As you board your vessel, M/Y Coral, and follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, you will encounter nature at its finest.. Explore the islands from on deck, on foot and in the water, no doubt with your eyes open for your next unique sight.. You’ll encounter giant Galapagos tortoises, blue-footed and masked boobies, pelicans and frigate birds, as well as land and marine iguanas, sea lions, fur seals and perhaps dolphins, whales and sea turtles.. This is indeed the Galapagos journey with something for everyone.
As we fly from Quito to the Galapagos Islands, located in the equatorial water of the Pacific Ocean, we suddenly find ourselves in a very different world. As we board our vessel, the M/Y Coral and follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, we start to encounter nature at its finest. This is indeed the Galapagos journey with something for everyone.
On arrival at Quito's Mariscal Sucre International Airport you will be met and transferred to your hotel. The remainder of the day will be at your leisure.
A welcome meeting will be held in the evening at either 5pm or 6 pm when you meet others travelling with you on your cruise to the Galapagos Islands. Please check with hotel reception or check the reception notice boards for the time and place of the meeting for your trip. As today is an arrival day, you can arrive at any time as there are no activities planned until this important meeting.
If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability).
Quito sits at high altitude under the towering Pichincha volcano. It is a beautiful city, arguably one of the most beautiful in South America. The city stretches along the valley and is surrounded by the Andes. The Old Town of Quito is awash with history, with more than 30 churches to explore, and a number of fascinating museums. La Compania de Jesus is considered to be the most beautiful and ornate churches in the Americas. The city's oldest street, Calle La Ronda, is well worth exploring.
As this trip spends very little time in Quito, we recommend you spend a few extra days before or after your trip to experience all the city has to offer. You may even wish to explore further beyond the city and visit Otavalo, Cotopaxi, the Cloud Forest or the Equatorial Monument.
Quito - Baltra - Isla Santa Cruz - Highlands Tortoise Reserve
This morning you will be transferred to the airport for your flight to the Galapagos Islands. Please note the pick-up time can be as early as 4:30 am (a boxed breakfast will be provided), as the airport is a one-hour drive away and you must allow for delays and check-in times. (Your tour leader will confirm this time with you at the Welcome Meeting on Day 1).
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 are not accepted.
The flight to the Galapagos will make one stop in Guayaquil to pick up other passengers. (Total flight time is about 3.5 hours).
On arrival in the Galapagos, you will be met in the arrival hall of the airport (look out for ‘Coral’ signs) by a transfer guide and transferred to our yacht - ‘MY Coral’, anchored a short distance away. A 10 minute drive will take you to the pier to board the Coral. Once on board, cabins will be assigned and you will get to meet our crew members and get to know your naturalist guide while enjoying a delicious lunch.
Off the western coast of Santa Cruz, Eden Islet offers opportunities to see Nazca and blue-footed boobies, reef sharks, and banks of endemic bream fish, either from the panga or while snorkelling. There will be a wet landing in Bahia Ballena, also known as Whale Bay, which is a beautiful greenish sand cove at the base of Dragon Hill on the west coast of Santa Cruz Island. The beach contains a large amount of volcanic olivine crystals, formed when the magma was still underground. Its content is magnesium, iron, and silica. A small tortoise population from Pinzon Island lives in the area, probably left by whalers or previous inhabitants. There is the opportunity to see marine iguanas and sea birds, followed by snorkelling.
Tonight will be an overnight sail to Isla Isabela which is the archipelago’s largest island.
