Skip to main content

Travel Diary: New Year's Galápagos Excursion

Members rang in 2024 aboard an expedition ship in one of the most remote and beautiful places on earth.

Saturday, December 30th, 2023

Hola from Ecuador — away we go on the trip of a lifetime! Three buses chartered the group from our home base in Guayaquil to the airport for our flight to Baltra, a small island in the Galapagos Archipelago. The views from the plane windows were bright and beautiful with crystal clear water and a horizon that seemingly expanded for miles. At 12 pm we board the Lindblad Expeditions ship — National Geographic Endeavour II. We took multiple zodiacs out to the large ship and felt very James Bond-esque in the foggy and mysterious weather. Once aboard, we were taken to our cabins with some time to settle in, unpack, and relax (but not for too long as soon after it was time for the best part of the day — lunch!) The spread was delicious and the dining room was decked out for the holidays with beautiful string lights, holiday garland, ornaments, and plenty of Christmas cheer.

After fueling up, we were joined in the lounge by the crew and captain for a welcome session with plenty of introductions and even a school of dolphin spotting. The crew and Members alike were in awe of seeing no less than 50 majestic beauties swimming and jumping alongside the boat. What. A. Welcome. Later that day, we headed out to Playa las Bachas to experience wildlife such as Blue-footed booby Birds, large Red Crabs, Pelicans, and four beautiful and bright Flamingos. Travelers don’t always see Flamingos in the Galápagos Islands, so this was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. En route to the beach, we came across a young Tiger Shark. Even the Naturalists were excited about this spotting as this animal is extremely rare.

Sunday, December 31st, 2023

Last day of 2023! Today began bright and early at 6 am with sunrise yoga on the open-air, top deck of the ship. At 7:30 am we boarded zodiacs for North Seymour Island — this island is only 120 x 600 meters and was formed by the uplift of a submarine lava formation and is now covered with low, bushy vegetation. It may be small – but boy does it pack a punch. Blue-footed booby Birds, Marine Iguanas, Swallow Tailed Gulls, Frigate Birds, Salamanders, and Sea Lion Pups scattered the landscape, giving us plenty of opportunities to capture amazing wildlife photography. The animals have no natural predators and are not afraid of humans, allowing us to get wonderful photos.

Back on board, it was time to prepare for our New Year’s Eve party! Everyone looked festive in their New Year’s best. We ate a delicious dinner of salad, steak, pasta, potatoes, and a specialty pineapple upside-down cake before the dance party of the century broke out in the lounge complete with decorations, noisemakers, party hats, and an on-site DJ playing all the best tunes. Both Members and the Lindblad staff salsa-ed the night away! Close to midnight, we participated in a traditional Ecuadorian New Year’s Eve celebration including burning an effigy at midnight. Known as “los anos viejos” (the old years), these effigies typically take the form of scarecrow-like dolls representing famous figures from the past year. Burning them is said to destroy bad vibes and help folks enter the New Year with a fresh start. This was a huge treat and the ship staff went above and beyond to be able to do this experience safely, afloat in the middle of the ocean.

Michael and Mary Carreno in their New Year's best
Jason and Christin Smith celebrate the arrival of 2024

Monday, January 1st, 2024

Today was chock-full – no relaxing first day of the year for us. We explored Fernandina Island, the youngest and third largest island in the Galapagos, as well as the furthest west. This walk was AMAZING. Immediately upon arriving, we were greeted by hundreds of Marine Iguanas, the only lizard on Earth that spends time in the ocean. The landscape was incredible, with rocky plateaus and amazing volcano vistas — we even saw a whale skeleton. Sea Lion pups played in the water and even approached us! After the walk, we enjoyed a delicious and festive Mexican lunch with a fajita bar and margaritas upon arrival. In the afternoon, everyone’s favorite National Geographic famed photographer (and part-time comedian) Ralph Lee Hopkins gave an informative lecture about the history of National Geographic and shared some of the shots he has taken on the trip so far (plenty of which you can see scattered through this article).

A fun surprise for the group was a chance to jump off the stern of the ship — joined in the water by Sea Lions, Sea Turtles, and even a curious Hammerhead Shark! The highlight of the day was a zodiac cruise around the island of Isabella — we spotted elusive Galapagos Fur Seals, Lava Lizards, Blue-footed booby Birds, plenty of Frigate Birds and Marine Iguanas, and our first glimpse of the highly anticipated Galapagos Penguins! These little guys are only found around this specific island so we were thrilled to spot so many on our fist outing.

