Day 1 – Monday
North Seymour is the perfect start of your Galapagos visit, without the necessity to navigate a long stretch to get first contact with the unique insular nature. It is one of the most visited sites. This tabletop islet is overloaded with most extensive colonies of frigatebirds and blue-footed boobies in the archipelago, and there crawl Galapagos land iguanas around as well!
AM: This morning you will fly from Quito or Guayaquil to Baltra Airport.
PM: After welcome aboard Sailing Catamaran Nemo I, check-in, lunch and the safety-drill you will make your first landing at North Seymour for a guided walk through the large seabird‘s colonies, following a circular loop (easy level; 2km/1.25 mi/about 2hrs). Before dinner your naturalist guide will give the first daily briefing, and the captain and his crew will present and share a welcome toast.
Navigation: About midnight we will lift the anchor and sail to Genovesa. Depending on the sea state we will navigate about 5:30 hrs north.
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 (‘zodiacs’) take you the last stretch to the yacht.
PM: North Seymour
The tabletop islet of North Seymour is an uplifted part of the seabed. Between the dry 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.
You can spot lots of seabirds, such as brown pelicans, red-billed tropicbirds, endemic swallow-tailed gulls and seasonally even Nazca boobies. But the main attraction are the archipelago’s most extensive breeding colonies of blue-footed boobies and frigatebirds. At the start of the breeding season (shifting on our calendar) 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.
Day 2 – Tuesday
As one of the outer islands and most exclusive places of Galapagos, Genovesa is well worth last night’s longer navigation. All impressions will be nearly too much for a single day! Hundreds of thousands of seabirds perch and nest on the cliffs around its flooded crater.
Not only because of its historical English name (Tower) Genovesa has a royal touch. Follow into the footsteps of Prince Philip – Galapagos lover of the first hour and patron of the Charles Darwin Foundation – and visit this favourite birding spot with largest breeding colonies of red-footed and Nazca boobies, and look for a remarkable short-eared owl that hunts on foot!
AM: Today’s full program includes two longer walks, snorkeling and optional sea kayaking. After early breakfast and a wet landing at the sheltered beach of Darwin Bay you will go for a guided walk (moderate level; about 3km/2mi). Enjoy a snack aboard before snorkeling (alternatively: sea kayaking).
PM: Around lunch-time we will sail to nearby Prince Philip’s Steps, close to the entrance of the broken caldera. There you will make a guided walk through cliff top seabird colonies (moderate level; about 3km/2mi).
Overnight navigation: Nemo I will lift the anchor short after dinner, and navigate about 5 hours, heading back south in the direction of Santiago (and anchoring at Bartolome).
AM: Darwin Bay (Genovesa)
Genovesa’s horseshoe shaped wall shows unmistakably that we have anchored inside the partly collapsed and submerged caldera of a submarine volcano! The visitor’s site named Darwin Bay is located at the very rear. This compact site shows the extreme varied coastal ecosystems of Galapagos in miniature. The trail starts from the coral sand beach and subsequently passes a zone with saltbushes and mangroves, than crosses tidal creeks and barren lava formations, dry shrub lands, and finally turns on the ridge of some cliffs.
In this extremely varied and peaceful ambience, every single species has occupied its own ecological niche (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. Impressive frigatebirds (both great and magnificent species) and red-footed boobies nest in the mangroves, where you can also notice some vocalists such as yellow warblers, Darwin’s finches and Galapagos mockingbirds. 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 soar along the cliffs. When you already have seen marine iguanas elsewhere, the small 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 have become endemic to this island).
PM: Prince Phillip’s Steps (Genovesa)
Before landing you will make a dinghy-ride along the eastern arm of the caldera. On approach, the 25m/80ft 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 shaded ledges. Although there are also seabirds, the real spectacle will find 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 threatened ecosystem. Red-footed boobies with different plumages gratefully use these scarce nesting-places; different to their blue-footed relatives ‘red feet’ don’t nest on the rocky ground.
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 rim you will first pass a colony of 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 3 – Wednesday
Just out of the coast of Santiago, Sailing Catamaran Nemo I will anchor at two volcanoes islets: Bartolome (recently born out off fire) and Chinese Hat. You will arrive exactly on time at Chinese Hat to witness how this barren volcano islet gets colonized by pioneer species and begins to sprout! Enjoy the famous wild romantic panorama of Bartolome. Very close to the equator you will have first opportunities to meet endangered Galapagos penguins; whilst snorkelling you might even encounter these agile hunters fishing!
