Motor Yacht Galapagos Odyssey welcomes you on board to discover with your own eyes the unique wonders of the Galapagos Islands. We take you around the remote and most exceptional islands of the archipelago. The Galapagos Odyssey is considered among the most comfortable and spacious 16-passenger boats cruising this archipelago. Our certified professional crew and the knowledgeable, bilingual naturalist guide on board will do their utmost to convert your once in a lifetime cruise into the trip of your life!
|Vessel name||M/Y Galapagos Odyssey (Registered name: M/Y Gran Natalia)|
|Construction Year||Guayaquil, 2007/2008; last maintenance: 2014|
|Naturalist Guide||1 National Park-certified multilingual naturalist guide|
|Crew||9 experienced, trained and IMO-certified crew-members (International Marine Organization):
captain, 2 pilots, 2 sailors, machinist, bartender, chef, kitchen help/housekeeper
|Length||41m / 134ft|
|Width||8m / 26.67ft|
|Number of cabins||8 Twins & 1 Twin used as Single cabin|
|Cabin Location||Main deck: 4 Twins
Upper deck: 4 Twins
Lower deck: 1 Single
|Social Areas||Sun Deck/terrace, shaded outside deck with outside bar, Lounge with dining area, buffet bar and bar|
|Amenities||TV, DVD, laptop, small library, lounge chairs, whirlpool, 8 inflatable tandem kayaks, 2 inflatable dinghies for 8 persons each|
|Machinery||2 Caterpillar 210 HP engines|
|Cruising speed||10 knots (ca. 18,5 km/h)|
|Generators||2 Perkins 80 HP – 60 KW each|
|Air Conditioning||Individually controlled in all cabins|
|Wastewater treatment||2 water treatment systems|
Itinerary A - 6 Days / 5 Nights
|1||Tuesday||AM – Flight to San Cristobal Airport|
|PM – Cerro Colorado / Puerto Chino Beach (San Cristobal)|
|2||Wednesday||AM – Punta Suarez (Espanola)|
|PM – Gardner Bay (Espanola)|
|3||Thursday||AM – Punta Cormorant / Devil’s Crown (Floreana)|
|PM – Baroness Lookout / Post Office Bay (Floreana)|
|4||Friday||AM – Santa Fe|
|PM – South Plaza|
|5||Saturday||AM – North Seymour|
|PM – Bachas (Santa Cruz)|
|6||Sunday||AM – Mosquera|
|Tour ends. Transfer to Baltra Airport|
Our 5 nights southeastern itinerary visits most popular sites of Galapagos and combines the spectacular sea bird colonies of Española and North Seymour. The southwestern islands are geologically elder, eroded and overgrown, with almost extinguished volcanic activity. Striking beaches of white coral sand are favourite places for large colonies of Galapagos sea lions and surround breathtaking azure-coloured bays. This varied route is characterized by relatively shorter nightly navigations and even two nights of quiet rest at calm anchorage-sites.
This cruise begins on San Cristobal, with lots of Galapagos sea lions occupying the harbour of Galapagos’ capital Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. You will cross the highlands to visit the local Galapagos giant tortoise breeding center.
Next day you will get excited walking through the waved albatross and booby colonies on Española, and observe sunbathing marine iguanas. The northern cape of Floreana contains a lagoon where exotic American flamingos use to breed. Nearby Devil’s Crown is one of the most popular snorkel sites of Galapagos!
Heading to the heart of the archipelago you will visit the extraordinary Santa Fe, and the really not to be missed highlight of South Plaza (both with land iguanas and giant opuntia cactus trees).
We conclude with the thriving booby- and frigate colonies on North Seymour, a beach stroll on Bachas Beach and an inflatable dinghy-ride along or landing on Mosquera, all three close to Baltra, from where you will fly back.
Day 1 – Tuesday
This morning you will fly from Quito or Guayaquil to San Cristobal Airport. After welcome, check-in, lunch, briefing and the safety-drill we leave for a 45 minutes bus-ride (22,5 km / 13.2 mi) to our first visitor’s site in the highlands of this island, the Galapagos giant tortoise breeding center on Colorado Hill.
Before dinner your guide will give the first daily briefing for tomorrow, and he/she will explain the yacht’s and National Park rules. Then the captain and his crew will present and toast with a welcome cocktail to celebrate your first evening on board. Around midnight we will lift the anchor and navigate about 5 hours to the south-eastern island of Española.
AM: Arrival at San Cristobal Airport
At San Cristobal Airport you have to pay your Galapagos National Park entrance fee and your luggage is inspected. See Getting there for flight and arrival information.
In front of the arrival hall you will meet your naturalist guide and fellow passengers, and you will be transferred to the harbour of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Our inflatable dinghy brings you the last stretch to the yacht.
PM: Colorado Hill (San Cristobal)
The only (unpaved) road into the highlands of San Cristobal passes the formal sugarcane plantation and penal colony El Progreso and a row of ecologic wind generators on a ridge. Next it reaches the highest parts of the agricultural zone and El Junco Lagoon, one of the scarce sweet water lagoons in the archipelago. Colorado Hill is in the decent to the southern coast.
The giant tortoise breeding center on Colorado Hill bears the official name Galapaguero Jacinto Gordillo, but in daily use it is simply called after the red hill on which it is located. This and similar breeding centers on Santa Cruz and Isabela are the most comfortable places where you can see Galapagos giant tortoises. All are created to rescue these endangered giants by collecting their eggs in the wild, reproduction in captivity and repopulation once the hatchlings are big enough and less vulnerable for predators. This center works with the local subspecies of Galapagos giant tortoises (out of ca. 11 remaining subspecies in total; scientists disagree about the number, and as well if the San Cristobal subspecies should be considered as a distinct species).
Around the large corral, there is also an interpretive botanical trail and an interesting visitor’s center. In here the natural history of the local giant tortoises is explained to you; including the relationship and evolutional differences between these and other (sub)species. On the trail you can spot songbirds as well, such as yellow warblers, endemic Galapagos large-billed flycatchers and the Chatham mockingbird (even ‘more’ endemic, while unique to this island alone), that put Darwin on track of his evolution theory.
Day 2 – Wednesday
Española is one of the crown jewels of the archipelago, and offers all that you might expect from Galapagos; it’s a real bird watcher’s and photographer’s dream! Being one of the oldest, it does not look like a volcanic island any more. Different to the western islands, where barren lava tongues reach up to the coastlines, massive erosion of the former cone and lava fields has formed long sand beaches. Española gives you the opportunity to become an eyewitness of evolution. Thanks to its very dry climate and remote isolated location, its residents evolved absolutely independently into new (sub)species, even unlike the rest of the islands. Therefore Española is one of the strongest evidences of natural selection, together with nearby Santa Fe, and Fernandina in the extreme west.
After breakfast your island excursion will start with a so called ‘dry landing’ (with footwear) at Suarez Point. This morning promises to be a highlight of your cruise. During a longer guided walk (Moderate Level; 4 km, 2.5 mi, about 2 hours) you will pass spectacular sea bird colonies on top of the cliffs, which contain some short scrambling passages (avoidable depths).
Back on board we will navigate in about an hour to our afternoon’s exotic visitor’s site. After lunch you will make your first ‘dive’ in the alluring turquoise-coloured Gardner Bay, where you can admire colourful tropical reef fish, snorkel side by side with a Pacific green turtle, or be in the middle of playful Galapagos sea lions. Then you will make a ‘wet landing’ (bare feet) on the wide sand beach. This is a good spot for a stroll along the sea lions colony (Easy Level), or a moment of reflexion, relaxation, or rolling with the sea lions in the surf.
After dinner we will navigate the longest stretch of Route A, which will take about 7 hours, navigating West to the neighbouring island of Floreana.
AM: Suarez Point (Española)
Huge ocean waves bang onto the southern basaltic cliffs of Suarez Point, forming a spectacular blowhole, where the water sprays meters high into the air (depending on the season, the tide and how strong the sea breeze pushes the waves). Take your time for a meditative break in silence on this emblematic viewpoint, and convert this unforgettable moment in a lifetime experience.
Española marine iguanas become bright red with a turquoise-colored crest and legs at the start of the breeding season (starting from Christmas). Hood lava lizards are the largest of the 7 endemic species in the islands, as well as the mockingbirds, that have turned to carnivorous behaviour! The successful rebreeded endemic Galapagos giant tortoise population resides on a site that is closed to tourism.
Waved albatrosses soar most time of their lives far out at sea and just come on land to breed and nurture their huge chick (March-December). This spectacular seabird is the only tropic albatross, and it is considered a critically endangered species. It just breeds on Española (besides some strayed individuals on Isla de La Plata, Machalilla National Park, close to the Ecuadorian coast). When you’re present on the right time (especially in October, though also noticeable in other months) you will be able to admire their synchronous courtship dances, which include bowing, whistling and even a stylized form of ‘sword fighting’ with their bills! Suarez Point also forms the massive breeding site for Nazca and blue-footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls and red-billed tropicbirds. Especially during the food-abundant garúa-season (2nd half of the year) you can admire amusing courtship dances, mating, breeding, emerging from the eggs, nurturing or first flight-attempts. Blue-footed boobies even don’t bother to breed in the middle of the trail. Passing seabirds and marine iguanas of the islands in a distance of just a few meters, makes that you feel yourself live within a busting nature documentary!
