Galapagos Island in the Steps of Charles Darwin

2009 is a celebratory year in these Enchanted Isles, where sunflowers grow to treetop heights and Antarctic fur seals live right on the equator.

Honoring discovery is what the Galapagos Islands are doing in 2009, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the publication of British naturalist Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” a book that outlined his theory of evolution that was based on observation of the islands’ truly unique flora and fauna. In fact, this year also marks Darwin’s 200th birthday, as well as the 50th anniversary of Ecuador declaring the Galapagos Islands a National Park and the 30th anniversary of UNESCO designating the Galapagos a World Heritage site.

Ecoventura, owners of M/Y Eric, Flamingo I and Letty, will recognize these significant events aboard the company’s three identical 20-passenger yachts. Its staff of naturalist guides has prepared special lectures on Charles Darwin and to enrich the yacht libraries, special edition books and DVDs have been added. The yachts will feature educational posters and slickers on maps and certificates to celebrate these landmark dates related to the Galapagos Islands.

And Ecoventura has a landmark all its own: the yacht Eric has become the first hybrid energy tour boat in the islands, following a $100,000 installation of 40 solar panels and two wind turbines on the upper deck. Initially, this new hybrid technology will support approximately 17 percent of the energy formerly produced by two carbon fuel-based generators; the target is to have full fleet implementation by 2011.

Klein Tours has revamped its lecture program on board the 100-passenger Galapagos Eclipse, when during each cruise, passengers will have a special focus on evolution: who was Charles Darwin, details of his voyage on the Beagle, and finally the theory of evolution and how the islands played a major role in its development. This theme—and others such as flora and fauna and islands conservation—is supported by books, photography and knowledgeable lecturers.

Currently, the company is promoting a 7-day cruise on board the Galapagos Legend, Coral I or Coral II, for $2,090 that includes local roundtrip air ticket to Galapagos plus Quito and/or Guayaquil for three nights with a city tour and transfers.

Passengers aboard the Santa Cruz, Isabela II and La Pinta, vessels owned and operated by Metropolitan Touring, will find that daily briefings on board will track the places Darwin visited during his 5-week passage through the Galapagos in 1835, including quotes and illustrations from “The Voyage of the Beagle.” Additionally, expedition leaders will give special lectures on Charles Darwin, the man, and his relevance for the islands, and for the big dates—July 4th for the founding of Galapagos National Park and Nov. 24 commemorating the publication of Darwin’s theory of evolution—guest speakers will join specific cruises.

On Oct. 24, the luxury ship Eclipse, owned and operated by Ocean Adventures, joins forces with the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and Galapagos Conservation Trust (GCT) to mark the celebration of Darwin with an official Anniversary Fundraising Cruise. Aboard for the voyage will be Randal Kaynes, Darwin’s great-great grandson, who has spent his life studying Darwin and boasts a treasure chest of information and anecdotes about his famous relative. Other special happenings will be an invitation-only cocktail hosted by the British Ambassador to Ecuador at the ambassador’s residence in Quito, and a private reception and dinner at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island on Oct. 29. This special cruise is priced from $5,957 pp dbl, including all arrangements in Quito and the 7-night cruise. Additional is a $1,000 pp contribution to the Foundation and Trust, earmarked for the Research Station and the Mockingbird Project on Floreana Island.

lodge-to-lodge With all the talk on evolution this year, one can point to a “new species” in ways to visit the Galapagos Islands: let’s call it “Island Hopping” or “Galapagos by Land.” What has evolved in the last couple of years are small lodges on Isabela and Floreana islands, offering a chance to stay really off the beaten path and enjoy the flora, fauna and marine life at a leisurely pace. Isabela is the largest and one of the most volcanically active islands in the Galapagos, providing habitat for five subspecies of tortoises; stingrays, small sharks and turtles are found in its mangrove lagoons. Few visitors to the Galapagos have the chance to stay on the small island of Floreana, once a refuge of pirates, whalers and convicts, as well as a small band of colonists who eked out a Robinson Crusoe-like existence. Today, the island is populated by about 150 people and large flocks of flamingos, surrounded by waters just perfect for snorkeling (Devil’s Crown is the spot). Travelers can now get to Isabela by scheduled air from Santa Cruz or San Cristobal islands, while boat service between the islands is by special arrangements. And U.S. tour operators have jumped on board, to offer a new breed of land-based adventures.