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Galapagos Safari Camp — Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz, Galapagos, Ecuador

Tucked away in the highlands of Santa Cruz, Galapagos Safari Camp's luxury tents and Zen-like ambiance provide a perfect place to relax on land while exploring the Galapagos Islands.

Galapagos Safari Camp Tent

A visit to the Galapagos is an adventure, no matter how you choose to do it. Most sign up to explore some of the 19 islands of the archipelago by boat, living and eating aboard with other passengers. However, more and more boat-weary visitors are opting to stay on land and take daily excursions to see the world-famous tortoises, iguanas, blue-footed boobies and other wildlife unseen in other parts of the world. Some decide to do both.

After spending seven days aboard a rocking vessel, two nights at Galapagos Safari Camp was a welcome relief. Opened in 2007 as the first eco-luxury tented camp in Ecuador, the Camp recreates the African safari tradition, but in Galapagos style.

Nestled on a ridge in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos Safari Camp boasts an envious location as the last farm before the start of the Galapagos National Park in the Santa Rosa area. Just 15 miles from Baltra Airport, it is also in close proximity of a tortoise reserve where visitors can see the impressive, sluggish creatures up close in their natural habitats.

Galapagos Safari Dining

Built and owned by international couple Stephanie and Michael Mesdag—Stephanie is Ecuadorian-English and Michael Dutch-Spanish—Galapagos Safari Camp showcases the duo's personal touch and style in everything from the d?cor to the service. The camp's Indian front door-a wedding gift from Michael's parents—immediately hints at the uniqueness of the place. When the doors swing open, you're greeted by a remarkable panoramic view of the property and horizon below through a floor-to-ceiling glass wall and steps surrounded by a pool of shallow water.

Galapagos Safari Camp Deck

Outfitted with a spacious veranda, open floor plan and dining room, the crescent moon-shaped central lodge had a de-stressing effect on me from the moment I stepped through its threshold. Maybe it was the Zen-inspired design, the cozy wood-burning platform fireplace or minimalist d?cor (much of the furniture was shipped in a container from Indonesia by the owners), but I could tell this would be a place that would help me catch my breath.

And catch my breath I did when I was led on a volcanic rock path to one of the nine luxury tents that would be my accommodations. Raised off the ground on wooden platforms, the tents feature balconies with uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean and western and northern islands of the Galapagos. Although in the midst of nature, the tents aren't raised off the ground to avoid wildlife, Hotel Manager Katrien Bauters ensures, but to take full advantage of the views, which can be enjoyed rocking in a hammock or relaxing in the outdoor seating area with a cup of hot tea.

The minimalist mantra of the main lodge extends inside the 290–square–foot tents, complete with wood floors, simple custom–made furniture (designed by the owners) and locally made textiles. En–suite bathrooms are well appointed with hot power showers, toilets in which you can actually flush toilet paper (unlike in other parts of Ecuador) and volcanic rock sinks. The ambiance is luxurious, but perfectly fitting with the location. Hacienda Zuleta entrance

The comfortable amenities and tasteful d?cor nearly made me forget I was staying in a tent—until bedtime, that is, when the lulling sounds of nature filtered through the canvas walls. To avoid critters making their way into your accommodations, Bauters warns to leave the tent completely zipped up after 6 p.m.

When you're not lounging on your front deck or out exploring the wonders of the Galapagos Islands, a visit to the camp's infinity pool—also offering a stunning view—is a must. Other activities include walks, mountain biking, and horse trekking, which can all be arranged through the camp, as can diving and day tours to other islands. All activities are outsourced to local tour operators, so booking ahead of time is strongly advised. The camp also offers customized activity packages for guests.

You won't need to leave the property to come face-to-face with wildlife, however. Galapagos Safari Camp's farm is home to a variety of native birds, from finches and warblers to hooting owls, which you'll often encounter on the way to dinner each evening. Tortoises also make frequent visits to the camp's environs—we saw one slowly strutting down the road on the way out of the property one morning.

Galapagos Safari Camp Lobby

Galapagos Safari Camp's nightly rates include breakfast and dinner, which are each such feasts you probably won't need lunch. When you are headed off property for a full-days adventure, the staff wants to make sure you are well fed, beginning each morning with a spread of cheeses, meats, breads, coffee and fresh fruit juice, as well as prepared–to–order eggs. In the evening, after a day on "safari," fireside drinks and a corn snack called cancha introduce dinner, which is served at a communal table where guests can get to know each other. You can also opt to dine in a more private setting on the outdoor terrace. However you choose to eat, the three–course meals of local and international dishes are likely to leave you ready for bed. During my two–night stay I indulged in local lobster, Ecuadorian potato soup, meat from farm cattle and a surprisingly tasty Ecuadorian wine recommended by Bauters. I filled my stomach to the brim before crawling into bed, which is warmed nightly by a hot water bottle.

The care and concern of the staff at Galapagos Safari Camp goes beyond taking care of its guests, however. It also includes caring for the land. To do its part, Bauters explained, Galapagos Safari Camp collects rainwater, which is purified for drinking and only uses biodegradable bathroom products in accommodations.

The on–land Galapagos experience offered by this luxury tented camp is a much more private escapade than that of a boat cruise, where passengers are grouped with others for daily activities and meals. While traveling with a group might result in some new friends, Galapagos Safari Camp offers the best of both worlds. Socializing during meal times is only at guests' preferences and daily activities are customized. On thing is for sure, after a day spent snorkeling, diving or hiking through the enchanting Galapagos Islands, Galapagos Safari Camp is a peaceful respite ideal for regrouping.

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Total Number of Tents: 9
Rates: $385 single, $500 double, including two meals but not taxes

Review by Giannina Smith Bedford, photos by Jonathan Bedford