Mention The Galapagos Islands and you’ll incite the expected conversations about Charles Darwin, evolution, giant tortoises and even a geography lesson on where the islands are actually located. What you won’t expect? A luxury resort with one of the lightest carbon footprints of any hotel on earth.
The Galapagos Islands were slow to be discovered because of their isolated position 600 miles off the coast of South America. Even today, my journey took the better part of 24 hours – but somehow, it made the trip feel that much more like an exotic expedition. This was my chance to follow in Darwin’s footsteps to understand the theories that his visit inspired – and ultimately changed the way we human beings see ourselves and the world around us.
Land on The Galapagos Islands is fiercely preserved, with 97% of the land area is designated a national park. Traditionally, visitors have explored this region by yacht or small-scale cruise ship, as this was long considered the best way to maximize sightseeing and wildlife-viewing. However, the thought of spending a life-changing trip within the confines of small cruise ship seemed, well, less than ideal. Thankfully, the recent introduction of luxury lodge, Pikaia Lodge, is changing the game in The Galapagos.
Perched atop two extinct volcanoes on the main island of Santa Cruz, Pikaia Lodge is an intimate 14-room getaway offering 360-degree views of the vast, churning Pacific Ocean.
Guests arrive via private car, which snakes up a tree-lined driveway to reveal and the architecturally dramatic lodge in all its glory: a clean, modern style with oversized glass panes; large, arched oblong white walls, and endless open-air common spaces fusing the indoors with the magnificent outdoor landscape.
Evolution is the theme woven throughout with the lodge, from the aptly named Evolution restaurant to the outdoor DNA bar. An inviting Homo Sapiens Explorers Lounge offers nature documentaries about the Galapagos nightly. While light in its carbon footprint, Pikaia doesn’t skimp on comfort; guests enjoy access to an intimate spa, state-of-the-art gym and infinity pool with views any luxury hotel in the world would be hard-pressed to beat.
What sets Pikaia apart from other nearby hotels is its mix of land and sea excursions, the latter provided on its private dedicated yacht, M/V Pikaia I. I booked included a hybrid itinerary of land- and water-based adventures to spot The Galapagos’ version of the “big five” – the giant Galapagos tortoise, blue-footed boobies, frigates, sea lions and penguins.
Our first excursion sailed to North Seymour Island, where we spotted iguanas and frigates before changing into our wetsuits to snorkel around the area. Nearby, our guide led us to a beach where we spotted nesting sea turtles, marine iguanas, flamingos and hundreds of Sally Lightfoot crabs.
The next day was dedicated exclusively to the giant Galapagos tortoise, which was a highlight on the trip. We hiked around the island to watch them in their various habitats and captured what seemed like a million pictures before we ended at the nearby Charles Darwin Research Station to learn about their work in further studying Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Every day at Pikaia was filled with adventure – from exploring the lava fields of Bartolome to hiking Pinnacle Rock (the Galapagos’ version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa). The ocean excursions also gave rise to some of the most unforgettable moments of the trip – snorkeling with sea lions and the infamous Galapagos penguin who darted playfully around us, blissfully free from fear.
It was in these moments where I understood why humans must travel to better understand the world around us. In just a few days, the Galapagos Islands were able to turn a simple traveler like myself into a budding naturalist…just like Darwin.