Absorbing Charles Darwin’s Galápagos Experience From the Sleek Silver Origin

Charles Darwin changed our views about the natural world following his 1830’s voyage on the HMS Beagle and resulting book, “On the Origin of the Species.” Almost 200 years later, Silversea is altering my perceptions of our place in the natural world while instilling a profound desire to protect it for future generations.

I had traveled to the Galápagos before, but the experience onboard the Silver Origin awakened a new appreciation for this enchanting destination. Built as a destination-specific vessel, it’s the only ultra-luxury ship sailing the Galapagos with butler service and has the highest Zodiac- and guide-to-guest ratio. This results in luxurious, guest-focused experiences amid some of the world’s most spectacular natural beauty within an archipelago ecosystem that’s second to none.

In late February I embarked on a seven-day western itinerary through the archipelago. Silver Origin is the only ship that does back-to-back eastern and western itineraries in the Galapagos Islands, appealing to repeat cruisers who can’t get enough of blue-footed boobies and Darwin’s finches. On my sailing, at least one couple extended a second week.

While the Galapagos Islands are a must-visit destination, it quickly became obvious that Silver Origin is its own destination.

The onboard experience for the select few

Silversea’s Silver Origin in the Galapagos

Built in 2020, Silver Origin is sleekly elegant with 50 suites accommodating 100 guests. For the Ecuadorean crew of 80, plus eight to 10 expedition leaders and naturalists, the focus is on guests’ experiences. On this sailing, 68 passengers enjoyed the high staff-to-guest ratio, resulting in personal, impeccable service.

In keeping with Silversea’s commitment to conservation and preservation in Galápagos, Silver Origin has dynamic positioning permitting it to stand still while not impacting marine life. Likewise, exterior lighting can be dimmed so the ecosystem remains undisturbed. Equally important, it possesses a highly sophisticated water purification system with refill stations in each suite.

On Deck 3, the public area called Base Camp is further proof that Silver Origin is a unique ship. Here all equipment is discreetly housed, excursions depart, and technology is used via a massive, curved, full-wall LED screen with freestanding touchscreen podium control. Learning about nearly every aspect of Galápagos history, flora, fauna and geology, it’s here I continued my unrequited love affair with Charles Darwin. Also, Zodiacs pull right up to the ship’s stern, in the Marina, so excursions are effortless. As a first-time expedition cruiser noted, “It’s akin to the ease of a ski-in, ski-out luxury alpine hotel.”

Guest suites are on Decks 5 and 6 and start generously at 325 square feet, with separate sitting area and private veranda or horizon balcony. Repeat Silversea guests will recognize personalized butler service, including chilled Champagne waiting in suite, stocked mini bars with preferred beverages, fresh fruit, wonderful local snacks, afternoon canapes and 24-hour room service.

Suites also have walk-in closets, 65-inch flat-screen televisions with interactive media library, USB ports, charging station and plentiful outlets. Irresistible bedding with luxurious high-count sheets, pillow menu, and touch controls for lighting, drapes and windows assured blissful sleep.

Decor in calming, neutral shades permit the outdoors to be guests’ central visual focus.

Silver Origin’s heart is Deck 4, home to both The Restaurant and the Explorer’s Lounge. Here, pre-dinner cocktails were enjoyed, and naturalist lectures, slideshows and destination briefings occurred. The large center main screen, with seating clusters having their own screens, ensured no one missed anything.

Dramatically mesmerizing photographic art of indigenous people by Steve McCurry infused the ship with a strong sense of place, while enormous 3-D regional maps provided colorful art history with directional and topographical perceptions.

Celebrating Ecuadorian cuisine and culture

The Restaurant and The Grill each have 100-person capacity, so all guests could select either location. As expected, dress was more casual on this expedition ship than ocean or river cruises, though no jeans or shorts were worn at dinner.

Affable and approachable, Silver Origin’s Executive Chef Carlo Bermudez celebrates “New Ecuadorian cuisine” by incorporating fresh local ingredients into his culinary creations. Indeed, 90 percent of seafood enjoyed onboard is from local waters, and more than 55 percent of produce and cheeses are locally sourced from independent island farmers. Beef, chicken and pork hail from the Ecuadorian mainland.

