While a cruise in the Galapagos Islands is luxurious, there is a new way to travel here just as opulently; especially for SCUBA divers who donít like to be cooped up in a boat for eight days and would rather have experiences under the water than mal de mare when living on the water.
Red Mangrove Galapagos Lodges now offer land-based travel to this unspoiled archipelago 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. Yes, you travel to three different islands by environmentally conscious covered four-stroke motor boats, but the trips are each no more than two hours long. They take you to islands where you settle in for a night or two and have experiences that you will never see on a Galapagos cruise.
Whatís more, if youíre a serious SCUBA diver, or would like to learn to dive, Red Mangrove is the only company that offers a land-based dive experience in the Galapagos. Although the Galapagos is noted as one of the more exciting places to dive, many avid divers stay away from the islands because they do not want to spend a week stuck on a boat.
Many also want to travel with non-divers, which was our case. One of us was an experienced diver and two had no interest in diving. With Red Mangrove, we could do more and see more than on a dive-only trip. Our SCUBA fanatic was happy to stay in the pretty three Red Mangrove lodges and see the wildlife above the water with us for five days and do his diving on the sixth and seventh.
In 2010 the company became a PADI (Professional Association of Diving instructors) certified resort operation, which means that divers can now choose from a variety of multi-island dive packages of varying length designed for beginner to expert. Over 45 separate dive sites are accessible off four different islands, geared to interest and ability. Red Mangroveís dive center also services day divers from three different cruise lines: Celebrity, Haugen and Galapagos Galaxy.
Red Mangrove is able to offer classroom and open water training and certification as well as a DSD (Discover Scuba Diving) course designed as an introduction to scuba diving. In a matter of a few hours, most anyone can see what it is like to breathe underwater and become familiar with SCUBA equipment without going through the full certification process.
On the other hand, experienced divers, such as my son, can dive some of the more challenging sites in these islands, which offer very strong currents but also scalloped hammerhead sharks, Pacific sea horses and polka dotted guinea foul puffer fish. If he wanted to, my son could have chosen to stay at the Red Mangrove lodges and simply dive for as many days as he wished.
We tried both ways of seeing the Galapagos (through a cruise and land-based) and found more variety on the Red Mangrove trip. Unless you are a serious bird-watcher with a life list and a schedule of lectures to give back home, by the sixth or seventh day the panga ride to a new island to see the wildlife grows tiresome. The average tourist is ready to stay on the cruise ship and skip the very hot (85 degrees in bright sun) walk to see it.
Red Mangrove presents more variety on each of the three islands where they take visitors by way of a funky open-air bus that goes up to the volcanoes, to the caves on Floreana where the first people settled, and to a farm where visitors experience a true Galapagoan barbecue.
Traveling to our Galapagos vacation, we chose LAN airlines because it, too, is more luxurious than the American carriers that go to the islands. LAN, which stands for Lanecuador, has just begun flying to the Galapagos and we were delighted to fly from Miami to Guayaquil and then on to the Galapagos with LAN. The seats, even in coach, have more room around them than the American planes. And unlike the penny-pinching American carriers, LAN feeds its passengers, free of charge.
They are also conscious of the fragility of the Galapagos and give to each passenger on the way to the islands a pamphlet explaining the uniqueness of this archipelago, the environmental reasons for not bringing vegetables and fruits and animal products into the islands, and their commitment to keep the precious heritage of this most important ecological system in the world.