Expert Review: Letty Galapagos Cruise
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This March, my girlfriend and I were fortunate enough to embark upon a cruise of a lifetime to the Galapagos Islands aboard the Letty. Our itinerary was the 8-Day, 7-Night Southern/Central Route (Itinerary A), which is an excellent, comprehensive tour of some of the most famous islands of the archipelago in the comfort of a small superior first-class yacht.
Letty 8-day Itinerary
Day 1: San Cristobal
After being helped with our check-in and provided with the Cruise Voucher, Transit Control Card and National Park Entrance Ticket by the friendly Letty representative at Guayaquil Airport, we excitedly took our short flight to the tiny airport in San Cristobal, the political capital of Galapagos. After a bit of queuing we smoothly handed in the relevant documents and had our bags checked before being greeted by our guides, waving a Letty sign, outside the terminal. After a 5 minute bus ride we reached the port of Baquerizo Moreno where a welcome party of several sealions were awaiting us. We hopped on the first of many panga rides to the nearby anchored Letty, where we were served a welcome drink, introduced to our guides and assigned our cabins. The luggage we had checked in at Guayaquil airport was already waiting for us in our cabins!
A delicious buffet lunch was served immediately, after which we had a briefing in the lounge about the afternoon activities, which involved a trip back to the island for short bus ride to Punta Carola - where we walked a trail to a small beach and caught our first real glimpse of the famous wildlife. We saw sealions, marine iguanas, lava lizards, mockingbirds and even some baby sea turtles! Free time.
After a small amount of free time at the port, we headed back to the Letty in time for an evening cocktail reception where we got to meet the rest of the crew, got to know our fellow passengers a bit better, and enjoyed the first of many sumptuous dinners.
Day 2: San Cristobal continued
After a hearty buffet breakfast, we headed to Cerro Brujo, reputedly the second most beautiful beach in Galapagos. The whiteness of the sandy beach and the turquoise blue of the sea were indeed spectacular. After lunch we took a hike to Punta Pitt where we learned what it was like to be a bachelor sea lion at the colony there. This remarkable place was where we spotted our first Booby! Interestingly this is the only place in the Galapagos where one can see all three Boobies species nesting together so we felt very privileged our itinerary took us there. Later we cruised around the Leon Dormido (Sleeping Lion), more frequently referred to as Kicker Rock. For those keen on scuba diving this spot is great for seeing sharks/whales/turtles around September and October, but we only saw some of the many seabirds that live there.
Day 3: Española
After cruising overnight to Española, our first excursion was a hike at Punta Suarez where we saw an amazing variety and quantity of wildlife. Many iguanas and sealions greet you, you’ll spot nesting colonies of both Blue-footed and Nazca Boobies, bachelor sealions will gather and often block your path. After a short walk we were treated to incredible coastal views and witnessed a spectacular blowhole formation. Further along the trail we witnessed a couple of Galapagos Hawks.
Later that day we had some relaxation time at Gardner Bay, the best beach in Galapagos with some 2km of pure white sand. This is the site chosen for many postcard shots, of stunning shimmering waters, and lazy sealion and their pups covered in sand. A true paradise!
Day 4: Floreana
Floreana has the most interesting human history of all the islands, being site of several mysterious disappearances in the 1930s including that of an Austrian baroness, made famous in the Galapagos Affair movie. Unfortunately there are no land tortoises here as this was a favourite place for pirates because of the freshwater in the highlands and an abundance of good wood for repairing boats. However you can still see their evolutionary effect with the adaptations in the vegetation having thorns on their lower branches.
At Cormorant Point ironically there are no cormorants but there is a brackish water lagoon where we did see flamingoes. After a short walk we arrived at Flour Beach, a popular nesting site for sea turtles and a nursery for baby sting rays, so be careful not to move in the water! We were fortunate enough to witness a female sea turtle coming on land to lay her eggs.
Afterwards we headed to the Devil’s Crown, a great deep sea snorkelling spot. The currents were a little strong, so a bit tiring, but we saw many sharks and fish of all varieties. After lunch we headed to the famous Post-Office Bay where there is a nice little beach with some easier snorkelling, and of course, a post office where they have a great tradition of hand delivering postcards around world.
Just around the corner we took a panga ride to Baroness Point, a sheltered mangrove area with shallow waters perfect for the shark, sea turtle and ray nurseries we saw there. I lost count of the number of sea turtles we saw and boy can they swim fast!
Day 5: Santa Cruz
Today we took a bus to the north-west highlands from Puerto Ayora. After around 45 mins we arrived at 5 neighbouring private ranches whose owners have struck a deal with the National Park to keep domestic animals off the land and allow tourists in. This means the Giant Tortoises prevalent there can roam freely. It was mating season and there were some frisky males chasing the females. The tortoises are iconic of the islands and this was a real highlight. Top tip - make sure you take long pants/socks/boots for the highlands as it can be wet and the grass quite long. We also got to venture into a lava tunnel there, and learnt a little more of the geology and smuggling of the region.