PM: Gardner Bay (Española)
The striking white beach at Gardner Bay is an important breeding site for Pacific green turtles. But without doubt its main attraction is the Galapagos sea lion colony. Females stay year round in this nursery, suckling their pups up to an age of 3 years, although these start to learn fishing already after 5 months. During the breeding- and mating season the colony becomes even more populous. The strongest bachelors and elder males return from their secluded bases and start again to conquer and defend a part of the 1300 m / 4250 ft long beach. Pregnant females choose the best territory to give birth, and will mate again with their landlord within a month.
Day 3 – Thursday
Before daybreak we have dropped the anchor at the Northern cape of Floreana, known as Cormorant Point. Nearby are several tiny islets, which count with some of the most fantastic snorkelling and scuba dive-sites, such as Devil’s Crown and Champion. The historical place of Post Office Bay is also excellent for sea kayaking. Floreana determines the southern border of Galapagos and gives the sense to be somewhere at the end of the world. Its fresh water spring on top made it the first of four inhabited islands in the archipelago, although you won’t notice the present settlement Puerto Velasco Ibarra (150 inhabitants).
After breakfast the inflatable dinghies will bring you to the rocky rim of Devil’s Crown, which is located just outside the bay of Cormorant Point. If fantastic deep-water snorkelling (with sometimes stronger currents) is not your thing or if you rather prefer birdwatching, alternatively you can make a great ride by inflatable dinghy (landing is prohibited on these marine visitor’s sites).
After a snack we make a wet landing on the greeny beach of Cormorant Point. From here you will follow the sandy path to the other, powdery sand beach of the peninsula, which has been formed by a lava tongue (Easy Level; about 1,5 km, 1 mi). En route you can observe the American flamingo lagoon from different viewpoints and perspectives.
After a short displacement to Post Office Bay and lunch, you can post your holiday greetings in the traditional barrel just behind the beach (wet landing), which is also a comfortable place to relax. Next you can explore the submerged crater rim that surrounds the neighbouring bay of Baroness Lookout in your own pace by sea-kayak, or by inflatable dinghy.
Around midnight we will navigate about 5 hours Northeast to the extraordinary island of Santa Fé.
Additional options scuba-diving: choice out of 9 nearby diving sites (All levels)
AM: Devil’s Crown (Floreana)
With no less than five sea currents, the marine reserve is even more diverse than the archipelago above sea level. For many Devil’s Crown is snorkelling site number one of Galapagos, and even one of the very highlights of your cruise. The jagged crater rim just protrudes sea level, and continues to be beaten by the waves. The depth and very transparent waters of this deep-water snorkelling site gives you some sensation of flying. It is like plunging in a huge tropical aquarium, swimming amidst schools of thousands of brightly coloured tropical fish, as yellowtail surgeon fishes and king angelfishes, and many other species. Sometimes a Pacific green turtle or Galapagos sea lion is passing; and don’t scare when you eventually might meet a scalloped hammerhead shark! On the bottom you can distinguish resting whitetip reef sharks, different species of ray and starfishes. The inner walls of the crater rim are coated with coral formations and protected against the surf.
Above sea level the dramatic decor of the jagged crater rim provides living space to lots of coastal birds, including lava gulls, blue-footed and Nazca boobies, brown pelicans, and red-billed tropicbirds, which look for protected nesting places in caves or ledges under a rock overhang (and can fight out spectacular air battles). And the opposite land head of Floreana is a nesting place for magnificent frigatebirds, where you could also head for.
AM: Cormorant Point (Floreana)
Please don’t expect to spot the flightless cormorant at Cormorant Point, on the northern coast of Floreana. This emblematic example of evolution lives exclusively in the remote west of Galapagos on Fernandina and Isabela. Instead, this is one of the best places in Galapagos to observe American flamingos among other aquatic birds, such as pintails (or Bahama ducks). Its salty lagoon houses a breeding colony of dozens of these elegant and exotic, but nervous waders. Though, when breeding is done and the lagoon dries up, the flamingos tend to be on the move to look for shrimps and algae from other saline lakes.
The peninsula of Cormorant Point forms the extreme north cape of Floreana, which is pockmarked by numbers of smaller volcanic cones and covered by tropical dry forest (predominently palo santo). At the landing beach you will be welcomed by a small Galapagos sea lion-colony. The green sand on this beach contains a high percentage of glassy olivine crystals that have been blown out by the surrounding tuff cones. The ‘flour sand’ sand beach on the southern side of the peninsula is formed of even finer white coral sand that feels very smooth to your feet. Parrotfishes have pulverized it, grinding the calcareous skeletons of living coral. In the surf you can recognize schools of sting rays that love the sandy bottom to hide themselves. During the first months of the year Pacific green turtles come ashore to burry their eggs. Next morning you can notice their tracks from the dunes, or eventually still catch an exhausted, delayed one, crawling back to sea.
PM: Post Office Bay & Baroness Lookout (Floreana)
Post Office Bay is one out of three nearby visitor’s sites on Floreana’s northern coast. Bring your postcards and post them in the peculiar traditional barrel on this historic site. These might arrive home quicker than you! The barrel commemorates an improvised mail service that was set-up for communication between British 16th century whalers and poachers. The novel of Moby Dick is inspired on the whaling epoch around Galapagos. Whale oil was very demanded for illumination and smelly ambergris was an essential ingredient for perfumes, but the Atlantic got already depleted. Like James Bay on Santiago, Floreana used to be a popular base to complement stocks. In these pre-Panama Canal times sailors could be years from home, hence the way back around Cape Horn was long and dangerous with storms, pirates, malnutrition and diseases. Returning vessels picked-up letters from the barrel for home delivery. Finally this post box became the termination of British whaling industry in this region. During the Anglo-American War (1812-1815) it revealed easily the positions of the whaling vessels to the American frigate USS Essex, which captured them for their own use.
Proceeding by inflatable dinghy to Baroness Lookout you will follow the graceful arm around the sheltered bay to the entrance of a submerged tuff cone. Alongside you can spot Galapagos sea lions, Pacific green turtles, golden cownose rays, and you might even catch the surprising sight of a Galapagos penguin! This is the only spot on the south-eastern routes where some penguins reside (best opportunities although on Fernandina, the west coast of Isabela or Bartolome).
After landing you can climb the miniature basaltic cone of Baroness Lookout, and dream away, admiring one of the most striking panoramas of Galapagos. The turquoise and ocean blue waters merge with all year lushly red mangroves and basaltic rocks. This viewpoint was the favourite spot of one of the first colonists, Baroness Eloisa von Wagner Bosquet. The eccentric and self-proclaimed ‘Empress of Galapagos’ even built her house a few meters behind. At last she and one of her lovers were the first in a series of mysterious disappearings and deaths in the 1930s.
Day 4 – Friday
From Floreana, Santa Fe is located halfway to the central island of Santa Cruz. Today promises to become another memorable highlight of this cruise, with visits of the typical and popular islands of Santa Fe and South Plaza. These will surprise again because of their complete distinctive character. Below the bizarre giant opuntia cacti you will encounter some of the most characteristic and outstanding species, including land iguanas, but also birdwatchers and underwater enthusiasts will become excited again.
After breakfast and another wet landing you will make a guided walk from the beach of Santa Fe. There is an easy shorter circuit or a strenuous longer hike land inward (Moderate Level; ca. 3 km / 2 mi.); the guide will decide which path will be followed. Don’t forget to retain some strength for excellent swimming or snorkelling in the clear azure waters of Barrington Bay.
Around lunchtime we will proceed to South Plaza (about 2,5 h Northwest), possibly accompanied by bottle nose delphins. South Plaza is one out of two islets close to the eastern coast of Santa Cruz. On this Jurassic islet you will undertake a contrasty guided nature walk (avoidable depths on the cliff-edge; Easy Level; ca. 1,25 km / 0.75 mi).
Before – a hopefully spectacular – sunset we will leave to tomorrow’s destination, North Seymour, following the coast of Santa Cruz to the heart of the archipelago (about 4 hours). We drop the anchor in the Itabaca Channel, where you can enjoy a quiet floating sleep.
Additional options scuba-diving: Gordon Rocks (Expert/Advanced) or Santa Fe (All levels)
AM: Barrington Bay (Santa Fe)
Practically every animal on the extraordinary island of Santa Fe is unique; endemic to Galapagos, or even to this island alone and therefore extremely vulnerable! Apparently evolution has had enough time and isolation to create the wonders that will surprise you nowadays. And indeed, geologists have determined that Santa Fe is the remnant of probably the most ancient volcano of Galapagos; the 259 m / 850 ft high hill is all that remains from its former cone. Evidences of volcanism, such as 3,9 million old sub-areal volcanic rocks, debunk theories that this would be another tectonic uplift around Santa Cruz.
