DAY 1 (Saturday): Arrive Galapagos; Santa Cruz Island: Black Turtle Cove
Early in the morning you will catch your flight from mainland Ecuador to the Galapagos. Arriving to the airport, you must first pay the National Park entrance fee of U.S. $100 per person before collecting your luggage. Leaving the arrival hall, the National Park Guide of the Mary Anne will be waiting for you and accompany the whole group to board the Mary Anne. Have lunch.
After lunch, we navigate a short distance to Black Turtle Cove, a large mangrove lagoon on the remote, north coast of Santa Cruz Island. Pelicans and herons roost on the branches, while marine dwellers such as Green sea turtle or Golden ray may cruise right next to the panga as it makes its way through the mangroves. (Lunch, Dinner)
DAY 2 (Sunday): Genovesa Island: Darwin Bay & Prince Phillip Steps
Genovesa Island is known for its outstanding birdlife, even if you’re not a bird enthusiast, you will likely be delighted by the large colonies of red-footed boobies, masked boobies, frigate birds, and storm petrels. Also, since the Island is only visited by cruises, it’s usually fairly uncrowded. Darwin Bay was created by the collapse of a huge, underwater crater — this also explains the horseshoe shape of Genovesa Island. You first land on a white coral beach where you will immediately spot several birds on land and soaring overhead. Great frigate birds display their inflated, bright red neck pouches to attract passing females; Nazca and blue-footed boobies tend to their nests on the ground below; and mockingbirds sprint across the sand. Nearby tidal pools in the volcanic rock are places for wandering tattlers, lava gulls, whimbrels and turnstones to hunt for seafood. On this walk, you’re also likely to see the sharp-beaked finch, large cactus finches, large ground finches, Galapagos doves and swallow-tailed gulls. At the end the trail you reach a cliff’s edge where you can enjoy an amazing view of the Island and ocean beyond. After this walk, you can enjoy swimming or snorkeling in the natural harbor.
In the afternoon, you visit Prince Philip’s Steps, the only other visitor site on Genovesa. The visit begins with a view of the rocky shore where many birds nest and raise their young. On the trail here one may observe red-billed tropicbirds, nesting boobies and a colony of storm petrels. Genovesa Island offers a chance to also spot the Galapagos short-eared owl and the Galapagos fur seal as well as several species of finches, herons, and petrels (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
DAY 3 (Monday): Bartolome Island & Santiago Island: Sullivan Bay
Bartolome Island contains one of the most photographed vistas in the archipelago. This island is quite young and quite volcanic; therefore, it’s relatively unpopulated with only a small handful of die-hard plant and animal species have survived long enough to call this lava-land home. The land-visit here is more about the amazing view of the pinnacle standing straight out of the sea, the volcanic formations of the Islands and getting in an invigorating hike. After the short hike up the wooden stairs, you’ll return to the nearby beach for some fun snorkeling. Here at Bartolome, you’ll have a very good chance of snorkeling alongside the unique Galapagos penguin. The colony of penguins here seems to love flying through the water as snorkelers swim in the calm bay.
After the visit to Bartolome Island, you’ll visit nearby Sullivan Bay. At the turn of the century a huge lava flow spilled right down to the sea and today you can stroll across this black volcanic expanse, admiring its time-frozen ripples, bubbles and ropes. This is a fascinating area for seeing the differences in the volcanic creation of the Islands. There are two nearby beaches also where sea turtles lay their eggs and you may find broken egg shells here left behind by the baby turtles. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
DAY 4 (Tuesday) Rabida Island & Santa Cruz: Cerro Dragon
Early today, you will visit La Rabida, another small but fascinating Island. The first thing you’ll notice on La Rabida is its unique red cliffs and beaches. While walking on this Island, you’re likely to spot sea lions, pelicans, Galapagos hawks, Darwin finches, marine iguanas, flamingos and blue-footed boobies. You will also have time to go for a snorkel in the waters just off La Rabida, where you have a good chance of swimming with sea lions and tropical fish.
