DAY 1 - WEDNESDAY: Baltra / Bachas Beach
A US$20 per person transit card is payable on departure at Quito Airport and a US$100 per person national park entry fee is payable on arrival on the islands. Please have cash on hand for these transactions as credit cards can be time consuming.
On arrival in the Galapagos we are met in the arrivals hall and then transferred to our boat, the Daphne, anchored a short distance away. Once on board we'll be assigned our cabins, meet the crew members and get to know our naturalist guide and fellow travellers over a delicious lunch.
The sandy, white beaches of Las Bachas on the north shore of Santa Cruz Island are a nesting site for the Pacific green turtle, and marine iguanas are also commonly seen. The sand here is particularly white and soft as it is made of decomposed coral. The rocks provide great snorkelling and are the perfect habitat for the Sally Lightfoot crabs, which are plentiful on the island. A saltwater lagoon near to the beach is home to flamingo and whimbrel, and also look out for great blue herons. Remnants of a floating pier can still be sighted, and it is a testimony to the US presence in the Galapagos during World War II.
DAY 2 - THURSDAY: North Seymour / Bartolome
We take an active excursion to Isla North Seymour (North Seymour Island), probably one of the Galapagos’ most visited islands. On North Seymour the highlight will be seeing the blue-footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, both species of frigate birds (great frigate birds and magnificent frigate birds), land iguanas, marine iguanas, Galapagos sea lions and endemic incense trees. The magnificent frigate bird, a large black bird with a long wingspan and a hooked beak, is extremely fast and has excellent vision. Frigate birds are known for the large red pouch on their necks. During mating season the males thrown back their heads, inflate the pouch (sometimes to the size of a soccer ball) and shake trying to capture the attention of female frigates. Boobies and frigates have an interesting relationship. They share the same nesting area on North Seymour with blue-footed boobies nesting on the ground while the frigate birds nests just above them in the saltbushes. A solid walk is followed by snorkelling, where we will find a great variety of fish, and possibly white-tipped reef sharks, rays and sea lions.
Isla Bartolomé is one of the most spectacular volcanic landscapes in the Galapagos, full of parasitic spatter cones, lava flows, Galapagos penguins and lava lizards. Bartolomé is a relatively new island in the archipelago and walking shoes are required as we will climb over 360 wooden steps to the summit, where the scenery is spectacular and we have a great view of Pinnacle Rock - one of the most photographed sites in the Galapagos. It is an abrupt jag of rock protruding from the earth like a tooth, while nearby two golden bays back on to each other. Here we can hike to the top of a once-active volcano and enjoy superb views across to Sullivan Bay on nearby Santiago Island. If we are in luck we might catch a glance of the Galapagos hawk here. We will also have the opportunity to go snorkelling with plenty of tropical fish, starfish and hopefully also penguins, white-tipped reef sharks and rays.
DAY 3 - FRIDAY: Santiago Island
Puerto Egas is a black sand beach located on the west side of James Bay and northwest of Santiago Island. Here we will see amazing volcanic tuff formations and the walk along the beach provides many opportunities for encounters with the locals such as marine iguanas, pelicans, finches, mockingbirds, oystercatchers, Galapagos sea lions and Galapagos fur seals. We can also see amazing tidal pools formed from ancient lava flow and home to sponges, snails, hermit crabs, barnacles and fish. Snorkelling with the seals is always offer the possibility of thrilling encounters.
Espumilla Beach, on the northern coast of Santiago Island in James Bay, is one of the most idyllic locations in the Galapagos Islands and is an important nesting site for marine turtles. With large waves, it is also often a favourite amongst beach lovers. Potentially we will see Galapagos hawks up close, ghost crabs, blue-footed boobies (often plunging for fish) and brown pelicans. It is also well known for its palo santo forest and some extraordinary lava formations.
We then go to view the spectacular geology of volcanic ash (tuff) of Buccaneer Cove. Here we can find remains of objects used by pirates in centuries past, hence the name Buccaneer Cove. A place of local legends and stories, it is where Darwin camped for nine days while making his study of the islands and their wildlife. If conditions are favourable, we can enjoy some further snorkelling.
DAY 4 SATURDAY: Isabela & Fernandina Islands
Tagus Cove was a place of anchorage for pirates and whalers who collected turtles for their trip. Approximately a two-hour visit where we can snorkel, check out ancient graffiti on its walls, observe flightless cormorants, penguins, blue-footed boobies and a variety of waterfowl. The walk leads to a high point where we take in a spectacular panoramic view of the north of Isabela Island and the Wolf volcano.
