The Enchanted Islands: Eat, Stay, and Play in the Galapagos

    by Laura Mathews with Antoinette Bruno
    Antoinette Bruno
    June 2011

    It may sound straight out of Disney Land, but the Galapagos really are the “Enchanted Islands.” And actually, just like Disney, they exist in a dimension far removed from our workaday world. Through strict and carefully regulated tourism, the islands remain virtually unchanged from when Darwin first set foot (or was it fin?) here in 1831. And while the cuisine hasn’t always played a prominent role in the allure of the islands, it has evolved along with the wildlife.

    The best culinary talent on the Galapagos showcases the traditional flavors of Ecuador, while exhibiting the one-of-a-kind spirit that’s inevitable from such an isolated island chain. Combine that with its beaches, snorkeling spots, and animal encounters, and the Galapagos offers no shortage of adventures for travelers looking to explore a wildly simpler way of life.


    Familiar William’s

    City Centre Charles Binford
    Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
    Hours: Tues-Sun 6pm-10pm

    This humble food stall draws Puerto Ayora locals and tourists alike for bowls of its rustic and delicious Encocados (a traditional dish of seafood cooked with coconut that’s as island-dreamy as it sounds). But you can’t go wrong choosing any of the items on its perma-painted wall menu—every dish is a time-honored island classic.

  • Encocado de Camaron (Shrimp in Coconut Sauce)

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    Iguana Crossing Restaurant

    Avenida Antonio Gil
    Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island, Galapagos
    +59 35-2529484
    Hours: Mon-Sun 11am-2pm, 7pm-9:30pm

    Simple and straightforward, the restaurant at the Iguana Crossing Hotel celebrates the flavors of the Galapagos with local pride. Chef Juan Daniel creates rustic dishes—like a traditional Sancocho stew—that make you nostalgic for the Ecuadorian abuela you never had. As an eco-bonus, the hotel grows much of the vegetables used at the restaurant and exclusively uses local proteins (non-endangered species only).

  • Sancocho: Traditional Stew of Green Plantains, Yucca, Tuna, Achiote Oil, Red Onions, Peppers, Tomato, Fish Stock, and Peanut Paste

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    Royal Palm Restaurant

    Km 18 Via Baltra
    Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
    + 59 35-2527408
    Hours: Mon-Sun 7am-10am, 11am-9pm

    As you might guess by its king-ly name, the Royal Palm serves some of the Galapagos’ most refined and evolved cuisine (we doubt Darwin or his crew dined on spherified mango or chicken “pearls”). Chef Enrique Sempere injects traditional Ecuadorian flavors with nouveau technique and sophisticated Asian flare. His dishes showcase the bounty of the Pacific, highlighting local seafood like cod, tuna, and slipper lobster.

  • Royal Palm’s Style Ceviche: Marinated Fish with Lemon, Ginger, and Sesame Oil Served with Manioc and Corn
  • Galapagos Cod with Citrus Crust, Creamy Mashed Potatoes, Red Bell Pepper, and Citron-infused Oil
  • Arroz con Leche with Cinnamon Ice Cream
  • Double Chocolate Marquise with Passion Fruit Sauce and Crystal Salt from the Galapagos

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    Iguana Crossing Hotel

    Avenida Antonio Gil
    Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island, Galapagos
    + 59 35-2529484
    Rooms start at $236

    Located inside a national park that’s home to a hopping iguana population, Iguana Crossing Hotel maintains the highest eco-standards (expect to see some iguanas crossing on pristine landscape). Guests enjoy sweeping views of the beach and the greater Galapagos, not to mention the wildlife. And with cacti and palm trees on every corner, the beautiful pool and outdoor terrace are as inviting as the food at the hotel restaurant. If you’re looking to book a tour of the island, be sure to stop by the front desk, where a knowledgeable and friendly concierge will help plan all your island adventures.

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    JW Marriott Quito

    Avenida Orellana 1172 y Avenida Amazonas
    Quito, Ecuador
    +59 32-2972000
    Rooms start at $189

    Located in the quaint Ecuadorian capital city of Quito, the JW Marriott puts you steps from museums and markets, not to mention a quick plane ride to the Galapagos Islands. And with access to the fitness center and spa, you’ll feel ready to hit the South American beaches in no time. After you work up an appetite, be sure to stop by La Hacienda for a taste of South America in Chef Bruno Hernandez’s classic churrasco and seafood specialties.

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    Royal Palm Hotel

    Km 18 Via Baltra
    Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
    +59 35-2527408
    Rooms start at $375

    The Royal Palm Hotel sits on 200 hectares of land adjacent to a national park, but it uses only 10 hectares of the land for its villas, verandas, and suites—all to preserve the natural authenticity for which the Galapagos Islands are known. With its lush landscape, and the hotel’s deeply contrasting color scheme of white and mahogany, the Royal Palm invites its guests to sit back and absorb breathtaking views of the islands. The hotel is outfitted with a health center, tennis courts, and a pool for the active. And the adventurous can take advantage of easy access to the nearby Lava Tunnels and (equally hot) cuisine of Chef Enrique Sempere at the hotel restaurant.

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    Charles Darwin Research Station

    Puerto Ayora
    Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
    +59 35-2526146

    Established in 1959, the Charles Darwin Research Station works to preserve the natural integrity of the Galapagos. In its evolving role of educating locals and tourists alike, the station—in concert with Galapagos Marine Reserve and Galapagos National Park Service—connects humans with the one-of-a-kind ecosystem of the islands. Visitors will learn the history of the Galapagos and her wildlife, as well as witness first-hand the station’s tortoise rearing and breeding project. You don’t have to be a scientist to enjoy!

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    Floreana Island

    One of the quieter islands in the Galapagos, and a four- to five-hour boat ride from Santa Cruz, Floreana is home to Post-Office Bay, which for the past several hundred years has housed the general public’s “mail in a barrel.” (Passing ships pick up letters from the barrel and hand-deliver them to intended recipients.) Floreana’s passersby haven’t always been so cordial. As a former haven for the swashbuckling crowd, pirates camped out in caves carved out of volcanic rock, which visitors can now (safely) explore. You’ll find the island’s true treasures below the waves—just put on your snorkel gear to check out a thriving sea turtle and dolphin population, the latter of which occasionally shows off for visitors.

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    Isabela Island

    Lava, sea lions, and sharks, oh my! As the largest of the Galapagos Islands, Isabela is a hot bed of seismic and animal activity—it’s also a major Galapagos breeding ground. Visitors to Isabela can hike the Sierra Negra Volcano (not to worry—it hasn’t erupted since 2005!). And a quick boat ride to the remote Las Tintoreras brings you face-to-face with sea lions, iguanas, and even sharks resting in a lively lagoon. Another boat ride from Puerto Villamil will lead you to Los Tuneles, where years ago, lava from an erupting volcano flowed into the sea and created bridge-like arches in the pristine blue water. Famed blue-footed boobies and a wide-variety of tropical fish now make Los Tuneles home. If you’re more into people watching, you can watch (or join) surfers riding waves at the picturesque Villamil beach.

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    Santa Cruz Island

    As the most popular (and populated) island of the Galapagos, Santa Cruz is home to the lively town of Puerto Ayora, where you can sun-bathe with the sea lions and eat some of the region’s best food. Nearby Tortuga Bay Beach—named for the turtles that inhabit it—is an island must-see. It boasts contrasting white sands and turquoise waters, perfect for sunning, dipping, and relishing the astounding beauty of the Galapagos.

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