We spent one week cruising the Galapagos Islands on Ecoventura’s Itinerary B route, onboard their first class yacht, the M/Y Letty. This is our review.
The Galapagos Islands are one of the most remarkable destinations on the planet. It is a place so diverse and unique with wildlife, it inspired the naturalist Charles Darwin to form his theory of evolution during his travels there.
Ever since I had first seen a giant tortoise from the Galapagos Islands in Taronga Zoo in Sydney, I had wanted to visit the remote archipelago.
Once we had made our plans to visit South America, we started to look at the most incredible destinations on the continent – Patagonia, Easter Island, Machu Picchu, and of course the Galapagos Islands.
Having done some research it became clear there were two main ways to explore the Galapagos: Basing yourself on one island and doing day trips, or travelling on a cruise.
Here is our photo essay on the ‘Magic of the Galapagos Islands In Pictures‘
There were obvious benefits to both, but the more we looked into it doing a cruise became the clear winner, as it provided a better opportunity to see more of the archipelago, with a lot less people.
Once we had booked our flights, we immediately started looking at cruise companies in the Galapagos Islands.
Table of Contents
- The ‘Itinerary B’ Cruise With Ecoventura
- Life On The Letty With Ecoventura
The ‘Itinerary B’ Cruise With Ecoventura
The number of tour operators running cruises in the Galapagos Islands can be surprising – there are literally dozens of them, and not all are created equal.
Some operate small boats with basic amenities, while others have large ships with everything you might expect to find on a cruise in the Caribbean or Mediterranean.
We wanted something in the middle: A small-group tour on a ship with high-end amenities, that also visited the best places in the archipelago with a heavy focus on sustainability.
It sounded like a big ask, but when we found Ecoventura we knew they offered everything we wanted, and more.
Ecoventura runs two different 7-night itineraries around the Galapagos Islands on two different styles of ships – first class yachts and luxury yachts.
The two different routes are to minimise the impact of tourism on the archipelago, but it could be hard to choose between one itinerary or the other based on what we wanted to see. Essentially we wanted to do it all!
Luckily we had an opportunity to experience both itineraries that Ecoventura offers, and with plenty of time up our sleeves we jumped at it.
For the first week we took part in their Itinerary B (Northern and Western Route), onboard the first class yacht, the Letty.
It would take us to places day trippers couldn’t get to, such as Genovesa and Fernandina Islands, and time our excursions in each place to have almost no other tourists there.
This is our review of the Ecoventura Itinerary B, Northern and Western Route, in the Galapagos Islands.
Arriving At The Letty
To say we were excited when we touched down in the Galapagos Islands would be an understatement – we were jumping out of our skin!
Our flight from Guayaquil to San Cristobal was short and comfortable, and soon enough we were disembarking in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the port city of the island.
We got off the plane, went through customs control and purchased our national park tickets. At this point we were meant to collect our backpacks, but Avianca had lost mine on the way from Cusco. Luckily Alesha’s was waiting for us.
Malena, the National Park Ranger, certified naturalist and our guide for the next 7 days, met us at the gate, and along with the rest of 8 passengers who were also on the flight, filled us in on what would be happening.
Minus one backpack, we jumped on the minibus and drove out to the jetty, where some of the crew from Ecoventura were ready with the pangas to take us to our ship.
Walking down the pier we met some of the local residents – the group of sea lions that chill out where the boats come in! It was hard to peel us away from them, but Malena promised we would be seeing hundreds more sea lions over the next week on the Itinerary B Route.
As we zipped across the harbour we got our first glimpse of the Letty, one of Ecoventura’s classic first class yachts.
The stewardess Claudia (who would become one of our favourite people over the next week) was waiting at the stern to welcome us onboard.
We all headed down to the lounge and met the members of the crew. Captain Peter (one of Ecoventura’s most experienced captains, and an ex-Navy Commander) introduced himself, and before too long Claudia showed us to our cabin.
The cosy room was elegant and charming, with timber decorations a comfortable bed as well as a private bathroom.
