Queen of Galapagos
DAY 1 SAN CRISTÓBAL (L,D)
Early flight to San Cristóbal, in the Galapagos Islands. Upon arrival meet our naturalist guide who will assist with the transfer to our catamaran, the g8. Visit the Galapaguera Cerro Colorado in the afternoon to see a piece of land that was been reserved for the repopulation of giant turtles.
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 SANTA FÉ / BLACK TURTLE COVE (B,L,D)
Set sail and reach 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. Along the island's northern shore you can view the forest of giant Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia). Santa Fé is also home to a number of endemic species which have bounced back from various threats to their survival. You may get a chance to see the Galapagos hawk, Galapagos snake, a variety of finches and the Galapagos mockingbird.
In the afternoon we take an excursion by "panga" to Black Turtle Cove, to witness the extensive mangrove system and interesting waterway canals. Sea Turtles and different species of rays can often be seen in this cove, offering a peaceful and fascinating glimpse into the diversity of the area.
DAY 3 ISLA SANTIAGO (B,L,D)
Morning excursion to Playa Espumilla, one of the most idyllic beaches in the Galapagos islands, with thick mangroves along with flamingo and sea turtle nesting sites. Continue to Puerto Egas to see the salt crater as well as a dark sand beach and tidal pools.
Santiago Island has seen it's share of human activity from whalers and pirates over the years, and despite the introduction of goats to the island many years ago, the wildlife of Santiago has flourished otherwise and provides outstanding viewing opportunities. The island boasts marine iguanas, sea lions, fur seals, land and sea turtles among others, which provide great wildlife viewing both on land and in the water.
DAY 4 GENOVESA (B,L,D)
Land at Genovesa Island, an old imploded volcano, to observe the massive colonies of Frigate Birds, Boobies and other seabirds as well as striking volcanic cliffs rising from the ocean.
Well to the north of the main Galapagos Island group, Genovesa Island itself is the shape of a horseshoe given it's volcanic history. The first landing is at a place called Darwin Bay for some fantastic snorkelling opportunities within the a partially eroded crater on the south side of the island.
In the afternoon we will explore a place called "El Barranco," otherwise known as Prince Phillip's Steps, on the southern tip of the island. This site is a major breeding ground for red footed boobies and masked boobies can also be seen. Other birds like various species of finches can be seen as well as the Galapagos Mockingbird.
DAY 5 BARTOLOMÉ / SULLIVAN BAY (B,L,D)
Bartolomé Island (also called Bartholomew) has 2 main areas of interest. A hike to the summit of the island provides a clearer perspective of the islands' not-too-distant volcanic origins, and the panoramic view is one of the best among the islands. From here are visible the double-sided beach of Bartolomé directly below, the volcanic tower rising out of the water next to it, and Santiago in the distance. After the summit hike, stop at the beach to relax in semi-tropical tranquility. There is great snorkelling among the submerged volcanic rock and around the base of the tower. A short hike to the beach on the opposite side is worth the minimal effort. It is not unusual to see sharks in these shallow waters, and marine turtles nest here from January through March.
Visit Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island in the afternoon to witness the striking and fascinating giant lava formations. Very few plans have managed to survive on this island due to the harsh environment and relatively new lava floe. Enjoy a walk along the lava formations before coming to a white coral sand beach, where plentiful sally lightfoot crabs and sea lions can be seen.
DAY 6 RÁBIDA / CERRO DRAGÓN (B,L,D)
In the morning we will take an excursion to Rabida Island, where we will land on a red sand beach. From here a short trail leads to a salt water lagoon, often home to wading flamingos. Another trail goes past the lagoon to the interior, where the revered palo santo trees grow. When burned, the branches of this tree give off a pleasing aroma and ward off mosquitoes. Back on the beach among low-lying bushes nest the prehistoric-looking pelicans. This is the best area for close viewing of these nesting birds, and it's a rare treat to watch parent pelicans return with gullets full of fish for the squawking youngsters.
In the afternoon we will visit Cerro Dragón, on the west coast of Santa Cruz Island. Here we will see land iguanas as well as another salt water lagoon frequented by flamingoes and various species of birds.
DAY 7 SANTA CRUZ (B,L,D)
In the morning we arrive in Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island. 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. In the afternoon we may have the opportunity to visit the highlands and see giant land tortoises in the wild.
DAY 8 SAN CRISTÓBAL (B)
Reach San Cristóbal in the morning and visit El Junco Lagoon to see the diverse vegetation surrounding the largest freshwater lagoon in the Galapagos Islands.
Disembark after breakfast, visit the interpretation center and transfer to the airport for our flight to Quito.