Naturalists keep the native animals, such as sea lions and iguanas, protected in the islands of the park-ipeligo so their habitat is not disturbed by visitors.
Ellen Barone/Ecoventura

Wet suits and equipment are provided, as is encouragement.

“The small number of passengers and therefore intimate, peaceful experience is what really sets us apart in the Galápagos,” says Ecoventura’s president, Santiago Dunn. “Not all of our guides strum a guitar on deck and sing like Ivan does, but they each have special, unique talents.” Ivan also shares soprano solos over the ship’s sound system to serve as 7 a.m. wake-up calls. “Good morning, paradisers! It’s another beautiful day in the Galápagos,” he sings before barking his throaty impression of a sea lion.

We are led twice daily — in between simple, locally sourced shipboard meals and a requisite siesta — on zodiacs into rocky coves, over reefs, and onto beaches to snorkel, hike, and observe settings so natural and unspoiled they seem primordial (which they are). When the zodiacs drop us on the beaches with the guides, we are entirely alone, like castaways in another world. The Galápagos are remote — a warm-weather Arctic.

Ellen Barone/Ecoventura
Swimming alongside endemic marine iguanas, penguins, sea rays, baby sharks, crabs, and sea turtles is like being inside a 23,000-square-mile zoo exhibit or aquarium. No bars and no zookeepers, as the circle of life in nature sometimes proves. Along the shoreline, a male sea lion guards the beach, swimming the length of the shore back and forth. “Don’t go near him or he will charge you,” Karina warns. “He’s on patrol.”

At a rate of an island per day, the variety never stops. Our explorations of Santa Cruz, Fernandina, Floreana, Isabela, and Española, plus various snorkel sites, present completely different landscapes and experiences. Comparing, for instance, the turquoise water and white coralline sand of Gardner Bay to the colorful but barren South Plaza Island is like equating Maui to Mars.

The week aboard the yacht provides excitement too. “December through May is the calmest, warmest period in the Galápagos with very little wind,” Captain Marlon Perez says, though the seas in these islands are mainly placid all year. We move at night, so I feel the rolling sea just enough to be lulled to sleep. As a lover of sunsets and the stirring effect of the ocean and its scent, I enjoy the constantly calming effect of being surrounded by water all week with no television, cell service, or Internet to disturb my equanimity. A few nights I abandon my cabin to sleep under the luminous stars on a chaise lounge on the boat’s sun deck, the same deck from which, with a cocktail, I observe sunsets and rock formations such as the 500-foot Sleeping Lion or jagged Devil’s Crown while albatrosses, frigate birds, and blue- or red-footed boobies soar overhead.