All checked in we headed back downstairs to the dining area and had our first delicious lunch, made fresh by the expert chefs and served by Luis, the waiter and bartender.
At this point we noticed one of the pangas going out. Malena told us that my backpack had arrived at the airport, and the captain was heading there to collect it personally. Shortly after it was delivered safe and sound into our cabin. Talk about service!
We quickly unpacked our bags and got ready for our first excursion of the trip.
Day 1 – San Cristobal Island
Jumping back on the pangas we cruised back to San Cristobal, getting off at the jetty and boarding a private minibus.
The afternoon’s excursion was to visit the giant tortoises at the Centro de Crianza Jacinto Gordillo. We had only been in the Galapagos a few hours and already we were seeing one of the archipelago’s most famous species, and the one that had first inspired me to visit all those years ago!
This protected area at the backside of the island is home to dozens of giant tortoises that wander around freely. Seeing these enormous reptiles up close was better than we ever could have expected.
The footpath twists through crowded trees and shrubs, and spotting the giant tortoises resting in the shade was a fun exercise.
Malena told us all about this unique species, and when we were finished looking at the adults we visited the rear of the centre, where newborns were protected from predators in enclosed pens.
Once our memory cards were filled with tortoise pics we made our way back to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and enjoyed some spare time watching the marine iguanas and sea lions chilling by the jetty.
Back on board the Letty Captain Peter and his crew met us with a welcome cocktail, which went down very quickly. Malena then sat us down for a briefing for the next day’s activities, which would be a done every night over the trip.
We had some time to enjoy a few more local beers and wine before dinner. Luis cracked us up with stories and kept the drinks flowing.
We started to get acquainted with the other 8 guests on the boat and had a lovely time as night fell.
It was time to leave San Cristobal, and we took some of the complimentary seasickness tablets before retiring to our cabin.
Day 2 – Genovesa Island
The sound of music came over the speakers for our wake-up call. Malena wished us a good morning and told us that we were now anchored in Darwin Bay of Genovesa Island.
We jumped up in a rush and ran outside, excited to see the remote island circling all around us. It was slightly overcast, but it did little to dampen our spirits.
After the buffet breakfast we packed our camera gear and headed to the island on the pangas.
The landing went smoothly and we climbed Prince Phillip’s Steps to find ourselves face to face with a group of Nazca boobies.
Rather than flying away from us, they almost took no notice, and Malena told us all about their species while we stood only a few metres away.
We walked around the island, passing dozens of Nazca boobies and beautiful red-footed boobies, with a few even nursing babies. We couldn’t help but snap hundreds of photos, not realising that these encounters would be commonplace for the next week.
The volcanic island was fascinating to explore, with vibrant colours in the lichens and trees breaking up the near-black surface. Storm petrels flew overhead.
Dozens of boobies were relaxing in the branches, and towards the far shore of the island we saw our first marine iguanas outside of San Cristobal. It was clear that the entire island was a tranquil habitat for the animals here.
After the land adventure we got ready for the next exciting activity – kayaking!
Having kayaked in many wonderful locations, we knew that kayaking in Galapagos would be something just as unique as anything we had done before.
We paddled along the cliffs, keeping an eye out for sea lions and bird species, before making our way back to the Letty for lunch ahead of our third excursion.
This time we headed to the white-sand beach that sat on the shore of the bay. Even with the volcanic surroundings it looked like paradise.
As the pangas approached the beach we were greeted by a herd of sea lions. They waited until the moment our boats touched the sand to scamper the other way, and we disembarked.
For the next hour we wandered the beach, checking out more Nazca boobies and frigate birds, with their large, red throat pouches.
It was a relaxing walk, and we had lots of time to simply sit on the sand and admire the creatures.
The sea lions were hilarious, and it was obvious that they were going to become our favourite animal in the Galapagos Islands.
As the sun started to set we headed back to the Letty for dinner and drinks. Our first full day was amazing, and we couldn’t wait to see what was in store for us next.
Day 3 – Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is the most inhabited island in the Galapagos, but where we first anchored on day 3 was completely void of people.
The crew prepared the zodiacs and we headed out from the Letty to touch down at Las Bachas beach.
