Our 6-days route navigates around the largest, seahorse-shaped island of Isabela, where nature seems to hunt for the greatest. Explore the virtually untouched western end of the Galapagos, which has just been born out of fire. You are right on time for the first thrilling chapters of evolution! Uncover the mystery of how tough pioneer species make barren lava fields habitable; and approach bizarre outgrowths of adaptation such as marine iguanas and flightless cormorants. It’s true that accessing this remote and isolated region demands longer navigation (mainly overnight), but our stable yacht enables you to witness ‘survival of the fittest’, without experiencing it.
- Experienced professional guides.
- Virgin Fernandina & isolated west-coast of Isabela make you eye-witness of evolution
- Fur seal groats & unique tidal channel with white-tip reef sharks & rays
- Archipelago’s largest concentration of American flamingo in bird-rich wetlands
- Flightless cormorants, largest marine iguanas and penguins near the equator
- Plenty of snorkelling opportunities
ITINERARY IN BRIEF:
Day 1: Baltra - Charles Darwin Station
Day 2: Whitetip Reef Shark Canal - Tortoise breeding centre
Day 3: Punta Moreno - Elizabeth Bay
Day 4: Punta Espinoza - Tagus Cove
Day 5: Espumilla Beach - Buccaneer Cove - Puerto Egas
Day 6: Isla Lobos - San Cristobal airport
NOTE: Long itineraries are the combination of short ones; please let us know if you would like to book a long cruise
Baltra Island - Santa Cruz Island
AM: Arrival at Baltra Airport
At Baltra Airport you will have to pay your Galapagos National Park entrance fee and your luggage will be inspected. You will meet your naturalist guide and fellow passengers in the arrival hall, and the airport shuttle will transfer you to the ferry across the Itabaca Channel. On Santa Cruz you will continue by bus through the lush highlands to the harbour of Puerto Ayora. Our inflatable dinghies will bring you the last stretch to the yacht.
PM: Charles Darwin Research Station
On the outskirts of Puerto Ayora you will visit the shared area of the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) and the headquarters of the Galapagos National Park Service. From here the indispensable conservation management and biological research of this unique archipelago and its surrounding waters are directed. This complex houses several interpretation and information centres about the National Park and the Galapagos Marine Reserve.
The most memorable part of this visit will probably be the successful breeding centre and the enclosures with Galapagos giant tortoises; even after the death of its world-famous resident, emphatically called ‘Lonesome George’ († June 2012; the last known individual of the Pinta subspecies, who sadly failed to reproduce offspring). His remains have been mummified and stuffed, but the Galapagos currently have no climatic controlled facilities to show it in a conservative way to the public. For other species and subspecies the breeding project started just in time to save them from extinction. Most remaining adult giant tortoises in the corals are former pets and many of them are accustomed to human company.
For centuries these emblematic reptiles have made the Galapagos famous. Hundreds of thousands of them used to crawl around before the devastating epoch of poaching. Even the name of this archipelago refers to these prehistoric dwellers. On certain islands their shells evolved into pronounced riding saddles shapes or ‘Galapagos’ in Spanish. Nobody before Charles Darwin had noticed differences
in the tortoise shells from different islands, which put him on track of his evolution theory of natural selection. Because species from different islands are kept, the Charles Darwin Research Station is the place to compare the diverging saddle back shapes and the dome-shaped shells from the Santa Cruz-subspecies. ‘Lonesome George’ had an extremely high saddleback shell, long legs and a long neck to reach higher for food. (L. D.) (Private Transfer) (Shared Guide)
AM: Whitetip reef shark channel (Isabela)
Just outside the harbour of Puerto Villamil on the
largest island of Isabela, a group of islets protrude just
above the ocean. These barely noticeable rocks form
one of the most emblematic sites that you will visit
during your cruise. The jagged black formations,
dotted with mangrove and candelabra-cactus, are the
remnants of a lava stream that has ended up in the
ocean. While these are being demolished by the
waves, and a collapsed lava tube forms a channel that
fills-up on high tide, while the entrance is closed on
low tide. Marine life gets trapped, including spectacular white tip reef sharks (called tintoreras in Spanish, as is the site’s official name). This species of shark is fairly common in the archipelago, and generally spotted on the seabed when snorkelling, whilst these are resting from their nocturnal hunts. But on this unique place you can observe them comfortably from the bank in the crystal clear turquoise waters. Sometimes turtles and elegant white-spotted eagle rays or golden rays glide back and forth through this calm channel, as well as smaller fish and Galapagos sea lions.