Seafood selections were outstanding: scorpion fish, bass, grouper, tuna, prawns, lobsters and encebollado, a marvelous Ecuadorian fish soup. Braised beef cheek, beef tenderloin, duck confit and various chicken dishes contented the carnivores. Homemade desserts were swoon worthy, especially the 75 percent Ecuadorian chocolate mousse.

Lunches included daily fresh ceviche offerings, homemade pizzas, salads, grilled fish and burgers. Vegetarian and vegan options, such as roasted white cabbage with truffle celery root purée, were equally inspired. Meals were accompanied by fine regional and European wines and perfectly mixed cocktails.

Exploration with the experts

All of Silver Origin‘s guides and naturalists are Ecuadorian and have detailed, intimate knowledge of flora, fauna and marine life. Their abiding love of sharing this information with guests is evident. Guide Marco Garcia, a fifth-generation Galápagos native, said he “feels like an ambassador” and “takes great pride in sharing the islands’ richness with guests.”

Days generally had three excursions, a combination of beach and deep-water snorkeling, nature reserve hikes or walks, and kayaking. Excursions were colorful, in-depth, informative and often mind-blowingly beautiful. One of my fellow guests and first-time visitor to the Galápagos summed it up perfectly: “Cruising on Silver Origin was luxurious and life-changing, replete with unforgettable experiences.”

Galápagos flamingos./Julie L. Kessler for Silversea

Zodiac pilots displayed profound maritime skills that allowed seamless, pleasurable excursions. Through ethereal mangroves near Elizabeth Bay, as if queued from central casting, a trifecta of golden rays flitted by our Zodiac, then several turtles gracefully swam along, while a sea lion mom and pup defied Sir Isaac Newton’s gravitational laws dozing gymnastically atop tree branches.

On another excursion to Fernandina’s Punta Espinoza, thousands of endemic marine iguanas were either burrowing or swimming in Jurassic Park-like volcanic scenery.

Marveling in a “crowded aquarium”

Perfect weather and conditions resulted in this well-traveled island girl’s most remarkable deep-water snorkeling experience. In warm, crystalline waters by Floreana’s Champion Islet, I felt as though I had plunged into a crowded aquarium.

Dozens of fearless, frolicking sea lions came within inches of my mask several times as they welcomed me to their watery playground. Adorable penguins zipped by, while rays and countless neon-colored school fish skidded past. Several six-foot, white-tipped reef sharks kept bored vigil ­­— mere mortals are uninteresting when a bright, piscatorial smorgasbord awaits — while most remarkably, thousands of barracudas flickered by resembling a massive lightning wall. Later on a nature walk, we saw a flamboyance of luminescent pink flamingos communing.

Kayaking permitted close viewings of blue-footed boobies speed-diving for sustenance, while sea turtles swam alongside and sea lions pups maneuvered vertical volcanic rock walls while simultaneously barking and roaring. In the distance, ethereal vistas of milk-chocolate-colored sands abutting sinewy, wave-like formations were dizzying.

Explorers Lounge, Silver Origin

On clear nights, the equatorial skies magically lit up. On Deck 8’s Stargazing area, the silence was nearly deafening. Straddling the equator near Isabella’s north side one evening, I stared simultaneously at the Southern Cross and North Star while Wolf Volcano erupted in all its fiery glory. That sight will remain in my mind’s eye for the rest of my days.

HMS Beagle Capt. Fitzroy complained that Charles Darwin spent too much time ashore. Perhaps had Darwin seen a ship as splendid as Silver Origin, he might have permanently stayed in the Galápagos. Our imaginations can only ponder what other secrets of the natural universe Darwin would have discovered. The Galápagos is evidence of Mother Nature’s exquisite grandeur. Happily, Father Time has marched on, bringing with it the Silver Origin from which to enjoy it.

Dreaming of the Galápagos Islands? Follow in Charles Darwin’s footsteps on an upcoming Silver Origin sailing.