The Galapagos: More than a cruiser's domain


SANTA CRUZ, Galapagos Islands -- Who would think of going to the Galapagos Islands and not taking a cruise?

Not many of us. Travel aboard a 100-passenger deluxe ship or top-class yacht remains the optimum way for travelers to enjoy the panorama of one of the greatest natural museums in the world.

Optimum, of course, except for clients who are not candidates for expedition cruises but want a chance to see such signature Galapagos creatures as marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, Darwin's finches, sea lions and tortoises in the wild.

Other clients taking a four- or five-day cruise might welcome the add-on adventure of staying put on one island.

All of these options are a reality on Santa Cruz, the second-largest island in the archipelago and big enough to accommodate a variety of ecosystems, wildlife species and natural attractions.

But the best news about Santa Cruz is the quantum leap in its visitor comforts with the opening of the Royal Palm Hotel in the highlands and the Finch Bay Hotel seaside on Academy Bay.

The Royal Palm boasts huge villas and suites equipped with Jacuzzis and fireplaces plus public spaces, including two restaurants, a library, a business center, a pool with a waterfall, two tennis courts and a health club with a spa.

When the property was under construction, I remember wondering: Just what is such a deluxe property doing in the rural highlands where tortoises and cattle share the pastures of farms and ranches?

And then I stayed for a couple of nights and got the message. Situated on 400 acres, 20 minutes from Puerto Ayora and a half-hour from Baltra Airport (where the hotel has its own private meet-and-greet lounge), the Royal Palm is a perfect retreat for a post-cruise stay, a honeymoon getaway or a meetings or incentives group gathering.

Spread out for privacy, all 17 veranda studios, villas and suites have satellite TV, Internet access, direct-dial phones, fax machines, DVD and CD players, minibars, 24-hour room service and highland views.

Hotelier Rene Heyer presides over this five-star resort, which employs a friendly and competent staff and delivers a fine-dining experience in the main dining room; in addition, the hotel features a bar and wine cellar as well as a garden barbecue restaurant.

Activities for guests range from nature hikes and horseback riding in the highlands to kayaking and island cruises by the sea. For those who want to go to town for lunch or visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, the hotel offers complimentary transportation.

During my stay, I went just down the road with the hotel's naturalist-guide to see tortoises in the wild, looking like little Volkswagens parked about the pastures of Rancho Mariposa. Another day we took a packed lunch for a day at Tortuga Bay, the best beach in the Galapagos.

Excursions are additional to hotel rates that range from $310 per veranda studio to $550 for villas and $420 to $800 for the suites, including breakfast and airport transfers; a 22% service and taxes charge is additional.

A new Upgrade Package, priced at $420 per night, features villa accommodations for two, with American breakfast and dinner plus unrestricted drinks (from champagne to fresh orange juice).

The 21-room Finch Bay Hotel is a first-class property, the only beachfront hotel on Santa Cruz Island; it is designed to deliver nature lovers and soft-adventure travelers an in-depth ecotourism experience on its own or combined with cruising.

"Since opening last year, Finch Bay's appeal has been to passengers taking a three-day cruise who want additional time on land to do their own thing," said David Moore, president of Adventure Associates, the U.S. representative of Quito, Ecuador-based Metropolitan Touring, which owns the hotel. Occupying a secluded area of tidal lagoons and cactus forests, the Finch Bay Hotel is comfortable, informal and fun.

The hotel has 21 air-conditioned, twin-bedded rooms with modern bathrooms and private terraces overlooking the gardens; other amenities include international direct-dial phones, fax machines, Internet and e-mail access.

Guests dine on international and Ecuadoran specialties in the main dining room or outdoor terrace, and facilities include a bar, a lounge, a large pool and an outdoor Jacuzzi.

Hotel rates are $163 per room, per night, single or double, and include accommodations, daily buffet breakfast, airport transfers, taxes and service. Some activities are free; others, such as horseback riding and island day-cruises, cost extra.

A new three-night package, priced at $727 per person, double, includes breakfast and dinner daily, airport transfers and such excursions as a guided walk through the highland lava tubes, a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station and two day-cruises to wildlife-filled islands off limits to large vessels: South Plaza and North Seymour.

To contact reporter Carla Hunt, send e-mail to [email protected].

Contacting the properties

Royal Palm Hotel (Millennium Hotels)
(800) 528-6069
E-mail:[email protected]

Finch Bay Hotel (Adventure Associates)
(800) 527-2500
Fax: (972) 783-1286

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