Unlike the inviting beaches of Puerto Villamil, the tiny plagues on these rocky formations offer important and fully undisturbed breeding places for prehistoric-looking marine iguanas. Over here the largest Isabela subspecies (up to 1.5m / 5ft tall!) can reproduce successfully and thrive by hundreds. The rocky shoreline with its intertidal life also attracts sally light foot crabs, lava herons and Galapagos penguins, which mostly reside on the other (western) side of Isabela. Galapagos sea lions occupy the sand beach and complete this stereotypical Galapagos image.
AM: Sierra Negra (Isabela)
Sierra Negra is the 3rd highest volcano on Isabela
and the 5th highest of the Galapagos (1124m /
3687ft.). It erupted a total of 7 times in the 20th
century, the last time being in October 2005. It is
the only major volcano on Isabela whose crater
regions are actually open to tourism. A mysterious
half-day hike through the cloud forests takes you to a viewpoint at the rim, offering fantastic views into the impressive caldera (clear weather required, though unpredictable; prevailing winds mean that clouds usually tend to dissolve at the viewpoint). The caldera measures about 7 x 9km / 4.5 x 6mi across, and is the largest of the archipelago. Since the discovery of so-called super volcanoes like Yellowstone it it is no longer listed as one of the largest craters in the world.
A somewhat muddy trail to the rim will lead you through an unexpected, evergreen cloud forest that only exists in the highlands of the main islands. The dense and rich vegetation includes ferns, tree ferns and endemic scalesia trees laden with epiphytes like lichens, orchids and bromeliads. The fog and drizzle – more frequent in the cool garúa season (June-December) – contributes to the mysterious atmosphere. En route you can also spot striking songbirds such as the vermilion flycatcher, the yellow warbler and the woodpecker finch (among six more species of Darwin’s finches); this peculiar one hammers on branches like a woodpecker and uses twigs as tools to capture insects!
PM: Wetlands & Beach (Isabela)
The tempting white sand beach of Puerto Villamil is home to far
more marine iguanas and Sally lightfoot crabs than bathing guests. Its overgrown beach wall hides the largest coastal lagoon of the Galapagos, attracting lots of aquatic bids and wintering shore birds; some come from arctic regions! It is part of a swampy coastal zone known as the wetlands, with an old mangrove forest, collapsed lava tubes, and even more salt and brackish ponds. These are home to the largest concentration and breeding site of American flamingos on the Galapagos, although we cannot guarantee that you will see these shy and nervous birds. (B. L. D.) (Shared Guide)
AM: Moreno Point (Isabela)
Moreno Point tells you the intriguing story of how the
famous lunatic lava fields of Sullivan Bay (Santiago) could develop in the future, when parts of the crust break and fall into the undermining lava tunnels. Pits and holes close to the coast would gradually fill-up with seawater. The once lifeless area would then become dotted with tidal pools and filtration lagoons, offering new opportunities to pioneer vegetation; finally the lava cacti would get company. This site acquires two more species of cacti, from which the candelabras can grow up to 7m / 23ft. tall, and dominate the rest of the shrubby vegetation.
Fringes of reed, sea grass and mangrove bushes surround the picturesque lagoons that have been transformed into lush oases. Your photos get the perfect finishing touch when the bright American flamingos and aquatic birds come to forage in the largest lagoon as well. In the wet season the fresh, promising greens become even more intense and contrast strongly with the dead, pitch-black lava. The pioneer vegetation seems to be winning, but only until Sierra Negra volcano spits a new layering cover, and the story starts all over again.
During an inflatable dinghy-ride along the jagged shoreline, you will notice different species. The tidal pools form natural traps and attract scavengers and hunters, bright orange sally light foot crabs, oystercatchers and herons. Marine iguanas wait patiently for their turn to graze weeds on the seabed at lowest tide, while brown pelicans have found an undisturbed place to breed in the mangroves.
