Trip report: the Galapagos Islands with Tropic

2022-05-04T10:57:48-05:00January 31st, 2022|

This is the 3rd part of a three part trip report from my October 2021 trip to Ecuador. Make sure to check out my reports from the Ecuadorian Amazon and the Andes.

My first FAM after a two year(!) international travel drought was in Ecuador and the Galapagos with Tropic. As I mentioned in my last trip report covering our time in the Ecuadorian Amazon, the trip we experienced was really like three FAMs in one. Ecuador is such an incredibly diverse country in a small, easy to navigate package – travelers can plan a trip that encompasses everything from jungles to snowy peaks to pristine beaches! Its ‘four worlds’ include the Amazon, the Andes, the Pacific Coast and the Galapagos – all easily accessible and remarkably close together. On this FAM, we visited three of the four worlds, including the incomparable Galapagos Islands.

When we landed on Baltra, we were instantly treated to a Tropic-style welcome. We skipped the notorious long entry queues and were whisked to the VIP lounge to change for our upcoming adventure  kayaking and snorkeling in the Itabaca Channel (this channel separates Baltra Island where the airport is and Santa Cruz Island, one of the four inhabited islands in the Galapagos). There were refreshments and plenty of comfy seats available while we waited for our paperwork to be processed. It was a totally stress-free way to arrive in the Galapagos. We then jumped on the bus and headed for the Channel, a short 15 minute drive away. Within an hour of landing in the Galapagos, we were on the water – another Tropic travel innovation! We spent the next hour and a half exploring the Galapagos’ famed biodiversity, above and below the water, in kayaks and by snorkeling – it was an incredible introduction to the Islands.

From the Itabaca Channel, we headed up to the verdant highlands of Santa Cruz Island to Galapagos Magic camp , a hidden sanctuary, both for the resident giant Galapagos tortoises and for those lucky human guests who get to spend the night. A passion project of Galapagos legend and entrepreneur Polo Navarro, we arrived and tucked into an authentic Ecuadorian ceviche lunch (complete with popcorn and plantain chips!), a great way to refuel after an active morning!

We then toured the reserve with Polo, who is a real character and fantastic ambassador for both Magic and the Islands themselves. During our tour we were nearly tripping over dozens of giant tortoises while taking in the endless views from its breathtaking highlands location. We were then treated to an Ecuadorian/Brazilian caipirinha sundowner on the view deck followed by an amazing 3-course dinner accompanied by live music in Magic’s Cave Restaurant/Lava Lounge INSIDE one of the reserve’s lava tubes! The atmosphere was like nothing I’ve ever experienced – truly special and unique.

I had been waiting years to visit Magic. And the camp, the reserve, the tortoises, the hosts, the food and the peaceful vibe all were truly, ahem, magical. Magic has that rare luxury of exclusivity. To spend time among endangered species, to be treated to these unique, welcoming experiences – it lived up to its name!

For those that aren’t familiar, Magic has both tents and treehouses, as well as an exclusive use lodge. The safari tents are basic but well appointed, and are en suite. Treehouses, while not en suite, do feature a flush toilet and sink in each along with a shared shower/ablution block  just a short walk away dodging tortoises as you go. There are two private shower rooms – both very spacious and well appointed, with a large shower, toilet and sink – which are shared among the treehouse guests.

I stayed in a Magic treehouse and it was, well, magical! It took me back to being a kid, dreaming of sleeping in a treehouse – and at Magic, that dream came true! I loved the elevated views of the entire property and the ocean beyond. It is a small room but I found it cozy and charming! It would be a great option for families with older kids/teens. The parents can stay in the tents or the lodge and the kids can live out their dreams of a night sleeping in an actual treehouse!

The funky and totally unique lodge was formerly Polo’s home. There are three separate rooms – two bedrooms, each with a king bed and a common room/lounge with a kitchen. They are very close to each other but not interconnected, so it’s perfect for families with older kids or two couples traveling together (or consider having the kids stay in the treehouses!) We had drinks in the common area to get a sense of it. It boasts a great view of the reserve from its slightly elevated position at one end of the property’s meadow.

The next day, we went on a full day cruise on the very luxurious Windrose yacht to North Seymour, one of the nearby uninhabited National Park islands. I could get used to having a private yacht for the day! We explored the island by hiking and saw land iguanas, marine iguanas, frigate birds and blue footed boobies nesting, sally lightfoot crabs, seals and more! After our hike, we went snorkeling (2nd day in a row!) and saw several nurse sharks, manta rays, two species of colorful pufferfish and again – more! I can’t say enough about the Windrose experience – we had a great crew, a great guide and a great lunch – it was a first-class day!

That evening, we stayed at the Angermeyer Waterfront Inn, located a short boat ride away from the bustling Pt Ayora docks and only accessible by boat  There’s a lot of cool history here. Gus Angermeyer, one of the earliest settlers of the Galapagos, built and lived in a “cave” on the site of the hotel and today “Gus’ cave” serves as the hotel reception! In addition,  the beautiful sailboat, the Nixe, that Polo bought from Gus’ son Fidi Angermeyer, and then sailed around the GPS in the 90’s is now one of the rooms at the hotel!  The Nixe was such a part of the Angermeyer family history, that when he was done sailing it Polo gave it back to the Angermeyers and since it was no longer seaworthy, they  integrated it into the hotel. The Angermeyer has a beautiful restaurant right on the harbor, nice, comfortable rooms and a real sense of GPS family history is present there.

The next day we had planned to visit Los Tuneles for walking, wildlife viewing and snorkeling, followed by a visit to Garrapatero beach for kayaking. But this is Tropic, so Jasci came up with something completely new and different. We started the day with a hike to one of the highest points on Santa Cruz Island – El Puntudo (2300 ft). It was muddy and wet, and the weather was fierce, making for a real adventure. It is exactly Jasci’s style to move beyond the tried and true – so we scouted this new experience which would be perfect on a nice day with incredible views of Santa Cruz and the surrounding islands from the peak. It speaks to how great our group was that everyone was gung-ho to try this new experience, despite the weather and challenging conditions.

From there we headed to the Santa Cruz brewery…the brewery itself, not the beer garden in Puerto Ayora where most people go. They gave us an insider tour of how they make their beer including the bike they ride to grind the barley! We enjoyed a great lunch (and some great beer) and then cycled down to Garrapatero Beach to end the day with a quick swim. While the weather didn’t cooperate, it was a fun adventure. This would make an awesome day during fair weather, and it was special to scout a new experience for Tropic and see Jasci’s creative brain at work.

We spent our final night at Galapagos Habitat, formerly known as the Aventura Lodge. And before it that, it was Polo’s home! He transformed it into the Aventura Lodge, one of the Galapagos’ first commercial lodges, and a pioneer of land-based tourism in the Galapagos. I told you Polo was a Galapagos legend and pioneer! I loved that our whole Galapagos experience had threads of his life in the Galapagos woven into it.

Experiencing the Galapagos Tropic-style is so much more than a typical trip. Every day is an adventure – fully immersive in nature and truly ‘living’ the Islands.

About the Author:

Tad Bradley

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