Come to Easter Island for wild horses—yes thousands of them—white-sand beaches, a great outdoor museum of enigmatic stone statues, and even a high-end hotel or two. Head for the Galapagos Islands to track tortoises in the highlands, swim with the sea lions, dive deep for rays and sharks, cruise among many islands, and stay put on one or two. Actually, Easter Island and the Galapagos do have something else in common: they’re each unique.
easter island: just call me rapa nui
Easter Island may have jumped first into travelers’ imaginations on reading “Aku-Aku,” charting Thor Heyerdahl’s quest (scientifically unfulfilled) to prove that seafarers from South America could have settled Polynesia. More recently, inspiration to add Easter Island to one’s bucket list of must-see places may have come from the exposure of its beauty (and the visiting beauties) in Sports Illustrated’s 50th annual Swimsuit Edition.
Archaeologists and anthropologists are still unraveling the mysteries of the Polynesian people who arrived in giant canoes to settle around the eighth century on Rapa Nui—aka Easter Island; however, there is no mystery about why this dot in the Pacific is a magnet for 21st century globetrotters. Located halfway between Chile and Tahiti, this remote, beautiful place is home to some of the world’s most colossal, stone-carved statues, known as moai. There are around 900 of these big-headed figures, scattered around the island’s 63 sq. miles, some lying toppled and littering the rolling grasslands, others clustered along the shore on ceremonial platforms, their elongated bodies and heads facing inland.
When on the island, you hike up to the extraordinary site of Rano Raraku quarry, which occupies a volcanic crater and is the mother lode of Easter Island’s iconic moai, carved centuries ago. More than 350 unfinished statues remain, some upright, others face down, and others in various stages of completion still hewn into to the rock. The largest is 70 ft. tall and weighs 270 tons. Among other groups of moai, one shouldn’t miss the row of 15 statues at Ahu Tongariki. And for a look at a different side of the island’s past, take another hike, up Rano Kau volcano, whose crater measures a mile in diameter. Clinging to the lip of the crater high above the sea is the Orongo ceremonial village and ritual site, whose basalt rocks and cliff faces are covered with hundreds of Birdman Cult petroglyphs.
It is also no mystery why this archaeological wonderland of ancient stone villages, open-air sanctuaries and great stone megaliths adds up to an official UNESCO World Heritage site. But Easter Island has other visitor pleasures: sightseeing on horseback; gorgeous mountain hiking; first-class scuba diving and snorkeling; kayaking and surfing; sunbathing on white-sand beaches—Anakena, guarded by the seven towering moai, the best; and now, even ziplining. Pack a picnic when making the easy 5-hour hike along the length of the island to Rano Raraku from Hanga Roa, the island’s only town, and a laid-back one it is. Most hotels, with the exception of Posada de Mike Rapu, are in or within easy walking distance of town, where visitors find a good Anthropological Museum, several fine restaurants serving freshly caught fish, and excellent folkloric troupes who showcase island music, costume and dance in performances most evenings.
the galapagos islands: a “bucket list” destination
The Galapagos Islands, one of the world’s great expedition cruise destinations, continues to evolve in different ways. Over the centuries, the Galapagos cormorants, found only on Fernandina and Isabela islands, have come to swim but no longer fly, while for some reason, Antarctic penguins and fur seals make themselves at home right here on the equator. Then just last year, Lonesome George, the beloved giant tortoise and a long-time resident at the Darwin Research Station, died. He was believed to be the last of his La Pinta Island species; however, scientists have been comparing his DNA with samples from hundreds of tortoises, and maybe George does indeed have some long-lost relatives.
Also in 2012, everyone selling cruises to the “enchanted islands” discovered that cruise itineraries could also evolve, with routings revamped to conform to new Galapagos National Park regulations. The new visiting system allows for a maximum of three itineraries within a 14-night period, during which time no visitor site can be repeated, with the sole exception of the Charles Darwin Research Station. Also new are sites open only to vessels of no more than 40 passengers. The intent of the new laws is to ease the pressure on local wildlife at the 14 most popular sites, redistribute visitor numbers across more sites, and in the long run, ensure the ongoing evolution of the islands’ unique species.
A new species of tourism has also come ashore in the Galapagos archipelago: land-based vacations for clients who don’t fancy a cruise. Nowadays, the Galapagos Islands can also be seen from a completely new perspective by those who choose instead to stay on dry land, at least on the four inhabited islands: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela and Floreana.