PM: Elizabeth Bay (Isabela)
Although there is no landing point, the marine visitor’s site of Elizabeth Bay offers two in one. You will undertake a long ride by inflatable dinghy that combines a visit to the Marielas Islets in the mouth of the bay, with the mangles in its innermost heart. In 1963 these highest mangles of Galapagos were close to complete destruction, when Volcán Chico, a parasitic cone of Sierra Negra, sent lava flows to this 20km (11mi) distant bay. Miraculously the flows came just a few kilometres back to a halt.
The Marielas islets are an excellent place to spot marine iguanas and Galapagos penguins, which tend to stay in the front row at the base of the cliffs. The Galapagos penguin is considered as endangered with just some 1500 birds across the whole archipelago, and therefore the rarest penguin species worldwide. You therefore shouldn’t expect vast colonies of countless numbers like in Antarctic regions, but rather small family groups. On top of these ochre-coloured and reddish oxidised remnants of a crumbled tuff cone there are several lofty palo santo- trees growing. These provide magnificent frigate birds with a lookout far over the open sea to watch for and rob returning blue-footed boobies.
Next the inflatable dinghy will turn landwards, leaving the surf behind and enter the calm estuary of Elizabeth Bay through a rather narrow entrance. Whilst exploring the lagoons and shallow creeks, the outboard engine is turned off, so that you can enjoy the sounds of nature. Graceful Pacific green turtles swim slowly around you, sometimes popping their heads above the surface to breathe. In December and January you stand a fair chance of seeing them mating at the surface. You might also see spotted eagle rays or sharks, looking for protected inlets to give birth and leave their young alone. Brown pelicans and blue-footed boobies show diverging plunge-diving techniques, while lava herons and great blue herons prefer to wait patiently for what comes along. You can also compare the huge red mangroves (with their characteristic prop roots) with black, white and button mangroves. These mangroves are actually from different botanic families and the only thing they have in common is that they all thrive in brackish waters. (B. L. D.) (Shared Guide)
Isabela Island - Fernandina Island
AM: Espinoza Point (Fernandina)
Fernandina, located right above the Galapagos hotspot in the farthest west of the archipelago, is still under construction. It is estimated that between 60.000 and
400.000 years ago the top of this underwater shield volcano rose above sea level, which makes it the youngest of the main islands. Fernandina harbours one of the world’s most virgin, untouched ecosystems, and is therefore very well-protected. This exclusive and fascinating island will make you an eyewitness of evolution, which is happening right before your eyes!
Espinoza Point is Fernandina’s only terrestrial visitor’s site, and one of the few locations where you will find some bizarre outgrowths of natural selection. The figurehead is the emblematic flightless cormorant that lives exclusively in the remote west of the Galapagos, and could be considered as the ‘holy grail of evolution’. Thanks to the fact that this island has been spared from the introduction of invading species and because it is even uninhabitable for most land mammals, the cormorant needn’t fear terrestrial enemies. This miraculous bird lets you approach it very closely. The next generations gradually lost their flying capabilities to become excellent divers, but still stuck with the typical habit of drying and showing their unfolded ‘wings’ to you. Together with its neighbour, the Galapagos penguin, these are two of the rarest and most vulnerable bird species in the world, with less than 2000 individuals each.
Besides the endemic wildlife, you will also love the almost unworldly views with the dominating cone of Volcán La Cumbre (‘the summit’ in Spanish) as a spectacular backdrop. The narrow headland that you walk along is the end of a lava tongue that has reached the coast and solidified from contact with the cold seawater. The black rocks are not yet covered by more vegetation then lava cacti and mangroves, but are teeming with hundreds of dragon-like marine iguanas that breed and conglomerate in larger groups than on any other island.
PM: Tagus Cove (Isabela)
Right on the eastern shores of the Bolivar Channel are two tuff cones containing ultra-saline crater lakes: Tagus Cove and Beagle Crater. Both present spectacular layered cliffs at their sea faces, providing numerous nesting places for sea and coastal birds. From the inflatable dinghy you can observe marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins and storm petrels. It’s impressive to see flocks of blue-footed boobies and brown pelicans plunge diving from considerable altitudes.
