, the Aqua Mare, which made its inaugural voyage in June 2022. We’ve had wonderful cruises with other Aqua Expeditions ships along the Amazon and Mekong rivers, and the idea of a week in the Galápagos aboard an exclusive seven-cabin vessel was irresistible.
Our itinerary actually began on the mainland, with an Aqua Expeditions staff member greeting us at Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport. She ushered us past the general security lines to a side entry that we effortlessly breezed through and on to our flight’s gate. On arrival at the airport on Baltra Island, we were escorted to a VIP lounge to meet our two naturalist guides, as well as the other passengers with whom we would be spending the seven-night eastern Galápagos cruise (the Aqua Mare holds a maximum of 16 guests). The group’s wide age range, from 10 to about 70, didn’t prevent it from quickly becoming convivial.