For many years there have been good lodging choices on Santa Cruz, first of the islands served by direct flights (to the airport on adjoining Baltra Island) from the mainland. And indeed the island offers lots to see and do: swim off the beach at beautiful Tortuga Bay; see the tortoise-breeding enclosures at the Charles Darwin Research Station or in the wild at Cerro Dragon in the highlands; go birding, kayaking, horseback riding or mountain biking; take day cruises to nearby islands; and dine around in the town on fresh seafood and pizza.
Luxury came early to land-based travel on Santa Cruz, with the opening in the highlands of the exclusive Royal Palm Hotel, a 17-room retreat, now a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. The Royal Palm is most often combined with a traditional Galapagos Islands cruise. Now sharing the highlands is the eco-luxury Galapagos Safari Camp, located at the edge of the national park. It is modeled after African safari camps where guests enjoy the wildlife from a hammock on the deck of their palatial tents, swim in the infinity pool mid-wilderness, take day excursions on the island with private guides or cruise offshore in the Safari Camp’s yacht. The camp offers a variety of 4- to 6-night packages in its Safari Collection, which includes vacation choices such as a family safari, based on the owners’ experience raising their children in the Galapagos. Tented accommodations including breakfast and dinner are $500 per night dbl, $385 sgl.
Scheduled for an October opening in the highlands is the Pikaia Lodge, hidden on a secluded giant tortoise reserve that was formerly a cattle ranch. The 14 rooms and suites will have floor-to-ceiling windows with Pacific Ocean views, generous marble bathrooms, TV/DVD/CD/iPod player, and mini-bar and terrace. Extra perks in the Pool Suite are a plunge pool and private garden. Additionally, plans call for the Evolution Restaurant, bar and lounge, wellness center with spa and gym, and an infinity pool. Activities at the resort, which is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, range from mountain biking and hiking to day cruising on the lodge’s own touring yacht, the M/Y Pikaia I. The lodge will be offering all-inclusive packages for three, four and seven nights, covering transfers, accommodations, all meals, and daily land and marine excursions. Three-night packages start at $3,230 pp sharing.
Most Santa Cruz hotels are found in and around the main port of Puerto Ayora, where Finch Bay Eco Hotel is the only beachside property. To its 21 garden rooms, the award-winning property (World Travel Award’s “Leading Green Hotel” in South America) has added six new oceanview rooms; other guest facilities include a pool, indoor and outdoor dining areas, and two yachts for island day cruises.
Priced from $250 dbl with breakfast; many all-inclusive packages are available.
Also on Santa Cruz, tucked into a mangrove forest and directly facing Puerto Ayora Bay, is the Red Mangrove Aventura Lodge, a charming red-adobe inn with 14 guestrooms—standard, superior, suite—with air conditioning, TV and private bath. Common areas have hammocks, jacuzzi and complimentary WiFi in the restaurant. Red Mangrove was a pioneer in offering island-hopping itineraries linking its properties on two other islands: the 8-room, oceanfront Isabela Lodge on Isabela Island and on Floreana Island, the 10-cabin Floreana Lodge, a 5-minute walk from town—tiny Puerto Valesco Ibarra—and three minutes from the loberia, a sea lion habitat. Rates for the Aventura Lodge start at $225 dbl.
Isabela, the largest Galapagos Island, offers land-based visitors not only profuse bird and wildlife on shore, and whales and dolphins circling offshore, but trekking in the highlands, snorkeling with sea lions, and kayaking among flamingos. Major attractions on this island are the Sierra Negra Volcano (with the second largest crater in the world), and the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center. The only settlement, Puerto Villamil, has 2,220 inhabitants.
Among some dozen lodgings on Isabela is La Casa de Marita, a lovely, Italian villa-style property with a family ambiance, located on a white-sand beach. There are 15 Art Deco-style, air-conditioned suites and standard rooms, spacious gardens with hammocks, good food and great views. Rooms start at $68 with breakfast.
A more recent and more upscale addition is the stylish Iguana Crossing Boutique Hotel, which, in addition to sitting on a 3-mile beach, has 14 oceanfront guestrooms and suites, a pool, jacuzzi and its Tres Hermanos restaurant that serves the best and most creative food on the island. The boutique property has joined Guy Harvey Outpost Resorts as a member of its Expedition Properties portfolio. And the company has big plans for a project on San Cristobal, the second island receiving flights from Quito and Guayaquil. According to Outpost president Mark Ellert, the company plans a 2016 opening of “a cutting-edge ecolodge,” which will have 30 casitas and four residences. Part two of the project calls for the establishment of a Discovery Center to showcase environmental and marine research underway in the Galapagos. Priced from $300 dbl with breakfast.