Almost every visitor of Santa Fe would like to get a glimpse of the rare Barrington land iguana. But this pale version is not as easy to spot as its modelling counterparts on South Plaza. This one sometimes asks for an adventurous search, rather untypical for Galapagos; and other times it surprises waiting for you next to the path. Whether you spot it, or not, you will keep going from one surprise into the other. Your experience starts already before anchoring at Barrington Bay, when the contours of its bizarre giant opuntia cactus forests become distinguishable. These largest cacti of the islands have extremely thick trunks indeed, and can grow over 10 m / 33 ft tall! You will land right into a Galapagos sea lion colony on the beach, attentively being stared by surprisingly tame Galapagos hawks. From their outlooks in the salt bush– and palo santo-branches on the beach ridge these are ready for snatching away a not to be despised lava lizard; not worrying that even these tiny reptiles are unique…
Snorkelling in the paradisiacal bay gives the opportunity to amplify your quickly growing spot list with (harmless) whitetip reef sharks, spotted eagle rays and lots of colourful tropical reef fish. Maybe a curious Galapagos sea lion is willing to play with you!
PM: South Plaza
Although in line of sight of the main island Santa Cruz, the southern of both Plaza islets is quite different and diverges even from all other sites in the National Park. At the same time it is so typical Galapagos, with its sharp contrasts, amazing diversity and high concentration of wildlife. It is one of most popular, not to be missed islands, and definitely another highlight of your cruise.
There are several large Galapagos sea lion colonies, and this islet is best place to encounter the endemic Galapagos land iguana. Watch your step and don’t stumble over one of them when the equally bizarre giant prickly pear cactus-trees distract you! These reptiles are not only ugly: as nobody less than Charles Darwin pronounced: but also extreme photogenic with strikingly yellowish or saffron-colours, and very patient models. On South Plaza the land iguanas remained somewhat smaller because of overpopulation and severe food competition. It is incredible to see how cactus spines don’t harm their leathery tongues while tasty chewing the pads, flowers and fruits. Beware as well for some unique hybrids, a result of crossing a male marine iguana and a female land iguana.
South Plaza has two faces, which provide it with complete different ecological niches and corresponding wildlife. At the upper rim of this seismic uplifted formation you will learn its windy, wild face, where dazzling cliffs cut off abruptly the gentle slope. About 20 m / 75 ft downwards powerful waves splash against the foot of these massive walls, impressively droning. Sun basking marine iguanas have escaped the cool shadows of the wall proof to be talented rock climbers equipped with strong claws.
Clouds of petrels, storm petrels, shearwaters and brown noddies make spectacular flights and sometimes appear to walk on the waves. Take your binoculars and don’t miss the red-billed tropicbird with its graceful long tail and spectacular mating fights. These cliffs are also a nesting place for the endemic swallow-tailed gull, the most beautiful gull in the world. Its neatly lined eyes are perfectly adapted for its exceptional nightly fishing habits. From bird’s-eye perspective it is even possible to discover schools of surgeonfishes, Galapagos mullets and when you are lucky even a jumping manta ray!
Day 5 – Saturday
North Seymour is one of most visited sites of Galapagos, and overloaded with extensive colonies of frigate birds and boobies. It is located in the heart of the Archipelago, just north of the main island of Santa Cruz, and close to Baltra.
After an early snack you will make a guided walk through the waking seabird’s colonies, following a circular loop (Easy Level; 2 km / 1.25 mi, about 2 hours). Filled with impressions you will return on board to fill up your stomach with our delicious breakfast buffet. Later in the morning snorkeling is on the program.
As usual you will be welcomed on board with a snack, while we continue about 2 hours West to Bachas Beach, where we will serve lunch. In the afternoon you will make another wet landing followed by an easy stroll along the waterline of this coral sand beach.
Before dinner we will sail back to the heart of the Archipelago, where you will spend your last night on board, enjoying a farewell cocktail with the crew and your fellow passengers, and enjoying another quiet sleep, while floating.
AM: North Seymour
The former seabed of the uplifted tabletop of North Seymour is strewn with boulders and overgrown by dry shrubs. Nevertheless this islet is one of most visited sites, and overloaded with bird life. The surprising proximity to South Seymour (better known as Baltra) enables an ideal combination with your flight to or from Galapagos, either for a quick introduction or for a last farewell.
Two emblematic hosts say “Hello” or “Goodbye”. An easy circular path takes you through the archipelago’s most extensive colonies of blue-footed boobies and frigate birds. At the start of the (shifting) breeding season adult frigatebird-males blow up their vivid red pouches to impressive football-sized balloons. This is one of the few spots (besides Genovesa and Pitt Point) where you can compare the magnificent and the rarer great frigatebird breeding next to each other. Frigatebirds rather attack returning boobies and conduct aerial battles than fishing themselves and get a wet suit. The even more popular blue-footed boobies show their cute courtship rituals, in which their remarkable feet play an important role.
Moreover you can spot lots of other seabirds, such as brown pelicans, red-billed tropicbirds, endemic swallow-tailed gulls and seasonally even Nazca boobies. Between the shrubs you might perceive a Galapagos land iguana. North Seymour originally did not count with land iguanas, but in the 1930s an eccentric American millionaire moved the last generation from Baltra, and saved them for starvation caused by competition with introduced goats; the afterwards breeding program at Charles Darwin Research Station turned into a big success.
PM: Bachas Beach (Santa Cruz)
Strolling along its coastline, the blinding white Bachas Beach appears full of natural life. But both the turquoise bay and the symmetrical tuff cone-islet of Daphne Major pull your eyes to the horizon as well. Much closer, in the intertidal zone at your feet, run impressive sparkling orange coloured and heavy-armed sally lightfoot crabs around the dark basaltic rocks. Beware of a Galapagos sea lion, a marine iguana, a shark fin or (seasonally) mating Pacific green turtles in the surf!
You will reach a brackish lagoon in the dunes, with different species of wade and shore birds, including gracious and noisy black-necked stilts, white-cheeked pintails (or Bahama ducks) and hunting herons. Migratory aquatic birds that winter in Galapagos, such as whimbrels, also frequent this pond. As soon as the water level drops and becomes saltier in the dry season, you might even encounter some American flamingos tirelessly filtering water to catch shrimp and algae!
These two quiet plagues along the remote north-western coast have become the preferred nesting site of Pacific green turtles on this main island of Santa Cruz. Females wait for high tide at night before crawling ashore, resulting in an unnoticed, safer and less exhausting effort. In the sunny months (November-February) the powdery coral sand becomes a hot greenhouse, and as soon as the eggs hatch, lots of predators arrive to attend the banquet.
‘Bachas’ refers to the ‘minefield of nest holes’ in the dunes strip; though others argue that it is a ‘Spanglish’ mispronunciation of ‘barks’, referring to two rusty landing vessels that have been left on the longer second beach in World War II, when the American US Air Force used BALTRA as a strategic base to defend the Panama Canal.
Day 6 – Sunday
Mosquera lies in the middle of the Itabaca Channel, between Baltra and North Seymour. Because of nearby Baltra airport, Mosquera is a perfect conclusion of your Galapagos visit.
Short after the wake-up call and another snack you will undertake this last excursion. Depending on the tide and the check-in time for your flight to Guayaquil or Quito we do or don’t have the opportunity to go on land, where you can freely stroll around. Otherwise we will make an interesting dinghy-ride along the rocky shore, full of sea birds. After breakfast it’s time say goodbye and leave the yacht (unless you have booked an extension on the B-route). We will accompany you and your luggage to the airport, where you can check-in and return to Guayaquil or Quito.
Though close neighbours, Mosquera and North Seymour offer a very different experience; diverging habitats attract different residents. While North Seymour contains large breeding colonies for boobies and frigatebirds, Mosquera stands out by one of the largest concentrations of Galapagos sea lions in the entire archipelago. It’s also one of the few spots inside the National Park where you can stroll around freely, without being restricted to a trail.
Galapagos sea lions are real beach lovers and Mosquera offers beautiful white coral sand beaches contrasting with the azure coloured water. This islet is just a few meters higher than a sandbank and doesn’t complicate their landing, and they can roll relaxed in the surf. For fishing they just have to enter the Itabaca Channel, which is a sort of natural tramp in which lots of marine life and schools of fish are concentrated. When the geological upraise continues, or when sea level would drop, the nowadays submarine parts of the rocky ridge would come to the surface too, and change Mosquera in an isthmus, connecting North and South Seymour (Baltra). Fishing the channel is not without risk; sometimes a school of killer whales (orcas, recognizable on their characterizing dorsal fins) enters to hunt sea lions.
During a beach walk you can also expect shorebirds and waders, such as groups of sanderlings that steadily have to interrupt their foraging efforts and run to escape each next breaker. Between the rocks wait lots of other intertidal hunters such as striking orange sally lightfoot crabs, ready to play seek and hide with you when you want to picture them. If a dinghy-ride is programmed, Mosquera might surprise with some more exotic species as well. The endemic and vulnerable lava gull nests on this island, but counts only with a few hundreds of pairs and is the rarest species of gull all over the world. With some luck you can approach a yellow-crowned night heron keeping an eye on one of the tidal pools, or you even might catch the view of a strayed red-footed booby!
