To most people, luxury travel to the Galapagos Islands means spending a week in these remote islands on a large legacy cruise line and crowding in line with a battalion of cruise mates to get a distant look at a blue-footed booby.
For those in the know, however, luxury travel to the Galapagos is best managed through one high-end and extremely hands-on 14-room luxury lodge. It’s a spot that may look like it’s in the in the middle of nowhere but is dead center when it comes to the confluence of evolution, nature, sustainability and pampering. This is Pikaia Lodge on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos — closer to the pre-Cambrian era than it is to a Starbuck’s or coal-fueled power line.
Going to the Galapagos is going off the grid to cavort with penguins and swim with sea lions that have never known dangers from human predators, to see nonagenarian tortoises sleeping in the grasses, to swim with marine iguanas slithering in the depths like mini-dinosaurs to munch on iron-rich sea grasses. That is because this 19-island archipelago has never been on the way to some place else.
Some 600 miles off the Ecuadorian coast, there was little on these islands to lure royal navies or desperate pirates. In fact, had it not been for the Pacific Ocean charting voyage of the HMS Beagle and the curious mind of one Charles Darwin, the archipelago might have remained that way until it would no-doubt have attracted mining companies in the last 50 years and eventually been discarded, like Nauru in Micronesia, and left for dead. Darwin spent five weeks in the Galapagos, wandering the islands of San Cristobal, Floreana, Isabela and Santiago with little more to do than seek, observe and record. Those journals would later prove invaluable for laying out the course of evolution in his seminal tome, Origin of Species.
A luxury trip to the Galapagos and a stay at Pikaia allows the discerning traveler to go back in time and actually experience nature – the rocks, the plants, the birds, the reptiles and animals – in their own time and place. Not a museum, not a zoo, through Pikaia, visitors can be part of the nature play, not outside of it.
Because the Galapagos has become a sacred preserve for visitors and wildlife, the islands are extremely protected. Visitor numbers are limited, fees for entrance are levied, strict rules are in place (visitors cannot wander without a guide, must stay on prescribed paths, must not inch any closer than six-feet to an animal and must not move or reach out if an animal wanders up – and they do as fearing humans is not yet in their DNA), and because of the remoteness of the location, it is an expensive and difficult trip for a tourist to make. All that bodes well for the islands and for the travelers that do come this way.
Pikaia was ten years in the building because of the many strict regulations in place. But today, those seeking luxury travel to the Galapagos get treated to more than the living time capsule of nature; they get to experience just what the definition of an eco-lodge should be. Without sacrificing in comforts or quality, Pikaia surrounds the guest with 77-acres of sustainable design created from concrete, glass, recycled steel, bamboo and sustainably grown South American teak. Power fans out from photovoltaic panels, wind generators, and biodiesel converters. A curious system of cisterns collects rain from the pitched roofs all to be cleaned and fed into a private state-of-the-art water-treatment plant that supplies the irrigation and plumbing.
Accommodations seem to float between the earth and the heavens at Pikaia, Guests to wrap themselves in the awe of the location with floor to ceiling windows, private terraces and, with some, private plunge pools that blur the lines between inside and out. Each accommodation is secluded so that no guest sees another and all views provide intimate panoramas of the ocean. Standard rooms run 650 square feet, suites: 880. Amenities are biodegradable, of course, in the form of botanically scented bath products. Bedding brings luxurious high threadcount sheets. Spaces include a walk-in closet, a Jacuzzi bathtub, iPod speakers and Wi-Fi (which can, not surprisingly, be spotty but going off the grid is part of the experience). Packing for luxury travel to the Galapagos can be complicated as weather shifts demand snap swimsuit to sweater changes.
Nights are filled with sunset cocktails, gourmet dining (with earth-shattering ceviche) from Pikaia’s restaurant Evolution. Then there is the rest of the evening to stargaze poolside by the ocean and wonder what Charles Darwin may have been noticing in his night sky at that location.
The next day will bring opportunities to head to other islands via the Pikaia I, the resort’s 100-foot yacht that takes guests to neighboring islands for snorkeling and onshore explorations. Only 16 guests are allowed. They have use of a cabin and shower during the day as well as gourmet meals prepared by the yacht chef. Stops to popular spots, such as North Seymour Island for watching the famed blue-footed boobies, are timed so as not to intersect with other vessels or cruise crowds.
Not to be missed island experiences include swimming with sea lions, Galapagos penguins and marine iguanas in the open ocean, viewing the famed, and now endangered, mockingbirds of San Cristóbal that so caught the attention of Darwin’s observations, and wandering the meadows of gargantuan Galapagos tortoises, the largest of the species that look like sand-colored bean bag chairs or ottomans in slow motion.
Pikaia Lodge is located on Santa Cruz Island, home to most of the archipelago’s 25,125 permanent residents. Guests can bicycle around the island and head to main town of Puerto Ayora (around eight miles) and the Charles Darwin Research Centre that was the last home of late Lonesome George, the giant tortoise who died in 2012 after living more than a century. The collection of carapaces and information is a strong reminder that 95% of the islands’ extant species were on these islands long before the arrival of humans.
Because Pikaia Lodge is its own self-contained world and the resort seeks to maximize each guest’s stay with comforts that will fuel each day’s adventures, a stay at Pikaia Lodge is fully-inclusive from the moment a guest lands at Seymour Airport on Baltra Island through return to the airport to board a plane back to Guayaquil.
Rates also include:
VIP Lounge at Seymour Airport at arrival and departure
All guided English and Spanish land and marine exploration programs onboard Pikaia yacht trips
The use of sport equipment, such as wet suits, snorkeling equipment, mountain bikes and helmets
Full board with meals served at the Lodge and aboard the yacht.
Non-alcoholic beverages in the Lodge and at sea during meals
Access to the in-house library
International and domestic transport to and from the Galapagos Islands
International departure airport taxes (if not included in the airfare)
Galapagos National Park fees, (usually $100 per adult /$50 per child)
Galapagos Visitors Transit Card $20
In-room service charges
Telephone calls and fax
Boutique and spa boutique items
Tips and gratuities
Optional additional activities
Additional private tours or transport services
Packages run 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7-nights, and also 2-night papering packages for two guests staring at $2,100.
Getting to the Galapagos is half the fun. Avianca, Copa, American and LAN offer connecting service to Guayaquil, Ecuador. From Guayaquil, LAN, TAME and Avianca have regular flights to Baltra Island Airport in the Galápagos. Guayaquil is about 4.5 hours from Miami. From there it is another 90-minute flight to Baltra Island’s Seymour Airport. This Galapagos gateway airport is a showpiece for next gen utilities as it is powered completely from solar and wind. From there, it’s a 10-minute ferry ride to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island and an hour drive to the Pikaia Lodge. Guests may want to take an extra day or two in Quito or Guayaquil before heading home, to wander local markets and visit cloud forests or explore the treasures of unusual museums.
Luxury travel to the Galapagos is ever more rewarding if only for the distance, but a stay at Pikaia Lodge makes it timeless – a moment in travel above all others.
Kurtz-Ahlers & Associates– Curator of undiscovered luxury travel locales with insider info and news from our worldwide portfolio of hotels, wellness retreats, and eco-resorts. View our portfolio on our Online Directory.
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