That afternoon we headed to the Charles Darwin Research Centre which was a 5 minute bus ride from Puerto Ayora. We got the chance to learn about the crucial and interesting work done there, including the story of Lonesome George, and met lothario Diego The Professor who has single-handedly increased the Saddleback Tortoise population on Española from 14 to 2200. It helps when you live with 12 females!
In the evening we got to spend a little time in the surprisingly lively Puerto Ayora, which has some nice restaurants and some great souvenir shops.
Day 6: Bartolome / Santiago - Chinese Hat
At Bartolome there isn’t much to see wildlife-wise, but it was interesting to learn about the Tequila plant and the geological formations of this volcano as you climb over 300 steps to its 114m summit. The spectacular picture-perfect postcard views of the back-to-back crescent beaches and back-drop of the archipelago from the top were well worth the exertion.
After lunch, the right-hand crescent beach we saw from the top and its neighbouring Pinnacle Rock were our next destination, where we swam and snorkelled. We even saw penguins!
We also took a short hike on the amazing lava fields of the Sombrero Chino (Chinese Hat) - opposite Bartolome on Santiago itself, where there were lots of sealion nurseries. There really is no way to describe how cute the sea-lion pups are!
Day 7: South Plaza Island / North Seymour
There used to be natural land bridge between the small South Plaza Island and Santa Cruz which collapsed, hence there is some wildlife on South Plaza but you don’t see any on North Plaza Island opposite. South Plaza is famous for its cactus-eating Land Iguanas who were very entertaining and protective of their own cacti. There are even some rare Land/Marine Iguana hybrids! Don’t be alarmed if you see lots of dead bird wings (of the Galapagos Shearwater) on the island because at night short-eared owls fly from Santa Cruz and lie in wait in bushes for the unsuspecting birds as they come in. They eat everything but the wings, which the iguanas eat to supplement their diets. Galapagos sharks often come here to hunt baby sea-lions (the nearby Gordon Rocks is very popular dive site to see sharks).
North Seymour was amazing - so much wildlife in such a small spot, and what wildlife! Here you are guaranteed to see male Frigate birds all year round as it is home to the largest colony of Magnificent Frigate birds found in the Galapagos. It is also a Blue-footed Boobie nesting site too, and it is common to see large Land Iguanas (up to 1m in length) but they are quite shy as scientists used to study them a lot here. The snorkelling was really good too, we saw sea-lions, sharks, rays, green turtles and so much more! If you are lucky you may even see the odd fur sealion (listen out for donkey-like calls).
That evening we had the last of our delicious dinners, and enjoyed the Captain’s farewell cocktail party.
Day 8: Disembark San Cristobal / Interpretation Center
The final day was mainly an admin day, although we did pay a visit to the Interpretation Center on San Cristobal to learn about the formation and history of the Galapagos in detail. Note that the Center was pretty hot with no air-conditioning, so take some water with you. We had to wait a while for a bus to pick us up (there are only 4 on the island so you have to wait until they are free to pick up your group). Afterwards, we had 1-2 hours free time to do souvenir shopping and grab some food from the row of shops and small restaurants by the sea front, before heading to the airport where we reluctantly said our farewells to the guides, and the incredible experience and wildlife of the Galapagos Islands.
Letty Boat Specifications
The Letty is 1 of 3 identical sister yachts (the Eric and Flamingo are the others) that travel together and do the same itineraries, so you are unlikely to see many other passengers of other cruise vessels at any of the destinations you visit. With a capacity of 20 passengers, by law she has to have 2 guides which means her guests have the best guide-to-guest ratio of 1-to-10 in the islands, most other smaller vessels having 1-to-16.
Despite being built in 1991, her age does not show, probably due to the annual refurbishment undertaken. There are 10 fully air-conditioned staterooms on board with private bathrooms distributed over 3 decks, the lower Iguana Deck, the middle Booby Deck, and upper Dolphin Deck. There is also a partially-shaded Observation Deck with sun loungers, two big sun beds, and comfy seating area. On the Iguana Deck there are 4 narrow cabins with small windows, 2 triple (twin with an upper berth) and 2 twin cabins. The Booby Deck holds the lounge to the front, bar and dining room, kitchen and 2 double cabins to the rear with picture windows and outward facing doors. The Dolphin Deck has 4 cabins all with picture windows, 3 with twin/double beds and 1 with a small double bed, as well as a rear observation deck where wetsuits are hanged to dry and 3 sun loungers at the front of yacht.
