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The sea lions were showing off. As I was deep-sea snorkeling with my fellow cruise passengers, the friendly mammals entertained us by performing curlicues in the water. They weren’t alone: Schools of fish came into view as penguins paddled by. A cormorant caused me to flinch, but not as much as the five white tip reef sharks, each about four feet long. I grabbed the arm of one of the Ecuadoran naturalist guides on hand, glad he was nearby.
You come to Galápagos National Park to get close to these incredible creatures, all of which are surprisingly unfazed by your presence. To explore past the few populated islands, you’ll need a park-certified naturalist guide and water transport—preferably Silversea Cruises’ elegant Silver Origin. At 100 passengers, it falls just within the park’s guest limit, delivering a mix of tony service and unique, expedition-style adventure.
Onboard the Silver Origin, suites come with ocean-view showers, assuring no missed scenery, plus walk-in closets, designer bathrobes, and fair-trade chocolates from the Ecuadoran Andes. A butler is on call to bring you a cappuccino or the perfect martini, and launder your wet bathing suit by the next day. Anchorless technology allows the ship to hover rather than dig into the seafloor when it stops. (Silversea’s sister line, Celebrity Cruises, introduced this environmentally friendly technology in the Galápagos in 2019.) Once the ship is positioned, travelers can board Zodiacs for onshore experiences, such as walking among thousands of mating iguanas or hiking up a scenic volcanic peak.
The ability to sip bubbly in the hot tub is a perk, but Silver Origin’s true differentiator is its 1:10 guide-to-guest ratio, which Silversea says is the highest of any ship in the Galápagos. One afternoon, when I was out kayaking through the lush mangroves of Isabela Island, a friendly young sea lion came close, showing off an octopus in his mouth. It was a rare sight, according to the naturalist I was paddling with. I wasn’t jealous of the sea lion’s catch; if I wanted locally caught octopus, it was on the menu back aboard.