Explosive eruptions have blown out a part of the outer rims of both tuff cones, creating their characteristic horseshoe shapes. On one of these events the sea entered the caldera of the northern cone and formed Tagus Cove. The inner crater rim has remained intact and spared the region from an even more violent detonation when the seawater would have mixed up with the boiling volcanic materials. Nowadays it contains emerald Darwin Lake (though Darwin visited the neighbouring Crater Lake). On the ground you can find small lapilli-balls, which rained down when ash particles solidified in the air.
Traditionally sailors started to write the names of their vessels on the eastern cliffs of Tagus cove and inside caves. The oldest graffiti dates back from 1836, a year after Darwin’s visit. The crew of HMS Beagle didn’t find the necessary fresh water, but nevertheless the young naturalist became very impressed with this spot.
Less thirsty than the HMS crew, you will also begin the somewhat strenuous and sometimes hot hike, following the inner ridge around Darwin Lake. On the inland side of the crater you can continue the last stretch to a great viewpoint on the outer caldera rim, with views to the nearby and outstretched lava slopes of Darwin Volcano (1280m / 4200ft.). On clear days you can even distinguish the Ecuador and Wolf volcanoes, the highest point of the Galapagos (1707m/ 5600ft, located exactly on the equator).
The arid zone of the inlands is overgrown with characteristic tropical dry forest vegetation such as a special variety of palo santo, Galapagos cotton and yellow cordia (muyuyu). Depending on the months of your visit these trees and bushes will be leafless; or abundant and green in the wet season (first half of the year). During the hike you can spot different Darwin’s finches, flycatchers and Galapagos hawks. (B. L. D.) (Shared Guide)
AM: Espumilla Beach (Santiago)
Espumilla Beach is a visitor’s site at the northern end of James Bay, on the western coast of Santiago. This beach has been revived as an important breeding site for turtles, as it is no longer suffering from digging wild pigs. The turtles return year after year to bury their eggs
in the cinnamon coloured sand dunes. About two months later (roughly from February to August) the eggs hatch all at the same time. Most vulnerable hatchlings will sadly never reach the sea, and form a banquet for predators such as herons, frigate birds, mockingbirds and ghost crabs. The beach ridge hides a mangle with two picturesque lagoons on the backside. The colony of American flamingos and aquatic birds used to be its main attraction, but after the climate phenomenon of El Niño, strong sedimentation altered the brackish water environment, and it no longer contains their food... As often seen on the Galapagos, different vegetation zones are very close by, providing great scenic contrasts. Upon climbing a hill you will be rewarded with a beautiful view of the transitions from sea into beach into mangrove into dry palo santo forest.
PM: Puerto Egas (Santiago)
Dominated by the 395m / 1300ft. high Pan de Azúcar (Sugarloaf), Puerto Egas is the southernmost pearl in the necklace of visitor’s sites along James Bay. It is named after Héctor Egas, who made a second attempt to mine salt commercially out of an inland crater lake in the 1960s. Santiago and its surrounding islets stand out due to their spectacular and unique volcanic and coastal landscapes, and Puerto Egas is no exception. The masterly sculptured coastline of black basalts, polished multi-coloured ash-layers, collapsed lava tunnels, natural arches, caves and blowholes such as ‘Darwin’s toilet’ and tidal pools form very photogenic scenery. If you are a wildlife lover, you will also fully enjoy this unique place that will probably become your favourite on this island. You will find lots of representative members of the Galapagos-population.
Right below a spectacular rock arch in a grotto at the end of the beach, a colony of Galapagos fur seals has occupied the shade, sheltering from the equatorial sun. Unlike the more common Galapagos sea lion, these smaller species of seal are no beach-lovers, due to their adorable, but insulating coats. This outstanding refuge is the best place throughout the archipelago to see these endemic, shy and once heavily hunted marine mammals.
