Finding Adventure in the Galapagos Islands

Off-the-Beaten Path Galapagos trips are rare; the restrictions in place pretty much rule them out. Any incursion into the Galapagos National Park is done with a certified guide, boats are limited to stopping at each visitor site once in a fourteen day period and the notion of setting off to parts unknown independently is distinctly and absolutely frowned upon.

While being saddled with a guide and limitations that prohibit independent travel is disconcerting to many, the advent of a new twist on an old tradition offers relief to those is search of a trail blazing adventure.

The Galapagos Safari Camp is the real deal, taking its cue from African counterparts and giving people a genuine way to explore the islands. One that embraces conservation efforts, experiences the local culture and soaks up the exotic ambiance and creatures that make the islands a bucket list destination.

I spent eight summers of my life working for a family-owned lodge on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. My employers were passionate about their industry and the experience taught me to look for like-minded people wherever I landed.

The last eight I spent in Ecuador and Peru, trying to find my way to the spots worth the trip for their destinations and the people who lived there. This adventure led me to update a guidebook, manage a non-profit travel club and through a maze of places that didn’t make the cut. Needless to say, my latest discovery is worth its salt and deserving of the time it takes to finish this article.

Conventional wisdom about the Galapagos dictates that trips are taken on boats, more islands are accessible in a limited amount of time. This way of thinking isn’t easily changed, but making a decision to take a land-based trip just makes sense. Time is spent getting to know the islands from a hands on perspective, seeing the uninhabited destinations by day and spending the nights in the natural surroundings. Adding a different element to the trip and bringing the environment to life.

Michael and Stephanie Mesdag realized this while on vacation. A trip into the highlands of Santa Cruz led them to a farm for sale next to the National Park border. The subsequent purchase made way for two years of camping on the property while getting to know the islands culturally and planning an environmentally friendly way to open up the Galapagos to a safari experience.

Today, the Galapagos Safari Camp doesn’t just tick the boxes as a mirror of similar camps in Africa. It brings the exotic back into the picture with luxury tents surrounding a main lodge; every detail is thought out, from the handmade furniture to the farm to table cuisine served each night around communal tables.

Beyond the décor, the camp is an adventure center that inspires new visions of travel, reaching across oceans. The model works well in the Galapagos, the Big Five found in Africa are replaced by a checklist of endemic animals. Day trips explore neighbouring islands where snorkelling, hiking, kayaking and surfing put guests a stone’s throw away from penguins, sharks, frigates, Giant tortoises and sea lions.

These are the places that Darwin visited, where pirates stopped for food and water and that captivate thousands each year. They also are the islands that need protecting, a fragile ecosystem hangs in the balance with each ship and plane that anchors or lands.

While hardly paling in comparison in other aspects of travel in the Galapagos, in regards to conservation, the camp shines. By nature, the platform tents blend in with the surroundings, bringing the outside into enclaves kitted out with furnishings befitting of a safari of the past. The main lodge’s floor to ceiling windows, the lookout, the infinity pool and the open air porch could have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, seamlessly using the environment as an added design feature.

Elsewhere on the property is the camp’s farm, a system for collecting and reusing rain water and a new solar project in lieu of traditional power supplies.

In an area rife with new construction and an onslaught of travellers seeking creature comforts beyond the relevance of the surroundings, the resilience of the Galapagos Safari Camp is refreshing.

A re-purposed farm, the passion of the owners and the natural beauty of the Galapagos have given way to a new way to experience the islands. One that acts in harmony with its surroundings and opens up the exotic element told about in adventure journals from times passed for new adventures.

For more information about the Galapagos Safari Camp, including useful updates about the work being done in the Galapagos to protect the islands, follow the Galapagos Safari camp page. To join in on the discussion about responsible travel in the Galapagos, join Responsible Travel Galapagos; a new group that is just finding its legs in the hopes of promoting innovative ways to visit the Galapagos that help sustain the islands.