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Cruising the Galapagos on the Encantada

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I swear that I'm usually a sensible researcher and purchaser of big-ticket items, but when it came to buying a Galapagos cruise for Tony and me, I fell in love with a ship, of which I saw only tiny, indistinct photos, based on its color description: candy-apple red. Somehow the idea of a shiny scarlet sailboat was so appealing, I did pretty much all my comparison shopping based on which agency offered the best price for a one week cruise on this particular ship. They were all in the same range of approximately $2000 per person, including airfare to and from the Ecuadorean mainland but not the various national park fees.

The Encantada appears to be owned or at least directly operated by a company called Scuba Galapagos, but as they were not responsive to my queries through their web form, I actually booked our trip through Voyagers Travel. I was fairly pleased with them overall, though I wish they had put us in the matrimonial cabin as they promised they would do. (In fairness, I have reason to suspect that they put in the request and this was ignored on the fly by the ship crew in order to appease the complaints of other passengers.)

The Galapagos is an expensive destination, but I would recommend it as wholly worth the time, money and trouble. As Tony's posts indicate, we saw many beautiful, extraordinary, sad and funny sights in our one week, and there was never a day that I wasn't glad I had chosen to make this trip. That said, I'm not sure I would tell everyone to book the Encantada; it really depends on what's important to you in a vacation experience.

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PROS:


  • As a small boat, the Encantada could nagivate into areas that big cruise ships could not. We also could get into even tinier inlets like the Black Turtle Cove thanks to the dinghy. In addition, the close quarters kept the passengers on good terms; while people who came in groups naturally formed their own cliques, everyone was amiable and we formed some genuine new friendships on board.
  • Excellent food. I think all the passengers were consistently impressed with the quality and variety of meals the chef managed to produce. His roast chicken was particularly amazing.
  • Juan, the guide, was knowledgeable, interesting and English-fluent. Having been a guide for almost as long as I've been alive, he was very familiar with all the habits of the animals and with every rock he led us over, and was good at balancing the demands of the itinerary with his passengers' desire to photograph every single bird we saw. He also had a curious way of talking about the other tourists we occasionally encountered that flatteringly made it seem as though his passengers were not silly turistas, but instead already-wise about the Galapagos.
  • The rest of the crew -- particularly the man who acted as bartender and waiter for our meals and the man who captained the dinghy (their names I've unfortunately forgotten by now) -- were less able to speak English but were friendly and accommodating. They kept the boat and its accouterments quite clean and frequently refreshed our linens.

CONS:


  • As a small boat with an ambitious itinerary, the Encantada was not often a comfortable place to sleep. Because the schedule called for us to be at a different island every day, with the islands frequently not proximate to one another, we motored for a minimum of five hours and sometimes as many as ten hours every night. (Although the Encantada has sails, it rarely used them.) With the cabins below the water line and the ship strongly rocked by waves and the force of its own engine, the passengers were unpleasantly shifted about their bunk beds all night.

    If you are at all prone to motion sickness, this can detract significantly from your enjoyment of the trip. You're unable to spend time before bed in reading a book or even watching a movie; your sleep is difficult to obtain and frequently interrupted; and when the ship is finally at rest because it has anchored for the morning's expedition, you're only able to get up by reminding yourself that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you are damn well not going to sleep through. And even then, Tony and I did end up napping through one call to an afternoon excursion because of sheer exhaustion.

  • The Encanatada is decidedly not a luxury accommodation. Compared to a big cruise ship of the Carnival type, the cabins are tiny and the bathrooms Spartan. Tony was too tall to be able to stand straight in the shower, and neither of us could wash without embracing either the wall or the curtain. It's also not consistently maintained; several of the toilets lacked lids and ours at one point lost its seat.
  • Despite being very open to questions and conversation on the subject of the Galapagos Islands, Juan clearly did not consider the individual welfare of passengers to be his concern. A TripAdvisor commenter complains that the guide offered no aid when she injured herself, and this jibes with his behavior during our trip, when I split open my thumbnail in a fall and another passenger severely injured his foot after slipping on the ship's stairs. So be prepared to look after yourself and your companions.

CONCLUSION: As I said, I'm glad to have gone to the Galapagos, and I'm not even unhappy with my choice of the candy-apple red sailboat. It was a bit of "roughing it" that presaged some of the other more adventurous parts of our travels thus far, such as the trek to Machu Picchu and our night on Lake Titicaca. And none of the negatives were bad enough to outweigh the delight of snorkeling among sea lions or wonder of sighting a whale on the horizon.

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