Isla Fernandina's north-east tip, Punta Espinosa, is a narrow ledge of lava and sand where visitors can see lava cacti and flightless cormorants among the stark volcanic landscape.
DAY 5 SUNDAY: Isabela – Elizabeth Bay and Punta Moreno
Today we land at the archipelago's largest island - Isabela. The island is located in one of the youngest geological areas in the world, having been formed less than a million years ago. We spend the morning at Punta Moreno on the southwest coast. This coastline has some of the most beautiful blue lagoons and rocky terrain in the Galapagos, with a backdrop of three active volcanoes, flamingos and incredible lava formations. Get ready for a great walk on top of the black lava field, with the majestic view of Sierra Negra and Cerro Azul in the background. Depending of the season we can see brown pelicans nesting on top of the mangroves, lava and candelabra cactus. Lava lizards are also frequently seen. We walk by brackish water lagoons covered with several different plants, where pink flamingos, ducks and black neck stills can be seen resting. Then back on board and off to do some snorkelling!
Elizabeth Bay is an incredible biodiversity sanctuary located on the west coast of Isabela Island. We take a 'panga' ride out on the bay, so have your binoculars and cameras ready to photograph the second smallest penguins in the world (Galapagos penguin) and blue-footed boobies perched on the islets or flying overhead and looking to dive for their next meal. We head towards the mangrove forest,which is quite unique in Galapagos. Here, we may see turtles, sea lions, penguins, lava herons, rays and plenty of colourful fish including pompanos, dorados and mullets.
DAY 6 MONDAY: Isabela – Tintoreras and Humedales
Las Tintoreras is a little peninsula at the entrance of Isabela Island’s port. From the viewing walkway we can look down into this narrow channel to see a colony of white-tipped reef sharks swimming and sleeping, and the occasional playful sea lion among them! Blue-footed boobies and penguins, marine iguanas and crabs also make their home here, and the waters provide further opportunities to swim with turtles. We enjoy a nice long walk on a gravel path through ‘Ahh-ahh’ lava flow and see plenty of marine iguanas. The natives of the islands call white sharks 'tintoreras', hence the name of this spectacular site.
We might also have the opportunity to snorkel off the 'panga' and observe sharks, sea lions and Galapagos penguins.
In the afternoon we visit Humedales, the wetlands of Isabela. They are reached on a complex trail which winds around for 6 km long. Here we find a variety of flora and fauna as well as spectacular scenery.
Please note that there is a US$5 (per person) port fee to be paid on arrival at this particular site on Isabela Island.
DAY 7 TUESDAY: Dragon Hill and Punta Carrión
We then set sail for Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill), on Santa Cruz's north coast. From our dry landing we walk to a brackish lagoon frequented by lagoon birds including stilts, pintail ducks, sandpipers, sanderlings and occasionally flamingos. Further inland, the trail offers a beautiful view of the bay and the western area of the archipelago. This area is a nesting site for land iguanas, which is constantly monitored and assisted by the Charles Darwin Research Station. The arid-zone vegetation makes for a rewarding location for birdwatching, with Darwin's finches, Galapagos mockingbirds, the endemic Galapagos flycatcher and yellow warblers all regulars here. The path can be challenging but we'll be well rewarded with a spectacular view of the bay!
In the afternoon, you will visit Punta Carrion, located in north-eastern Santa Cruz. This is a shallow and protected cove, ideal for snorkelling and swimming. Wildlife is plentiful; keep your eyes peeled for blue-footed boobies, Galapagos herons, great blue herons and underwater swim among rays and white-tipped reef sharks.
DAY 8 WEDNESDAY: Charles Darwin Station
As flights to the mainland from Galapagos depart mid-morning, it is an early start for our last morning on the islands. Depending on the time of our flight, our time spent on this final excursion could be limited.
Today we visit Santa Cruz, the second largest island in the Galapagos. The small town of Puerto Ayora is the economic hub of the archipelago and is also home to the Charles Darwin Research Station. The station's visitor centre and museum are essential stops for anyone interested in the archipelago's natural and human history, and keen to learn more about conservation efforts to preserve the unique ecosystems of the Galapagos. It also offers our best chance for close-up encounters with giant tortoises, and we can see many newborn and young giant turtles - part of the breeding program to reintroduce them to their natural habitat. Observe the giant opuntia and jasminocereus cactus trees. Leisure time to explore Puerto Ayora, check email or have a drink at a local bar and see the local’s way of life.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end and we say farewell to the Galapagos Islands. We head to the airport for our mid-morning flight back to Quito for the last night of the tour. Upon arrival in Quito Airport we are transferred back to our hotel for an overnight stay. Our local representative may stop by at your hotel this evening to get your feedback trip on your Galapagos experience.