AM: Today’s full program is largely dedicated to volcanism. Wake-up during an early morning dinghy-ride along the barren shoreline. After breakfast it is not yet too hot to climb the stairs of Bartolomé’s Summit Trail, which is rewarded with panoramic views (guided walk, moderate level; about 800m/0.5 mi; 114m/375ft altitude difference). Next you can refresh and explore the fantastic shallow water snorkeling spot at the foot of Pinnacle Rock (alternative: walking around or relaxing on the beach).
PM: During lunch Nemo I navigates to Chinese Hat (about 1hr), where you can snorkel again. Learn more about Galapagos’ fascinating geology during the late-afternoon walk on this typical volcano-islet (easy level; about 0,7 km/0.5 mi).
Navigation: While sailing to Puerto Villamil (Isabela, about 7hr) you will have dinner dinner. We will anchor in the sheltered harbour just after midnight, where you can enjoy a fairly quiet sleep.
Additional options scuba-diving: Bartolome or Cousin Rocks (both advanced)
The wild romantic volcano islet of Bartolome is among the youngest of the islands, and on a geological scale just recently born out off fire. Although tiny (only 120ha/300ac) and at first sight lifeless, Bartolome offers some of the wildest landscapes and best panoramas in the entire archipelago. To enjoy the postcard view of the idyllic ‘Pinnacle Bay’ you have to climb the stairs to the viewpoint on top of the island (114m/375ft). Enter suddenly a dramatical world of threatening (though extinguished) nearby spatter cones, craters, and lightweight lava droplets that have been spewed out by fiery fountains. The Summit Trail is also ideal to witness how scanty pioneer vegetation such as lava cactus is struggling to take root in the bare virgin lava fields.
From the summit you suddenly face a second, paradisiacal world; Galapagos’ landmark ‘Pinnacle Rock’ towers prominently over an isthmus with crescent sand beaches on each side, and dunes with evergreen mangrove bushes in between.
Underwater, a third, completely distinctive world opens up to you, resembling a tropical aquarium. Its shallow, clear and warm waters are ideally for snorkeling between coral-grinding parrot fishes, shoals of surgeonfishes, harmless whitetip reef sharks and Pacific green turtles. If you are lucky you can even catch the sight of fishing Galapagos penguins.
PM: Chinese Hat
Chinese Hat is a 52m/170ft high volcanic cone, forming another islet right out off the rocky coast of Santiago, where a small colony of Galapagos penguins has settled. Approaching Chinese Hat from the north, you certainly will agree with its name. Because its primordial fire has been extinguished recently, this is an excellent place to learn more about volcanism, lava bombs and lava tunnels. On the beach you can also find curious pillow-type lavas with coral heads on top! These spheres have a submarine origin before being lifted above sea level.
But Chinese Hat does not appear that inhospitable any more as almost virgin Bartolome and lunatic Sullivan Bay. You arrive exactly on time to witness how this barren islet gets colonized by pioneer species and begins to sprout! Beaches of white coral sand grow, and holes in the eroding lava fields are filled up with lava sand, which enables rooting. Galapagos sea lions and countless marine iguanas contribute to fertilization. All together create more favourable options for newcomers, like saltbush and the discolouring sesuvium carpet. Colonization of Chinese Hat can occur in a much higher pace than elsewhere, hence Santiago is just a stone’s throw away.
Day 4 – Thursday
This cruise itinerary ends in Puerto Ayora. En route to the airport you will pass the lush highlands of Santa Cruz, where you will get the opportunity to quest for most-famous representatives of Galapagos: a wild population of Galapagos giant tortoises.
AM: After an early breakfast it’s time say goodbye and to leave the yacht. You will travel by inflatable dinghy and private bus from the pier of Puerto Ayora into the highlands. In the agricultural zone you can see Galapagos giant tortoises in the wild before continuing to the airport.
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 their concentrations around their favourite muddy pools, these semi-open pastures and moist scalesia-woodlands 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! Their dome-shaped shells characterize the Santa Cruz subspecies.
Most time of their stretched lives is spent slowly and silently, except for a warning hiss, or loud screams during mating, which can be heard 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 naturalist guide and some crew members the dinghy will bring you and your luggage to Baltra, where we take the airport shuttle. Your guide will accompany you until the check-in counters in the departure hall.
We expect that you will return home with stunning pictures and unforgettable memories for life!