DAY 1 BALTRA / SANTA CRUZ
Early flight to Baltra, in the Galapagos Islands. Upon arrival meet our naturalist guide, who will assist with the transfer to the Monserrat, moored in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island. Visit the Charles Darwin Station, see giant tortoises and learn about Charles Darwin’s studies of Galapagos wildlife. Free time to do some shopping and exploring..
Flights from Quito to Baltra depart between 6:40am and 9:40am depending on the day of the week. These will arrive into the Galapagos between 9:30am and 12:30pm with a short refuelling stop in Guayaquil (you will not disembark the plane). You will generally arrive onto the boat in time for lunch on Day 2 before your afternoon activity.
The Galapagos Islands are located about 1000 km (620 miles) off the Pacific coast of South America. The archipelago is comprised of 13 major islands and scores of islets that served as a living laboratory for Charles Darwin, the renowned evolution theorist.
Long before Darwin arrived in the Galapagos, seafarers knew these isolated islands as home to some of the strangest and most wonderful wildlife imaginable, including birds that could swim but no longer fly, aquatic iguanas, dragon-like lizards left over from prehistoric times, and the giant Galapagos tortoises for which the islands were named.
Covering nearly 5000 square km (3100 square miles), the Galapagos Islands are now a National Park. The Galapagos National Park is the institution that controls the preservation of this environment, assisted by the Charles Darwin Research Station. Inaugurated in 1964 and based in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, the Charles Darwin Research Station is the one place where visitors can easily see the famous Galapagos Tortoises, which may live up to two hundred years. This is also the training centre for naturalist guides who accompany all visitors landing at more than 40 approved sites on the islands, and members of the international scientific community often come to study at the station.
The National Park charges a visitor fee of $100 USD, payable on arrival, which funds Park maintenance and supervision in the Galapagos, as well as ecological study, conservation and infrastructure development in Ecuador's other National Parks. Entry fees and the funds they generate for the National Park System are among measures taken by the Ecuadorian government to protect its natural heritage.
DAY 2 SOUTH PLAZA / SANTA FÉ
Set sail and reach South Plaza Island. One of the smallest islands in the Galapagos, South Plaza has one of the largest populations of Land Iguanas. Also a large colony of noisy sea lions, numbering about 1,000 bulls, cows and pups, has its prime habitat on these smooth rocks. Walk along a path through a cactus forest and view a combination of dry and coastal vegetation. The small cactus forest is populated by land iguanas, which can be seen sunning themselves or feeding on opuntia pads and fruits. Swallow-tailed gulls, which nest on the rugged southern cliffs, are usually seen, along with tropicbirds and Audubon's shearwaters. During the rainy season you can see the red sesuvium turn bright green and the leafless evening-blooming portulaca bursts into large yellow flowers, which are loved by the iguanas.
In the afternoon, we explore Santa Fé, a fairly small and dry island. Also called Barrington, Santa Fé Island is well-known as a great place for watching (and swimming with) sea lions. Santa Fe was formed from an uplift (rather than a volcano) giving the island a relatively flat surface rather than the typical conical shape of the other islands. Goats were eradicated in 1971, and Santa Fe is home to a number of endemic species, which have bounced back from the outside threat. They include the Galapagos Hawk, Galapagos Snake, rice rats, a variety of finch and the Galapagos Mockingbird.
Hiking towards the cliffs along the island's northern shore you can view the forest of giant Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia). A member of the cactus family their name comes from the pear shaped fruit the plant produces. Santa Fe is home to endemic land iguanas. Once back at the beach there is normally plenty of free time to snorkel back in the lagoon. Playful sea lions pups and florescent fish make for fascinating company.
DAY 3 PUNTA PITT / LOBOS ISLAND
We land this morning at Punta Pitt, on the eastern tip of San Cristobal where we will see a group of eroded volcanic cones. Here we will be able to observe a mixture of different types of lava floes as well as colourful vegetation. At this point it is possible to see the 3 species of boobies as well as frigate birds, all nesting in the same area - unique to this spot in the entire archipelago. Continue to Lobos Island in the afternoon where you will be welcomed by frolicking sea lions.
DAY 4 SAN CRISTÓBAL
Reach San Cristóbal in the morning. San Cristóbal is the easternmost island of Galapagos and one of the oldest. Its principal town is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galapagos. Disembark after breakfast then we visit the interpretation center, Spend the afternoon getting a deeper understanding of the breeding cycles of the Galapagos tortoises at a breed centre before visiting a sea lion colony at Loberia Beach.
