Tatler - Sweetie, Darwin! Galapagos
June 2013

The natural selection for spotting evolution’s XXL exotica? Grace Kelly’s dinky, dreamy yacht.

In the Galapagos, size matters: GIANT tortoises, ENORMOUS whales sharks, albatrosses with 10-FOOT wingspans. But with boats, smaller is always better here. Think of the logistics: shuttling 100-plus people between ship and shore via Zodiacs. No thanks. You must go small, and one of the very smallest vessels charting these waters is the nine-cabin Grace, dating from the Twenties. Just 18 passengers and oozing regal charm.

She’s petite, yes, but she’s been around -- from patrol boat (during the Second World War) to love boat (this was Aristotle Onassis’ wedding gift to Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco). Slender and glamorous, she slinks around the archipelago, ferryign passengers and their top-notch guides to and from nature walks to spot Darwin’s finches, or snorkelling trips with green turtles, or strolls along white sandy beaches abundant with bodysurfing sea lions. Don’t skip an excursion. You’ll regret missing the well-named magnificent frigatebird puff up its red throat for a crazy courtship ritual, or the vast waved albatross taking off from a cliff-top.

The guides pepper the day with a thousand insights -- and love to be tested. Which seabird is the best diver? The blue-footed booby, which enters the water at 70mph. Why do flamingoes stand on one leg? Because of themoregulation (if one leg is tucked under its feathers, it’s because the water is cold; if it leaves it hanging out and spreads its webbed foot, it’s cooling down). What do hermit crabs spend 80 percent of their time doing? Looking for a bigger house.

It’s like every natural history lesson you ever had rolled into one, but fascinating. Even more miraculous is the animals’ utter fearlessness. They don’t give a hoot about humans. Sea lions might give a lazy bark when you mistake them for a rock and almost step on them. A Nazca booby sitting on its nest looks unfazed by your interest in its egg. A giant tortoise curiously meets your gaze.

Off-land the snorkelling and diving are wondrous. Swim with dinosaur-like marine iguanas and friendly baby sea lions (and with ominous hammerhead sharks). before heading back to the Grace for hot chocolate or passion-fruit cocktails in the hot-tub on deck. There’s a library for evening Q&As, if you feel like swotting, a sun deck for lolling and an al fresco dining area where you can feast on the freshest ceviche, locally caught lobster and grilled grouper.

A most graceful ending to any natural history lesson.

Michelle Jana Chan travelled with Journey Latin America (www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk).