7 trips that put families in close contact with local wildlife

Snorkel with Whale Sharks in Cancun

Fulfill your family’s ultimate once-in-a-lifetime bucket list adventure by taking a dip with whale sharks – the biggest (and most friendly) fish in the world! From May to September, families staying at sister properties CasaMagna Marriott Cancun Resort and JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa can embark by boat to snorkel alongside these magnificent gentle giants where the Caribbean Sea meets the Gulf of Mexico. Though they measure up to 40 feet long and weigh in at 15 tons, whale sharks feed exclusively on plankton and are totally harmless to humans. Added perk: guests at the Cancun Marriott Resorts can check out a GoPro HER04 for the day to capture unbelievable underwater family photo ops.

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Explore the Costa Rican rainforest

For an unforgettable nature-filled vacation, families should head to Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort, spread across 900 acres of natural rainforest reserve in Costa Rica’s northern region — an area responsible for 6% of the entire world’s biodiversity. With more than 500 species of local plant and wildlife on property, kiddos just might spot a coatimundis, toucans or howler monkeys. Families can have nearby animal encounters with activities like horseback riding, ziplining through the trees, rainforest tours and more. As an added bonus, the carbon neutral resort offers an eco-friendly environment that teaches kids about sustainability and how to protect the area’s natural resources.

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Swim with sea turtles in Barbados

SUP dude? For an unforgettable animal encounter, families will love Colony Club‘s stand-up paddle board (SUP) and turtle swim excursion. Starting out on the white, warm sands of Barbados’ renowned beach, families will paddle out to The Lone Star Restaurant, one of the local, turtle hangouts, and dive into the crystal blue waters to get up-close-and-personal with the island’s friendliest marine animals – the once-endangered population of hawksbill and leatherback turtles.

 

Hangout with reptiles in Curacao

Situated on a 27 acre plantation of rare natural preserve, the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort in Curacao offers an island-within-an-island feel with some of the most varied and exotic flora and fauna in the Caribbean. Through the resort’s eco-friendly, locally inspired Camp Arawak program, kids will love the chance to feed the resort’s resident iguanas. Plus, in between watersport adventures like snorkeling and paddleboarding, families can observe hawksbill turtles nesting along the resort’s private beach every July through September.

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Paddleboard with Dolphins in Jupiter, Florida

Hotel guests staying at the oceanfront resort can head to the nearby Blueline Surf & Paddle Co., and work up a sweat navigating the mangroves of the Intracoastal Waterways on a 90-minute paddleboard eco tour, where you might see manatees, dolphins and sea turtles. Complimentary beach cruisers are also available for resort guests to get the heart pumping as they explore the charming, seaside town’s iconic landmarks, including the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and the Loggerhead Marine Life Center.  

Encounter sea lions, blue footed boobies and penguins galore in The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are home to some of the most unique species in the world, and Ecoventura’s fleet of eco-friendly cruises brings families face to face with daily excursions through the archipelago’s diverse islands. From swimming alongside sea lions (and plenty of curious sea lion pups) to watching the Blue Footed Boobies shake their feet in a mating dance, snorkeling with penguins off the islands of Santa Cruz and Isabella. In a destination as pristine and protected as the Galapagos, wildlife wanders freely and fearlessly in the islands, meaning parents and kids are in for the trip of a lifetime.

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Kayak through a bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico

A kayaking tour through the mangrove forrest of the Laguna Grande takes families to a secret hideaway — Fajardo’s bioluminescent bay. A short drive from San Juan, the magical waters are filled with millions of prehistoric organisms that when touched, leave a breathtaking glow in the moonlight. The excursion, organized by the family friendly San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, invites families to learn the history and science behind the twinkling trail in the bio bay while enjoying a ride under the stars.

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Feed alpacas and llamas in Cusco

The colorful city of Cusco and the surrounding Sacred Valley of the Incas is the perfect destination for adventurous families looking for a rich dose of culture. A short drive from the city center, Awana Kancha – a llama, alpaca and vicuña farm — brings families face to face with the region’s most loved furry animals in all shapes and colors. Upon arrival, guests are greeted by the resident animals eagerly awaiting to be fed giant handfuls of grass. The interactive feedings are followed by textile weaving demonstrations by the local women keeping the tradition alive. After a day long day of adventure, families can relax in  the historic JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, a 16th century convent turned hotel whose lobby is frequented by alpacas and llamas.
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~ Contributed by Julia Cavalieri, account coordinator at Diamond PR. Follow Julia on Twitter @diamondpr

Typical Day On A Galapagos Cruise

Cruising the Galapagos Islands is for those who seek nature, adventure and an active vacation. One-week cruise aboard The Letty, a 20-passenger yacht run by Ecuador based company, Ecoventura will show you the very best of islands flora and fauna. Expect to get up close with animals and marine life, enjoy delicious meals and learn about Darwin’s evolution theories.

sunrise in the Galapagos IslandsA typical day aboard The Letty starts early in the morning. Watch the sunrise as you eat a healthy breakfast inside the dining room of the yacht.

cruise day 3The first activity for the morning is a hike or walk to one of the islands, where you will get to see amazing landscapes.

wildlife in the Galapagos IslandsDuring the island visits, expect an up close encounter with endemic wildlife, such as pelicans and iguanas. The Galapagos Marine Iguana is the only marine lizard to exist in the world.

giant tortoise of the GalapagosBe astonished by the Giant Tortoises that inhabit the islands. A Galapagos tortoise can weigh up to 595lb (270kg) with a carapace length of 4ft (1.2m) and outlive most humans.

snorkeling in the Galapagos IslandsBy 10am, the sun is up and it can get pretty hot, so time to cool down with a swim, snorkel or kayak. The convergence of three major oceanic currents brings an incredible mix of marine life to Galapagos.

kayaking in the Galapagos IslandsExpect to see beautiful coral reef, sharks, sea lions, penguins and lots of bird while you are out at sea.

cruise in the galapagos islandsAfter a busy morning, return to your boat for an authentic Ecuadorian lunch of ceviche, salads, grilled tuna, rice and beans prepared by experienced chefs. After lunch, its time for a Latin style afternoon siesta while your boat sails off to the next island.

sea lions in the Galapagos beachOnce you have renewed your energy, go to an undisturbed beach for a walk and some more sea lion watching. The Galapagos fur sea lions don’t feel threatened by the human paparazzi as long as you keep a safe distance.

blue footed boobies on the GalapagosBird watching is one of the highlights in the Galapagos. The islands are home to Nazca boobies, Darwin finches, frigids, cormorant, Blue footed boobies, and an occasional owl. Get your cameras ready to capture males performing mating dances to attract females.

sunset in the Galapagos

Enjoy picturesque sunsets of the Galapagos from the deck of the yacht while sipping a glass of wine.

eating in the Galapagos After a long day, its time to enjoy another scrumptious three course dinner. If you are lucky, you may even get a seat at the captain’s table.

To book a cruise to the Galapagos Islands with Ecoventure, click here.

Read more about traveling to the Galapagos Islands 

Cruise Ships and Naturalists Conserve the Galapagos Islands

Often times, once a destination gains popularity, tour companies and travelers pour in from around the world, threatening the sanctity of the place. Finding a balance between allowing for outside visitors and not destroying the natural habitats, can be a challenging feat. It was however, humbling to see the extent of preservation initiatives in the Galapagos National Parks of Ecuador during my recent visit.

First, I found that tour operators must pay a significant license fee to the park to obtain permits. These can range from $25-100k, depending on how many guests the tour agency plans to bring per year and how much they charge per person. Once the National Park gives permissions to visit the Galapagos Islands, they assign itineraries that must be strictly followed. This means that the tour companies are told which routes to take, which islands they can visit at what times of day, how long to spend there, etc. By doing so the Park ensures that visitors don’t constantly walk around in the same areas and disturb the wildlife each and every day. It also means that tour operators cannot travel the same route two consecutive weeks and have to offer different programs to their clients.

