Our experiences from one of the world’s greatest travel adventures – A Galapagos Islands cruise! Check out our Ecoventura ‘Itinerary A’ review on the archipelago’s premier luxury ship yacht, the MV Origin.
The Galapagos Islands are an enigma. You watch documentaries and hear stories of a distant archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, covered with species seen nowhere else in the world, and curiosity immediately draws you to them.
Then you get there, and it’s just as unbelievable in person.
We knew that when we finally had the chance to visit the Galapagos Islands that we wanted to spend as much time there as possible.
The question came up over and over again – should we do a live-aboard cruise, or stick to land-based excursions. Everyone we met who had visited had an opinion on which was better, so in the end we decided to do both.
We spent two weeks cruising on yachts around the Galapagos, and 5 days checking out all the amazing things to do in San Cristobal. And we can honestly say the live-aboard cruises are a much better option, if you can afford it.
A few years ago the Ecuadorian government brought in new protection laws to lower traffic to the outer islands of the archipelago.
Pre-determined routes have now become the norm, and each licensed operator had to abide by a strict schedule to ensure fewer people were in the bays and beaches at any one time.
Even owners of private sail boats can’t explore the Galapagos Islands without having a certified naturalist working for the government onboard.
The premier tour operator in the Galapagos Islands is Ecoventura, and after spending an incredible week onboard their first-class yacht the Letty experiencing their ‘Itinerary B’ route, we jumped ship to the Origin and headed for the rest of the archipelago.
The ‘Itinerary A’ Cruise On The Origin With Ecoventura
For 7 nights we would explore the southern and central islands of the Galapagos onboard Ecoventura’s flagship motor yacht, and the most luxurious cruiser in the Galapagos Islands, the MV Origin.
This region is more popular than the northern and western parts, thanks to their proximity to the transport hubs of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal, but being on a live-aboard meant to we could time our visits when day-trippers weren’t there.
Our arrival to the Origin was different to what the rest of the guests experienced, as we had just completed the other route with Ecoventura on the Letty.
Rather than getting picked up from the airport, we were simply transferred from the Letty directly to the Origin. This also meant we had two hours on the boat without any other guests, so we had a great opportunity to simply walk around and relax.
Day 1 – San Cristobal Island
Once the other passengers arrived the crew greeted us all with a delicious welcome cocktail and we were introduced to our naturalists and island guides, Gabby and Fabrizio.
The age of passengers on this cruise ranged from a lady in her early 20s, right up to a lovely couple from Alaska in their 70s, and getting to know all of them was an absolute breeze.
Everybody was justifiably excited to be in the Galapagos Islands, and their enthusiasm shone through in their conversations. For all of them this was a bucket list adventure, and rightly so.
Our first impressions of the food on the Origin was wonderful. The chefs obviously were highly trained and took great passion in their craft. Even as a buffet meal, every dish was succulent and fresh. It was a theme that would continue throughout the cruise.
Once we had filled up our stomachs it was time for the mandatory emergency drill, and to collect our snorkelling gear and wetsuits.
Kitted out for the rest of the week, we then headed out for our first excursion – a zodiac tour along the cliffs near Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
We slowly drifted along the volcanic shore, keeping an eye out for endemic birds and playful sea lions. After a little while our naturalists suggested that we go for a snorkel to see what we could find beneath the surface. Throwing on our gear, we immediately jumped into the water.
Check out our photography post on pictures of the Galapagos Islands to inspire your next journey!
After a couple of minutes we saw our first huge creature; a Galapagos Shark! About 8 foot long and swimming majestically only a few metres below us, this beautiful fish paid no attention to us, and I dove down to get a closer look.
With very few predators in the Galapagos Islands (humans included thanks to strict protection laws), the shark kept moving slowly and let me swim right next to it. A remarkable experience, and we were only on day one!
Once the shark left we were greeted by some more playful critters, this time everybody’s favourites, the sea lions!
Even though we had been swimming with them for a week on the Letty, it never gets boring. We were thrilled to duck and dive with them, and it was awesome to see the other guests’ reactions to their first encounter with one in the water.
We had been snorkelling for about 45 minutes when the zodiacs started collecting us to head back to the Origin. Everyone was buzzing from the snorkelling, and with the bar now open we all grabbed a drink and chatted around the lounge as the sun set.
