Jungle, islands & clouds

&Beyond Private Guide Daryl Dell shares his first impressions of the extraordinary Galápagos Islands…

It doesn’t matter how many textbooks your children read, or how many hours they spend in a classroom, there’s no denying that the best education is one you experience. Which is why we are seeing a parallel rise in both family and transformative travel.

Today’s adventure-seeking (and often multi-generational) families are pursuing authentic travel experiences that will educate and inspire them, encourage them to bond together, as well as broaden their horizons. Not only must these experiences be genuine and educational, but they must also give back to our precious planet and its inhabitants in some way. Think of it as educational travel that pays it forward to the next generation.

Faced with the frightening effects of climate change and the ever-growing list of critically endangered species, conservation has never been more important, which is why so many families seek conservation-related travel. They want to witness wildlife that might not survive the next decade and find out how they can help protect the earth’s mighty landscapes. They want to mingle with and learn from distant, faraway cultures. And most of all, they want to spend time together in breathtaking, iconic destinations where they can explore, laugh, learn, discover and grow together as a family.

With this in mind, what better place for a family adventure than the Galápagos Islands? The very place that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution back in 1835, this idyllic archipelago of volcanic islands is home to curious creatures, both big and small, that are found nowhere else on the planet. One of the most biodiverse places on earth, these islands are a wildlife lover’s playground and hence the perfect place for families to explore.

&Beyond Private Guide and expert photographer, Daryl Dell, hosted a private journey to Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands. Although Daryl has travelled the world and photographed extraordinary wildlife, this particular trip was a big tick on the bucket list for him. Here are some of Daryl’s personal highlights…

“The first few days were spent in Quito, the second highest capital in the world set in the Andes. Quito literally means the middle of the earth as it sits on the equator. There were magnificent cathedrals perched on every street corner and incredible views of snow-capped volcanoes dotted the horizon.

I couldn’t contain my excitement when we headed into the mighty Amazon jungle. Being a naturalist, the comparisons between Ecuador and Southern Africa are fascinating: 1 600 birds versus 850; 398 mammals versus 330; 492 frogs versus 114; and an astounding 4 000 tree species versus 1 700. We couldn’t wait to explore.

We enjoyed canoeing, night walks in the jungle, views from a tower set above the tree canopy and, for me, the highlight was a wooden lookout set 45 m high in the canopy of a Kapok tree overlooking the Amazon and Napo Rivers. The tree was adorned with mosses, lichens, bromeliads, strangler figs and orchids. The birding was incredible; the colours, sounds and diversity are difficult to rival. It felt like every nook and cranny had a new species waiting to be discovered.

We saw blue and yellow macaws, red-bellied macaws, chestnut-fronted macaws, orange-winged amazons, banded and white-throated aracaris … the list goes on. From caimans and anacondas to electric fish and urethra catfish, the Amazon did not disappoint.

Our next stop was the Galápagos Islands. I had to pinch myself … another lifelong dream was coming true. We spent a week on the Cormorant, a small luxury catamaran, and island-hopped (a word I never expected to use during my guiding career) from one mind-blowing island to the next.

Cruising while we slept and waking up to a new view every day was spectacular. Frigatebirds, boobies and storm petrels flew within arm’s reach while we brushed our teeth in the mornings amidst the azure waters. Literally, hundreds of green turtle heads popped up one day, as a new island formed in front of us. Volcanoes rose from the oceans and lava fields stretched out as far as the eye could see. It was like being on a different planet.

We went snorkelling in the crystal clear water amidst playful sea lions, curious turtles, dolphins, sharks and the brightest, most colourful fish. We ambled past marine iguanas, land iguanas, giant Galápagos tortoises, Galápagos penguins and flightless cormorants.

The adventure wasn’t over yet, next up was a journey back to the Andes and into the world-famous cloud forests. We stayed in a luxury lodge deep in the heart of the cloud forest, with two elegant storeys of floor-to-ceiling glass that literally made you feel like you were in the clouds, peering down at the lush, dense valleys below.

We travelled in sky trains through the canopy, trekked to cascading waterfalls, went on exciting night hikes and spent some quiet time photographing hummingbirds in a camouflaged bird hide. We saw tarantulas, umbrella birds, trogons, toucanets, aracaris, chlorphonias, vireos, dwarf squirrels, tyras, agoutis, opossums … I could go on forever!

It was an unbelievable, life-changing safari and the first foot in the door to South America as an &Beyond private guide. I urge everyone to put this extraordinary and diverse continent at the top of your bucket lists. I know I’ll return as soon as I can; I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface and so much more adventure awaits.”

~ Daryl Dell
&Beyond Private Guide


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