Isla Isabela - Vincente Roca Point - Isla Fernandina - Espinosa Point
This morning you will wake up on the north western coast of Isla Isabela. Vicente Roca Point is a promontory created form the remains of a tuff cone, with two protected turquoise coves on either side. One of them, the Bolivar Channel is one of the richest marine ecosystems on Earth. This place is only accessible by water, with great opportunities for deep-water snorkelling. In this part of the Galapagos, the upwelling of cold water currents from the west, offer an abundant plankton supply for marine species like: red-lipped batfish, seahorses, frogfish, nudibranchs, octopus and the strange but fascinating mola-mola (sunfish). It is common to observe dolphin pods, sea lions rafts and tuna banks feeding. The sheer cliffs provides the perfect setting for panga rides along the coast, observing a great diversity of sea birds such as noddies, brown pelicans, Galapagos penguins, flightless cormorants, Nazca and Blue-footed boobies are often seen feeding all at once in these waters during cold season (May – December). Whale watching is also common while navigating.
Next we move onto Fernandina Island where no foreign species have ever invaded making it one of the world’s most pristine island ecosystems. Located on the northeast is Punta Espinosa, a narrow ledge of lava and sand extending from the base of La Cumbre volcano. From here it is possible to admire a wide view of Isabela Island across the Bolivar Channel, an area that hosts some of the highest diversity of endemic sea fauna in the Galapagos. Here, the largest most primitive-looking marine iguanas are found mingling with sea lions and Sally Lightfoot Crabs. Isla Fernandina displays a wonderful opportunity to encounter flightless cormorants at their nesting sites drying their atrophied wings amid the volcanic landscape. The Galapagos penguins and the ‘King’ of predators on the islands, the Galapagos Hawk, can also be spotted. Pa-hoe-hoe and AA lava formations cover the majority of Fernandina terrain. Vegetation is scarce inland, with the exception of a few brachycereus cacti and inland, mangroves can be found.
Isla Isabela - Urbina Bay - Tagus Cove
Today you will head back to Isla Isabela. The island is located in one of the youngest geological areas in the world, having formed less than a million years ago by the eruption of five different volcanoes.
Your first stop today will be Urbina Bay which is a volcanic black beach. Depending on the season, it is possible to find giant tortoises, land iguanas, and the unusual flightless cormorant. After a short walk inland there will be time for snorkelling with a chance to swim with sea turtles, sea lions, and countless tropical fish. Urbina Bay features a wide variety of plants with different range of colours in flowers, attracting different insects, birds, and reptiles. One of the highlights on the island is the uplifted coral reef that resulted from the 1954 seismic activity; here the views of Alcedo Volcano are remarkable. When navigating from Urbina to Tagus Cove whale watching is usual in May – December.
In the afternoon you will visit Tagus Cove. Take a walk along a trail that leads to Darwin saltwater crater-lake, a place with excellent lava fields, landscapes and volcanic formations. This is a great site to see land birds such as the Galapagos hawks, ground and tree finches, large-billed flycatchers, and yellow warblers. The name Tagus Cove comes from the 1814 British ship arrival named ‘The Tagus’, which anchored searching for tortoises as food supply. Centuries after, old graffiti art can still be found here which was created by visitors, whalers and even pirates until the National Park was established in 1959. Many names of these early visitors are written on the cliffs along the shore. You will then take a panga ride along the shoreline which you will be able to admire a variety of seabirds such as blue-footed boobies, brown noddies, terns, flightless cormorants, and depending on the season, a large number of the Galapagos penguins which are among the smallest in the world (14 inches tall). They are the only penguin species in the world to extend its range into the northern hemisphere along the Equator. This afternoon you will have the opportunity to go deep water snorkelling.
