Set on two extinct volcanic craters 450 feet above sea level in the highlands of Santa Cruz, the extremely high-end (but still carbon neutral) Pikaia Lodge, which opened in mid-2014, is unlike anything the Galapagos has ever seen. With strict building regulations on the highly fragile islands, Pikaia, owned by a live-aboard dive yacht impresario, was the first lodge to be granted a building permit in more than a decade, and the lodge is built entirely of recycled materials. The terrain, a mix of dry savanna and tropical highland forest, was regenerated with 12,000 endemic trees and grazing habitats for giant tortoises, for which Pikaia created its own private reserve. The entire all-inclusive property is powered with portable Eolic wind generators and soundproof electric generators using clean biodiesel.
Despite the ecofriendly ethos of the property, there is no shortage of all-out luxury, from the infinity pool that’s softly illuminated at night, to the cushy spa or the lounge with a 3-D HDTV screen for lectures and videos. There’s also a contemporary restaurant and a wellness center on-site, plus two slick yachts used for excursions to neighboring islands and dive trips.
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In the sometimes misty highlands of Santa Cruz, Pikaia Lodge is located on what was once a cattle range. Bordering the national park, the property has undergone a process of bringing the landscape back to its natural state. While the hotel is intentionally isolated near El Cascajo, other facilities can be found in Puerto Ayora, a 20-minute taxi ride away, where visitors can hike to Tortuga Bay Beach, explore the Charles Darwin Research Station, or dine on grilled seafood or wood-fired pizzas at Isla Grill.
Need to Know
Rooms: 14 rooms; from $3,230 per person, all-inclusive.
Check-in: 1 p.m.; check-out: noon
Dining options: The hotel’s sole dining option, Evolution Restaurant, is perched atop the edge of a volcanic crater. Combining touches of the cuisines of Ecuador and Peru, the chef focuses on regional products like organic beef, suckling pig, lobster, and jumbo shrimp. There’s also a walk-in wine cellar stocked heavily with South American wines. At the DNA Bar beside the restaurant and pool area, barmen shake cocktails prepared with imported liquors mixed with fresh-squeezed Ecuadoran juices.
Spa and gym details:Sumaq Spa is an all-encompassing wellness center with treatment rooms and workout facilities, and is designed with Peruvian travertine marble in a minimalistic Japanese Zen style. A 2.5-mile network of trails is suitable for walking, jogging, or biking.
Who's it for: Eco-conscious travelers with money to splurge on luxury that doesn’t sacrifice their commitment to nature.
Our favorite rooms: Set on a small plateau on the main crater, the Pool Suites have floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows, and an oversized terrace with a private plunge pool.
Local secret: July to November is tortoise migration season, which means guests’ chances for interactions with giant tortoises on the property will be much higher.