Nature meets luxury aboard Ecoventura’s ecological cruises to the Galápagos Islands

The enthusiastic khaki-clad naturalist guide tells me I will likely see a shark while snorkeling.

Ivan Lopez just smiles into the distance and adjusts his sunglasses with one hand while holding onto the bouncing zodiac boat with the other. We are being ferried, just moments after landing at San Cristobal’s tiny airport, from the harbor to our home for the next week: Ecoventura’s three-deck Flamingo, a 10-cabin yacht on which we will cruise to the other Galápagos Islands.

As I climb from the zodiac aboard the platform on the stern, all this shark talk has me thinking of the line from the movie Jaws: “You’re going to need a bigger boat.” But I am quickly comforted by the sight of a white-uniformed bartender passing out fresh-squeezed fruit drinks and fried yucca from a tray. Having only 20 passengers on board will clearly allow for adventuring — along with personal attention.

Galapagos Network/Ecoventura
In fact, Galápagos National Park regulations dictate there must be one naturalist guide for every 16 passengers who cruise these islands, 600 miles west of the mainland along the equator. The naturalists are there to lead the tourists, but in addition to protecting the visitors, they’re in place to guard the environment. There are no hints of civilization when we reach the islands of this protected “park-ipeligo,” and more importantly, there are none when we leave, other than our footprints, which are barely noticeable on the expansive strands of bright sand and likely erased by the pervasive tides and basking sea lions. We are told to stay at least two paces away from the sea lions, iguanas, turtles, and other native animals, which are unafraid of — or at least blissfully oblivious to — human voyeurs.

“The Galápagos are a living laboratory of evolution, a wonderful paradise,” says Lopez, standing in the surf. Sea birds, targeting fish, dive-bomb the ocean surface around us with explosive splashes, causing reflexive head ducking and winces in the middle of our conversation.

Ivan and his sister Karina Lopez, also a guide, play their parts well, whether sporting hiking boots or flippers, and, in Karina’s case, hammerhead shark earrings. They call every passenger by name and provide nightly briefings, which outline the next day’s shore activities and exploration events. They either anticipate or answer every question with patience, experience, and sometimes humor. “We’ve decided not to drop you in the middle of the ocean for the sharks,” Karina deadpans.

I have little wildlife expedition experience or knowledge of the outdoors, but I don’t need it. Already in the water, Karina guides two serious landlubbers from New Jersey through their first snorkeling experience. The nervous rookies put their toes in the water in a dramatic reef setting many veteran snorkelers and divers surely dream of reaching: crystal-clear water in the middle of a reef teeming with tropical fish that resemble a fireworks explosion of color and movement, not to mention the sight of playful sea lions diving and spinning through the sea.