Isla Santiago - Puerto Egas - Sullivan Bay
Puerto Egas is a black sand beach located on the west side of James Bay and northwest of Isla Santiago. South of the beach is Sugarloaf Volcano, which has deposits of volcanic tuff. The site is named Puerto Egas after Hector Egas who last attempted to mine salt here and the remains of the mines still can be seen. This is a historically important site; on 1683 the British buccaneer William Ambrose Cowley named the bay as James. Since then, this location became an anchor base to recollect water, tortoises, and salt from the salt-lake that locates in a closer crater. Charles Darwin visited this place in 1835. There is an inland trail which is about three kilometres long and ends at the top of the salt mine crater. The first part of the trail is comprised of volcanic ash (eroded tuff) and the other half is comprised of volcanic basaltic rock on the shoreline; creating the best tidal pool area in the Galapagos. Here, the fur seals and sally lightfoot crab populations thrive. The unique, truly striking layered terrain of Santiago’s shores is home to a variety of resident and migrant birds, including the Galapagos hawk and the bizarre yellow-crowned night heron. Snorkelling here is a highlight; it is frequent to see lobsters, starfish, octopus, squids, and marine iguanas on algae beds. Santiago is one of the few places where fur seals (actually, a kind of sea lion) and Galapagos sea Lions can be found.
On Santiago's eastern coast sits Bahia Sullivan, also known as James Island. This site is of important geologic interest as it features extensive relative young pahoe-hoe lava flows formed during the last quarter of the 19th century. In the middle of the lava flow, older reddish-yellow-coloured tuff cones appear. Mollugo plants with their yellow-to-orange whorled leaves usually grow out of the fissures. Walking on the solidified lava gives the impression of being on another planet. Tree molds are found, indicating that in that position large size plants grew in small crevices, until the lava flow of past eruptions burned down the flora of the island.
Today there will be some passengers leaving the tour and some new passengers joining.
Isla Santa Cruz - Bachas Beach - Charles Darwin Research Station & Fausto Llerena Breeding Center
On the highlands of Santa Cruz Island it is possible to visit private farms- tortoise reserves where giant tortoises wander freely in the National Park. In the mountains of the Galapagos it is possible to observe different types of birds, such as: tree and ground finches, vermillion flycatchers, paint-billed crakes, yellow warblers, and cattle egrets (usually on the shells of the tortoises). The journey to the reserve offers great opportunities to see the contrasts that the island offers in its ecosystems. The road goes from the coast through the agricultural zone and through the Unique Scalesia cloud forest. Often, tortoises are seen on the way, wandering through pastures in the paddocks. This spot is relevant for birdwatchers, since almost every land bird present on the island lives or migrates here.
This afternoon visit the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center where you will find the Galapagos giant tortoises and land iguanas breeding program. The famous Lonesome George (last surviving specimen of Pinta Island) lived here for decades. The centre is managed by the Galapagos National Park´s (GNP) staff with the collaboration of scientists from the Charles Darwin Station (CDS). Here, eggs taken from Pinzon, Santiago and Santa Cruz Islands hatch without the danger of introduced species. After artificial incubation; the “galapaguitos” (newborn tortoises) are reared until the age of 5 when they are released in their native habitats, having the capabilities to survive alone. Since the 70’s, more than 2,000 specimens have returned to their native islands. In addition, the Darwin Station works in several scientific projects and botanical research, providing environmental education to local communities, schools and tourists. If time permits, it is possible to visit Puerto Ayora town for some shopping in its boutiques where uniquely designed handcrafts, jewellery, ceramics, T-shirts, and souvenirs can be found. You may also have time to try some local food, go for a beer or enjoy an ice cream with the locals.
Today there will be some passengers leaving the tour and some new passengers joining.
Isla Mosquera - Isla North Seymour
This morning you will visit the small sandy island of Mosquera, a relaxing, picturesque stop located between North Seymour and Baltra Islands. This flat, sandy island has a large colony of sea lions. It is also an excellent site to observe shorebirds such as herons and lava gulls. There is no trail on the islet so you can enjoy the open area. Most of the islet is covered with sand and barren lava rock where Sally Lightfoot crabs (red lava crabs) can be found. These crabs, with their bright red shell tops and blue under shells are stunning against the black lava. Very little sesuvium portulacastrum plants grow on the sand. Depending on the tides, you may also have the chance to go snorkelling.
Off Baltra Island and not far from Santa Cruz Island, is North Seymour, one of the most visited islands in the Galapagos. This landmass was formed by a series of underwater volcanic eruptions, which deposited layers of lava on the ocean floor.
