Shelter: Pikaia Lodge
Nestled atop an extinct volcanic crater, Pikaia Lodge is a 14-room sanctuary where villas exist symbiotically with the wild Galápagos terrain. Arriving here after a humbling night spent traveling from Colombia to Ecuador, photographer Marianna Jamadi and I had never been happier to see our rooms, or the view from them – floor-to-ceiling windows revealed the lush, steamy forest below us.
It’s one thing to learn about evolution and adaptation in grade school, but a completely separate experience to have full immersion in the heartland of discovery.
Unrivalled by any other lodge in the area, Pikaia is situated in the endless surrounds of the Galápagos National Park, and each room has a private, shaded terrace for intimate access to the natural setting. The common area decks are plastered with Peruvian travertine marble, contrasting beautifully with the landscape. It’s one thing to learn about evolution and adaptation in grade school, but quite another to have full immersion in the heartland of discovery, Charles Darwin's paradise, at a lodge on the top of a mountain where an infinity pool extends to an endless forest expanse.
Although the Galápagos sits at the top of many travel wish lists, most people don’t know that, in addition to being the home of modern science, the Galápagos Islands also play another special role in history. Following the bombings of Pearl Harbor, the Ecuadorian government landed in the island known as Baltra, using the archipelago as a stronghold against pending Japanese submarine attacks on Panama. At the pinnacle of the conflict, Franklin Delano Roosevelt even called these islands home for a week.
Pikaia Lodge introduced a radically new offering in the islands, one where luxury, science, and exploration coexist.
By the 1950s, the Ecuadorian government began giving away land to its citizens, vying for more inhabitants in the islands to ensure they had rights to it as a country, marking it as the last tropical island cluster in the world to be colonized. In 1959, Ecuador officially created Galápagos National Park to solidify their ownership and protect the land for scientific exploration.
Today, the Ecuadorian government works with scientists from around the world to aid in the preservation of this pristine ecosystem. Although notoriously tough on development due to the islands’ unique terrain, Pikaia Lodge opened in late 2014, introducing a radically new offering in the islands, one where luxury, science, and exploration coexist.
Pikaia Lodge General Manager Andrew Balfour grew up in the Galápagos Islands, where he spent his childhood foraging for mangoes along the area’s pristine shores. “I’ve never been too long out of water,” Balfour says, as he explains how the lodge operates in such a natural landscape, one that’s immensely important to him. As early as age 10, Balfour would sail the islands by himself, living every child’s dream of being the next great explorer.
“I began working with the project of Pikaia in early 2013, and we opened our doors in October of 2014,” Balfour says. “It was fun to see it all come together.”
He conceptualized the property’s unique excursions due to his vast knowledge of the region, putting the experiential aspect of a stay at Pikaia Lodge to the forefront, along with the feeling of pure luxury that’s attained during a week in one of the lodge’s sundrenched rooms.
Pikaia Lodge could be a destination in itself, but Balfour knows the importance of travelers connecting to the land. Before Pikaia Lodge opened its doors, most experiences in the Galápagos were all water-based, requiring at least a week’s time aboard a ship. But now, Pikaia Lodge is ushering in a new experience in the Islands, one where you can spend however much time you want between the land and the sea.
Of the three main concepts in which Pikaia Lodge operates, none is more important than Balfour’s first pillar of sustainability. As the property harnesses much of its power from solar panels and preserving rainwater to use on-site, Balfour and his team work to replant trees and bring endemic species back to the area. Developing a strict and socially responsible approach to conservation, the team also collaborates with the community, employing locals in nearby villages and buying crops from families who make a livelihood on island-based agriculture.
Evolution is the second pillar at Pikaia, and the entire lodge works to further the conversation with its guests that Darwin began in 1835. Darwin spent nearly five weeks in the islands, which eventually lead to his theory of natural selection and survival of the fittest. The property screens evening films in the Evolution Room that perpetuate these themes, and guests can enjoy cocktails as they learn more about the formation of the group of islands they’re visiting.
The third pillar, exploration, is based on Pikaia’s yacht-based expeditions of the Galápagos. Pikaia Lodge transports travelers through the islands aboard its 100-foot private yacht. Each guest is granted their own private cabin, and a mix of walking, hiking, swimming and snorkeling reveal the secrets of the islands by day.
Whether exploring the Galápagos for the first time or coming back to try a new approach to the system of island oases, you’re sure to find a thrill with Pikaia Lodge while exploring the land that fire and titanic forces built. [H]