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.
This far-reaching 14-day expedition is as full of different landscapes as it is of wildlife. Accompanied by a naturalist guide, explore 10 of the main Galapagos Islands aboard the M/Y Coral along with several smaller islands and islets. Witness the contrasts of Isla San Cristobal’s Cerro Brujo white coral beach, resident blue-footed boobies, and sea lion colonies with Isla Floreana’s olive-green sands, black mangroves, and flamingos; Isla Bartolome’s moonlike scenery and Isla Espanola’s ‘Solpador’ blowhole. Encounter flightless commorants on Isla Ferandina and giant tortoises on Isla Santa Cruz. Make the pilgrimage to the Charles Darwin Research Station, take part in the charming tradition of Isla Floreana’s Post Office Bay and uncover Isla Santiago’s history of pirates. Exploring by both land and water, discover the exotic colours, unique flora and fauna, and bold history of the Galapagos Islands.
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 5 pm or 6 pm when you will 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 stunning 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 - Isla San Cristobal - Interpretation Center & Tijeretas Hill
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.
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.
Isla San Cristobal - Cerro Brujo - Punta Pitt
This morning you will travel to the north coast of San Cristobal and visit the white coral beach of Cerro Brujo, an eroding tuff cone composed of AA lava formations with a beach that's great for snorkelling and sunbathing. Nearby, a lagoon full of migratory birds can be seen, including black-necked stilts, ruddy turnstones, whimbrels, sandpiper, and white-cheeked Pintails. Cerro Brujo offers beautiful views of Kicker Rock, an islet in the adjacent southern coast of San Cristobal.
Your next stop will be Punta Pitt which is located on the north eastern end of the islands. The trail goes through several magnificent viewpoints, including an olive-coloured beach and a path climbing to the top of a volcanic tuff for expansive views of the sparsely vegetated area. This is probably the only site where the three booby species of the Galapagos can be seen together: Nazca, blue-footed, and red-footed. There are also the two species of frigate birds plus a sea lion colony. This is an excellent place for panga rides and snorkelling, where a good range of sea birds can be observed.
Isla Espanola - Punta Suarez - Gardner Bay - Osborn or Gardner Islets
An overnight sail will take you to Isla Espanola, the southernmost island and one of the most spectacular. This island is of geological interest, being one of the oldest islands in Galapagos. It has a high percentage of endemism due to its isolation from the rest of the islands. Due to the great variety of wildlife, this is one of the most attractive spots in the Galapagos. Here it is possible to explore volcanic formations and see large colonies of sea lion and seabirds including the Espanola mockingbird, Nazca boobies, and the spectacular red-billed tropicbirds. Here, the singular marine iguanas have a turquoise colour with reddish parts during breeding season, and you'll also see lava lizards and the colourful Sally light foot crabs. It's home to the world’s largest colony of waved albatross, an unequivocal highlight during mating season (April - December) when it's home to almost 12,000 pairs. If you’re lucky you’ll see the elaborate courtship rituals performed by male albatrosses before the female chooses her lifelong mate. Admire the island’s dramatic backdrop, featuring the famous “Soplador,” a seaward blowhole that shoots water up to 23 m. (75 ft.) in to the air.
Take a hike to Punta Suarez which is considered one of the most attractive locations on the islands and home to a large and varied wildlife population. A walk along its trails will take you to a cliff top viewpoint where you’ll gain a magical panorama. Boobies line the rocky shoreline beneath you, while frigate birds may be seen overhead; nearby enormous male sea lions can be seen lounging and albatross use the cliffs as their ‘runway’, helping become airborne by the southeast winds that blow across this part of the island.
Gardner Bay is a beautiful white coral sandy beach, considered by many as one of the most beautiful beaches in the islands and guarded by a colony of sea lions. There are no trails here, so you will stay along the shore, spotting the Galapagos hawk, the American oystercatcher, the Galapagos dove, hood mockingbirds, yellow warblers, lava lizards, marine iguanas, and three species of Darwin finches, cacti finch (Geospizafuliginosa), the small ground finch (Geospizafuliginosa), and the warbler finch (Certhideaolivacea). Swimming and snorkelling offer a great variety of Galapagos marine wildlife including king angelfish, creole fish, damsel fish, and parrot fish.
Isla Floreana - Champion Islet - Punta Cormorant - Post Office Bay
This morning you will visit Champion which is a small islet located off the north coast of Floreana. It is a small rocky isle that is home to the endangered Floreana Mockingbird. Access to the Islet is restricted so you will visit by panga and snorkel along a marine wall filled with a variety of wildlife such as schools of the endemic black striped salemas, blue lobster, long nose hawkfish, sea horses, coral hawkfish, sea lions, and the famous red-lipped batfish.