Nonstop flights aboard Aerogal, LAN and TAME from the mainland boosted San Cristobal into the second most important island for tourism in the Galapagos, and many small hotels have expanded the infrastructure in the main town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. But of course the island’s attractions were just waiting to be discovered: Cerro Brujo, possibly one of the Islands’ nicest beaches with its colonies of sea lions and blue-footed boobies; Kicker Rock, an hour by boat from the main town; Isla Lobos, home to the large colonies of sea lions and blue-footed boobies; Galapaguera, a giant tortoise reserve; and excellent snorkeling and scuba diving, as well as the best surfing in Galapagos.
Of course, the new land-based tourism wouldn’t be possible without the two intra-island air carriers: Aero serves the islands—Santa Cruz (Baltra Island airport), Isabela and San Cristobal with a 30-passenger Saab once daily; and Emetebe Airlines connects Baltra, San Cristobal and Isabela with more frequent daily flights on 5- and 9-passenger aircraft. Islands are also connected via scheduled services of high-speed water taxis running between Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabela; special arrangements must be made for boat service to Floreana.
Two for the Road
Located five hours by air from Santiago, Easter Island has moved up into the top three attractions on Chilean vacations, right behind southern Patagonia and Atacama, according to Michelle Shelburne, president of Ladatco Tours. “Part of this popularity is due to better access, with LAN now offering daily flights, a frequency that gives flexibility in planning that 4-night optimum stay. Additionally, we now have more and better places for clients to stay.”
Shelburne books active clients into explora’s Posada de Mike Rapu, which has 30 spacious rooms with lavish bathrooms, and its all-inclusive rates cover two excursions a day—on foot or horseback. Her choice for traditional sightseers is the 75-room Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa, built of volcanic rock. Its spacious (500 sq. ft.) rooms and suites (800 sq. ft.) are all on a single floor, looking out on the ocean from private terraces. The 11-cabana Altiplanico is a good all-around three-star option, and for the more budget-conscious client, the Taha Tai in town makes a great island base.
Ladatco Tours’ 21-day Si! Mystery itinerary combines the most famously mysterious destinations in South America into one grand tour. Flying in to Lima, and home from Santiago, travelers in between will explore Peru’s Sacred Valley of the Incas from the Sol y Luna Lodge; spend two days discovering Machu Picchu; spend four nights on the shores of Lake Titicaca (two on the Peruvian site and two in Bolivia), “fly” by hydrofoil to the Fountain of Youth on Sun Island, touring the pre-Inca ruins of Tiahuanaco; shop for good luck items in La Paz’s Witches Market; and spend four nights at explora’s Posada de Mike Rapu on Easter Island. Other top-of-the-line hotels, destinations in themselves, are featured when staying in Lima, Cusco, Puno and Santiago. Most meals, private overland transport and guides are included in the $11,999 pp dbl cost. (800) 327-6162; ladatco.com.
Myths & Mountains has introduced a new tour, Rapa Nui: Moais, Warriors and Beaches of Easter Island, which spends the first night in Santiago at the Holiday Inn Airport Hotel and five nights discovering island mysteries during three full days of sightseeing with expert English-speaking guides. A picnic lunch on Anakena Beach is included on one of the full-day outings, as well as all breakfasts when staying at the Hotel Otai, right in town. The land cost is $2,295 pp dbl. (800) 670-6984; mythsandmountains.com.
Inside Scoop on the Falkland Islands from Goway’s Bruce Hodge
Goway’s founder and president Bruce Hodge recently visited the Falkland Islands and he came back excited about the destination. Initially he thought it was a long way to go for a short period of time, but at the same time, “I was thinking, ‘What do you do in the Falklands for a whole week?’ Let me tell you, a week was just fine.
“There were basically three things that blew me away that I find very interesting from a touristic point of view. Of course, the main thing is the animals. We saw lots and lots of penguins. I’ve seen penguins in Australia and all that and they are all nice and cute, but this time I actually fell in love with them. They have five varieties down there. My favorite was the rockhopper…how can you not like something like that. They are so inquisitive; they come and check you out.
“The other thing was the war history. The war history comes alive since most of the guides down there were around during the war. We were shown where the Argentines landed; we came across some wrecks; we visited graveyards…that whole history came alive.
“But the thing that probably blew me away the most were the people. There are only 3,000 people, and they run a country. They are all friendly; you get to meet them in the bars and restaurants; you walk down the street and they wave to you. At the end of the week, I felt like I knew everyone. The Falkland Islands are a unique place in this world that operates as a country. I thought that was very interesting.”
That’s just a scoop. If you want the whole dish, so to speak, then become a Falkland Islands Specialist with Recommend’s Falkland Islands Education Program, FIXpert (Falkland Islands Xpert), created in conjunction with the Falkland Islands Tourist Board.