Puerto Egas is also teeming with extremely varied intertidal life, especially at low tide. You will notice how marine iguanas just leave, or return cold and exhausted from grazing weeds on the seabed at lowest tide, or how they warm up afterwards while sunbathing on the black rocks. Ossified night herons and lava herons keep an eye on the tidal pools that are refilled during every flood with small fish, octopuses, star fish, snails, urchins, shells, green algae and many other snacks for all tastes. Noisy oystercatchers, turnstones, plovers and w himbrels inspect these pools zealously. Hundreds of sally light foot crabs seem even brighter orange against the pitch-black rocks (the immature are dark-coloured). These crabs scratch algae from the rocks, but are also scavengers and a prey themselves for the herons (B. L. D.) (Shared Guide)
San Cristobal Island - Depart San Cristobal Airport
AM: Lobos Islet (San Cristóbal)
If your already know a bit of Spanish, you will not be surprised by what you will get to see at Lobos Islet... its beach harbours a colony of Galapagos sea lions. As in other colonies in the archipelago you can approach nurturing females within a few metres. In the breeding season this colony is also visited by very territorial males, defending and mating the harem on their part
of the beach. Though at first sight the barren rocks are
overgrown by palo santo, this low islet houses has more than just Galapagos sea lions. Two other emblematic species of the Galapagos also breed here. Male blue-footed boobies and great frigate birds try to impress the females (and tourists) with clumsy dances, heaving their striking blue feet or blowing up their balloon-sized scarlet pouches. Later in the breeding season the fluffy and hungry chicks cry for food and when their wings are strong enough they will learn to fly.
You can also find a lot of life in the intertidal zone, including the striking bright orange sally light foot crabs and marine iguanas on the boulders. Sand dollars (a kind of sea urchin), among other marine life, have been washed ashore on the beach and remained at low tide. Remember that it’s strictly forbidden to take home anything you find in the National Park. On the horizon you can distinguish the contours of 10km / 6.2mi distant Kicker Rock. That impressive rock islet has become one of the landmarks of Galapagos, together with the blowhole on Española, Pinnacle Rock on Bartolome, and the remote northern rock arch of Darwin.
AM: Transfer to San Cristóbal airport
Check-in and flight back to Guayaquil or Quito.
Assisted by the guide and some crew-members the dinghy will bring you and your luggage to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, where we board a private bus to the airport. Your guide will accompany you to the check-in counter in the departure hall for your flight to Guayaquil or Quito. (B.) (Shared Guide)
- Registered vessel name: M/Y Galapagos Odyssey (Registered name: M/Y Gran Natalia)
- Type/Class: Motor Yacht (First Class)
- Construction Year: Guayaquil, 2007/2008; last maintenance: 2016
- Capacity: 16 passengers + 10 staff/crew members
- Length: 134 feet / 41 metres
- Beam: 26 feet / 8 metres
- Naturalist Guide: 1 National Park-certified multilingual naturalist guide
- Crew: 10 experienced, trained and IMO-certified crew-members (International Marine Organisation): captain, cruise-manager, 2 pilots, 2 sailors, machinist, bartender, chef, kitchen help/housekeeper
- Social Areas:
- Sun deck: solarium area, shaded relaxing area with whirlpool
- Upper deck: shaded terrace and barbeque area
- Main deck: alfresco dining area, lounge with a small library and bar
- Cabin Location: 9 cabins in total
- Main deck: 2 double cabins and 2 twin cabins
- Upper deck: 2 suites (convertible triple/twin/double) and 2 twin cabins
- Lower deck: 1 single cabin
- Machinery: 2 Cummins 465HP engines
- Amenities: TV, DVD, laptop, beamer, small library, deck chairs, whirlpool, 8 inflatable tandem kayaks, 2 inflatable dinghies for 8 persons
- Electricity: 110 volts
- Cruising Speed: 10 knots
- Wastewater Treatment: 2 water treatment systems
Single Standard Cabin
Single bed, air-conditioning, ensuite bathroom, wardrobe, picture windows, desk and chair.
Double Ocean View Stateroom
2 single beds or 1 double bed, air-conditioning, ensuite bathroom, wardrobe, picture windows, desk and chair.
Double Ocean View Suite
2 single beds or 1 double bed, sofa bed (for additional guest), air-conditioning, ensuite bathroom, wardrobe, picture windows, desk and chair.
- On-board accommodation
- All meals during the voyage
- Activities/shore excursions as specified
- Bilingual naturalist guides
- Use of snorkelling and kayaking equipment
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED
- International and internal airfares
- Arrival/departure taxes or reciprocity fees, visa fees where applicable
- Travel insurance
- Galapagos National Park fee US$100
- Transit control card US$20
- Any items not mentioned as included
NOTE: Long itineraries are the combination of short ones; please let us know if you would like to book a long cruise