Go ashore at Punta Cormorant (Cormorant Point) where your first impression will be of an olive-green sand beach. From here you will take a hike by black mangroves to a brackish lagoon, which usually holds one of the largest flamingo populations in the Galapagos. This island features endemic plants such as the scalesiavillosa, white mangrove, and palo santo trees. The trail continues to a beautiful white-sand beach, one of the most important nesting sites of green Pacific sea turtles. It is important to avoid walking in the water due to the stingrays that may be hiding in the sand. From the beach is easy to spot sea turtles, blue-footed boobies plunging into the water, and small reef sharks searching for food along the shoreline. You will then return to the initial green-coloured beach to swim or snorkel amongst sea turtles, reef fish, sea lions, and, on a good day, white-tipped reef sharks. A small colony of Galapagos penguins resides on Floreana and can sometimes also be spotted.
You will then land on the island of Floreana - a highlight of any Galapagos cruise, rich in natural wonders and wildlife. On the north side of Floreana, find Post Office Bay. In 1793, Captain James Colnett installed a wooden barrel which served as an informal post office for sailors passing through who would take the letters with them to their destinations. Nowadays, visitors continue the tradition by placing unstamped postcards inside the barrel, hoping that another traveller going to the letter destination will take it back for free. The chances are that any letter posted will take a long time to arrive at its destination.
See Darwin finches, yellow warbler, and lava lizards. There are great snorkelling opportunities with green Pacific sea turtles and on the main beach, you'll meet playful sea lions. The island is best known for its endemic vegetation: Scalesiavillosa, lecocarpuspinnatifidus, and the Galapagos milkwort.
Isla Santa Cruz - Highlands - Twin Craters - Charles Darwin Station
On the highlands of Santa Cruz Island is that it's possible to visit private tortoise reserves where these giants freely in the National Park. In the mountains of the Galapagos, watch for a huge range of different kinds of birds, such as tree and ground finches, vermillion flycatchers, paint-billed crakes, yellow warblers, and cattle egrets (usually seen standing on the shells of the tortoises). The journey to the reserve offers great opportunities to see the contrasts that the island offers with its variety of 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 great for birdwatchers as almost every land bird present on the islands lives or migrates here.
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. Famous Lonesome George (the last surviving specimen of his species) lived here for decades. Admire a prickly-pear cactus forest, a variety of Darwin’s finches, and various land birds. The Charles Darwin Station also works to provide environmental education to communities and schools within the islands as well as 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.
Today there will be some passengers leaving the tour and some new passengers joining.
Isla Santa Cruz - Dragon Hill - 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). 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 Bartolome (Bartolome 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 moonlike 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 an incredible snorkelling experiences because it provides the best chance to see zigzagging penguins chasing small schools of fish, white-tipped sharks, and marine turtles.
Isa Rabida - Isla Santiago - Buccaneers Cove & Espumilla Beach
Sitting roughly five kilometres south of Isla Santiago is Isla Rábida. Also known as Jervis Island, it is one of the most diverse landscapes 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's not unusual 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 red sand beaches 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 wave and wind erosion. 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 home to wading birds such as flamingos. The upper dunes are a nesting site for sea turtles. You will have the chance to go snorkelling here and search for rays.
Isla Santa Cruz - Black Turtle Cove - Highlands
This morning you will take a ‘panga’ dingy ride 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.
In the mountains of Galapagos you can see many different kinds of birds, such as tree and ground finches, vermillion flycatchers, paint-billed crakes, yellow warblers, and cattle egrets (usually standing on the tortoises’ shell). The journey to the reserve offers great opportunities to see the contrasts that the island offers with its variety of ecosystems. The road goes from the coast through the agricultural zone and straight up to the dense humid forests. Often, Galapagos giant tortoises are also seen on the way, wandering through pastures in the paddocks. This spot is a birdwatchers’ haven as almost every land bird present on the islands lives or migrates here.
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.
Isla Isabela - Vicente 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 seabirds such as noddies, brown pelicans, Galapagos penguins, flightless cormorants, and Nazca and blue-footed boobies which 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 lots of coloured flowers which attract 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. The remains of the mines can still be seen. This is a historically important site; on 1683 the British buccaneer William Ambrose Cowley named the bay as James. The location then became an anchor base for recollecting water, tortoises, and salt from the salt-lake crater that lies close by. 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.