• Listing of you and your company as a Falkland Islands Specialist on Recommend.travel’s Falkland Islands
Specialist Finder (includes telephone, address and direct emailing functionality)
• Five continuing education credits from The Travel Institute and 16 credits from the Canadian Institute of Travel Counsellors
• Personalized full color, printable certificate
New Boats Afloat
• The newest 16-passenger yacht to cruise in Galapagos is the Grand Odyssey, enjoying cabins (averaging 226 sq. ft. and including one Grand Odyssey suite) with panoramic windows that open; light, airy, beautifully furnished lounges, dining rooms, a library, two jacuzzis, and a mini spa; and land excursions supplemented by snorkeling and kayaking. Sample prices: 4-night cruise from $3,832 to $7,664 pp dbl (high season). galapagosodyssey.com
• The newest and first mega-catamaran is Haugan Cruises’ luxury 16-passenger Ocean Spray. The elegant design includes handsome social areas, huge sundeck, jacuzzi and spacious cabins, each with private balcony. Sailing on 4-, 5- and 7-night cruises, priced from $3,740. (877) 268-9402; haugancruises.com
• Soon to capture the “newest” title will be Royal Galapagos’ 16-passenger Majestic yacht, designed and built to cruise the islands and making its debut in May. The 12-crew vessel will be fitted with nine double cabins (four on main deck), modern social areas with panoramic windows, and a big, comfy sundeck with large jacuzzi. Cruise costs pp sharing are: 3-night cruise, $2,150; 4-night cruise, $2,650; and 7-night cruise, $3,950. (877) 209-7243; majesticgalapagos.com
• A big change in the cruise scene finds Silversea Cruises the purchaser of Canodros S.A. tourism company, owners of the luxury 100-passenger Galapagos Explorer II. The vessel will continue its cruise schedule until September, when part of the refurbishment will include a new name, Silver Galapagos. The year-round schedule of 7-day expedition voyages will begin operating on Sept. 28, starting with a North Central itinerary, which alternates with a Western itinerary. Cruises will sail Saturday to Saturday from Baltra Island, and fares start at $5,450 pp dbl. (877) 276-6816; silversea.com/expeditions
“Land-ing” with Adventure Life
Adventure Life, well-known for its variety of island-hopping itineraries, squeezes all the adrenaline-packed activity possible into a 9-day Galapagos Multisport itinerary: kayaking, nature viewing with an experienced guide, snorkeling, hiking, and mountain biking. Adventurers spend the first night in Quito; fly to San Cristobal for a 3-night stay of hiking in the highlands, as well as kayaking and snorkeling in Darwin Bay and at Isla Lobos; two nights on Isabela with a mountain bike ride and volcano hike; and two nights on Santa Cruz with hiking in the highlands, sea kayaking in Divine Bay and a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station before returning to Quito for a final night stay.
Monika Sundem, a travel consultant at Adventure Life, is one of many travelers who prefers the freedom and flexibility of the Galapagos experience on land. “Our land-based tours in Galapagos sell fantastically well because today’s travelers are seeking out real and authentic adventures,” Sundem points out, “and there’s a big audience of those who like getting to know the local people, going for a sundown drink at the town bar, having plenty of time for hiking to the rims of volcanoes on Isabela and stupendous snorkeling off San Cristobal shores.” According to Sundem, the Galapagos Multisport is a particularly popular choice for active families and adventurous honeymooners. Additionally, she says, “This tour really adapts to most levels of physical fitness and many levels of adventure, for basically clients need only to be able to hike for an hour and a half and be able to kayak for an hour.”
The Galapagos Multisport cost of $3,325 pp dbl includes 8-night accommodations, almost all meals, private guide, gear rentals, boat travel Isabela-Santa Cruz and air San Cristobal-Isabela. Start dates from Quito are offered monthly, with two in July and December; Galapagos Multisport can also be customized to adventurers’ interests. (800) 344-6118;
La Casa de Marita: galapagosisabela.com
Finch Bay Eco Hotel: (888) 572-0166; finchbayhotel.com
Galapagos Safari Camp: galapagossafaricamp.com
Iguana Crossing Boutique Hotel: (800) 513-5257; iguanacrossing.com.ec or guyharveyoutpost.com
Pikaia Lodge: (800) 606-0273; slh.com
Posada de Mike Rapu: (866) 750-6699; explora.com
Red Mangrove Galapagos Lodges: (888) 254-3190; redmangrove.com
Royal Palm Hotel: royalpalmgalapagos.com or lhw.com