Pikaia Lodge: The "cruise free" way to experience the Galapagos Islands
When we decided to visit the Galapagos Islands we started our planning process where I believe most people start: cruise or land stay? Given the current situation a cruise might be off the table for my family for a long time anyway, but even before the outbreak of Covid-19, we opted for a land stay. In our family of five, three people get sea sick, and avoiding long stretches and nights on board a vessel seemed like the better option.
The Galapagos Islands are situated around 600 miles West off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. We flew from California to Ecuador, connecting in the Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil and landing on tiny Baltra Island after another 2 hours.
Our travel agent had suggested we stay at Pikaia Lodge, part of the Relais & Châteaux Group, on Santa Cruz Island. Its central location makes it a perfect starting point to visit many neighboring islands on the hotel’s own fleet of ships.
The airport on Baltra Island is small and comfortable, and our hotel guide met us right away to deal with passports and luggage.
However, here is something I wish I had known before we left home: Galapagos National Park Transit Cards (US 20$ per person) have to be purchased at the airport in Quito or Guayaquil before flying to the Galapagos. Without these, you will not be allowed to check in for your flight. Make sure to build in some time for this.
And once you arrive on the islands, there is also a Galapagos National Park Entrance Fee (US 100$ per adult / US 50$ per child). This needs to be paid IN CASH upon arrival at the airport on Baltra. Make sure you bring cash! There is an ATM but for a family of four or five you will reach your daily ATM limit and still won’t have enough to pay the fees…..
Pikaia Lodge is situated on the neighboring island of Santa Cruz, only a five minute boat ride away. The hotel van collected us from the pier and it took around 30 minutes (on road and off road) to get to the hotel.
The lodge is built on top of the crater of an extinct volcano, elevating it above the forest around it and yielding spectacular ocean and forest views. Rooms have their own balconies and floor to ceiling windows. If you buy one of the hotel’s packages (which you absolutely should), you are now completely taken care of: three meals a day at the resort or during activities, daily excursions by boat or on land, wine and cocktails as well as at least one spa treatment per person.
We stayed for three nights, giving us two full days of excursions, which is their shortest package offering. Many people have asked me if that was enough time. Personally, I wouldn’t have minded one additional day, but not more than that. I think three to four days is plenty, unless you are a huge animal lover that would love to keep going for longer.
We saw a large variety of animals during our two days, many of them very close up, and we learned a lot about the islands’ history. On Day 1 we took the lodge’s main ship – a 100 foot yacht called the PIKAIA 1 - to two islands close by, where we saw large lizards, sharks, sea lions, crabs, a variety of birds and many fish. The hotel provided a treasure hunt list for the kids on which they could check off which animals they had seen.
On the return trip at the end of the day I got really sea sick and noticed that the boat was swerving quite a bit.....I made my way to the bridge to talk to the captain, only to find that my nine year old daughter was a) the captain's new best friend and b) steering the boat....
Day 2 was a land adventure using the hotel van. Again we saw many animals but the highlights were the giant tortoises that can only be found on Santa Cruz Island.
My favorite memory of this vacation was watching my nine year old daughter play with a sea lion underwater. We were snorkeling and the sea lions thought she was a friend/sea lion/not sure. They came close to all of us, but they only played with her. It was beautiful!
And another personal highlight was the tree planting experience offered by the hotel. All of us got to plant a little tree sapling to help maintain the flora on the island. We planted, took photos and recorded the geo locations of each of our saplings…..should we ever go back, we will be able to see how much our trees have grown!
For travel with children: Rooms at Pikaia Lodge were not connecting, but two adjacent rooms have their own staircase from the main floor and we felt very safe with our children sleeping next door. The tours were very child friendly as well, and so was the restaurant menu. The hotel has a large pool overlooking the ocean and a video and game room that we spent some time in at night. The kids also really loved planting their trees.
We had the best time at Pikaia Lodge, and should we ever make it to the Galapagos Islands again, it will be our first choice! We also have to go and check on those trees J
Please contact me for any questions!
What to bring (click on the link to be directed to product):
Waterproof backpack: There was a lot of rain and I was glad I had a safe place for my camera and my belongings. This one comes with a waterproof phone case.
Waterproof phone case: When you swim with the sea lions you will regret not being able to use your phone to capture the moment. This one comes as a two pack.
Hiking pants for women: I love these pants! I have them in three colors. They went to the Galapagos with me, they hiked Mount Whitney and also to Machu Picchu. They are comfortable, they roll up, they are water repellent, and they make my legs look good.
Hiking pants for men: These are the same pants for guys.
Galapagos Guidebook: I like this one as it has travel as well as historical information.
Other useful links:
My travel agent friend Liora https://www.snljourneys.com has helped us with the most amazing trips for over ten years. She suggested Pikaia Lodge to us and also booked it for us.
Pikaia Lodge: Hotel’s own website
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