After lunch you’ll navigate for a couple of hours to Cerro Dragon, where you’ll make a dry landing on lava rocks. Cerro Dragon is a small bay on the west coast of Santa Cruz and got its name from the many land iguanas that live in the area. Land iguanas are endemic to the Galapagos Islands where they have found good mating and nesting areas. Here, you also visit a saltwater lagoon, home to Greater Flamingos, Black-necked Stilts, and White-cheeked Pintails. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
DAY 5 (Wednesday): Santa Cruz Island: Highlands & Darwin Station
We will spend this day visiting Santa Cruz Island´s most famous highlights. We will have a dry landing in the dock of Puerto Ayora to then board our transportation and head to the Islands highlands. These are, in contrast to the coastal region, lush in vegetation and forest, due to the humidity that gathers in the higher regions. We will visit one of the ranches of the area, where it´s possible to see giant tortoises in their natural habitat. As these animals migrate from the coastal area to the highlands and back, the chosen ranch will depend on the presence of the tortoises, as they roam free and change their locations. This is also a good place to see the Galapagos hawk and barn owl of this island and the surrounding forests are filled with birds such as the vermilion flycatcher or the yellow warbler
We enjoy lunch in the ranch to then head back to Puerto Ayora for our second visit of the day, the Charles Darwin research station and the Fausto Llerena breeding center. Here, we will see tortoises from different islands. The animals are found in large semi natural pens for their protection, but also to ensure an easy view for the tourists. The pens are divided according to four different stages: eggs, neonates, juveniles (held here until they are mature enough to be “repatriated”), and adults. After this visit, we will have some time to explore the town of Puerto Ayora and its many souvenir shops, before boarding the S/S Mary Anne for dinner and the usual briefing. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
DAY 6 (Thursday): South Plazas Island & Santa Fe Island
South Plazas has one of the largest populations of land iguanas in the archipelago. Here, you observe vibrant green prickly pears, deep red Sesuvium and coppery-orange land iguanas; the scene becomes quite colorful as the iguanas feed the prickly pear cactus. You may be lucky enough to spot iguanas that are a cross between the marine and land varieties. Along the sea cliffs frigate birds, shearwaters, brown pelicans and masked boobies may be seen. At the nearby beach, you can snorkel in the calm water where turtles, sharks and other fish are found. This is also a great place to observe the adult and pup sea lions swimming along the shores.
Santa Fe has one of the most beautiful coves of all the visitor sites in the region, a turquoise lagoon protected by a peninsula of rocks and small islands that extends from the shore. The Santa Fe species of iguana are a brighter yellow color and have uncommonly large spikes on their spine. The opuntia cactus, a favorite food of the land iguana, grows unusually tall here, up to 33 feet high and are the largest of their kind in Galapagos. Manta rays and sea turtles may be seen against the sandy bottom of Santa Fe’s beautiful anchorage. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
DAY 7 (Friday): Española Island: Gardner Bay & Punta Suarez
Española Island (or Hood Island) is a true highlight in the Galapagos, both above and below the water. Due to its very remote location, there are a large number of endemic species that evolved independently from the rest of the archipelago. Gardner Bay is a spectacular, long, white-sand beach where one can swim with sea lions and wander at your own pace. Your guide will lead you while snorkeling, pointing out wildlife like green sea turtles, manta rays, white-tipped reef sharks, and tropical fish.
Afterwards, you will visit Punta Suarez. This site offers quite a display of wildlife: marine iguanas with copper red patches, swallow-tailed gulls, the endemic long-billed mocking bird, finches, masked and blue-footed boobies, oystercatchers, sea lions, and lava lizards. This is the only island where the Waved albatross is to be seen during their breeding season. From April through December, the fascinating Waved albatrosses are found on the Island performing mating rituals, nesting, and raising their young. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
DAY 8 (Saturday): Santa Cruz Island: Lava Tunnels & Depart Baltra Airport
After breakfast we disembark in Puerto Ayora and transport to Baltra Airport, doing a short stop to visit the Lava tunnels found in the highlands. These intriguing tunnels were formed by a lava flow that hardened on the outside while still maintaining its fluid scolding state on the inside, leaving hollow tunnels where it passed. We will walk inside one of the tunnels (that are artificially illuminated to help visitors) to have a close look at the formations and learn more about the origin of these very volcanic archipelago.
After this visit, you are transferred to the Baltra Airport where you will catch your flight back to mainland Ecuador. (Breakfast)