Back on board, we celebrated crossing the Equator with a party on the roof deck. The wind was blowing, the views were incredible, and the wine was flowing. A charcuterie board and fresh fruit were enjoyed by all. We limbo-ed under an Ecuadorian flag and watched as 0’0’0 showed on a compass. Simultaneously, we streamed the college football playoff game between Michigan and Alabama – light-hearted rivalries erupted throughout the group, but everyone collectively turned on Exclusive Resorts Journey lead Marco when he cut the feed right at overtime (it was time for dinner, but STIIL!).

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2024

Life on board the ship has been smooth sailing, with plenty of opportunities to 'seas the day!' We started with a 6 am wake-up call and breakfast in the dining room. After fueling up, the group departed to Isabela Island for a 1-mile walk along a forested path, viewing Galapagos Giant Tortoises, Iguanas, Crabs, and Darwin Finchs along the way. One Tortoise was a true highlight and took up the entire path so we were able to view him up close, get great photos, and even hear him growl at us! Post-walk we took a dip in a cove with crystal clear water and smooth seas where Sea Lions and Sea Turtles swam and played right around our feet. Next up, Members picked between kayaking and deep sea snorkeling where they viewed Sea Lions, Marine Iguanas, Fish, Marine Birds, and plenty of Blue-footed booby Birds. Those who stayed behind enjoyed the treat of jumping off the stern of the ship. For lunch we were treated to a traditional Ecuadorian feast complete with ceviche, pulled pork, Bolon de Verde, empanadas, and tres leches cake.

Around 5:30 pm, we set out for our first hike with elevation gain — allowing us to get a better view and new perspective of the landscape. The sea was quite rocky so the promised dry landing was a bit more of a treacherous and wavy landing, but of course, our naturalists and zodiac drivers ensured everyone got on land safely and swiftly. This hike was AMAZING. A group favorite activity so far. The Tagus Cove Trail is a 2.7 km out-and-back trail above Lake Darwin. Considered a moderately challenge route, it takes about 48 minutes to complete and is a popular trail for birding, hiking, and fantastic lake vistas complete with mountain views. It was great to get a new perspective of the Galápagos Islands from up above sea level.

The group above Lake Darwin
Amazing views from the Tagus Cove Trail

Upon arriving back to the ship we were greeted by an unannounced visitor — and a super cute one to boot. A Galapagos Sea Lion had climbed upon the stern of the ship and was enjoying a relaxing nap. For dinner the adults gathered in the dining room, while the kids got to enjoy pizza and movie night in the lounge — the adults were jealous! — albeit happy to have a little break from the young’uns. At night the group was treated to a special viewing of the bridge — also known as a pilothouse or wheelhouse — the room from which the ship is commanded. This was SO COOL as it was pitch black with only an abundance of stars and an advanced radar system to guide the way.

View from the bridge of the ship at night — so dark!
An unannounced visitor about the ship | Photo Credit: Ralph Lee Hopkins

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2024

Time is flying! Today started bright and early with a pre-breakfast zodiac excursion around the shore to view the wildlife during feeding time. Lots of animals were out and about including high-flying and nose-diving Pelicans. Nature was abundant with a gorgeous rainbow that perfectly arced over the ship. Quite the photo opp! Cruising through the azure waters on a zodiac before most people are even out of bed was a better adrenaline rush than any cup of coffee.

Back on board, we continued to sail through the archipelago and the views and vistas from the bow of the ship were nothing short of cinematic. Volcanic landscapes and the endless expanse of the Pacific fought for our attention. In the afternoon, Members participated in another outing on the zodiac, this time in wild and exciting waters. Our drivers are such experts we were able to sidle up a couple of meters from rough and ragged cliffs to view Galapagos Seals, Pelicans, Blue-footed booby Birds, and Penguins from only a few feet away. We even got a front-row seat to one of nature’s most intimate moments — a turtle mating session! — it was quite the scene.

Turtles mating just inches from the zodiac
Three's Company!

After lunch Members had a choose your own adventure afternoon. Some opted for a hike around Puertas Egas while some opted for a zen yoga session on the beach with the wellness specialist Exclusive Resorts specifically brought on board. This moment was magical with Sea Lions lining the beach, Marine Iguanas surfing the waves, and even a picture-esque rainbow forming and framing the ship in the distance. One Sea Lion had eyes for Exclusive Resorts Journey leader, Josh, and wanted a kiss — Josh was not receptive to her advances. Back on board, Members were treated to a rooftop BBQ! This was very exciting with a mutual sentiment throughout the group that a hamburger sounded SO. GOOD. Eating al fresco with a perfect breeze and starry night while enjoying burgers, baby back ribs, loaded potatoes, and grilled veggies was the perfect way to end a perfect day. Tomorrow we reach civilization and will dock at Santa Cruz, the main tourism hub for all of the Galápagos Islands.