DAY 5 CERRO BRUJO / KICKER ROCK
Morning landing at Cerro Brujo on San Cristóbal Island to observe the sea lions, marine iguanas and seabirds along the beach. We will make our way to an island called Leon Dormido, or "Kicker Rock," which resembles a sleeping lion. It is quite striking and if conditions are right we may be able to sail through a narrow channel which splits Kicker Rock in half. An incredible snorkelling spot, Kicker Rock is home to an incredibly diverse set of marine life in the nutrient-rich water.
DAY 6 ESPAÑOLA
Head to Punta Suarez on Española Island. The southernmost island in the Galapagos archipelago is home to several wildlife species, including masked and blue-footed boobies. A hike to the top of the cliff makes for spectacular photo opportunities.
Punta Suarez on the western side of Española Island (also called Hood) is spectacular: gargantuan waves break on jagged cliffs and large bird colonies thickly populate the interior of the island; there is a distinct feel of desolate wilderness here. The Waved Albatross is seen here from April to December during its mating/nesting season. This bird leaves land between January and March each year to make its annual odyssey far out to sea. Amazingly, Española is the nesting site to virtually the entire world population of this species, with more than 12000 pairs residing here. Large numbers of Masked and Blue-footed Boobies are also found here, Red-billed Tropic Birds dash madly through the air, and both Marine Iguanas and sea lions are common. A huge blowhole, where the surf is forced through a natural rock formation spouting seawater 15 to 20 m (49 – 66 ft) into the air, adds to the island’s impression of untamed beauty.
Follow the trail through a rookery and learn the geological history of the island from our naturalist, including its dramatic volcanic features, climate, flora and fauna. Sail in the afternoon to Garner Bay, an excellent swimming and snorkeling site.
DAY 7 FLOREANA
Reach Floreana Island in the morning. The history of Floreana Island (also called Charles) has gradually evolved to reach near mythic proportions. The story begins when a baroness and her two lovers, a German doctor and his mistress, and a German couple and their young son all came to settle on this land. Their dalliances and disasters, shrouded in mystery, were chronicled in John Treherne’s book The Galapagos Affair. Descendants of the German family, the Wittmers, still live on the island in the small community of Puerto Velasco Ibarra. Mrs. Margaret Wittmer has also written a booked entitled "Floreana" and this can be purchased at the airport in Baltra or at a local bookstore.
In the morning, we visit Post Office Bay, which has an older and less mysterious history. A barrel was placed here in the late 18th century by English whaling vessels to be used as a post office. Passing ships would stop to leave mail for loved ones, collecting at the same time any mail destined for ports on their itineraries. Today the box is used mainly by tourists, who may drop off and pick up unstamped letters to be carried to far destinations. The remains of a Norwegian canning factory are the only evidence of the Island’s history prior to its designation as a protected area. A short hike up past the post barrel takes you to an interesting lava cave. With the aid of a flashlight, you can descend about 80 m (262 ft) to the point where the sea enters the cave.
In the afternoon we land at Punta Cormorant, on the northern part of Floreana. The landing is on a beach of green sand, colored by olivine crystals, volcanic-derived silicates of magnesium and iron. The trail leads to a lake normally inhabited by flamingos and other shore birds and continues to a beach of fine white sand particles known as “Flour Beach”, an important nesting site for turtles. Around the point, Devil's Crown derives its name from the broken remains of a partially submerged volcanic cone. This is a perfect spot to go snorkeling from the boat, as the waters are home to a multitude of colourful fish and sea lions. Please make sure you are a comfortable swimmer, however, as despite the protection from the open sea provided by the "crown," the water here can be rough and the currents strong.
DAY 8 SANTA CRUZ / QUITO
In the morning we arrive in Puerta Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island where we Explore the El Chato Reserve on Santa Cruz, one of the best places to observe land birds! Continue on to the Pit Craters ("Los Gemelos")..
Santa Cruz is the second largest in the island group, and has the largest population, with Puerto Ayora as its main town. It also boasts the most varied of the islands’ vegetation zones: coastal, transition, scalesia, miconia and pampa. The Charles Darwin Research Station is a 10 minute walk from the centre of the town. Here, an exhibition centre displays photos of recent volcanic eruptions, charts outlining geological formations and drawings of the evolutionary development of endemic species. A corral houses adult Galapagos Tortoises, and a nursery cares for young tortoises until they are about three years old, when their shells have hardened enough to resist attack from feral dogs.
Following this we transfer to the airport on Baltra Island for our flight to Quito.
Flights from Baltra to Quito depart between 10:00am and 1:00pm depending on the day of the week. These will arrive into Quito between 2:30pm and 5:30pm with a refuelling stop in Guayaquil (you will not disembark the plane).