Moments after a late morning snorkel, complete with hammerhead sharks, two green sea turtles and a half dozen encounters with a school of more than seventy golden stingrays (each the size of a Fiat), I emerge onto the stern of The Evolution. There, the staff hoses me off and takes my gear. The captain greets me with a warm handshake and I make my way towards the bow of the sublimely retrofitted Japanese fishing boat where Gregory, the expedition bartender, hands me an Ecuadorian pilsner and I sink into a warm hot tub with my fellow travelers. We are surrounded by high cliff walls flanked by nesting sea birds and sea lions. To the west, a narrow, difficult-to-navigate channel leads out to the Pacific. Otherwise we are alone.
“We’re in a caldera,” says our guide Alex, approaching the hot tub. Alex, like all guides with International Expeditions, is a level three guide; the highest level in the Galapagos. And he is not just a guide. Until a recent move to the Ecuadorian mainland, the islands and the waters surrounding, have long been his home. “You were just swimming with hammerhead sharks and giant sting rays inside the top of a volcano… Dormant, of course,” he says before he delves into a detailed description of the wildlife and geographical wonders that await in the meticulously planned land excursion in the afternoon to come.
When traveling with International Expeditions, be it a riverboat on the Amazon or an intimate Tanzanian safari, variations of such utterances as “snorkeling with hammerhead sharks and sting rays inside the top of a dormant volcano,” are not the exception but the standard for this immersive eco-tourism company.
For almost four decades, the Alabama-based International Expeditions has been a pioneer in the world of eco-tourism. With a range of small ship and land tours spanning from Antarctica and Cuba to Alaska and Costa Rica, International Expeditions provides guests not only with the highest accredited guides, they also only hire locals, ensuring as much an immersion into the area’s culture and local villages as the natural wonders surrounding. Limited numbers of guests per expedition also allow for the most intimate of natural and cultural experiences.
While International Expeditions excels in offering temporary respite from the tethers of a chaotic world (often, there is not internet… scary), ‘IE’ spares no expense in providing luxurious amenities. Be it an expedition ship or a land-based excursion, International Expeditions ensures not only comfortable and spacious rooms and cabins, but also prides itself on locally sourced, flawlessly executed menus prepared by the region’s top culinary artists. In The Galapagos Islands, succulent ceviche lunches and lobster dinners go great after snorkeling with hammerheads or an evening hike among the Red Footed Boobies.
Weeks before your departure, you will receive a packet from International Expeditions. This not only includes your itinerary (including flights, secondary hotel needs and airport transport), but also an extensive list of what to pack, what to expect, and contact information, along with a breakdown of the area’s history, culture, and ecology, ensuring the easiest and most informed travel experience. Once on the expedition, the information continues each night with briefings and lectures either about what you’ve just seen or more often, what’s coming up. These lectures, like everything with International Expeditions, are optional.
International Expeditions target market is not defined by any age or demographic. It is simply focused toward those that want to see and experience the most remote corners of the world. Whether you are a family of twelve hoping to climb Machu Picchu, honeymooners exploring the Caribbean, or a simple solo traveler checking Victoria Falls off the bucket list, these voyages and adventures can be as intense or as laid back as the traveler desires. No matter what you choose, you will leave having shared adventures with fellow travelers and new friends with plenty of time for peace and personal reflection.
With so much to see, schedules can be intense. It doesn’t mean you must participate. Have you had enough penguins for an afternoon in Antarctica? Want to skip an evening scramble up a Peruvian mountaintop to watch a sunset? No problem. Kick back, enjoy a cocktail and reflect on your day. My suggestion, no matter who you are or how tired you might be, is that if you find yourself in the Galapagos Islands, and you have a chance to swim with a school of golden stingrays, hammerhead sharks, and sea turtles in the caldera of a volcano, do it.
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