AM: Transfer to Baltra airport
Assisted by the guide and some crew-members the inflatable dinghy will bring you and your luggage to Baltra, where we take the airport shuttle. Your guide will accompany you to the check-in counters in the departure hall.
We expect that you will return home with stunning pictures and unforgettable memories for life!
Itinerary B - 5 Days / 4 Nights
|1||Sunday||AM – Flight to Baltra Airport|
|PM – Dragon Hill (Santa Cruz)|
|2||Monday||AM – Rabida|
|PM – Chinese Hat|
|3||Tuesday||AM – Prince Phillip’s Steps (Genovesa)|
|PM – Darwin Bay (Genovesa)|
|4||Wednesday||AM – Bartolome|
|PM – Sullivan Bay (Santiago)|
|5||Thursday||AM – Highlands (Santa Cruz)|
|Tour ends. Transfer to Baltra Airport|
Our shortest 4 nights northern itinerary explores the heart of the Archipelago and also visits the exclusive bird-island of Genovesa (with red-footed boobies, frigate birds and the short-eared owl)! This route offers lots of opportunities for snorkelling (mostly even twice a day!).
From Baltra you will get to know centrally located sites such as Dragon Hill (with land iguanas), Rabida (with its red beach and brown pelican nesting colony), and the volcanic islet of Chinese Hat, where you will have a first opportunity to see Galapagos penguins (and perhaps snorkel with them).
After return from Genovesa you can make an impressive ‘moonwalk’ on the barren lava flow of Sullivan Bay and a short climb to the summit of Bartolome you will get impressed by the volcanic forces that have created the islands. On the last morning you will look for Galapagos giant tortoises in the highlands of Santa Cruz and continue to the airport.
Day 1 – Sunday
This morning you will fly from Quito or Guayaquil to Baltra Airport.
After welcome, check-in, lunch, briefing and the safety-drill we head for our first visitor’s site, Dragon Hill. It is located just about 25 km / 15 mi West from the airport of Baltra (navigation time about 2:30 h). The ‘dragons’ that live on this hill are iconic inhabitants of the National Park, wherefore this guided walk will be an excellent start of your cruise (Easy Level; about 2,4 km / 1.5 mi.).
Before dinner your guide will give the first daily briefing for tomorrow, and he/she will explain the yacht’s and National Park rules. Then the captain and his crew will present and toast with a welcome cocktail to celebrate your first evening on board.
Because we stay in the heart of the Archipelago, we will lift the anchor in the dead of the night and sail just about 3 hours Northwest to the islet of Rabida.
AM: Arrival at Baltra Airport
At Baltra Airport you have to pay your Galapagos National Park entrance fee and your luggage is inspected. See Getting there for flight and arrival information. In front of the arrival hall you will meet your naturalist guide and fellow passengers, and be transferred to the landing dock by airport shuttle. Our inflatable dinghy brings you the last stretch to the yacht.
PM: Dragon Hill (Santa Cruz)
Dragon Hill offers you two key-species very liked to be seen during each Galapagos visit, though not too common distributed throughout the islands: Galapagos land iguanas and American flamingos. You will climb a hill with giant opuntia cacti where these ‘dragons’ feed and breed. By 1975 this was one of the last populations of land iguanas on Santa Cruz, threatened by wild dogs. A rescue plan was executed and the iguanas even had to be dislocated to nearby undisturbed Venice Islets for over a decade, where they successfully reproduced. In 1990 the population was replaced; just three years before this scenic site was opened to tourism. Although they are quite shy and elusive, you stand a fair chance to see the success of this project with your own eyes.
The short walk crosses the coastal vegetation zone, as well as the somewhat higher arid zone with vulnerable tropical dry forest. In the warm and wet season in the first half of the year all turns green. Evergreen giant prickly pear cacti with internal reservoirs followed a different survival tactic in this dry climate than the leaf dropping palo santo trees; finally both were successful. Moreover, this is a very photogenic spot as well, with breath-taking panoramas over the bay and towards an intriguing steep volcanic spout of red lava that overlooks the area. Not in the last place Dragon Hill has become popular because of its saline lagoons behind the beach; these contain algae and shrimp and attract seasonally foraging American flamingos. Dragon Hill is best location on Santa Cruz to observe them.
Day 2 – Monday
On a clear morning it could be well-worth to get-up early to enjoy an unforgettable sunrise on the flaming red cliffs and beach. After breakfast you will make a wet landing (barefeet) to make 2 short guided nature hikes from the remarkable red beach and along the breeding colony of brown pelicans (Easy Level; about 0,4 + 1 km / 0.25 + 0.6 mi.). On return you will be picked-up by the inflatable dinghies, which will bring you back on board for a snack and to prepare yourself for first-time snorkeling or a dinghy-ride.
Before lunch we lift the anchor and continue about 2 hours to another islet just out off the coast of Santiago: Chinese Hat. Perhaps you can spot some Galapagos penguins, which even can show-up during today’s 2nd snorkeling excursion. During the late-afternoon walk you will learn a lot about the geology on this typical volcano-islet (Easy Level; about 0,7 km / 0.5 mi.).
After dinner we leave for the longest, about 7 hours passage to the northern island of Genovesa, and meanwhile will cross the equator.
The anchorage-site at the northern headland of Rabida is the only point in its shoreline that is not guarded by a barrier of rocks and armed with giant prickly pear cacti. The sharp corner of the bay holds a striking red beach that adds colour to your photo album. Walk to the end of the beach, blocked by spectacular brick-reddish cliffs that contain oxidized iron. Especially short after sunrise and short before sunset, colours become more intense, and the rusty sand and rocks seem to blaze!
Outside the mating season this remarkable red beach is occupied by a large bachelor colony of Galapagos sea lions that will welcome you. The beach wall on this compact spot holds a small and shallow, green-fringed lagoon. Although the water is salty, this pool is the most fertile place on the otherwise very arid islet, so it attracts all kind of aquatic and wading birds such as pintails (or Bahama ducks) and sometimes even American flamingos (although these seem to have found better foraging places). In the surrounding mangrove bushes many different species of songbirds are looking for hiding and breeding places between the evergreen foliage. Palo santo trees that drop their leaves in the dry season cover the rest of the island.
Outstanding attraction is the major breeding colony of brown pelicans, and one of the best places in Galapagos to approach them. Their brown plumage becomes striking white with chestnut markings on head and necks and a yellowish crown in the breeding season (period shifts on our calendar). Both parents breed about 4 weeks and nurture some 10 weeks more. Brown pelicans are the only pelicans in the world that plunge-dive. From the beach you can see their spectacular hunting V-formations, low above the surface of the sea. Juveniles don’t learn this fishing technique easily, resulting that many of them will starve short after fledging. It is interesting to compare the superficial dives of the pelicans with the rocket like plunge dives of the boobies.
PM: Chinese Hat
Chinese Hat is a 52 m / 170 ft high volcanic cone, forming another islet right out off the coast of Santiago. Approaching from the north you certainly will agree with its name. Because the primordial fire has been extinguished recently, you can learn more about volcanism, lava bombs and lava tunnels. On the beach there are also curious pillow-type lavas with coral heads on top! These spheres have a submarine history and were uplifted above sea level.
You arrive exactly on time to witness next chapter about colonization by pioneers! Chinese Hat does not appear that inhospitable any more as Bartolome and lunatic Sullivan Bay. This tiny, rusty-coloured islet just begins to sprout. Beautiful beaches of white coral sand arose, and holes in the infertile, but eroding lava fields are getting filled up with lava sand, facilitating as well inland places for rooting. Galapagos sea lions and countless marine iguanas contribute to fertilization. Everything together creates more favourable options for newcomers, like saltbush, which sticks at the beach and sesuvium that rolls out a discolouring carpet, turning from green into red in the dry season. Colonization of Chinese Hat will probably occur in a much higher pace than elsewhere; hence Santiago is just a stone’s throw away, although its eastern tip is also lifeless. The separating channel with its turquoise waters is about 100 m / 300 ft wide. Across, at the foot of the cliffs lives a small colony of Galapagos penguins, which you might see occasionally during the inflatable dinghy-ride.
Day 3 – Tuesday
As one of the outer islands, Genovesa is well worth the longer trip; it belongs to the more exclusive places that add a lot of value to longer cruises. This bird’s and birder’s paradise is the only northern Galapagos Island that is open to tourism, and – surprisingly – not frequented too much and quite exclusive. Anchoring is an experience you are not likely to forget. The horseshoe shaped wall shows unmistakably that you are entering the partly collapsed and submerged caldera of a young volcano!
