My Travels: The Galápagos Islands — A Week in Paradise

Manifest team member, Mike Casella, recently took a trip of a lifetime to the Galápagos Islands, and he’s sharing notes from his travels — as well as some amazing photos — with us here on the blog in this new four-part series. Enjoy!

A wooden sign welcoming visitors to the Galapagos Islands
Welcome to Galápagos!

The Adventure Begins

I took a deep breath, looked into the water, kicked my legs up, and dove under. Out of nowhere a sea lion swam up to me. We floated there, suspended in the nearshore current, staring at each other for what seemed like an hour, but was really only a few seconds. The sea lion was so curious and nimble in the water, spinning around and swimming circles. It was such a surreal wildlife encounter.

Since I was young, I’ve been enthralled with National Geographic and the stories, images and wonders it has given the world for over 130 years. One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received was a Lifetime Membership to the National Geographic Society from my grandpa when I was a few months old. Since then, I’ve gotten the magazine every month (and still do to this day). Those images and stories of adventure and exploration have fueled a lot of my natural world curiosities.

I recently took the trip of a lifetime to the Galápagos Islands with Lindblad Expeditions, one of the premier adventure travel companies offering luxury expedition cruises. Lindblad has been exploring the globe for over 50 years and have partnered with National Geographic since 2004.

I was going aboard the newly refurbished National Geographic Islander II, a 26-suite 280-foot-long expedition vessel, remodeled specifically for trips around the Galápagos Islands.

As I was preparing for the trip, I couldn’t wait to soak up all the knowledge and stories from the islands, and see the landscapes, creatures, and culture that was made famous by Charles Darwin.

Hotel courtyard in Ecuador with lush green tropical plants, white walls, arched entrances and windows, and an umbrella-covered seating area.
Hotel courtyard in Guayaquil, Ecuador

Day 1

Departure day finally came. I woke up in Washington State, on the west coast, flew to New York, on the Atlantic coast, and then flew down to Guayaquil, Ecuador, back on the Pacific coast. Air travel is incredible.

I landed on the coast of Ecuador just after dark, and the vibrant lights seemed to glow against the dark unlit hillside of the city. Guayaquil, a port city of around three million people, is the main travel funnel to the Galápagos and plays an important role in the overall economy of the country. I was met just after baggage claim by a representative holding a sign with my name on it. Lindblad is very detailed in their travel logistics. After a quick drive over the Río Daule, I got to Hotel del Parque, an upscale hotel located adjacent to the Guayaquil Historical Park. The lounge was quaint, but bright and beautiful as it gave way to the open-air courtyards that were a green oasis amongst the building’s large white walls. Everything was very detailed. I got my hotel keys and arrived at my room, which was large and bright, with tall ceilings, nice décor, and a large ensuite bathroom.

Though it was getting late, I went out for a bite to eat at Casa Julián, a short, few-minutes’ walk from the hotel. I sat on the patio, enjoying the breeze and fresh Ecuadorian food. Soon after, it was back to the hotel room to get some sleep.

Close up of the Ecuador flag flying in the breeze over the water at sunset
Ecuadorian flag at sunset

Day 2

I woke up rested and prepared for my first full day of the trip. After breakfast, I checked out and met most of the group as we boarded a shuttle back to the airport. This time we went to the domestic terminal for our flight to Baltra, the beginning of our Galápagos journey. The flight was just under two hours and the views from the plane of the different colored waters was incredible. After we landed, we went through a line to show our Galápagos Transit Control Card (arranged and provided by Lindblad with your paperwork), which they use to monitor travel in and out of the Galápagos.

We then boarded a bus for a short, ten-minute drive to the loading dock. In small groups of around 8-10, we loaded into the Zodiacs—sturdy, inflatable boats that would be our transportation to and from the ship during our journey. We motored a few minutes to the stern of the National Geographic Islander II, our home for the next five days.

Excitement was high as we approached the ship for the first time. At 280 feet long, the ship is quite the sight when approaching. The Zodiac nosed up to the hull, and the driver held the bow against the ships’ side as we walked onto the deck. We boarded and were met by very friendly (and helpful) staff members that showed us to our rooms. A few minutes later, a message came over the loudspeaker announcing that it was time for lunch. During the trip, breakfast and lunch were served at the stern of the ship on the fourth level—an idyllic spot to sit, eat, drink, and enjoy the surrounding views.

Onboard dining room with blue, white, and brown decor, tables and booths, and large windows with views of the water outside
Dining room onboard the National Geographic Islander II

After lunch we had time to explore the ship before gathering again for a welcome toast by the captain and a quick briefing on all things Galápagos. Following the toast, we all headed up top to the Observation Deck to watch the setting sun paint nearby Daphne Island with a golden hue of orange, yellow, and red.

Learn more about the Galápagos Islands on Lindblad’s Expedition Stories page or go ahead and book your own Galápagos adventure with us on our Experiences page. And be sure to come back next week for the second installment in this four-part ‘My Travels’ series!


  1. […] hope you’re enjoying this travel series! If you missed the first installment, you can find it here. And if you’re inspired to experience the beauty of Galápagos for yourself, check out the […]

  2. […] hope you’re enjoying this travel series! If you’ve missed the previous posts, you can find them here and here. And if you’re looking to experience the beauty of Galápagos for yourself, we have an […]