Eric and Sarah Jorgensen with a slew of Marine Iguanas
Enjoying a stretch session on the beach

Thursday, January 4th, 2024

Today we got back on solid ground and explored the town of Santa Cruz. Starting early we disembarked on zodiacs and snaked through the busy port before landing at the harbor. We boarded transportation bound for the Charles Darwin Center where we got to view the famous Galapagos Tortoise. These guys are GINORMOUS often requiring six large men to assist in moving one (but only if absolutely necessary as the wildlife in the Galápagos Islands should never be touched.) During our tour, we had a meet and greet with (a taxidermized) Lonesome George — a male Pinta Island tortoise and the last known individual of the subspecies. In his last years, he was known as the rarest creature in the world. George serves as an important symbol for conservation efforts in the Galápagos Islands and throughout the world. The second activity was a choose-your-own adventure with half the group going to a hydroponic farm and the other half visiting a sugar cane factory. Both options were incredibly cool as Members had a chance to experience these real working businesses and assist in making an authentic Ecuadorian product. Many Members have their OWN farms, so this was especially insightful. We tasted moonshine and coffee beans, drained sugar cane and tried HOT peppers, and worked up quite an appetite.

Lunch was served at the El Chato Tortoise Reserve in the highlands of Santa Cruz. Home to hundreds of these gentle giants, this is the perfect place to see them in their natural habitat. They wallow in mud pools, crunch on green shoots, and are free to wander around this huge reserve — as are we! We enjoyed lunch in a beautifully decorated veranda with a cool breeze and a myriad of food options. Then it was time to strap on some heavy-duty rain boots and take to the muddy field for up close and personal tortoise spotting. The overcast sky and drizzly weather set the scene for a Jurassic Park-themed afternoon amongst these mini dinosaurs.

Matt Teague at the El Chato Tortoise Reserve
The Aitken Family poses with a Giant Tortoise | Photo Credit: Ralph Lee Hopkins

To cap off the evening we were treated to a five piece local band and trio of dancers. This was quite an immersive experience! The group was up and dancing amongst the performers and a conga line even broke out at one point!

Local performers repping Exclusive Resorts
Dancing the night away

Friday, January 5th, 2024

Last full day aboard the ship — and boy did we make it count! Early risers met at 6 am for a kayak, zodiac, or hike adventure before breakfast. We spotted baby Sea Lions, Sea Turtles, and plenty of Marine Birds. After breakfast, the true magic happened — as we took to the crystal clear waters with snorkel gear. The deep water snorkeling was SO CLEAR it felt like floating through a giant aquarium. Curious Sea Lions swam by our side and schools of exotic fish engulfed us in a cloud of color. The underwater landscape is a mesmerizing tapestry of volcanic rock formations, creating a dramatic backdrop for the diverse array of corals and sponges that thrive in this unique ecosystem, plus visibility extending for meters in every direction. For our final excursion of the day, we were transferred to a beautiful white sand beach with Gatorade blue water. This coastal haven was littered with Sea Lions including one tiny and very adorable one-week-old pup. These guys are not afraid of you and the teenage Sea Lions would playfully try and “attack” before getting tired out after 2 or 3 steps. Just magical!

Swimming amongst the colorful fish | Photo Credit: Cati Teague
A curious Sea Lion | Photo Credit: Cati Teague

At night we enjoyed a cocktail hour with the captain on the open-air top deck while we circumnavigated Kicker Rock — this amazing landscape is located in the middle of nowhere rising almost 153 meters (500 feet) from the ocean. The erosion has given the rock its characteristic shape, which some see as a shoe, hence the name Kicker Rock. Others see it as a sleeping sea lion or Leon Dormido. This was a wonderful photo opp and everyone was dressed in their nautical best looking happy, refreshed, and slightly more sun-tanned then just a week before.

Kevin and Carol March pose with Kicker Rock | Photo Credit: Ralph Lee Hopkins
Turning the camera around on our very own photographer, Ralph Lee Hopkins

Saturday, January 6th, 2024

Today we disembarked and said our goodbyes to the wonderful and hardworking Lindblad staff. We explored the town of San Cristobal and enjoyed a brunch at the Hotel Indigo. Then it was time to load onto the flight back to Guayaquil and wrap up a magnificent and exotic week in the Galápagos Islands.