Galapagos beckons to those eager to return to the sea

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Ashton Palmer, president of ExpeditionTrips, during a Galapagos trip on La Pinta.
Ashton Palmer, president of ExpeditionTrips, during a Galapagos trip on La Pinta. Photo Credit: Courtesy of ExpeditionTrips

There are few places where people can cruise at all right now, and almost none where North Americans are currently able to sail.

The Galapagos is one of the very few exceptions. 

A cabin on Metropolitan Touring’s Galapagos ship, La Pinta.
A cabin on Metropolitan Touring’s Galapagos ship, La Pinta.

A handful of operators began offering small-ship Galapagos tours last year, including Metropolitan Touring, which resumed Galapagos trips in August on La Pinta, followed by the Isabela II, two of the three expedition vessels in the company's fleet.

According to the operator, while approximately 70 vessels had been offering sailings in the archipelago prior to the pandemic, currently only about six ships are sailing regularly. 

Ashton Palmer, president of ExpeditionTrips, a Seattle agency that specializes in the expedition market, said he has been selling the Galapagos since the fall, mostly through Ecoventura and Metropolitan Touring, and took a trip on La Pinta in October. He said fewer clients are booking the Galapagos now than pre-Covid but that that is changing with the vaccine rollout.

"We are seeing those who have already been vaccinated are ready to book," he said. "This includes younger professionals in the medical industry, also multigenerational families who are ready to travel this summer."

The 48-passenger La Pinta offers four- and six-day itineraries combined with stays at properties in Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador, where passengers arrive when flying to the Galapagos. Metropolitan offers various Galapagos-focused tours as well as ones combined with its lodge in Ecuador's Mashpi Rainforest. 

One of Abercrombie & Kent’s Galapagos tours is family-focused.
One of Abercrombie & Kent’s Galapagos tours is family-focused.

Abercrombie & Kent restarted operations in the Galapagos in October, offering both private and scheduled departures. Those offerings include a six-night Galapagos Wildlife Adventure, a family-focused tour and one that combines the trip with Machu Picchu. A&K said it is seeing an increase in requests for private charters on smaller ships that can accommodate groups of 12 to 16 people. 

The lounge on the Integrity, which also sails on INCA’s regularly scheduled Galapagos Adventures tours.
The lounge on the Integrity, which also sails on INCA’s regularly scheduled Galapagos Adventures tours.

That trend pushed tour operator INCA (International Nature & Cultural Adventures) to offer its 16-passenger yacht, the Integrity, on what it calls Exclusive Use, a private charter of the vessel for groups of four to 10 travelers. INCA also offers the Integrity's regularly scheduled nine-day Galapagos Adventure tours.

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