This stunning stretch of pristine white sand dotted with cacti, shrubs and porous rocks created an idyllic setting for the day’s excursions.
To start with we headed to the beach to enjoy a lovely walk amongst the hundreds of marine iguanas, with an imposing volcano rising above us in the distance.
With the sun beaming down we had started to work up a sweat, and soon it was time to head out for a snorkel with the marine life.
We were completely giddy with excitement, and couldn’t believe our luck when only a few minutes after entering the water we came across our first sea turtles.
Chilling in the algae without a care in the world, these beautiful animals let us come right up to them. Taking care not to touch the turtles, we floated next to them, falling in love with their calm, majestic nature.
As we were swimming back to the beach a playful sea lion suddenly appeared out of nowhere. It circled us excitedly, acting very curious. Rather than feeling nervous, playing with the sea lion was an absolute joy, and left us on a high.
Lunch was filling and for the afternoon we headed back onto the island to go for a walk around Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill).
This landing gave us our first opportunity to see the enormous Galapagos land iguanas that roam around Santa Cruz.
Looking like prehistoric beasts, the land iguanas can grow up to 1.5m long and are often found lounging in the dirt or under trees.
Besides the land iguana we also caught glimpse of a wonderful pink flamingo. Malena wasn’t sure if we would get this opportunity, so we were ecstatic to see one standing in lake.
The day ended with a gorgeous sunset, and we enjoyed a few drinks on the sun deck of the Letty.
Day 4 – Fernandina and Isabella Island
It was a long sail from Santa Cruz to Fernandina on the far west, but when we woke up in the morning we were met with another gorgeous day on the youngest island in the archipelago.
The highlight today was going to be a chance to see the flightless cormorants, which is the only cormorant species that has lost the ability to fly, and can only be found on Fernadina and Isabella Islands..
The pangas dropped us off at Punta Espinoza, and we headed out over the rough volcanic rocks in search of marine iguanas and birds.
Punta Espinoza is home to the largest colony of marine iguanas found anywhere in the world, and seeing them in such huge numbers was simply awesome.
When we reached the far point of the island we finally caught glimpse of the flightless cormorants nesting on the rocks.
We aren’t usually the type of people to get excited by birds, but the flightless cormorants are a very cool species and we felt lucky to be able to see them on the Itinerary B route with Ecoventura.
Once we were back on the Letty it was time to cruise through the Bolivar Channel towards Isabella Island.
Stomachs filled with another delicious lunch we jumped back on the pangas and disembarked at Urbina Bay.
Isabella was formed when 6 volcanos rose out of the sea, making the landscape extremely dramatic in every direction.
During the excursion we were lucky enough to see some giant tortoises in their natural habitat, which just added to the magic of the Galapagos.
When we weren’t admiring the tortoises, we were walking around massive land iguanas, which were laying right in the middle of the path.
After we had returned from our loop walk we had about 45 minutes to go for a snorkel, or explore a bit more of the beach.
We opted to sit on a rock and watch the pelicans, turtles and iguanas go about their usual business.
Most of the excursions have a very active element to them, so the chance to simply sit and observe was greatly appreciated.
The sun set over the horizon, dinner was served and more drinks were enjoyed as we said good night to another amazing day in the Galapagos Islands.
Day 5 – Isabella Island
A short overnight journey took us further north along Isabella Island and we started the new day visiting one of the most beautiful locations in the entire Galapagos, Elizabeth Bay.
We took the panga into a cove surrounded by twisting red mangrove trees. After days of volcanic landscapes, it was awesome to mix up the views with such lushness.
The deeper we got into the mangroves the more abundant the marine life became. We started to lose track of the sea turtles as they breached and swam all around us. We must have seen at least 30 in the space of an hour.
On a few occasions we even saw groups of golden rays gliding beneath our boat, creating brilliant silhouettes in the morning sun.
Elizabeth Bay was also the only place where we saw a sea lion not in the water or on the beach, but rather lazing on a branch of one of the mangroves. Malena hilariously renamed it a ‘tree lion’, and we managed to get the zodiac as close as 2 metres to the resting mammal.