Fabrizio and Gabby joined us for the evening briefing just before dinner and filled us in on the next day’s activities. Dinner was served and we tucked into a delicious 3-course meal, downed with wine and cocktails.
Day 2 – North Side Of San Cristobal Island
The overnight passage was a short and calm one as we moved to the north side of San Cristobal Island, and we were stirred gently by the morning wake-up call.
We tucked into a buffet breakfast with a collection of typical and healthy options and freshly-brewed coffee.
At 8 o’clock we headed out to Punta Pitt for a truly special hike that would allow us to see all three types of boobies found on the islands – Red-footed, blue-footed and Nazca.
Besides the boobies, Punta Pitt is also home both the giant and magnificent frigatebirds, storm petrels, brown pelicans and swallow-tail gulls. There’s a reason that this spot is known as one of the best bird watching locations in the entire archipelago.
The walk wasn’t difficult, and even though we were climbing we had plenty of opportunities to take breaks and watch the bird species hanging out and nesting.
We were even lucky enough to see two blue-footed boobies conducting their mating dance! A beautiful, if slightly funny, sight that many people hope to witness.
Just like everywhere else in the Galapagos the birds weren’t scared of us at all, and we’d often have to walk around them while they stood on the footpath just looking at us.
When we finished our hike we went for a snorkel off the beach and had the chance to swim with sea lions again, as well as check out some beautiful fish and sea turtles.
The zodiacs took us back to the Origin for lunch and we had some free time to let it settle before starting our afternoon’s activity.
Everybody was given a choice of either going on a panga ride, kayaking or stand-up paddle-boarding. Alesha decided to go for the panga ride to try and get some photos, while I went SUPing.
The seas were quite rough, which made the SUP choice slightly difficult, but what made it even harder to keep my balance was trying not to take my eyes off the dramatic coastline and views of the distant Kicker Rock.
I paddled past turtles, while Alesha enjoyed her stabler ride into caverns and back to the beach for a quick swim.
Once back on the Origin it was time to get tucked into the beers with a glorious sunset, followed by the usual briefing and dinner.
Day 3 – Española Island
We had made it to the southeast of the archipelago and were very excited to finally explore the famous Española Island.
When it comes to variety, nowhere in the Galapagos can beat Punta Suarez on Española. Home to more endemic species than anywhere else, this fascinating spot is a wildlife lover’s dream come true.
The moment the zodiac docked we were surrounded by dozens of sea lions. But it wasn’t just the huge number of them that made it cool – it was how young they were!
We must have seen at least twenty baby sea lions, some of which were only two days old and very curious, and they may just take the award for the most adorable things we have ever seen.
Every single passenger filled up their memory cards with pictures of the super-cute pups, and after nearly 30 minutes we were finally dragged away by the naturalists to see what else we could find.
It was like a smorgasbord of wildlife – Darwin and warbler finches, Galapagos doves, hawks, tropic birds, hood mockingbirds, Sally Lightfoot crabs, red marine iguanas – it was overwhelming.
The landscape itself was almost as interesting as the wildlife, with porous, volcanic rocks covered in lichen and tall cacti adding to the visual beauty.
As an added bonus we even got to see the enormous waved albatross, the largest bird in the Galapagos.
We spent over 3.5 hours walking around Punta Suarez, admiring the species, although I feel like we could have spent another 3.5 hours just watching the baby sea lions.
Back on the Origin we were treated to a delicious barbecue lunch out on the top deck. All kinds of seafood, meat, salads and vegetables were dished up with beer and wine, all appreciated with an epic mealtime view.
After lunch we started our navigation to Gardner Bay, when the captain jumped on the PA system, advising everyone onboard that there was a huge pod of dolphins out on the horizon.
Never one to miss a good opportunity for his passengers, the captain altered course and sailed over to get closer to them.
The dolphins immediately swam towards the Origin and started jumping and swimming in the wake of the bow. For 15 minutes they surrounded us, putting on a show like we had never seen before. Simply unreal.
Eventually we made it to Gardner Bay to go for a kayak. We saw plenty of sea turtles but no sea lions this time, but it didn’t matter with the gorgeous views.
With the kayaking finished we grabbed our snorkelling gear and took the zodiacs around to a small bay on Gardner Island.
This was another one of those ‘pinch me’ moments you only get in the Galapagos.
