The life aquatic

Let’s pretend to be explorers aboard La Pinta, an exclusive vessel destined for luxurious adventure on Ecuador’s famous archipelago.

Text & Photos: Francisco Pardo U. @panshopardo



Galapagos owe their almost mystical international reputation to English naturalist Charles Darwin, who visited the archipelago 180 years ago, and to initiatives like this year’s Super Bowl ad sponsored by the Government of Ecuador – part of the All You Need Is Ecuador campaign to promote the country’s tourism industry – which reached 100 million viewers.



There are many ways to explore the Galápagos Islands. We boarded La Pinta from San Cristóbal, one of the archipelago’s main islands. This all-inclusive luxury vessel features comfortable cabins and common areas, a gym (or so I was told), a Jacuzzi and excellent food, as well as friendly, knowledgeable nature guides. We’ll tour the southeastern islands for four nights and three days, sailing at night and enjoying activities during the day.




Nat geo moments

We sail smoothly during the night and awake up in front of Punta Pitt, located at one end of San Cristóbal Island. After having breakfast we board Zodiacs and head to one of the beaches, where we begin our trek. Everyone is smiling, from Lorenzo, a ten-year-old Brazilian boy, to Helga, an 83-year-old Finnish woman. As soon as we reach our destination, we see some of the sleepiest and most charming animals in the archipelago: sea lions. You just want to lie right down and sunbathe with them on the beach, snuggle them and take selfies for Instagram. But you can’t. The park covers 97% percent of the archipelago and that means there are rules, which include: no touching the animals or coming closer than six feet, no smoking, no leaving the trails and no flash photography.




Fortunately, since the Galápagos was declared a national park in 1959, the animals have not developed a fear of humans. Since there are no large predators, the local fauna enjoys an enviably stress-free existence, and people are little more than occasionally annoying paparazzi. You’ll be able to take great pictures and even witness miraculous spectacles like an egg hatching from beneath a red-footed booby. Even the best National Geographic feature on a super HD plasma screen couldn’t surpass this experience.

Under the sea

While the experiences on land are certainly enriching, the real treasures of the Galápagos lie underwater. A quick snorkel through volcanic reefs lets you swim among hundreds of fish, even some species seen during a past dive in Indonesia. As Quique explained last night aboard La Pinta: “The confluence of currents – Cromwell, Panama and Humboldt – allow us to see species that shouldn’t be here.”

That afternoon has even more surprises in store (besides the recently spotted sea turtles). We take the Zodiacs to a picture-perfect beach at the foot of Cerro Brujo Darwin  himself walked along these white sands and blue waters in September 1835). The sea lions look on sleepily from the shore, watching us play like children in the water: those crazy tourists! Suddenly, we all fall abruptly silent, paralyzed, when a manta ray passes right by our feet.


Dances with sea lions

After two days on the water, you feel like a true son of Neptune, somewhat akin to Steve Zizou, the character played by Bill Murray in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic. Your neoprene suit no longer gets caught around your knees, you understand the difference between port and starboard (that’s left and right…. right?), and if you feel a bit woozy, it’s just one too many refreshing cocktail from the bar. With this sense of security, we throw ourselves into our last adventure on Española, the archipelago’s southernmost island and home to the most native species.

We again board the Zodiacs to go snorkeling near Gardner Bay, another of Española’s luxurious beaches. We get in the water and swim carefully, surrounded by colorful fish and rock formations. Then all of a sudden, a few yards below, a small shark appears just as two sea lions approach us. The GoPro cameras are on, filming and snapping pictures. The sea lions’ agility is truly impressive. They spin and turn. Curious, they come closer, playing together. It’s one of those moments that’s just impossible to describe, when the human being is the one being observed. in


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