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 Grand Queen Beatriz, 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 Grand Queen Beatriz, 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.
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. On arrival at Quito's Mariscal Sucre International Airport today 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, where you can 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. 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).
Isla Baltra – Punta Carrion
This morning you will be transferred to the airport for your flight to the Galapagos Islands. Please note the pick-up time will usually 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 USD 20 per person transit card is payable on departure at Quito Airport and a USD 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 arrivals hall and then transferred to your motor yacht, M/Y Grand Queen Beatriz, anchored a short distance away in Isla Baltra. Once on board you’ll be assigned your cabins, meet the crew members and have a welcome briefing and safety drill before getting to know your naturalist guide and fellow travellers over a delicious lunch. Your first stop in the afternoon will be Punta Carrion, located on the eastern side of the Itabaca channel that separates the islands of Baltra and Santa Cruz. This is a shallow and protected cove, ideal for your first snorkel and swim in the Galapagos! From a boat ride, wildlife is plentiful – keep your eyes peeled for occasional sights of blue-footed boobies, Galapagos herons, great blue herons and underwater swim among rays and white-tipped reef sharks. Tonight, enjoy a welcome cocktail and crew presentation on board.
Isla Isabela – Las Tintoreras – Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre
Today you will wake up on the south Coast of Isla Isabela, the largest of the Galapagos Archipelago. Isabela was formed by five giant volcanic craters, all of which are still considered active. The island is located in one of the youngest geological areas in the world, having been formed less than 1 million years ago. Please note that there's a USD 10 fee to be paid upon landing on Isla Isabela. This southern coast of turquoise blue waters has the largest area of beaches in the Galapagos. You will visit Las Tintoreras, where from the viewing walkway you 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. Enjoy a nice long walk on a gravel path through ‘Ahh-ahh’ lava flow and see plenty of marine iguanas. The locals of the islands call white sharks 'tintoreras', hence the name of this spectacular site. In the afternoon we visit the Arnoldo Tupiza Tortoise breeding center. We have a leisurely walk through a coastal lagoon, where you might see Flamingos. This mangrove-lined path leads to Isabela’s Giant Tortoise Breeding Center (Arnoldo Tupiza) where you'll observe giant tortoises in all stages of development. Here you can see the five sub species of tortoises from Isabela Island, some of which are bred in captivity. You will then have the choice for optional swimming at the beach or out for some shopping in Puerto Villamil.
Isla Floreana – Post Office Bay – Devil's Crown – Punta Cormorant
The island of Floreana is a highlight of any Galapagos cruise, rich in natural wonders and wildlife. Enjoy a Zodiac (motorised dinghy) ride around the loberia to observe marine iguanas, sea lions and crabs before taking a leisurely walk to Post Office Bay, where 18th-century whalers used a barrel as an unofficial mail drop. This custom continues to this day with visitors to the Galapagos – post one of your own, or see if there are any you could deliver back home! You will also have the chance to go snorkelling with sea turtles. Today is also one of your finest opportunities to see pink flamingos and other water birds wading in the lagoons, including pintails and stilts. Just offshore, the Devil’s Crown is an old eroded volcanic cone and a popular roosting site for seabirds such as boobies, pelicans and frigates. Red-billed tropicbirds can also be seen nesting in the rocky crevices.
The centre of the cone is an outstanding snorkelling spot, perhaps the most remarkable in the entire archipelago, full of sea lions and colourful fish. You will go ashore at Punta Cormorant where the sand is made up of fine olivine crystals, a glassy volcanic mineral, giving the beach an olive-green colour. It is the best place to see Galapagos sea lions.
Isla Santa Cruz – Charles Darwin Station – Santa Cruz Highlands
Today you will visit Santa Cruz, the second largest island in the Galapagos. The small town of Puerto Ayora is the economic centre of the archipelago, and home to the Charles Darwin Research Station. As well as undertaking vital conservation work, the station also makes for interesting exploration and offers the best opportunities for close encounters with giant tortoises. You will also observe baby tortoises and land iguanas. Afterward you will head up into the highlands for a total change of scenery. Beginning at the coast you'll travel across Santa Cruz through the agricultural region and into the misty forests with the journey taking about 45 mins. This is a lush humid zone containing miconia bushes, scalesia and inactive volcanic cones. Santa Cruz has more endemic plants than any of the other islands and you are likely to see Galapagos giant tortoises in their natural habitat and perhaps even the bright red feathers of a vermillion flycatcher! Today there will be some passengers leaving the tour and some new passengers joining.
Isla Santa Fe – Isla Plaza Sur
Isla Santa Fe is home to many sea lions and these ones 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. Expect to see Galapagos hawks, land iguanas, a variety of finches, Galapagos mockingbirds, sea lions, marine turtles, frigatebirds, Galapagos doves and lava lizards. It’s a naturally beautiful island as well with one of the most attractive coves in the archipelago and the jade-green waters are ideal for snorkelling. 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. 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. Santa Fe is home to endemic land iguanas. A small island, Plaza Sur is nonetheless a place of great beauty, where you will get close to sea lions and on to trails past one of the Galapagos’ largest land iguana populations, resting amid cacti and volcanic landscapes coloured bright red and green by sesuvium. 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 Espanola – Bahia Gardner – Punta Suarez
After an overnight night sail you will wake up on the island of Espanola - the southernmost island of the Galapagos and one of the most spectacular. Because of its remote location, this island has a large population of endemic fauna. It is the breeding site for nearly all of the world's 12,000 pairs of waved albatrosses and also home to colonies of blue-footed and masked boobies. Trails from the golden beaches, where sea lions bathe and marine iguanas make their way towards the water, will lead you right through the middle of booby colonies, and Galapagos doves and mockingbirds are also often seen. You will also visit the beautiful white sandy beaches at Bahia Gardner, which are great places for swimming and relaxing. The rocks off the coast provide excellent snorkelling opportunities, with reef sharks, turtles and many species of tropical fish, including surgeon and angelfish, often seen. The small white-tipped reef sharks are also often spotted resting under the rocks. You will also pay a visit to Punta Suarez, one of the most attractive locations in the Galapagos and home to 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. If you’re lucky you’ll see the elaborate courtship rituals performed by albatrosses before the female chooses her lifelong mate! Stop at Bahia Gardner (Gardner Bay), which is considered by many as one of the most beautiful beaches in the Galapagos Islands and full of sea lions and hood mockingbirds. Enjoy the beach and do some snorkelling which could be great for playing with sea lion pups and lots of fish. The rocks off the coast provide excellent snorkelling opportunities, with reef sharks, turtles and many species of tropical fish, including surgeon and angelfish, often seen. The small white-tipped reef sharks are also often spotted resting under the rocks.
