Expert Review: Galapagos Eco Lodges
Galapagos Eco Lodges
1. Scalesia Lodge
Being located on Isabela Island, the Scalesia Lodge involves a little extra effort to get to, but it is well worth it. From Santa Cruz Island, there are two ways to arrive. The quickest way is by inter-island flight from Baltra airport, which takes about 30 minutes on planes for 5 or 9 passengers. If the skies are clear the views can be spectacular, offering a bird's eye view of the islands below. The other option is a 2.5 hour fast-boat ride from Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. Depending on the time of year and current conditions, this option can be quite bumpy at times, but that’s not always the case, and it’s just a matter of picking a spot to settle in for the ride.
Isabela Island’s town of Puerto Villamil is a quiet town filled with dirt roads located on a very scenic coastline. There are long beautiful stretches of beach, excellent snorkeling zones, and great hikes and other unique sites, all within a short distance from town.
The main roads connecting the town to the airport and the lodge are well paved though. The lodge staff met us at the port and took us on a short detour on the way to the lodge to pass by for a quick view of the beach, the giant Galapagos tortoise center and the flamingo pond that are just outside town. These can each be visited on some of the optional tours offered from the lodge. Then we made the 20 minute drive up into the highlands of the island, where we found Scalesia lodge nestled into a hidden clearing in the forest, in a very tranquil atmosphere.
The main lodge stands tall in a clearing, with views overlooking the forest below. The lounge and dining hall inside feel cavernous with their high ceilings held up by tall walls filled with windows to take in the view. Nice details were added, such as lava rocks covering some of the walls and columns. A large terrace extends out from the dining room toward the horizon. From the lodge, well-lit and marked paths wind their way through the forest to each of the luxury safari style tents that are scattered along it. Each is set up on short stilts, and has a private balcony to take in the scenery of the surrounding forest. Inside they look more like a hotel room, offering most of the amenities one might need, including a big comfortable bed, hot shower, and furniture to store your clothes.
The staff took excellent care of us. Upon arrival they welcomed us with fresh made juices and an explanation of the lodges amenities and the tours that would be available to us. Then we were given an umbrella and shown to our accommodation. Being in the highlands, there was a bit of drizzle or mist in the mornings and evenings, but it just added to the atmosphere of the place for us. The sun was out strong during the days though. The following day we got a nice tour of the grounds as well. We stayed two nights at the lodge, enjoying delicious meals and wines with great company.
There are a number of possible excursions to experience during a stay at Scalesia, with certain ones usually scheduled depending on the day of the week. One option we went for was the hike to the rim of the impressive Sierra Negra, one of the most active volcanoes of the archipelago. There are other hiking and biking options of varying lengths. Some days will include boat trips to famous nearby snorkeling locations, such as Tintoreras or Los Tuneles/The Tunnels. If there is time, visitors may also have the option to spend a casual day at the beach and in town, or visiting one of the other nearby sites. There are some walking trails being developed for those that would like to further explore the grounds around the lodge as well.
2. Pikaia Lodge
Pikaia Lodge begins to impress as soon as it appears in the distance, before even entering its private gates and crossing its scenic grounds up to the hilltop where it is perched. The views from the top are even more impressive, extending as far as the sea in some directions. Guests are normally picked up from the airport and brought to the lodge, but we chose to arrive on our own due to scheduling. The staff was waiting to assist us upon arrival. They were very friendly and accommodating, giving us a full tour of the lodge and answering any questions that we had.
When it comes to luxurious accommodation in a beautiful setting, Pikaia really hits the mark. Rooms are huge, with high ceilings and floor to ceiling windows in place of one entire wall of the room. The bathrooms are enormous, providing all the amenities one might need, as well as a large tub with a view and a spacious shower. All of the suites have a private balcony or terrace, and one even has its own private pool. Each also has a large flat screen tv in case you need a break from the gorgeous views outside.
Most common areas of the lodge have floor to ceiling windows on most sides, displaying the expansive views of the forests below. The spa has an indoor jacuzzi with views to the sea. The nearby pool and lounge area have the same view.
The whole lodge has very nice and unique artwork on display, all with a focus on different aspects of evolution.
The food was fantastic and well presented, as was the service. Meals seemed to be prepared with a lot of thought and care. A selection of good wines from around South America is available from the wine room located just off the dining hall.
We did not stay long enough to go on any of the organized tours, but we did borrow a couple of the mountain bikes provided by the lodge to take a ride down the dirt road and trail to the edge of the nearby crater, which has a hiking trail circling down into it. Another road leads down to the coast and Garrapatero Beach (this can be visited by bike, and the lodge can send a vehicle to pick you up after). There are also two jogging/walking trail loops that circle around the property. Some itineraries leave a bit of leisure time in case guests want to visit these spots on their own, or take advantage of the amenities of the lodge.
There are specific excursions scheduled for each day of the week, some that go to locations on Santa Cruz Island itself, and others that visit nearby islands and snorkeling locations. The boat excursions are done on one of their private luxury yachts, with lunch served on board and plenty of space to lounge on board before or after activities. Some of the areas visited on the boat excursions are quite unique to the Pikaia Lodge, as they have special permissions to go to certain locations that other tours don’t go.
3. Galapagos Safari Camp
Set high in a remote area of the forest highlands, Galapagos Safari Camp has a very peaceful vibe to it. The drive to get there passes through quiet pastures and forests. On our way there, we stopped to visit El Chato II, which is a popular stop on cruise itineraries that visit Santa Cruz Island. It is also an option to visit from the lodge. We enjoyed walking through the lava tunnels and watching the many giant tortoises wandering about in the grass and bathing in the mud above. From there we continued to the lodge.
We were greeted with a warm welcome from the staff, and a very hearty meal. The food was excellent and well served at each meal. Dining is either on the wooden terrace that wraps around the main lodge and looks out over the surrounding forest, or inside in the warm and cozy dining room.
The staff made us feel right at home. They took us on a tour of the grounds, along the paths that wind their way through the forest, passing by the pool, the sunset viewpoint, and the family suite, each of which provides great views from its perch on the hilltop. They also have a playroom near the pool area, so that the kids can play while the parents relax by the pool.
Each luxury tent has its own covered balcony with views of the forest below. Inside, the well decorated tents provide very comfortable accommodations, including a spacious bathroom with hot shower. The bed is positioned facing the glass doors which open out to the balcony, so that one can enjoy the views right from their bed. There is also one family cabin with several rooms, a larger terrace, and a kids playroom.
A wide selection of excursions are on offer from the Galapagos Safari Camp lodge, varying depending on the day of the week and the specific program that was reserved. Some are land based tours to sites around Santa Cruz Island, such as the Darwin Center or the lava tunnels etc. Others are water based and visit nearby islands and snorkeling sites.