The tiny archipelago of islands known as the Galapagos in the eastern Pacific Ocean may be remote, but its beguiling siren song is crystal clear to cruise travelers hoping to visit the place where Charles Darwin hypothesized his Theory of Evolution. Today, people from all over the world come to these islands to see the varied wildlife, from penguins and blue-footed boobies to giant tortoises and sea turtles to sea lions and fur seals.
Demand for berths here is strong (expedition cruising is the best way to see the 19 islands), but Galapagos National Park has travel restrictions in place to control tourist access and protect the myriad species of plants and animals that call the area home. Ships are limited to a capacity of 100 and land expeditions must consist of 16 or fewer individuals.
Italian cruise line Silversea signaled its entrance into the Galapagos market recently by its purchase of Canodros SA, an Ecuadorian tourism company that operates the luxury expedition ship, Galapagos Explorer II.
Silversea will oversea an aggressive renovation of the ship in September 2013 before renaming it and officially adding it to its fleet that also includes expedition ship Silver Explorer, which sails Antarctica and the Arctic. (Canodros SA will continue handling reservations for Galapagos Explorer II between now and the ship's refurbishment in 2013.)
This 4,077-ton mega-yacht is outfitted with 50 oceanview suites, 24 of which have private balconies. When travelers aren't in their suites, they're enjoying the ship's public space like the restaurant, piano bar, library, Internet café, main lounge and outdoor bar, either of the two whirlpool tubs, and the marine observation deck.
Silversea's entry into the Galapagos market is direct competition to existing expedition ships like Lindblad's 96-passenger National Geographic Endeavour and 48-passenger National Geographic Islander and Celebrity Cruises' Xpedition (90 guests). Ecoventura also operates four smaller vessels in the Galapagos, including the 20-passenger motor yachts Eric, Flamingo, and Letty, and the 16-passenger Galapagos Sky.
Silversea will release additional details about its Galapagos itineraries in the coming months.