Greetings from the Galapagos

A travel writer shares tales from an action-packed getaway.

Luxury travel site Excursionist.com curates custom trip itineraries for an adventurous — and discerning — clientele. Journalist Ann Abel shares her experiences from the company's last guided getaway to the Galapagos Islands.

My ideal vacation: exerting myself (at least as much as I do at home) and getting dirty during the day, then having a hot shower, good meal and comfortable bed at night. That’s why, four hours after I first heard about it, I’d put down a deposit on Equinox’s first yoga-and-fitness retreat to the Galapagos Islands with the experiential travel company Excursionist. The only thing better than eight days of yoga, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and snorkeling in a wild and sometimes surreal place — picture giant cactuses jutting out of ragged volcanic rocks that tumble down into an azure sea — would be doing it with like-minded people.

I knew I’d made the right call on day three when our group, 11 fitness-minded folk from their early 30s to late 60s, kayaked across a bay off Isabela island, to a small rock outcropping that’s a nesting ground for the Galapagos’s famous blue-footed boobies. We floated a few yards away from them, right at eye level, taking photographs and marveling at their sky-colored feet, while cruise-ship zodiacs motored by, giving their passengers fleeting and more-distant glances.

In fact, I knew I’d made the right call even earlier, back when we checked into our first hotel, the beachy-chic Iguana Crossing on Isabela, and sank into plush sofas in the lounge, sipping mango juice and gazing through picture windows at the Pacific. Although many tourists still see the Galapagos by boat, a new breed of small hotels is making land-based travel increasingly enticing by offering stylish design, serious comforts, and a solid (but not in-your-face) green sensibility.

Our second stop, the African-style Galapagos Safari Camp in the highlands of the main tourist island of Santa Cruz, proved even more delightful, with nine simple canvas-sided rooms (with flush toilets and high-pressure showers thanks to the camp’s rainwater-capture system); one of the most stunning yoga platforms I’ve seen anywhere, overlooking a volcanic crater and the distant ocean; and fabulous food, much of it grown or raised on-site (I still dream about the house-made, antioxidant-rich dark chocolate).

But this trip wasn’t about hotels, and fabulous as my rooms were, I used them for little other than sleep. We were out by 8 most mornings and back just in time for sunset yoga. In between, we climbed a volcano (and went back down in near-biblical rain, an unexpected adventure), mountain-biked to remote lava-studded beaches, cruised to islands inhabited only by iguanas, snorkeled with sea lions and giant turtles, and kayaked to see those birds. Even though these activities technically counted as exercise, they were so fascinating — andfun — that no one thought of them as work. Memories made, not calories burned.

And the evening yoga classes, taught by Washington, D.C.–based Equinox instructor Stefanie DeLibero, were a lovely coda to the hyperkinetic days: thoughtful, gentle (some days we didn’t even stand), and a chance to just breathe and take in the crashing waves and untamed forest as the sky turned purple and orange. The perfect way to slow down at the end of days that simply flew by.

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