Today we have a full program. All impressions you gather will be nearly too much for a single day! After early breakfast you will make a wet landing at the isolated and peaceful beach of Darwin Bay for a guided nature walk (Moderate Level; ca. 3 km / 2 mi.). Afterwards you can enjoy a snack aboard and a refreshing snorkelling excursion again. You can also ask your guide for the alternative option of a sea kayak-tour.
Around lunch-time we will sail to the entrance of the caldera where our second visitor’s site is located: Prince Philip’s Steps. There we have programmed another inflatable dinghy-ride and another spectacular guided nature walk (Moderate Level; about 3 km / 2 mi.).
Heading back to Santiago this night, we have to navigate about 6 hours again, and lift the anchor after dinner.
AM: Darwin Bay (Genovesa)
Inside the submerged caldera of Genovesa lies Darwin Bay, with a diameter of more than 1,5 km / 1 mi and it is almost 200 m / 650 ft deep. Confusingly the beach deep inside the caldera has been called Darwin Bay as well… This quiet site is Galapagos in miniature! The small-scaled area will surprise you again and again, walking along a coral sand beach, crossing barren lava formations and creeks, passing tidal pools, shrubs and further ahead following the top of some cliffs. In this extremely varied and peaceful ambience, every single species has occupied its own ecological niche (or preferred habitat) without disturbing others.
Whimbrels and wandering tattlers forage actively along the surf, next to resting Galapagos sea lions. Herons wait motionless at the tidal pools and creeks behind the saltbushes. Impressive frigatebirds (both species, as on North Seymour and Pitt Point) and red-footed boobies nest in the mangroves, where you can also notice vocalists such as the yellow warbler, Darwin’s finches and the Galapagos mockingbird (although this island is: similar to Española: relatively poor in song bird species). Unique is that two subpopulations of the same species large cactus finch differ from singing.
Tropicbirds, Nazca boobies, storm petrels, endemic lava- and swallow-tailed gulls among others soar along the cliffs. When you already have seen marine iguanas elsewhere, the Genovesa species might not look too impressive. But consider that these are virtually the only reptiles that succeeded to reach and survive on this remote, upstream island, and meanwhile have become endemic.
PM: Prince Philip’s Steps (Genovesa)
Genovesa has a royal touch. And that’s not only because of its former English name Tower (after the Royal Palace in London). The often used English name of the visitor’s site El Barranco commemorates the 1964 visit of the Duke of Edinburgh, a Galapagos lover since the first hour and patron of the Charles Darwin Foundation. In his footsteps (and in those of Prince Charles) you will be able to admire one of Galapagos’ favourite birding spots with largest breeding colonies of Nazca and red-footed boobies.
Before landing you will make an inflatable dinghy-ride along the eastern arm of the caldera. On approach, the massive 25 m / 80 ft high walls become overwhelming, and will give you a better impression of the dimensions of this crater. Sometimes a Galapagos fur seal is resting on one of the ledges at the base. You also will see first seabirds, although the real spectacle finds place on top and on the outside of the rim, which provide better perching and nesting places.
Therefore you have to hike and overcome the steep stairs from the landing dock to a bush of palo santo shrubs on top. Tropical dry forest vegetation appears dead during most months of the year, but just drops its leaves to prevent drying out by evaporation. It’s a very threatened ecosystem. Red-footed boobies with different plumages gratefully use these scarce nesting-places; different to their relatives ‘red feet’ don’t nest on the rocky ground.
On arriving at the seaside of the rim, the bushes open up and you can enjoy wide views, a strong sea breeze and the amazing flying skills of uncountable seabirds. Following the exposed seaside rim you will first pass the Nazca boobies and finally reach the extensive storm petrel nesting places, where you might be lucky spotting how the well-camouflaged short-eared owl is hunting for them on foot!
Day 4 – Wednesday
The wild romantic islet of Bartolome is located just south of the equator, and close to the eastern coast of Santiago. This is the north-western corner of the archipelago, where volcanoes are still active. So today is largely dedicated to volcanism and spectacular geologic ‘moonscapes’, but you will also have the opportunities to observe Galapagos penguins again, and of snorkelling in a warm, shallow bath full of colourful reef fish. Bartolome and Sullivan Bay are incomparable to any other visitor’s site. The programmed excursions are extremely rich in contrast and promise to become an unforgettable experience.
In the early morning, we will undertake a charming inflatable dinghy-ride along the barren shoreline of this volcanic islet. After breakfast, when it is not yet too hot, you will follow the steep stairs of the Summit Trail to the top, rewarded by spectacular and panoramic views, hopefully illuminated by the golden, early morning sun (Moderate Level; about 800 m / 0.5 mi. with 114 m / 364 ft. altitude difference). Next it’s time for a refreshing swim, snorkelling at the foot of Pinnacle Rock, or just walking around or relaxing on the beach.
After 15 minutes of navigation you can enjoy our delicious lunch buffet again. Bartolome is right in front of another fascinating place: Sullivan Bay. You will land on the black lava flow for an impressive moonwalk, whilst you will learn more on the distinct forms of volcanism (Easy Level; ca. 1,5 km / 1 mi.). A hot afternoon will be concluded again with another opportunity to explore underwater life.
Before dinner you can enjoy a farewell cocktail with the crew and your fellow passengers. By that time we are already on our way to Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz), which we will reach before midnight. While floating in the harbour you can enjoy a quiet sleep during your last night on board.
Additional options scuba-diving: Bartolome or Cousin Rocks (both advanced)
Nothing is too much promised when the National Park authorities praise Bartolome as ‘flagship site of the Galapagos Islands’. Although tiny (just 1,2 km² / 0,46 sq. mi) and lifeless at first sight, this young islet offers you some of the best panoramas and wildest landscapes in the entire archipelago. Surprisingly these warm equatorial waters with coral reefs are even one of the best places in the archipelago to encounter endangered Galapagos penguins!
Galapagos’ landmark ‘Pinnacle Rock’ towers prominently over an isthmus with paradisiacal sand beaches on each side, and emerald coloured bays. Underwater, a second, completely distinctive world opens up to you. The warm, clear and shallow waters are ideally for snorkelling between surgeonfishes, harmless whitetip reef sharks and Pacific green turtles. If you are lucky you can even catch the sight of fishing Galapagos penguins.
To enjoy the postcard view of the idyllic ‘Pinnacle Bay’ you have to cross a third, dramatic type of scenery, climbing the stairs to the viewpoint on top of the island (114 m / 375 ft). During this geologically and botanical interesting climb, you will find yourself in the middle of several very close spatter cones, craters, and lightweight lava droplets, that where spewed out by spectacular fountains and cooled and solidified in the air. Bartolome is among the youngest of the islands, and on a geological scale just recently born out off fire. The Summit Trail is ideal to witness how scanty pioneer vegetation such as lava cactus is struggling to cover the lunar-like volcanic landscape of majorly virgin, uneroded lava fields.
PM: Sullivan Bay
Sullivan Bay is incomparable to any other visitor’s site; the miraculous bas-reliefs you will observe in the crust of the lava flow are unique to Galapagos and Hawaii. Those who are interested in geology and volcanology really should not miss the opportunity to witness earth formation in process, although it is unlikely that you will notice real fireworks and lava fountains on spot. Anyway, the power of volcanic activity will impress you forever. Setting foot at the Sullivan lava stream is like landing on the moon.
The desolate, stretched-out fields seem mostly lifeless, but this doesn’t mean that there is nothing to see. In contrary! And this can best be proofed by its popularity amongst photographers, especially those who have eye for detail and love close-ups.
And there is even some life! Pacific green turtles sometimes use the tiny white sand beach to lay their eggs, and eventually you also might spot a strayed heron, oystercatcher, or some crabs. Behind the beach there is just some sparse pioneer vegetation such as lava cacti and carpetweed. At best you will encounter a lava lizard, surprising locusts or the small snake-species Galapagos racer hunting for them (or for turtle hatchlings on the beach).
The barely eroded flow seems to have been solidified for short, and suggests that you are just able to set foot on it. The winding and rippled pahoehoe rope-lava still contains intriguing traces, which tell flaming stories about vaporized leatherleaf trees and miniature cones of volcanic glass. The surface may have cooled down, but the baking sun completes the sensation of heat.
Distinctive tuff cones pockmark the new-formed lunatic landscape. Their rusty, oxidized colours and the vegetation reveal that these cones are from an older generation, and count with a very different geological history. Originally these were volcano islets on their own, but have become part of Santiago when a hot flood of ooze filled up large parts of Sullivan Bay during the last eruption of 1897, which in fact is the black crust you walk on. For the time being only the opposite islet of Bartolome escaped from incorporation. In a certain way the distinctive cones still can be considered as islands, though no longer surrounded by sea, but by wide infertile lava fields.
Day 5 – Thursday
After early breakfast it’s time to leave the yacht and say goodbye (unless you have booked an extension on the A-route, in which case you can enjoy the cozy town of Puerto Ayora between the morning excursion and lunch aboard).
Our inflatable dinghy brings you to the harbour of Puerto Ayora, from where we will travel by road to the highlands for our last excursion. In the agricultural zone you can see Galapagos giant tortoises in the wild. Then we will accompany you and your luggage to the airport, where you can check-in and return to Guayaquil or Quito.