As we were heading back towards the Letty we came across a new species, which everyone had been desperate to see.
Standing on two small rocks in the middle of the cove we finally saw a pair of Galapagos penguins – the northernmost penguin found anywhere on the planet.
We managed to spend quite a bit of time observing the birds before they eventually swam off.
While we were all completely elated, Jorge, our boat driver, figured we had enough time to circle around the rocky islands known as Las Marielas in search of a few more penguins.
Fortunately we came across a whole rookery of them, and we were counting our blessings at seeing so many at once.
In the past Alesha and I had met people who visited the Galapagos Islands and never had the chance to see the penguins, yet here we were watching around a dozen of them. To say we were over the moon is an understatement.
After an action-packed morning we had lunch then moved into Tagus Cove, which is known as being an historic safe haven for pirates and sailors for centuries.
Before we would touch land we had the choice to go for a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) around the cove. Alesha opted for a kayak, while I jumped on the SUP.
As we were paddling around the cove we saw turtles, sea lions and even another penguin! Where else in the world can you see so many amazing species while out on the water?
The last activity of the day was a hike to the top of a hill for an incredible view over a salt-water lagoon, with the ocean in the background.
This walk was more about the vistas rather than the animals, and it felt good to be keeping active during our Galapagos cruise.
Day 6 – Santiago And Rabida Islands
The journey from Isabella to Santiago took the captain a few hours longer than expected due to rough seas on the north of Isabella Island, but he expertly guided the Letty through the storm and kept us as comfortable as possible.
The late start meant we could have a bit of a sleep-in and a leisurely breakfast, which was much appreciated by everyone on board.
Once we arrived to Santiago Island we immediately made our way to Puerto Egas and enjoyed a captivating walk between rock pools and lava flows.
Carved out as natural grottoes, the pools glistened in shades of teal and turquoise in the midday sun, creating an inviting playground for the sea lions.
As the tide rolled in blowholes erupted out of the lava, sending marine iguanas running in every direction.
We easily could have spent an entire day wandering around, swimming in the pools and watching the red crabs scuttle about.
Rather than hang out by the pools though, we had some time to go for a snorkel from the beach again.
Again there were plenty of sea lions and a few turtles to admire, and we even spotted a Galapagos shark swimming quietly by some rocks.
The real highlight of this snorkel though was seeing some marine iguanas swimming underwater! It was so strange to see these reptiles hanging out beneath the sea, and we felt very lucky to see them.
The afternoon came quickly and we jumped back on the Letty for some lunch before motoring towards Rabida Island.
The red-sand beaches of Rabida are some of the most unique of anywhere in the archipelago, due to the high iron content found in the volcanic rocks. Nowhere else will you find such dramatic earthen colours in the Galapagos Islands.
Just like most of the other beaches we had come across, Rabida Island was spotted with sleeping sea lions. The excursion was a relaxed affair, visiting a saltwater lagoon before chilling out by the water.
The delay in the morning had resulted in the lucky opportunity to watch sunset from the shore – a first during our entire itinerary with Ecoventura.
As the sun dropped beneath the horizon we captured some beautiful shots, with star fish and sea lions adding a glorious contrast to the red sand.
Day 7 – Santa Cruz Island
On our final full day we returned to the habited side of Santa Cruz Island, docking at Puerto Ayora.
This is by far the busiest place of anywhere in the Galapagos, and the small town of less than 25’000 people bustles along with an interesting island vibe.
It was strange to be somewhere so developed after seeing almost nobody for 7 days, but soon after boarding our private bus we disappeared into the highlands.
The lush fields at the top of Santa Cruz are home to an array of interesting geological attractions, and our first stop was the lava tunnels at Rancho El Manzanillo.
The lava tunnels on Santa Cruz stretch for kilometres beneath the surface like a subterranean labyrinth, and we had the chance to walk through a small section of them.
Besides the intrigue of walking through the caves, we also came across a rare short-eared owl hiding in the darkness, much to our delight.
