IE Galapagos Islands cruise guest and journalist Julie Hatfield has spent the last week exploring the Galapagos and mainland Ecuador with our knowledgeable guides, and was good enough to share her impressions of "Darwin's Enchanted Isles."

"Perhaps because we are here at the beginning of the rainy season, the islands look greener than we expected from what we had read about the barren volcanic rock landscape. It’s quite lush here, with lots of trees and flowers and bushes. All the better for the birds. The birders are excited to see so many frigate birds along with the boobies. International Expeditions is wonderful in that from the moment we leave the hotel in Guayaquil we don’t have to deal with our luggage until we see it in our cabins on the boat. Thus, we can concentrate on the birds, the sea lions, the marine iguanas and the turquoise sea around us.

"They have provided us with our own native-born naturalist on board, the incredibly knowledgeable Bolivar Sanchez and his assistant Alec. Each evening before we prepare for our next island and next day’s adventure they present a slide show lecture on what to expect.

"Just as Charles Darwin was, we are struck by how different each of these islands are one from another, and how unique are the birds especially and the plants and, in some cases, the marine life is on each island. As Darwin noted, each island is far enough away from the others, and the currents so strong, that the living things stay put on their respective islands, each suited to certain kinds of birds and fish, mammals and crawling things. The birders were pleased to see the ground finch, which is endemic to Espanola Island, for example, and the waved albatross found only here. The latter albatross is so named because of the wavy configuration across his wings.

"This Galapagos Islands cruise is unlike most typical cruises in that whenever we leave the ship for an expedition we are stepping into national parkland rather than touristy towns with bars and discos and T-shirt shops. Ninety-seven percent of the Galapagos is protected land, and the people who tend to come to the Galapagos cruises tend to love nature more than margaritas; these islands have been on their travel lists, in some cases, for most of their lives."

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