The water was crystal clear and completely calm, and in the bay was ten female sea lions and pups that would not stop swimming playfully around us.
They would charge straight towards our group, then at the last instant twirl away in graceful fashion. No matter how fast, or how close, they were, their nimble movements meant we never actually touched one.
What made this experience so cool was that it was completely interactive. The more we dove down and played, the more they would do the same.
One moment a fully-grown female would be circling us, then her tiny pup would zip through our legs. Something we’ll never forget.
Once we had all exhausted ourselves with the snorkelling we headed to a white-sand beach, which has consistently been named one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
It was time for a bit of relaxation and casual swimming, before returning back to the Origin for drinks, briefings and a large dinner.
Day 4 – Floreana Island
Floreana Island has a long, curious and occasionally tragic history, and it has the smallest human settlement of all of the islands in Galapagos.
We would spend all of our fourth day there, starting off with an excursion to Punta Cormorant, a beach with tinges of green in the sand and home to sea lions, herons and blue-footed boobies.
The morning was quite leisurely, and we passed a large lagoon with three flamingoes standing in the water. It’s not guaranteed to see flamingoes in the Galapagos, so we were counting our lucky stars when we saw the trio.
Towards the backside of the island we hiked to a white-sand beach and watched in amazement as scores of marbled rays would expose themselves in the shallows as the waves receded.
With Punta Cormorant done, we wandered back and cruised to the Origin to collect our snorkelling gear.
Just off the coast of Floreana is a small island with an open harbour in the interior known as the Devil’s Crown. This protruding monolith is known for attracting schools of pelagic fish that circle in the strong currents around the rocks.
The plan was to go snorkelling around Devil’s Crown and hopefully see some hammerhead sharks.
For 45 minutes we swam in the strong currents, with the zodiac staying close by. Even with the decent visibility, we didn’t see any sharks. We did however see some enormous rays and sea turtles relaxing at the bottom of the deep water.
Even though we were praying for sharks, nothing can be guaranteed in the wild.
And that notion left us completely unprepared for what would happen next…
After lunch we went for a ride into Post Office Bay, which is the location of the Galapagos Islands’ original post office.
Stories of the mysterious Baroness and German families of old that used to live here are the stuff of legend, and the plan was to explore the human side of history here before going for a beach snorkel.
As we moved into the bay Gabby noticed a Galapagos penguin swimming on the surface just 10 metres from our zodiac.
These penguins are the second smallest penguins in the world, and the only ones to live north of the equator. We had seen a couple on our previous cruise, but this was the first time on Itinerary A.
Suddenly we saw another one, and another, and before we knew it there were at least 5 penguins floating around the boat.
I half-jokingly made a comment about how much I wish we could swim with them, when Gabby, to my surprise, said, “Well, you have your snorkelling gear with you. Jump in!”
Without hesitation, and not even thinking about putting on my wetsuit, I slid off the boat and into the water.
I waited patiently to see if the penguins would scatter away, but they paid no attention to me. I dropped my head in the water and started swimming along with them as they darted and weaved around.
A couple of the other passengers soon joined me and we shrieked and cheered with joy at this once in a lifetime moment.
The penguins slowly started to make their way out to sea, so we all headed towards the rocks where we could see some sea lions and turtles lazing about.
Alesha arrived, having decided to go to the shore to put her wetsuit on before swimming. She was quite disappointed at missing the penguins, but she was happy enough with the turtles.
Suddenly we heard some noise coming from another zodiac back where I originally was, and guessing that they were back, we swam as fast as we could to see what was there.
Sure enough the penguins had returned, and this time they were fishing. The penguins would float on top of the water, sometimes only a few centimetres from our face, before diving for small fish near the bottom.
Without a doubt, in all of our travel experiences, swimming with penguins in the Galapagos Islands ranks as one of the top 5 things we have ever done.
We swam back to shore to finally check out the post office, which was quite an interesting sight.
Back in the day sailors would stop by and leave letters for their families as they made their way out on long voyages. Other sailors would then visit as they made their way home, and take the letters to the mainland to post them on their behalf.
It’s a tradition that has continued today, and now you can leave a letter in the barrel, if you take one to send to someone else.
Back on the Origin everyone was buzzing from the penguin encounters, and Gabby and Fabrizio told us that the reason they never mentioned the penguins in our briefing is because it’s quite rare to see them in the bay. Luck was definitely on our side!