The 2 hour trail (approximately) on North Seymour crosses inland through the island and then explores the rocky coast. Along the way the trail passes colonies of blue footed boobies and frigate birds.
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 throw 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. Sharing the same nesting area on North Seymour, blue-footed boobies nest on the ground making their nests from the twigs of the palo santos trees, while the frigate birds nest just above them in the saltbushes. Your walk is followed by snorkelling where you will find a great variety of fish and possibly white-tipped reef sharks, rays and sea lions.
Isla Santa Fe - Isla Plaza Sur
Isla Santa Fe is home to many sea lion colonies who are very eager for swimming partners. It’s a lovely place to take a dip, offers a dense concentration of wildlife, and is a fantastic place to see many of the stars of the Galapagos in one relatively small area. A trail follows the coast into the opuntia forest where you see Santa Fe’s trees – the largest in the Galapagos. The island is also home to a unique sub-species of land iguanas including the Santa Fe land iguanas (the largest on the islands). Hiking towards the cliffs on Santa Fe will lead you to a forest of prickly pear cactus. A member of the cactus family, their name comes from the pear-shaped fruit the plant produces. This island is the habitat for a number of wildlife, including: the Galapagos hawk, Galapagos snakes, rice rats (one of the few endemic Galapagos rodents), a variety of finches and one of the four mockingbird species of the archipelago. The area is also home to some of the most attractive coves in the archipelago and provides spectacular snorkelling in the jade-green waters.
In the afternoon you will travel to Plaza Sur (South Plaza). There are two Plaza Islets (north and south) located east of Santa Cruz Island. On the northern part of the Islet, you begin the journey along an impressive cactus forest were colourful yellow and red land iguanas live, the population number is around 300 animals. During the dry season they survive on fruits and flowers of the opuntia cacti. A peculiar thing to see in South Plaza is the hybrid iguana (sea and land). When reaching the highest point, tropicbirds can be seen. During the dry season (June – January) the usually greenish and yellowish vegetation changes colour creating a bright red landscape (sesuviumedmonstonei plant). The island’s rugged southern cliffs are an excellent place to spot tropicbirds and swallow-tailed gulls, as well as the 'Gentlemen’s Club’, a gathering of male sea lions either too young or too old to be beachmasters!
Isla San Cristobal - Kicker Rock & Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve - Quito
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 your flight, your time spent on this final excursion could be limited.
San Cristobal is home of the capital town of the Galapagos Province, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. This morning you will visit the Interpretation Center, which is an excellent place to learn about the nature and history of the Islands, displaying information of Galapagos volcanic origins, their remoteness from the continent, ocean currents, climate, arrival of the original species, among other points of interest. The human interaction is also showcased, chronologically narrating the most significant events about the colonization of the islands. Later on a high-intensity hike can be done to visit Tijeretas Hill, a beautiful landscape ending with a magnificent view of a nearby large frigatebird colony. If there is enough time, a town visit can be planned.
This is your final excursion before you return to the airport in Baltra for your flight back to Quito. The flight will stopover in Guayaquil to drop off/pick up new passengers.
As you will be leaving the boat this morning, please remember that if you have enjoyed the services provided by your guide and crew, a tip would be very much appreciated by them. As a guideline we recommend each passenger consider US$15 per day for the crew and US$10 per day for your guide. You can leave tips in envelopes that are placed in your cabin on the last day of your journey.
Upon arrival in Quito Airport (approx. 4pm) you will be transferred back to your hotel for an overnight stay. Our local representative may stop by at your hotel this evening to get your feedback on your Galapagos experience.
Your Galapagos adventure will come to an end today after breakfast. There are no activities planned for the final day so you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. There are many fascinating things to do in and around Quito, so please speak to our customer service representative about any optional activities that might be of interest. They can also assist you in booking a departure transfer to the airport.