This year, I was lucky enough to fulfil one of my top ambitions: an adventure to the Galapagos Islands, that unique and spectacular natural habitat off the coast of Ecuador. As a keen natural history fan, it always sat up there, at the top of my list.
Importantly for me, however, was to be able to share such an adventure with my children. Earlier this year that became possible, and so with my two sons and partner we joined Silversea's Silver Galapagos to immerse ourselves in this incredible destination.
Intrepid travellers or nature lovers will know about the uniqueness of the islands and their historical significance, but before we departed, someone asked, "Why on earth do you want to go all that way just to see a load of lizards and volcanoes?" A question from one who just did not 'get it'. For those of us who do 'get it', nothing previously viewed or read can quite prepare you for the amazing, up-close experiences you encounter throughout.
Daily expertly guided and educational zodiac explorations, as well as snorkelling and kayaking opportunities, took us in and around the coastal multi-coloured reefs, cliff edges, mangrove forest and beaches, all teeming with marine life. We experienced close encounters with penguins, turtles, diving flightless cormorants and spectacular blue-footed boobies, white-tip reef sharks, stingrays and even huge manta rays, elegantly gliding just beneath us.
And the ultimate highlight… snorkelling and playing with a large curious raft of young sea lions - darting, dipping and diving all around us, even playfully nipping at our flippers with one actually trying to grab the underwater camera as we filmed (luckily strapped to the wrist). Then later, inquisitively lolling and inspecting us in the shallows - all within touching distance and with no fear of humans. Quite simply magical.
On land, carpets of the famous endemic prehistoric-looking marine iguanas lazed and snorted in massed groups on the rocks, warming themselves up in the sun. Different islands present different wildlife, including giant tortoises, multi-coloured land iguanas, herons, flamingos, frigate birds, pelicans and Darwin's finches - the variations and experiences endless.
And all of this, without even touching on the individual raw beauty of the contrasting islands and their rugged landscapes and flora. All this was capped a few times, as we sipped an evening cocktail, by spotting pods of spouting minke whales, breaching in the glow of the stunning Galapagos sunsets. Each day, awe-inspiring and memorable in its own particular way.
To share this incredible experience with my sons, both in their twenties and leading busy lives, may quite possibly never happen again. And there lies perhaps another unexpected part of our holiday - we were not alone in our thinking. So many other family groups, both large and small, were also on board doing precisely the same thing - sharing their bucket list. The age range varied from grandparents through to their teenage grandchildren - a truly international and eclectic mix of like-minded nature lovers, all with an appreciation of how extraordinary evolution has been and keen to learn even more from this unique destination. Just a load of lizards and volcanoes, it most certainly is not!
So, if the Galapagos is up there on your list and you are able to, I urge you to try and share it with your family. It could, like it has for me, become one of those precious, unforgettable experiences to always treasure. Ticked!