Elevate Your Galapagos Adventure With a Luxe Yacht Stay in Darwin’s Paradise

In 2022, almost 268,000 tourists visited the Galapagos Islands. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and Ecuador’s first national park, the Galapagos stretches across an expansive 8,000 square kilometers and 19 main islands. This pristine paradise, of which a staggering 97% is a protected area, is known for its unique and diverse wildlife, which inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

One of the best ways to view its natural wonders is onboard a superyacht, having the islands almost entirely to yourself and only crossing paths with other tourists less than a handful of times.

Climb aboard Aqua Expeditions’ exquisitely appointed Aqua Mare. On the 163-foot yacht, as it meanders through the untouched splendor of the Galapagos Islands, you’re witness to an unspoiled Eden as exotic as it is breathtaking. It’s the first superyacht to establish a permanent berth amidst the volcanic magnificence of the Galapagos archipelago. 

Our adventure with Aqua Expeditions started when our plane arrived on Baltra Island in the Galapagos. Passengers booked on Aqua Mare were promptly whisked away to a VIP room where we relaxed while immigration checked our passports and our guides for the week heartily welcomed us to the islands. 

Indulgence Aboard the Aqua Mare

The Aqua Mare is a paradise in itself. The yacht’s multitude of luxury amenities cater to relaxation and rejuvenation. Its spacious upper deck houses a jacuzzi wherein guests can unwind under the celestial canvas of the Galapagos night sky. 

Seven staterooms provide all the comforts of a five-star hotel. The sizable, nature-inspired interiors utilize neutral hues to evoke a beachy feel.

Avid readers and science lovers aboard can peruse the library’s offerings on local history, marine life, and Darwinism. Whether engaging in sunrise yoga sessions on the deck or savoring the sunset with a pisco sour, the Aqua Mare blends adventure and serenity for guests’ Galapagos sojourn.

The 16 crew members and two local guides provide a 1:1 staff-to-passenger ratio, promising personalization of every experience. 

Shared experiences between passengers in the seven staterooms breed a convivial atmosphere, and holidaymakers quickly find themselves members of a new “family.” The ship’s chefs serve exquisite Latin American fare starring the ocean’s bounty. Each three-course meal ends with the pastry chef’s beautifully sweet and visually stunning creations.

The Aqua Mare delights with its exciting culinary offerings and fresh, locally sourced ingredients. The menu caters to dietary restrictions and offers vegan options. 

Exploring Galapagos’ Exquisite Wildlife

The Aqua Mare‘s allure extends beyond the dining table. True to its name — which translates to “water of the seas” — the yacht offers numerous aquatic diversions to engage thrill-seekers and nature lovers. The adventurous itinerary features daily snorkeling sessions, stand-up paddleboarding excursions, and kayaking trips.

The Galapagos spectacle does not end with the aquatic experience; this luxury yacht vacation offers intimate access to the Islands’ unparalleled terrestrial biodiversity. Every land excursion is a voyage back in time wherein guests can observe local wildlife as they remain uninterrupted by humans.

The two local guides aboard Aqua Mare offer expert commentary on the myriad creatures and flora guests encounter, including giant tortoises, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, sea lions, and an orchestra of birds serenading onlookers.

The knowledgeable and passionate guides share the islands’ history, geography, and wildlife trivia with guests while honoring the delicate ecosystem. Like the skilled Aqua Mare crew, the guides go above and beyond for guests.

Our two guides for the week, Federico Idrovo and Jaime Navas, were exceptional in their knowledge and enthusiasm. The former, Fede, is a musician who breathed life into the experience with his spot-on imitations of environmental sounds. 

After days of watching the ecosystem foster reproduction and growth — blue-footed boobies performing mating dances, male frigates attempting their mating signal, and male land iguanas establishing their alpha ranks — Fede exclaimed that the intimate scenes were “another Galapagos moment.”

We also observed stunning and peculiar vegetation, including Darwin’s Daisy and prickly pear cactus forests. The jaw-dropping daily experiences gave my binoculars a workout and NatGeo a run for their money.

Fernandina’s Surprise

In addition to the show-stopping wildlife, the islands are home to other wonders of nature, like Fernandina’s active volcano.

Fernandina Island is the youngest and most volcanically active island in the archipelago, located in the western part of the archipelago. I was present for its eruption on April 12, after the most recent eruption began in March of this year. 

The visiting passengers were not the only people awe-stricken by the sight; we could see the excitement from the crew of locals who had never witnessed such an eruption. The eruption was yet another reminder of just how alive this continually-evolving remote paradise is.

“Fernandina is considered one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It has an eruption every four years, more or less, and it has long eruptions,” shares Idrovo, our guide for the week. “Most of us, for the Galapagueños, it’s quite hard to get so far away from our homes, so to see that eruption is something that is pretty special for us.”

“We live in these islands; we are islanders. We grew up always hearing about these eruptions and the formation of the islands, so being in the right place at the right moment and having the chance to see that is very special for all of us.”

It has been thrilling locals and visitors alike with its spectacular lava displays. After a full day of swimming with sea lions, penguins, tortoises, and marine iguanas, species endemic to the Galapagos, we were treated to a unique show in the evening during the eruption.

Set Sail on Your Private Adventure

This dynamic destination’s unparalleled natural spectacles mesmerize visitors. After a morning touring a new island by land or sea, followed by an exhilarating hour spent snorkeling in the Galapagos’ real-life aquarium, guests will have worked up an appetite just in time to enjoy fresh Fish Carpaccio, Linguine ai Frutti di Mare, and tantalizing Passionfruit Suspiro.

After lunch, follow the mating dance steps of the blue-footed booby or use a zodiac to glide effortlessly through the mangroves and observe the widespread wildlife.

As sunset hues paint the sky, the stewards pour you a glass of wine. While you unwind, your guides brief you on adventures planned for the coming day. Nature sets the pace for potential plans.

As I pulled up to Baltra’s airport to depart the Galapagos, a land iguana was sitting in the middle of the road, basking in the hot sun. An airport employee had to usher it back to the bushes at the side of the road. It was a fitting way to end an incredible vacation. As my guide Fede would say, it was just another Galapagos moment. 

If You Go

Before your luxurious yacht getaway to the Galapagos Islands, note changes to the islands’ entry fees. From August 2024 onward, most foreign visitors will pay an entry fee of $200, doubling the current $100 fee. Fees for children under 12 will increase to $100 from $50, while kids under two remain exempt. Ecuadorian nationals will also see fees rise to $30 from $6.

Understand that these fees are one-off charges that cover a 60-day visa-free stay on the biodiverse islands. This increase marks the first price change since 1998.

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Travel Writer at Savoteur | + posts

Casandra Karpiak is a travel writer and owner of Savoteur. A Toronto native with Danish roots currently residing in British Columbia, her travel writing has been seen on The Associated Press wire, MSN, FOX, CBS, NBC, Entrepreneur, 24/7 Wall St, Times Daily, and many more. When she’s not traveling, she can be found at hockey arenas all over BC cheering on her two young sons.