Day 5 – Santa Cruz Island
For this day Alesha and I chose to do something a bit different to everyone else, as we had already experienced the day in Santa Cruz.
While the passengers went to visit the giant tortoise sanctuary, the sink holes and the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz, we went scuba diving.
You can read all about our day on Santa Cruz in our Itinerary B review with Ecoventura. This day between Itinerary A and B are exactly the same.
Fabrizio had organised for us to spend the day with Galapagos Travellers, doing a two-dive excursion.
To be completely honest this wasn’t the best day’s diving we had ever done, and it wasn’t just because we saw little in terms of marine life (that’s just the way things go with diving).
The boat we were on was way too crowded and we, as experienced divers, were put in a group with two beginner divers and one open-water diver who hadn’t been underwater in over 15 years.
The divemaster we had was quite good, but he spent his entire time having to look after the three divers, which meant we saw very little of the dive sites. Both dives were also cut short as one person kept panicking, and the three inexperienced divers consumed their air very quickly.
Compared to our diving experience in San Cristobal, it was pretty lacklustre. But hey, it was still a day of diving.
Note – If we were to do this again we would go with a different company, or make more of a stand saying we didn’t want to be paired with inexperienced divers. Ecoventura were in no way affiliated with or endorsed our scuba dives, and we had to sign a form declaring we were voluntarily leaving the ship for the day.
Once we got back to the Origin we were pleased to hear that all the other passengers had an incredible day out.
Day 6 – Bartolome Island
This morning there was an optional sunrise hike, which we chose to skip. Having already been on the Galapagos Islands for nearly two weeks, we foolishly felt like we wouldn’t miss anything by having a sleep in.
Of course, we were wrong.
Everybody else went out to the small island of Sombrero Chino, where a whole harem of baby sea lions were checking the humans out.
There’s a law in the Galapagos Islands – you must stay at least 2m away from all animals. However if an animal comes up to you, that is ok and you should just stay still and wait.
That’s what happened here. The baby sea lions actually went right up to the guests, with some of them even crawling onto their shoes and trying to climb their legs, while their mums watched on carefully.
We were having breakfast when everybody came in, and the smiles on their faces taught us a valuable lesson. Never say no to anything in the Galapagos Islands.
Our crew headed back out to shore and we went on a small walk where we saw plenty more sea lions. From the beach we swam out with our snorkelling gear and saw some black-tipped reef sharks and even a lonesome penguin chilling on the rocks.
After Sombrero Chino we took the zodiacs to Bartolome Island for a walk and snorkel along the beach. The usual suspects were there; the sea lions, some herons, but we even saw another penguin! This time though it wasn’t interested in swimming with us.
Back on the Origin we dried off, then moved to another part of the island to begin our hike to an elevated viewpoint. There wasn’t much life to see on the way, as the entire island is one volcanic rock, but the views were sensational.
A timber boardwalk led us to the top with amazing vistas over Pinnacle Rock and all of the island. This is one of the most photographed scenes in all of the archipelago, and we could understand why.
Day 7 – South Plaza Island And North Seymour Island
The captain navigated through the night to get us to the north side of Santa Cruz, to a place called South Plaza Island.
As it was our last full day onboard the Origin, we were ready for a big one. The island turned out to be, in our opinion at least, the most visually beautiful of all we had seen.
Black rocks covered in red moss butted harshly against the blue sea. Green cactus rose out of the cracks, towering above us.
The ocean had eroded circular sinkholes into the shoreline, with spray drifting high as the waves crashed into the cliffs. The colours were vivid and diverse.
Countless birds floated in the air above, but it was the immense land iguanas lazing in the sun, nonchalant to us as we wandered around them, that really captured our attention.
Once our island exploration was completed we went for a final deep-sea snorkel on the hunt for hammerhead sharks. They eluded us once again, but it was nice to be in the water regardless.
Lunchtime came and went as we motored towards North Seymour Island. Our final destination on the Ecoventura Itinerary A cruise, this was going to be a mellow way to end the trip.
We went for a gentle walk through the centre of the island, stopping to admire the magnificent frigatebirds, with their inflated, red neck pouches chilling in the trees.
More blue-footed boobies hung out in the sand, and marine iguanas congregated in huge numbers on the rocks. The sun started to set, and with the sea lions frolicking in the sea, it was a perfect way to end the day.