Back on the surface we headed towards the hub of Rancho El Manzanillo, which has been turned into a restaurant and museum.
What makes Rancho El Manzanillo such a worthwhile stop on Santa Cruz is that it is actually home to a huge population of wild giant tortoises that roam freely around the farm.
The land was given to a family back in the 1960s, and rather than remove the tortoises that called it home, they adapted their own business around them.
Fences have a gap at the bottom large enough to allow the tortoises to walk beneath them, while still keeping their cattle at bay.
Inside the ranch Malena gave us a detailed briefing about the giant tortoises, and pointed out a collection of shells that had been preserved after a few had sadly died of old age.
“Jarryd, you should climb inside one for a photo,” Malena directed me. I laughed at what I thought was a joke, before she insisted that she was being serious.
I took her up on her offer and crawled inside one of the huge tortoise shells. Besides making a great photo opportunity, it was a cool insight into just how heavy these things are. I could barely hold the shell off the ground for 10 seconds before my arms started to weaken.
Snaps taken we then were given some free time to check out the farm and see many of the tortoises relaxing or walking around. Getting up close to them was a real highlight of our Galapagos Islands cruise.
The last stop on Santa Cruz was the Charles Darwin Research Station, with its exhibits on wildlife and history of the Galapagos Islands.
The Charles Darwin Research Station is also a breeding centre to help boost the number of giant tortoises in the Galapagos Islands.
With the effects of global warming and human development some species of giant tortoise have become extinct. It’s the centre’s goal to re-establish these numbers.
We met Diego, a bit of a legend amongst tortoise breeders, who almost singlehandedly saved his species from extinction with his sexual prowess, and many of his offspring.
The Charles Darwin Research Station is also home to Lonesome George. Known as an icon of conservation, Lonesome George was found on Pinta Island, and discovered to be the last of his species.
Numerous attempts to get Lonesome George to reproduce failed, and he unfortunately died in 2012. Today his body has been stuffed and preserved in a small mausoleum.
To be honest after seeing the giant tortoises in their natural habitat, visiting them in pens at the research station was a bit underwhelming. Still it’s one of the most popular spots in the Galapagos Islands, and no trip would be complete without a quick visit.
The rest of the afternoon was free to walk around the town, and we found a bar serving happy hour cocktails to while away the time.
Back on the Letty we had our last amazing meal then retired.
Day 8 – San Cristobal
Sadly our time on board the Letty for Ecoventura’s Itinerary B was coming to an end, but we still had one final excursion before departure.
Captain Peter stopped next to Isla Lobos, a small island close to San Cristobal, and we had an hour just after sunrise to walk around the place.
The highlight here was the huge abundance of newborn sea lions that were scattered everywhere we could see.
You would be hard-pressed to find anything as cute as a 2-day-old sea lion pup, and they flopped round like baby Labradors.
Completely new to the world they would come right up to us, checking out our feet before moving on in search of their mother, who would be watching carefully from afar.
There was also a huge group of blue-footed boobies on Isla Lobos, and we relished in the opportunity to be surrounded by so many amazing species at once.
Heading back to the Letty we had our final breakfast with the group and finished packing our bags.
As we arrived back in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno we did the rounds and said goodbye to the lovely staff that had looked after us during our Galapagos adventure.
For seven nights the crew had become our family, ensuring our every want and need was catered for, transporting us safely around the islands and leaving our group with memories that would last a lifetime. More than that they had become friends, adding a personal touch to our adventures.
The last panga ride to shore was emotional, and the whole Ecoventura crew stood on the deck to wave us off.
Almost everybody in the group were on the next flight to Guayaquil, but there was still some time to before their departure to enjoy one last excursion; a visit to the Galapagos Islands Interpration Centre on San Cristobal.
This modern museum and gallery is the best indoor attraction in the entire archipelago, and the information of the island’s history and ecology is expertly presented.
The bus drove us back to town and we waved to goodbye to the 8 other people who had joined us on Ecoventura’s Itinerary B adventure.