cruise ships in the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador

Visiting Galapagos Islands by small to medium size cruise ships is very popular. Private boats can be arranged for 10+ passengers, while most vessels are designed for 16. There are also a few ships that take 100 passengers at a time. Unlike other cruise docks, the ships and boats in the Galapagos are only allowed to anchor themselves far from land. Most islands do not have a port, so transfers have to be made via water landing. Even the islands that have small ports, such as San Cristobal and  Santa Cruz, allow only fishing boats to be parked near the docks. When travelers get out for day excursions, they have to transfer from the cruise boat to land via panga (dinghies). Even when going kayaking and snorkeling, they have to jump off the panga at the sites. As a result, you could see sea lions, iguanas and pelicans welcoming visitors at every island. It seems they did not feel threatens by humans, as the boats here do not produce loud noises or oil spills.

panga used for water landing in the Galapagos Islands

Thirdly, naturalists who work for the park accompanied the tourists throughout their tours. It is required by the Park to have at least 1 naturalist for every 16 passengers, although companies like Ecoventura organize 2. They not only educate visitors about the flora, fauna and history of the Galapagos, but also act as eyes and ears of the park. They made sure that the humans did not touch the animals, walked off the trails or wandered on their own. The naturalists were required to report any hazards seen on the islands to the park authorities.

sea lions resting on the beach in Galapagos Islands

While most islands in the Galapagos looked pristinely beautiful with white sand beaches and turquoise blue waters, water currants would occasionally bring debris on to shore. It was good to see that the naturalists made sure to collect any garbage they saw. They even asked the passengers to collect it during our excursion and took it back to the boat for proper disposal.

naturalist pick up trash from the Galapagos IslandRead more about the sustainability efforts of the Ecuador based cruise ship company, Ecoventura.

Read more about our experiences with the Galapagos Sea Lions.

Galapagos Sea Lions

I was so impressed by the sea lions on the Galapagos Islands, that I decided to post a photo blog just about them. The first time I saw a sea lion in the wild was when we set out to board our Ecoventura cruise “The Letty” on San Cristobal island. All the passengers got very excited and started taking photos of the handful of sea lions resting on one of the abandoned boats.

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Little did we know that over the course of the next one week, we will be spotting more sea lions than humans.

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The Galápagos sea lion (Zalophus wollebaeki) is a species of sea lion that exclusively breeds on the Galapagos Islands and – in smaller numbers – on Isla de la Plata, also in Ecuador. Being fairly social, and one of the most populous species in the Galápagos archipelago, they are often spotted sun-bathing on sandy shores or rock groups or gliding gracefully through the surf. (Source: Wikipedia)

sea lions1Both male and female sea lions have a pointy, whiskered nose and somewhat long, narrow muzzle. The young pups are almost dog-like in profile. Another characteristic that defines the sea lion are their external ear-like pinnae flaps which distinguish them from their close relative with which they are often confused, the seal.

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Breeding in sea lions takes place from May through January. The cow will nurture a pup for up to three years. In that time, the mom (known as cow) and the pup will recognize each other’s bark from the rest of the colony.We were able to see lots of pups chasing their moms, making demanding sounds and sucking on milk. The age of maturity for Galápagos sea lions is estimated at about 4–5 years. The total life span of Galapagos Sea Lions is estimated to be at 15–24 years.

When wet, sea lions are a shade of dark brown, but once dry, their color varies greatly. The females tend to be a lighter shade than the males and the pups a chestnut brown. Born with a longer, brownish-black fur, a pup’s coat gradually fades to brown within the first five months of life. At this time, they get their adult coat.

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Majority of the 20,000-50,000 Galápagos sea lion population is protected, as the islands are a part of the Ecuadorian National Park surrounded by a marine resources reserve. Although the Galápagos Islands are a popular tourist destination, strict rules protect all wildlife from disturbance. Their main threats come from el Niño weather events, sharks and killer whales.

Galapagos sea lions in front of light house

With a life that revolves around swimming in crystal blue waters, sun basking on white sand beaches, an occasional neck stretch and harmonious mates, what more can a Galapagos sea lion ask for?