AM: Highlands (Santa Cruz)
Because wild Galapagos giant tortoises don’t stop at official National Park boundaries, dozens of them also roam and even mate on the adjacent woodlands in the populated agricultural zone of Santa Cruz. Thanks to the semi-open pastures and scalesia-woodlands, and their concentration around muddy pools, these farmlands are best place for a quick visit. Armed with a rain poncho and (provided) rubber boots you will get good chances to approach wild Galapagos giant tortoises just within a few meters.
Most time of their stretched lives is spent slowly and silently, except for a warning hiss, or loud screams during mating, which you can here from far in the first half of the year. Subsequently females leave the highlands and descend all the way down to the beaches to dig holes and lay their eggs. It is estimated that in 2015 about 32.000 tortoises live in the wild in all the islands, most on restricted locations of Isabela.
AM: Transfer to Baltra airport
Assisted by the guide and some crew-members the inflatable dinghy will bring you and your luggage to Baltra, where we take the airport shuttle. Your guide will accompany you to the check-in counters in the departure hall.
We expect that you will return home with stunning pictures and unforgettable memories for life!
Itinerary C - 6 Days / 5 Nights
|1||Thursday||AM – Flight to Baltra Airport|
|PM – Charles Darwin Station (Santa Cruz)|
|2||Friday||AM – White Tipped Reef Shark Canal / Sierra Negra Volcano (Isabela)|
|PM – Tortoise breeding center / Wetlands & beach (Isabela)|
|3||Saturday||AM – Punta Moreno (Isabela)|
|PM – Elizabeth Bay (Isabela)|
|4||Sunday||AM – Punta Espinoza (Fernandina)|
|PM – Tagus Cove (Isabela)|
|5||Monday||AM – Espumilla Beach / Buccaneer Cove (Santiago)|
|PM – Puerto Egas (Santiago)|
|6||Tuesday||AM – Isla Lobos|
|Tour Ends. Transfer to San Cristobal Airport|
Around Isabela to the remote west
6 days / 5 nights – Thursday to Tuesday – every 14 days
Important Note: Itinerary is subject to change in case of force majeure caused by exceptional and natural circumstances
Our 5 nights western itinerary is an adventurous mini-expedition along the remote and geologic young western coast of Isabela (clockwise around this largest island) and the very pristine Fernandina. This adventurous route is different than mainstream and contains longer nightly navigation stretches. It also visits the northern island of Santiago and ends at the easternmost San Cristobal.
Your cruise starts with an introduction at the Charles Darwin Research Station. After crossing to Isabela, you will visit the incredible tidal channel where whitetip reef sharks rest, and you can hike to the rim of the gigantic caldera of Sierra Negra Volcano; probably you can even spot American flamingos as well! Next you explore the farthest visitor’s sites along the western coast of Isabela and Fernandina with unique creatures such as flightless cormorants, marine iguanas and Galapagos penguins.
From the historic James Bay on the western coast of Santiago we will navigate the long stretch to Lobos Islet and San Cristobal, Galapagos sea lion territory.
Day 1 – Thursday
This morning you will fly from Quito or Guayaquil to Baltra Airport. After welcome, check-in, lunch, briefing and the safety-drill you will visit the famous Charles Darwin Research Station for an interesting introduction to Galapagos. You will also get some free time to stroll through the cozy town of Puerto Ayora.
Before dinner your guide will give the first daily briefing for tomorrow, and he/she will explain the yacht’s and National Park rules. Then the captain and his crew will present, and toast with a welcome cocktail to celebrate your first evening on board. Short before midnight we will lift the anchor and start our first nightly crossing to Puerto Villamil on Isabela. Depending on the sea state we will navigate about 6 hours in Western direction, leaving late night.
AM: Arrival at Baltra Airport
At Baltra Airport you have to pay your Galapagos National Park entrance fee and your luggage is inspected. See Getting there for flight and arrival information.
In front of the arrival hall you will meet your naturalist guide and fellow passengers, and the airport shuttle will transfer you to the ferry across the Itabaca Channel. On Santa Cruz you continue by bus through the lush highlands to the harbour of Puerto Ayora. Our inflatable dinghies bring you the last stretch to the yacht.
PM: Charles Darwin Research Station
On the outskirts of Puerto Ayora you will visit the shared area of the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) and the headquarters of the Galapagos National Park Service. From here the indispensable conservation management and biological research of this unique archipelago and its surrounding waters are directed. This complex houses a bunch of interpretation and information centers about the National Park and the Galapagos Marine Reserve around.
Most memorable from this visit will probably be the successful breeding center and the enclosures with Galapagos giant tortoises; even after the death of its world famous resident, emphatically called ‘Lonesome George’ († June 2012; the last known individual of the Pinta subspecies, who sadly failed to reproduce offspring). Meanwhile its remains have been mummified and stuffed, but at present Galapagos has no climatic controlled facilities to show it in a conservative way to public. For other species and subspecies the breeding project started just in time to save them from extinction. Most remaining adult giant tortoises in the corals are former pets and many of them are accustomed to human company.
For centuries these emblematic reptiles have made Galapagos famous. Hundreds of thousands of them used to crawl around before the devastating epoch of pouching. Even the name of this archipelago refers to these prehistoric dwellers. On certain islands their shells evolved into pronounced shapes of riding saddles or ‘galapagos’ in Spanish. Nobody else than Charles Darwin already noticed differences in shells of tortoises from different islands, which put him on track of his evolution theory of natural selection. Because species from different islands are kept, the Charles Darwin Research Station is the place to compare the diverging saddle back shapes and the dome-shaped shells from the Santa Cruz-subspecies. ‘Lonesome George’ had got an extreme high saddleback shell, long legs and a long neck to reach higher for food. Charles Darwin already noticed differences in the shells from different islands, which put him on the track of his evolution theory of natural selection.
Day 2 – Friday
Puerto Villamil is the 3rd settlement of Galapagos on the south-eastern lob of Isabela. This is by far the largest island of Galapagos covering almost 60% of the total land area of the archipelago. This larger living space seems to cause that almost everything on Isabela is bigger, and that evolution is hunting for records over here (although some are disputed). This younger island is less frequented and quieter than the central and south-eastern islands.
Today you have a full program, so we will start with an early breakfast before leaving. First you will visit the Tintoreras-islets for a guided hike on a rough volcanic rock trail passing a unique tidal channel which is a resting-place for whitetip reef sharks, among other trapped species, and where you will find huge marine iguanas (Easy/Moderate Level).
From there the inflatable dinghies will put you directly ashore to the harbour of Puerto Villamil, where you will board a bus that brings you to the lush highlands of Isabela. You will hike to the impressive rim of Sierra Negra Volcano and explore the mysterious and complete different world of the cloud-forest (Moderate Level; about 6,5 km / 4 mi.). Back aboard you can enjoy a well-earned lunch.
In the afternoon you will return to Puerto Villamil, where you will visit the local tortoise breeding center and make a tour by local bus through the marshes around, where you can observe American flamingos and other aquatic and song birds. Before returning aboard you will have the opportunity to enjoy the paradisiacal beaches full of countless marine iguanas. and Sally lightfoot crabs.
After dinner we will lift the anchor and start to round the southern lob of Isabela to its far west coast. This night navigation will take about 8 hours.
Additional options scuba-diving: Isla Tortuga, Cuatro Hermanos or Roca Viuda (advanced).
AM: Whitetip reef shark channel (Isabela)
Just outside the harbour of Puerto Villamil on the largest island of Isabela, a group of islets protrude just above the ocean. These barely noticeable rocks form one of the most emblematic sites that you will visit during your cruise. The jagged black formations, dotted with mangrove and candelabra-cactus, are the remnants of a lava stream that has ended up into the ocean. Meanwhile these are being demolished by the waves, and a collapsed lava tube forms a channel that fills-up on high tide, while the entrance is closed on low tide. Marine life gets trapped, including spectacular whitetip reef sharks (called tintoreras in Spanish, as is the site’s official name). This species of shark is fairly common in the archipelago, and generally spotted on the seabed when snorkelling, whilst these are resting from their nocturnal hunts. But on this unique place you can observe them comfortably from the bank in the crystal clear turquoise waters. Sometimes turtles and elegant white-spotted eagle rays or golden rays glide back and forth through this calm channel, as well as smaller fish and Galapagos sea lions.
Unlike the inviting beaches of Puerto Villamil, the tiny plagues on these rocky formations offer important and fully undisturbed breeding places for prehistoric-looking marine iguanas. Over here the largest Isabela subspecies (up to 1,5 m / 5 ft tall !) can reproduce successfully and thrive by hundreds. The rocky shoreline with its intertidal life also attracts sally lightfoot crabs, lava herons and Galapagos penguins, which particularly reside on the other (western) side of Isabela. Galapagos sea lions occupy the sand beach and complete this stereotypical Galapagos image.
