As you fly from Quito to the Galapagos Islands, located in the equatorial water of the Pacific Ocean, you will suddenly find yourself in a very different world.. 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.
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, M/Y Coral, and follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, we start to 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. We 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 – the Galapagos contains a myriad of fascinating wildlife. Because of the extreme isolation of the islands, nearly a quarter of all species are endemic and much of the wildlife has no instinctive fear of man, allowing you to observe nature in its full glory. This 17-day program is the ultimate Galapagos exploration and our most comprehensive voyage. It includes the volcanic wonders of Isabela Island and offers the best opportunities to encounter the magnificent flora and fauna that make the Galapagos unique.
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
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.
After lunch, cruise along the east coast of Isla Santa Cruz to Puerto Ayora where you will visit the Charles Darwin Research Station and Fausto Llerena Breeding Center. Here the Galapagos Giant Tortoise breeding program takes place as part of the efforts to preserve the fragile Galapagos environment and where the famous Lonesome George (the last surviving specimen of his species) lived for decades. Admire a prickly-pear cactus forest, a variety of Darwin’s finches and various land birds. The Darwin Station also works providing environmental education to communities and schools within the islands and to tourists visiting the Galapagos. There will some free time to visit the town of Puerto Ayora 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.
Then head back to the boat for your first evening in the amazing Galapagos Islands.
Isla Santa Cruz - Cerro Dragon - Isla Bartolome
An overnight sail will take you to the west coast of Isla Santa Cruz and in the morning your first landing will be at Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill).
You will take a walk by a brackish lagoon frequented by lagoon birds including stilts, pintail ducks, sandpipers, sanderlings and occasionally flamingos. The trail leads across a typical dry zone vegetation and offers a beautiful view of the bay and the western area of the archipelago. The area is an important nesting ground for endemic land iguanas and is constantly monitored and assisted by the Charles Darwin Research Station. The arid-zone vegetation makes for a rewarding location for birdwatching with Galapagos mockingbirds, Darwin’s finches, yellow warblers and the endemic Galapagos flycatcher all regulars here.
Isla Bartolomé (Bartolomé Island) is one of the most spectacular volcanic landscapes in the Galapagos and you will travel back in time to lava tube formations, spatter cones and the remains of two types of hardened lava: AA and pa-hoe-hoe. You will experience beautiful and breathtaking landscapes as you climb up the Summit Trail in a moon-like scenery. Here you will find tiquilia and spurge plants, various cactus species, lava lizards and blue-footed boobies. Pinnacle Rock is possibly the best known and 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 onto each other. For many, this may turn out to be one of the greatest snorkelling experiences because is the best chance to see zigzagging penguins chasing small schools of fish, white-tipped sharks and marine turtles, just to mention some.
Isla Rabida - Buccaneers Cove/Espumilla Beach
Sitting at roughly five kilometres south of Isla Santiago, is Isla Rábida. Also known as Jervis Island, it is one of the most diverse in terms of volcanic activity as it lies at the very heart of the archipelago’s volcanic origin. In this deep red beach, surrounded by cliffs and steep slopes of volcanic cinder cones it is usual to find nesting colonies of brown pelicans, as well as, nine species of Darwin finches, fur seals, and Nazca boobies. Introduced species were eradicated in 1971, meaning that the indigenous wildlife has now been returned to a state of splendid isolation. Additionally, volcanic activity here has produced vivid, fantastical colours, not least the beached of red sand and cliffs of scarlet.
From the shore, the trail leads through to what is one of the finest lagoons in the Galapagos for viewing flamingos. Rabida is also a wonderful place to spot nesting pelicans. Elsewhere, pintail ducks, marine iguanas and sea lions are all present. There is an opportunity for snorkelling in a place where sea stars, damsels, gobbies and surgeon fish are numerous.
You will have the chance to snorkel off the coast, where marine life is particularly active and colourful.
This afternoon you will head to the northern coast of Isla Santiago visiting Buccaneers Cove and Espumilla Beach. Buccaneers Cove is an amazing location, featuring the remains of an eroded shoreline that is home to seabirds, fur seals and the playful sea lions. Its different shapes and high cliffs have been made throughout a process caused by erosion of the waves and the wind. In the 19th century, it was a popular refuge for pirates. Espumilla Beach is a white-sandy beach in James Bay and is a popular place among visitors. There are mangroves and a small palo santo forest that lead to salty-water lagoons that are home to wading birds like flamingos. The upper dunes are a nesting site for sea turtles. You will have the chance to go snorkelling here and search for rays.
Black Turtle Cove - Eden Islet
This morning you will take a ‘panga’ to Caleta Tortuga Negra (Black Turtle Cove). Located on the north shore of Santa Cruz Island, four species of mangrove crowd form an internal lagoon. Turtles visit the calm waters, peaking their heads above the surface, while the fish and rays circle below. White-tipped reef sharks can be seen beneath the boat, plus sea birds including pelicans, herons and egrets feeding from the cove.
This cove has been declared as a ‘Turtle Sanctuary’ as it is a breeding area for turtles so it is not uncommon to see them mating.
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.
Today there will be some passengers leaving the tour and some new passengers joining.
Tonight will be an overnight sail to Isla Isabela which is the archipelago’s largest island.
Vicente Roca Point - Isla Isabela - Espinosa Point - Isla Fernandina
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.
Urbina Bay - Tagus Cove - Isla Isabela
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.
Puerto Egas - Sullivan Bay - Isla Santiago
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.
Isla Santa Cruz - Cero Mesa - Trapich Almurtzo en Manzanillo - Gemeloz
This morning we travel to Cero Mesa, the first ecological reserve in the province of Galapagos and is located 490m above sea level. There is an impressive view of the archipelago and we will also observe up to 7 subspecies of vermillion flycatchers and finch. On the west side is the largest crater on Santa Cruz.
Our next stop is El Trapiche where you learn about different cane alcohol distilling techniques as well as some traditional coffee roasting tricks. You will also get to see how this rustic, mule-driven sugar cane press operates.
We also visit Los Gemelos which makes up part of the highlands of Isla Santa Cruz. Los Gemelos are twin sinkholes, located on opposite side of the road and are surrounded by scalesia forest. They were formed by the collapse of surface material in underground fissures and chambers. You will be able to spot the Vermillion flycatchers and you might even see short-eared owls while taking in the stunning views.
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 - Interpretation Center & Tijeretas Hill
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.
This afternoon, visit the San Cristobal Tortoise Breeding Center which is located in the vicinity of Cerro Colorado (reddish hill). This is one of the few places where you can see Calandrinia galapagosa, a plant endemic to San Cristobal that resembles a small tree and is in danger of extinction. You can learn about the National Park’s conservation programs and the assisted reproduction tortoise program. The reserve was built to increase the population of the island tortoises, Geochelone chatamensis. If there is enough time you will have the opportunity to visit Puerto Baquerizo Town to enjoy a drink or go shopping for souvenirs.
Today there will be some passengers leaving the tour and some new passengers joining.