Isla San Cristobal – Leon Dormido – Isla Lobos Punta Pitt
This morning you will visit Punta Pitt on the eastern end of San Cristobal Island. Walk to the top of the volcanic hill for expansive views of the sparsely vegetated area. A variety of seabirds nest here, including blue-footed boobies and frigates. On a Zodiac ride you can observe the three varieties of boobies nesting in the Galapagos and enjoy a snorkel from the beach. Close by you will pass through Leon Dormido (Kicker Rock), the magnificent basalt remains of a crater in the middle of the sea, the shape resembles a sleeping lion. The rock rises 150 metres above the surface and is divided into two parts by a narrow channel. You cruise through the channel with nesting seabirds on either side of the boat, tropic birds overhead, marine iguanas in the water and many sea lions present including many resting on the rocks. Snorkelling gives us the opportunity to see Galapagos sharks, and possibly a hammerhead shark among sea turtles and an incredible biodiversity of invertebrates on the rock wall. You will also visit Isla Lobos, a tiny island almost touching San Cristobal Island. This is the perfect time to witness the always friendly sea lions as they play in the calm shallow waters here. Blue-footed boobies, frigate birds and marine iguanas are also easily seen.
Isla San Cristobal
Visit San Cristobal Interpretation Center in the morning. This centre brings the history and geography of the archipelago to life, from its volcanic origins to the present day. The human history exhibit offers an insight into the discovery and colonisation of the Galapagos, and the reality of the problems the islands face today is also explored. Enjoy some free time for shopping before going on board for lunch and to meet the new travellers who will be joining you today. This afternoon you will travel into the interior of the island (approx. 45 mins bus ride) to visit the highlands site of ‘Galapaguera of Cerro Colorado’ (Red Hill) where the national park has established a breeding program and information centre for tortoises. Here, you will be able to see giant tortoises and learn all about their origin, evolution and their threatened future. Today there will be some passengers leaving the tour and some new passengers joining. Set sail for Bartolome overnight.
Bartolome – Bahia Sullivan
Bartolome is one of the most spectacular volcanic landscapes in the Galapagos, full of parasitic spatter cones, lava flows, Galapagos penguins and lava lizards. It is a relatively new island in the archipelago and traces of its volcanic past can be seen everywhere, as evidenced by the amazing lunar-like landscape. The Pinnacle Rock is one of the most photographed sites in the Galapagos – an abrupt jag of rock protruding from the earth like a tooth, while nearby two golden bays back onto each other. You can hike to the top of a once-active volcano here (360 wooden steps), and enjoy superb views across to Bahia Sullivan Bay, on nearby Isla Santiago. If you are in luck you might catch a glance of the Galapagos Hawk here. You also have the opportunity to go snorkelling with plenty of tropical fish, starfish, white-tipped reef sharks, rays and hopefully penguins. On Santiago's eastern coast sits Bahia Sullivan, also known as James Island. Here you walk on Pahoe-Hoe lava, from an eruption that occurred in 1897, and witness the colonisation of plant species since the last eruption. Hopefully see some marine iguanas, Sally Lightfoot crabs, sea lions, finches, turtles, sharks and penguins. On a walk, your guide will explain the geological history of the islands.
Isla Santiago – Espumilla Beach – Buccaneer Cove – Puerto Egas
Today you will visit some wonderful places. Espumilla Beach, on the northern coast of Isla Santiago 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. You will also visit Caleta Bucanero (Buccaneer Cove), a natural monument of rocks caused by sea erosion. This cove was used by pirates to careen their ships. It is a place of local legends and stories! It is also where Darwin camped for nine days while making his study of the islands and their wildlife. If conditions are favourable, you can enjoy some further snorkelling. Puerto Egas is a black sand beach located on the west side of James Bay and northwest of Santiago Island. South of the beach is Sugarloaf Volcano, which has deposits of volcanic tuff. This site is named Puerto Egas, after Hector Egas who last attempted to mine salt here. The walk along the beach offers hundreds of marine iguanas and Galapagos sea lions. You will also see amazing tidal pools formed from ancient lava flow and home to sponges, snails, hermit crabs, barnacles and fish. Snorkelling with the seals always offers the possibility of thrilling encounters.
Isla Santa Cruz
Today you will again visit Isla Santa Cruz, the second largest island in the Galapagos. You will have the chance to see the island from a different view as you join other passengers to explore the love tunnels and some hidden beaches. Take a short speed boat taxi from Puerto Ayora followed by a 15 minute walk over a lava field and through a cactus forest to Las Grietas for a swim in the cool waters that is situated between a couple of tall volcanic cliffs. This afternoon, get active with some kayaking around Santa Cruz’s bay. If you are after a more relaxing day, you can have free time on board the boat or go for a wander in town. Today there will be some passengers leaving the tour and some new passengers joining.