Tourism might be down a bit, but this year the Galapagos, the equatorial chain of volcanic islands off the coast of Ecuador, is too relevant to be ignored. This year marks both the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of his landmark scientific tome, "On the Origin of Species."
To celebrate, a number of operators are offering Darwin-focused cruises around the Galapagos, where the biologist made his discoveries.
Abercrombie & Kent will host an 11-day philanthropic trip to the islands beginning Oct. 22 that will also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park. Author and naturalist Randal Keynes, Darwin's great-great-grandson, will lead the seven-day cruise (pre- and post-cruise days will be in Quito) on the 27-room Eclipse.
Guests will get a behind-the-scenes look at the Charles Darwin Research Station and the plans for the soon-to-open Darwin Galapagos Education Center. A formal reception on the final night will be held in the British ambassador's residence in Quito. The tour costs $6,850 plus a mandatory donation of at least $1,000, to benefit the foundation and the Galapagos Conservation Trust.
"The trip is designed specifically for people who are interested in the strategies that have made the Galapagos a conservation success story," said Pamela Lassers, A&K's director of media relations. "Plus, there's a lot of exclusive insider access only on this specific departure." Visit www.abercrombiekent.com.
International Nature & Cultural Adventures will lead an 11-day Origins of Species tour that includes a nine-day cruise. The tour starts Sept. 10 to coincide with the day Darwin arrived in the Galapagos, Sept. 15. Throughout the trip, there will be lectures about Darwin and evolution. The trip, being offered at a discounted rate of $4,995, will take place on the Integrity, a two-year-old luxury yacht with nine rooms.
"Darwin didn't visit many islands, but we'll go to the one or two where he did go," said Bill Roberson, INCA owner and founder. See www.inca1.com.
On the less expensive end, San Diego-based Wildlife Vacations is offering a year-round, seven-day tour called In the Footsteps of Charles Darwin, priced from $2,695 per person, without air. In addition to de rigueur Galapagos nature hikes, the itinerary includes two days in a local inn on Santa Cruz, where guests can visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, spot tortoises and stroll the streets of Academy Bay.
"Typically, when you're on a boat, the visit to the Darwin Station is a little rushed," said Jonathan Pinto, president and CEO. "Our tour allows people to really take in what Darwin was there for." Visit www.galapagos-inc.com.