Back on the Origin we enjoyed the much-anticipated captain’s dinner, with the most remarkable seafood we could have hoped for. The drinks started flowing, and we sat up for hours enjoying the last few hours with the passengers and crew.
Day 8 – Back To San Cristobal
Despite the late-ish night, we woke early for breakfast to find we were now docked in the harbour of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
We packed our bags, left them at the door for the crew to collect, and enjoyed one last meal with our new friends that we had just spent the most amazing 7 days with.
It was sad saying goodbye to all of the staff, who had been there every step of the way with us. From the captain to the housekeepers, the chefs to the bartenders, the engineers to the naturalists, If it wasn’t for their tireless efforts our experience would not have been anywhere near as incredible.
We jumped in the zodiacs for one last time and made our way back to town on San Cristobal Island.
Except for us, all of the other passengers had a flight to catch at midday, but as there was still lots of time to spare we did one last excursion.
The last stop was the San Cristobal Interpretation Centre, which chronicles the natural and human history of the Galapagos Islands. It’s a marvellous place to visit, and we’re glad we could finish our trip there.
Our experience on the Itinerary A route with Ecoventura was out of this world. We thought nothing could ever beat our first cruise with them, but this was every bit as phenomenal.
MV Origin Review
The MV Origin is Ecoventura‘s flagship luxury yacht out of their fleet of 4. Their first class yachts, the Eric and Letty, are absolutely beautiful, but the Origin is on another level entirely.
The Origin is huge, at 43m long and over 8m wide, and has been custom built to be the pinnacle of luxury and elegance in the Galapagos Islands.
As you step on board from the zodiacs you instantly have ample space to move around, with a large deck and even a hot tub sitting on the stern.
The whole first floor is filled with the private cabins, and each one is remarkable.
Our particular one boasted a king sized bed, a work desk, television connected to Apple TV, mood lighting, an in-built radio system that could be connected to a selection of channels or your smart phone (and all controlled with a nifty panel above your bed) and a full-width window to enjoy the view.
The bathroom was bright and fully-functional. Nothing was left out, and the shower had mirrored glass, so you could look out over the ocean, but no one could look in.
Stepping onto the main deck you find the spacious lounge area, which is where the briefings are held and drinks consumed.
Walking towards the bow you pass the bar on your left, where you can expect the bartenders to be cracking jokes and pouring delicious cocktails, beers and wines – usually at the same time.
After that is the dining room, with plenty of tables so that even when the ship is full you can find a table for two if you feel like a romantic night.
The bridge is always open, and the captain cheerfully welcomes visitors to his ‘office’.
The upstairs deck is a place of pure joy, with another bar for outdoor meals, hammocks, lounge chairs and shade clothes to protect you from the beaming equatorial sun.
Being the best cruise ship in the Galapagos, the technology is of course top-of-the-line. If there’s ever been a ship you have to worry least about safety on, this is the one.
Besides that the Origin also offers wifi onboard, for an additional cost in case you can’t disconnect from the outside world, and we can tell you based on our experience it actually works pretty decently considering your on a boat in the middle of the ocean.
There’s a gym and sauna too, so anyone who isn’t tired enough from all the activities can hit them up.
Our Final Thoughts
Having done both of Ecoventura’s routes around the Galapagos Islands, it’s tough to say which one is better. They both have their own qualities.
During our itinerary B review we loved that we were the only boat in all of these harbours, and we got to visit some remote destinations that day-trippers can’t get to like Genovesa Island.
As were conducting our itinerary A review we felt as though the animal encounters were just a little bit better, although that may have been luck as well.
In the end no matter which route you choose, you’re guaranteed to have a remarkable time, and go home with memories you’ll be telling your friends and family about for years to come.
The MV Origin is the most luxurious motor yacht we have ever been on, and the quality of build blew us away. Ecoventura is now building the Origin’s sister ship, the Theory, which will open up more luxury schedules in the Galapagos Islands.
We never thought anywhere would be as phenomenal as Antarctica…but the Galapagos Islands, with their unique species and world class wildlife encounters, comes close.
[box] Our cruises around the Galapagos Islands were made possible thanks to our partnership with Ecoventura. All thoughts, opinions and moments freaking out about swimming with penguins are, as always, our own.[/box]