For them it was time to depart, but we were about to board the M/Y Origin and experience Ecoventura’s other option, Itinerary A to the Southern and Central Islands. We knew it would be hard to top the previous week, but somehow we had a good feeling about it….
Exploring the Galapagos Islands on Itinerary B by Ecoventura was honestly one of the most remarkable travels of our entire lives, and something we would do again in an absolute heartbeat.
Life On The Letty With Ecoventura
Ecoventura runs a fleet of four ships, about to be expanded to five, around the Galapagos Islands: Two first class yachts, the Letty and Eric, one luxury yacht, the flagship M/V Origin (about the be joined by the M/V Theory), and the Galapagos Sky, which is their luxury diving boat.
The Letty and Eric are their two oldest boats, but that doesn’t mean they are left without any creature comforts you would expect on any high-end yacht in the Galapagos Islands.
Walking Around The Letty
From the moment we boarded the Letty we instantly fell in love with its timber décor, spacious common areas and comfortable cabins. It isn’t modern, it is charming.
The top deck is perfectly set up for relaxing on the lounges with a drink in hand, watching the world pass you by. Half of it is protected by a sun shade, while the other half is open to the elements.
There are two floors for accommodation, and we were on the upper deck. Four cabins can be found here, all with private bathrooms, and we had a twin room. The rooms weren’t large, but had ample room to make you feel at home.
Heading down one more deck there was another two double cabins, as well as the dining room, bar and lounge, where all of our daily briefings would take place.
The lower deck had four more cabins, although these were empty during our trip with Ecoventura.
The Letty isn’t the biggest ship in the Galapagos Islands, but you don’t want it to be. There is only capacity for 20 people, which means you are guaranteed a small-group on all of your tours with Ecoventura.
What it lacks in size it more than makes up for with the service of the crew and comfort of line onboard.
A Typical Day Onboard The Letty
We’d start every morning with a gentle wake-up call over the PA system, which would give us 30 minutes to get ready for breakfast.
Breakfast was buffet style, but you could order any special dishes such as eggs in any style from the chefs. Cereals, fruit, bread, jams and hot dishes were typical.
After breakfast we’d head out for the first excursion. We’d load up our camera gear, put on a life jacket, then hit the islands.
Depending on the itinerary we’d either return from the first excursion and jump straight into the second one, usually kayaking or snorkelling, or have lunch, which was also a buffet with fresh and delicious meals.
There’d be some time to relax after lunch before the third excursion, then it’s back on board in time for sunset drinks on the sun deck.
The naturalist would give a briefing after sunset about what would be happening the next day, then it was time for dinner.
The evening meal was always the best, and you’d have to put in your order from a menu at lunch. This was a 4-course meal with a soup, an entree, main and dessert, with meat, fish or vegetarian options.
As you would expect the chefs are experts in their profession, and the meals were some of the best we had anywhere in South America.
After dinner most people would hit bed early. Every day is pretty jam packed on an Ecoventura adventure, and you’ll definitely be ready for sleep at night.
It’s no secret that we absolutely loved the Itinerary B route with Ecoventura, and were very impressed by the quality of service from the guide and crew.
We managed to see almost everything we wanted to in one week on the Galapagos Islands – giant tortoises, all 3 types of boobies, marine and land iguanas, turtles and other amazing bird species like petrels and finches.
It’d be hard to fault anything with our experience. If you are the kind of person that prefers a large cabin or a huge amount of space to walk around the boat, perhaps you might find the Letty or Eric a tad small.
Likewise if you want a spa or gym, the Eric and Letty don’t have those amenities. In that case consider going on a tour with Ecoventura’s MV Origin. Keep in mind that tours on the Origin are more expensive.
If you want a high-end, small group tour exploring some of the absolute best locations in the Galapagos Islands, you’d be hard pressed to beat the Itinerary B route with the Letty or Eric, and we highly recommend it and the services of Ecoventura.
Is it better than Itinerary A? You’ll have to wait for our review on that trip to find out…
[box]Our Galapagos Islands cruise was made possible thanks to or partnership with Ecoventura. All thoughts, opinions and thousands of photos taken with baby sea lions are, as always, our own.[/box]