AM: Sierra Negra (Isabela)
Sierra Negra is the 3rd highest volcano of Isabela and the 5th highest of Galapagos (1124 m / 3687 ft). It erupted 7 times in the 20th century, and last time in October 2005. It is the only major volcano of Isabela whose crater regions are actually opened to tourism. A mysterious half-day hike through the cloud forests takes you to a viewpoint at the rim, offering the opportunity of fantastic sights into the impressive caldera (clear weather required, though unpredictable; thanks to prevailing winds clouds usually tend to dissolve at the viewpoint). The caldera measures about 7 x 9 km / 4.5 x 6 mi across, and the largest of the archipelago. Since the discovery of so-called super volcanoes like Yellowstone it shouldn’t appear any more in the listing of largest craters in the world.
A somewhat muddy trail to the rim will lead you through an unexpected, evergreen cloud forest that only exists in the highlands of the main islands. The dense and rich vegetation includes ferns, tree ferns and endemic scalesia trees laden with epiphytes like lichens, orchids and bromeliads. The fog and drizzle – more frequent in the cool garúa season (June-December) – contributes to the mysterious atmosphere. En route you can also spot striking song birds as the vermilion flycatcher, the yellow warbler and the woodpecker finch (among six more species of Darwin’s finches); this peculiar one hammers on branches like a woodpecker and uses twigs as tools to capture insects!
PM: Arnaldo Tupiza Tortoise Breeding Center (Isabela)
In the breeding center Arnaldo Tupiza you can see hundreds of giant Galapagos tortoises of all sizes (the vulnerable hatchlings are not gigantic at all, even smaller than the size of your hand)! This project just outside Puerto Villamil is created to rescue the endangered populations that live on five different locations on both southernmost volcanoes of Isabela. One thing becomes clear on your visit: it’s hard work to save these queer creatures for extinction by reproduction in captivity and repopulation, but the good news is that these important programs are successful and so far have saved several species for extinction. Although centuries of massive pouching have fortunately come to an end, the surviving populations of giant tortoises are threatened because of wild dogs, pigs and donkeys destructing their nests, wild goats grazing their food, and even ants predating on their eggs, and also because of volcanic eruptions. From the almost incredible estimations of 250,000 tortoises in the 16th century only remained about 3,000 individuals in the 1970s; by 2015 their numbers have increased up to about 32,000 in all archipelago.
Don’t forget to walk through the attractive botanic garden of this breeding centre. It is full of native species that attract colourful songbirds such as yellow warblers, Darwin’s finches, Galapagos and vermillion flycatchers. Finally there is no greater counterpart to the cumbersome tortoises as the graceful flamingos that frequently filter the saline waters of the neighbouring lagoon Poza del Chapin for shrimp and algae. They are joined by a handful of species of aquatic and even shore birds, from which some even migrate from Canada and Alaska.
PM: Wetlands & Beach (Isabela)
The tempting white sand beach of Puerto Villamil counts far more marine iguanas and Sally lightfoot crabs than bathing guests. Its overgrown beach wall hides the largest coastal lagoon of Galapagos, attracting lots of aquatic bids and wintering shore birds; some come from arctic regions! It is part of a swampy coastal zone known as the wetlands, with an old mangrove forest, collapsed lava tubes, and even more salt and brackish ponds. These are home to the largest concentration and breeding site of American flamingos in Galapagos! But sights are never fully guaranteed with these shy and nervous birds.
Day 3 – Saturday
Today and tomorrow you can explore some of the remotest visitor’s sites in Galapagos on the far West coast of Isabela. These coastal waters are very nutrient-rich, and a magnet to all kinds of marine and birdlife; thanks to major upwellings out of the deep sea: the so-called Cromwell Current.
After breakfast you will make a guided morning hike across the crumbling, pitch black lava fields of Moreno Point with its bird-rich pools and sparkling intertidal life (Moderate Level; about 2 km / 1.25 mi.). After a snack we can make an inflatable dinghy-ride or emerge ourselves first-time for snorkelling.
At noon we sail for 2 hours to next visitor’s site, Elizabeth Bay, and meanwhile you can enjoy the delicious lunch buffet and a short siesta. Then we will undertake an adventurous ride by inflatable dinghy to some offshore rocks with a Galapagos penguin colony and from there we will turn to the estuary of Elizabeth Bay and penetrate the forest-like mangles.
At dinner-time we will continue to Fernandina, where we will anchor about midnight.
AM: Moreno Point (Isabela)
Moreno Point tells you the intriguing story how the famous lunatic lava fields of Sullivan Bay (Santiago) could develop in future, when parts of the crust break and fall into the undermining lava tunnels. Pits and holes close to the coast gradually fill-up with seawater. The once lifeless area becomes dotted with tidal pools and filtration lagoons that offer new opportunities to pioneer vegetation; finally the lava cacti get company. This site counts with two more species of cacti, from which the candelabras can grow up to 7 m / 23 ft tall, and dominate the rest of the shrubby vegetation.
Fringes of reed, sea grass and mangrove bushes surround the picturesque lagoons that have been transformed in lush oases. Your pictures get the perfect finish touch when bright American flamingos and aquatic birds have come to forage in the largest lagoon as well. In the wet season the fresh, promising greens become even more intense and contrast strongly with the dead, pitch-black lava. The pioneer vegetation seems on the winning hand; just until Sierra Negra volcano spits a new layering cover, and the story starts all over again.
During an inflatable dinghy-ride along the jagged shoreline, you will notice different species. The tidal pools form natural traps and attract scavengers and hunters, bright orange sally lightfoot crabs, oystercatchers and herons. Marine iguanas wait patiently for their turn to graze weeds on the seabed at lowest tide, while brown pelicans have found an undisturbed place to breed in the mangroves.
PM: Marielas Islets & Elizabeth Bay (Isabela)
Although there is no landing point, the marine visitor’s site of Elizabeth Bay offers actually two in one. You will undertake a prolonged ride by inflatable dinghy that combines a visit to the Marielas Islets in the mouth of the bay, with the mangles in its innermost heart. In 1963 these highest mangles of Galapagos were close to complete destruction, when Volcán Chico, a parasitic cone of Sierra Negra, sent lava flows to this 20 km (11 mi) distant bay. Miraculously the flows came just a few kms back to a halt.
The Marielas islets are an excellent place to spot marine iguanas and Galapagos penguins, which prefer places in the front row at the base of the cliffs. The Galapagos penguin is considered as endangered with just some 1500 birds over all archipelago, and therefore the rarest penguin species worldwide. So don’t expect vast colonies of uncountable numbers as in Antarctic regions, but rather small family groups. On top of these ochre colored and reddish oxidized remnants of a crumbled tuff cone grow several lofty palo santo-trees. These provide magnificent frigatebirds a lookout far over the open sea to watch for and rob returning blue-footed boobies.
Next the inflatable dinghy will turn landwards, leaving the surf behind and enter the calm estuary of Elizabeth Bay through a quite narrow entrance. Whilst exploring the lagoons and shallow creeks, the outboard engine is turned off, so that you can enjoy the sounds of nature. Graceful Pacific green turtles swim in slow motion around, sometimes popping-up their heads for breathing. In December and January you stand a fair chance to encounter them mating at the surface. Maybe you can also see spotted eagle rays or sharks, looking for protected inlets to give birth and leave their young alone. Brown pelicans and blue-footed boobies show diverging plunge-diving techniques, while lava herons and great blue herons prefer to wait patiently for what comes along. You can also compare the huge red mangroves (with their characteristic prop roots) with black, white and button mangroves. Actually mangroves are from different botanic families and only have in common that all thrive in brackish waters.
Day 4 – Sunday
This morning you will visit one of the most exclusive sites of this cruise route, Espinoza Point on Fernandina. This island harbours one of the worlds most virgin, untouched ecosystems, and is therefore very well protected.
You will start with a guided walk on the lava tongue of Espinoza Point, which is full of marine iguanas, the iconic flightless cormorant and the Galapagos penguin! (Easy/Moderate Level; about 2 km / 1.25 mi.). After a snack we will bring you to today’s snorkeling site.
While having lunch we will cross the Bolivar Channel, back to Isabela’s western coast. On the bridge and through the panoramic windows of the dining room we will careful watch for fountains, hence this is one of the best places in Galapagos for viewing whales and dolphins.
At Tagus Cove you will make the longer guided nature walk at this geologic and historic interesting site (Moderate Level; about 3 km / 2 mi.). Subsequently we will make a dinghy-ride along the shoreline, or you will have today’s second snorkeling opportunity.
Before dinner we will start our 12 hour’s navigation around the northern cape of Isabela to Santiago (and we will cross the equator two times).
AM: Espinoza Point (Fernandina)
Fernandina, located right above the Galapagos hotspot in the farthest west of the archipelago, is still under construction. It is estimated that between 60.000 and 400.000 years ago the top of this underwater shield volcano rose above sea level, which makes it the youngest of the main islands. Fernandina harbours one of the worlds most virgin, untouched ecosystems, and is therefore very well protected. This exclusive and fascinating island will make you eyewitness of evolution, which is happening right in front of you!