Letty Cabin Suggestion
We suggest the middle and upper deck cabins to minimise engine and anchor noise, but it should be noted that the cabins are used primarily for sleeping, and that the majority of the time guests are on excursion, or enjoying the views and sunshine on the Observation Deck. The lounge is comfortable and has a selection of board games and a small library (and close proximity to the bar) but views from it are limited. Briefings and the cocktail evenings are also held here.
It’s worth noting the boat operator is one of the oldest and best-reputed companies in the Galapagos and were pioneers of sustainable tourism there, being the first company to earn and maintain the voluntary Smart Voyager certification, the first to offset their carbon emissions, and also a founder of the Galapagos Marine Biodiversity Fund (in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund) to support marine conservation by strengthening the local communities’ ability to manage natural resources, so you can take additional comfort that the ecological impact of your cruise is minimal, if not beneficial.
Three square meals are served per day. The delicious and healthy meals are prepared by culinary-schooled chefs using locally sourced ingredients, and the gourmet-style menu features both international and Ecuadorian specialties. Portions are plentiful - you often can go up for seconds if you like. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style, and you are offered a choice of 2 main courses for dinner (decided at lunch time). The chef was fantastic, and can cater for allergies or diets with anticipation. He even did very well catering with no anticipation, baking a gluten free cake for someone’s birthday at the last minute! Everything was served with the smile and cheeky charm of the legendary waiter/barman Ronald.
A great perk is that complimentary wine and local beer is served during dinner. Outside of dinner time the prices were very reasonable and the bar is very well stocked. Talking of alcohol, a nice feature of the cruise were the enjoyable opening and closing Captain’s Cocktail evenings which were a great ice-breaker and touching addition respectively. If you don’t fancy a tipple, there is a 24 hour coffee & tea station in the dining room and a large bidon of drinking water by the bar.
If you get peckish between meals there is a good selection of snacks, free of charge, at the bar. It’s worth noting they also have some sea sickness pills there too, should you need them.
You are typically taken on three excursions per day, all of which are optional, discussed the night before in the daily briefings, and noted on the white board kept by the bar should you need to refer to it (top tip - take a photo of it with your phone should you have it!). The briefings are held just before dinner, with the help of videos and presentations on the 2 TVs in the lounge. The briefings specify the activities, timings, what you need to bring, whether it is a wet/dry landing or not, and what you’ll see on your excursions.
Announcements will be made 15 minutes before each activity to keep everything running smoothly. The excursions typically take the form of a guided nature walk or hike, snorkeling, kayaking or a panga tour, but you also get beach time and I’d recommend stargazing and whale/dolphin watching from the Observation Deck in your free time. We saw a pod of dolphins, and an incredible ray jumping clean out of the water by chance - an amazing sight!
For the snorkelling, complimentary masks, fins and snorkels as well as 3mm custom full wet suits are provided, but best to take your own if you have one. Top tips - even though the water temperature was warm, I’d advise wearing the wetsuit as it helps with flotation and protects against jellyfish stings, and even if you are not a strong swimmer, or even cannot swim, I cannot recommend enough taking part in this activity. Some on our cruise only tried it on the last occasion and regretted not doing it earlier. My girlfriend cannot swim, but could easily snorkel with a lifejacket and fins on, and it was a struggle to get her out of the water she loved it so much! The underwater wildlife of the Galapagos is just as amazing, if not more amazing than the wildlife on it. If you have one, I’d definitely recommend taking an underwater camera!
For kayaking, the Letty has 4 double and 1 single kayak. As there are not enough for everyone to do this activity simultaneously, a sign-up list is left in the lounge during dinner the evening before where you can put your name down. The guides ensure that everyone has the opportunity at least once to participate in this activity at some point during the itinerary. Top tip - throw in the guide rope and see if the playful sea-lion pups will give you a free ride!
The panga tours are great fun and very educational. Be sure to hold on tight to your hats and if you have expensive sunglasses I’d advise getting neck straps - one girl lost hers despite the guide’s best attempts to snorkel and find them.
Some islands have less smooth terrain than others, so for the nature walks it is best to take your time, and maybe a walking pole. There was one climb up a volcano involving several hundred stairs, but there are hand rails all the way to aid you.
After each activity you are warmly welcomed back on board with refreshing drinks and finger food.
Letty Cruise Summary
A Galapagos Cruise aboard the Letty, especially one of 8 days in length, was something we’ll never forget, for all the best reasons. To have not just one, but two of the best guides in the National Park at our beck and call, delicious and plentiful cuisine, and incredible and friendly service throughout, from the airport check-in helper, to the deck hands and panga drivers, all the way up to the captain himself, everyone went out of their way to make us feel welcome and treated us like royalty. The wildlife isn’t half bad either! Just incredible. We can’t wait to try the Western/Northern Route next!
(Expert Review Written By: Jonathan Parker)