Espinoza Point is Fernandina’s only terrestrial visitors site, and one of the few locations where you will find some bizarre outgrowths of natural selection. Figurehead is the emblematic flightless cormorant that lives exclusively in the remote west of Galapagos, and could be considered as the ‘holy grail of evolution’. Thanks to the fact that this island has been spared for the introduction of invading species and because it is even uninhabitable for most land mammals, the cormorant had not to fear terrestrial enemies. This miraculous bird lets you approach very close. Next generations gradually lost their flying capabilities to become excellent divers, but still stuck with the typical habit of drying and showing their unfolded ‘wings’ to you. Together with its neighbour, the Galapagos penguin, these are two of the rarest and most vulnerable bird species in the world, with less than 2000 individuals each.
Besides the endemic wildlife, you will also love the almost unworldly views with the dominating cone of Volcán La Cumbre (= the summit) as a spectacular backdrop. The narrow headland that you walk is the end of a lava tongue that has reached the coast and solidified on contact with the cold seawater. The black rocks are not yet covered by more vegetation then lava cacti and mangroves, but are teeming with hundreds of dragon-like marine iguanas that breed and conglomerate in larger groups than in any other island.
PM: Tagus Cove (Isabela)
Right on the eastern shore of the Bolivar Channel are two tuff cones containing ultra saline crater lakes: Tagus Cove and Beagle Crater. Both present spectacular layered cliffs at their sea faces, providing plenty nesting places for sea and coastal birds. From the inflatable dinghy you can observe marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins and storm petrels. It’s impressive to see flocks of blue-footed boobies and brown pelicans plunge diving from considerable altitudes.
Explosive eruptions have blown out a part of the outer rims of both tuff cones, creating their characteristic horseshoe shapes. On one of these events the sea has entered the caldera of the northern cone and has formed Tagus Cove. The inner crater rim has remained intact and spared the region for an even more violent detonation when the seawater would have mixed up with the boiling volcanic materials. Nowadays it contains emerald Darwin Lake (though Darwin visited the neighbouring crater lake). On the ground you can find small little lapilli-balls, which have rained down when ash particles solidified in the air.
Traditionally sailors started to write the names of their vessels on the eastern cliffs of Tagus cove and inside caves. The oldest graffiti dates back from 1836, a year after Darwin’s visit. The crew of HMS Beagle didn’t find the necessary fresh water, but nevertheless the young naturalist got very impressed by this spot.
Less thirsty you will also begin the somewhat strenuous and sometimes-hot hike, following the inner ridge around Darwin Lake. On the inland side of the crater you can continue the last stretch to a great viewpoint on the outer caldera rim, with views to the nearby and outstretched lava slopes of Darwin Volcano (1280 m / 4200 ft). On clear days you can even distinguish the volcanoes Ecuador and Wolf, the highest point of Galapagos (1707 m/ 5600 ft, located exactly on the equator).
The arid zone of the inlands is overgrown with characteristic tropical dry forest vegetation such as a special variety of palo santo, Galapagos cotton and yellow cordia (muyuyu). Depending on the months of your visit these trees and bushes will be leafless; or abundant and green in the wet season (first half of the year). During the hike you can spot different Darwin’s finches, flycatchers and Galapagos hawks.
Day 5 – Monday
While HMS Beagle was mapping the Archipelago, Charles Darwin had been dropped on the Western coast of Santiago, where he spent most of his time in Galapagos. You will visit the necklace of visitor’s sites along this historic James Bay.
From Espumilla Beach you will make a guided walk; uphill and land inward (Easy Level; about 2 km, 1.25 mi.). Afterwards you can explore Galapagos’ submarine world again, which is even more varied than island life.
Around lunch-time we navigate 12 km / 7 mi south and reach Puerto Egas with its famous fur seal grottos, where you will make another, very different guided walk along the coastline (Easy Level).
After this impressive day we leave for the longest navigation of this cruise route to the easternmost San Cristobal (about 13 hours). During this last night on board, you can enjoy a farewell cocktail with the crew and your fellow passengers.
AM: Espumilla Beach (Santiago)
Espumilla Beach is a visitor’s site at the northern end of James Bay, on the western coast of Santiago. This beach has revived as an important breeding site for turtles, as it is no longer suffering from digging wild pigs. The turtles return year after year to burry their eggs into the cinnamon coloured sand dunes. About two months later (roughly from February to August) the eggs hatch at once. Most vulnerable hatchlings never will reach sea, and form a banquet for predators such as herons, frigatebirds, mockingbirds and ghost crabs. The beach ridge hides a mangle with two picturesque lagoons on the backside. The colony of American flamingos and aquatic birds used to be its main attraction, but after the climate phenomenon of El Niño, strong sedimentation altered the brackish water environment, and it no longer contains their food… As often in Galapagos, different vegetation zones are very close by, providing great scenic contrasts. During the climb of a hill you will be rewarded with a beautiful overview of the transitions from sea into beach into mangrove into dry palo santo forest.
PM: Puerto Egas (Santiago)
Dominated by the 395 m / 1300 ft high Pan de Azúcar (Sugarloaf), Puerto Egas is the southernmost pearl in the necklace of visitors sites along James Bay. It is named after Héctor Egas, who made a second attempt to mine salt commercially out off an inland crater lake in the 1960s. Santiago and its surrounding islets stand out by their spectacular and unique volcanic and coastal landscapes, and Puerto Egas is no exception. The masterly sculptured coastline of black basalts, polished multi-coloured ash-layers, collapsed lava tunnels, natural arches, caves and blowholes such as ‘Darwin’s toilet’ and tidal pools form again very photogenic scenery. If you are rather a wildlife lover, you will also fully enjoy this unique place that probably will become your favourite on this island. You will find lots of representative members of the Galapagos-population.
Right below a spectacular rock arch in a grotto at the end of the beach a colony of Galapagos fur seals has occupied the shade, sheltering from the equatorial sun. Unlike the more common Galapagos sea lion this smaller species of seal is no beach lover at all, due to their adorable, but insulating coats. This outstanding refuge is the very best place throughout the archipelago to see these endemic, shy and once heavily hunted marine mammals.
Puerto Egas also teems with extremely varied intertidal life, especially on low tide. You can notice how marine iguanas just leave, or return cold and exhausted from grazing weeds on the seabed at lowest tide, or how they warm-up afterwards while sunbathing on the black rocks. Ossified night herons and lava herons keep an eye on the tidal pools that are refilled every flood again with small fish, octopuses, star fish, snails, urchins, shells, green algae and many other snacks for all tastes. Noisy oystercatchers, turnstones, plovers and whimbrels inspect these pools zealously. Hundreds of sally lightfoot crabs seem even brighter orange against the pitch-black rocks (the immature are dark-coloured). These crabs scratch algae from the rocks, but are also scavengers, and a prey themselves for the herons.
Day 6 – Tuesday
On the eastern end of the archipelago you can enjoy one more morning excursion. After a dry landing you will make a guided nature walk on the rocky trail of Lobos Islet, with its Galapagos sea lions and lots of birds; including blue-footed boobies (Moderate Level; About 850 m / 0.6 mi. or 400 m / 0.25 mi.).
Subsequently we will navigate to the harbour of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and it’s time to leave the yacht and say goodbye (unless you have booked an extension on the A-route to the Eastern Galapagos).
AM: Lobos Islet (San Cristobal)
Guess only once what you get to see at Lobos Islet… If you know a few words of Spanish, you will not be surprised that its beach harbours a colony of Galapagos sea lions. As in other colonies in the archipelago you can approach nurturing females within a few meters. In the breeding season this colony is also visited by very territorial males, defending and mating the harem on their part of the beach.
Though at first sight barren rocks overgrown by palo santo, this low islet houses more than just Galapagos sea lions. Two other emblematic species of Galapagos also breed here. Male blue-footed boobies and great frigate birds try to impress the females (and tourists) with clumsy dances heaving their striking blue feet or blow-up their balloon-sized scarlet pouches. Later in the breeding season the fluffy and hungry chicks cry for food and when their wings get strong enough these will learn to fly.
You can also find a lot of life in the intertidal zone, including striking bright orange sally lightfoot crabs and marine iguanas on the boulders. Sand dollars (a kind of sea urchin) among other marine life have been washed ashore on the beach and remained at low tide. It doesn’t matter that these dollars are not be made of brass, hence it’s strictly forbidden to take home everything you find in the National Park. On the horizon you can distinguish the contours of 10 km / 6.2 mi distant Kicker Rock. That impressive rock islet has become one of the landmarks of Galapagos, together with the blowhole on Española, Pinnacle Rock on Bartolome, and the remote northern rock arch of Darwin.
AM: Transfer to San Cristobal airport
Check-in and flight back to Guayaquil or Quito.
Assisted by the guide and some crew-members the dinghy will bring you and your luggage to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, where we board a private bus to the airport. Your guide will accompany you to the check-in counters in the departure hall. We expect that you will return home with stunning pictures and unforgettable memories for life!
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