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..
There is nowhere quite like the Galapagos, and this adventure to the islands’ central southern realms will bring you up close to all the wonders it contains. Be charmed by the quirky birdlife, delighted by the marine life and awed by the landscapes that have no equal. Hike across lava flows, sail through mangroves, snorkel in underwater worlds and enjoy relaxing in an environment that changed the face of humankind forever.
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.
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 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 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 'Queen Beatriz' signs) by a transfer guide and transferred to our catamaran - ‘M.C. Queen Beatriz’, anchored on the other side of Santa Cruz Island. Our transfer guide will take you on an airport public bus for a short distance (5 minute drive) to where you board a public ferry across the Itabaca Channel. The ferry crossing takes only 7 minutes. (Please note that all public transportation costs are included). Once you reach Santa Cruz Island, a private bus you board a private bus for a 45-minute drive to Puerto Ayora, the main port of the island. Here, there will be two dinghies to transport you and your fellow travellers to the 'MC. Queen Beatriz'. Once on board, cabins will be assigned and you get to meet our crew members and get to know your naturalist guide while enjoying a delicious lunch.
The small town of Puerto Ayora is the economic centre of the archipelago, and home to the Charles Darwin Research Station. We visit here after our lunch on board boat. As well as undertaking vital conservation work, the station also makes for interesting exploration and offers an opportunity to see giant tortoises. You will also observe baby tortoises and land iguanas.
Isla North Seymour - Isla Mosquera
Today you will take a morning excursion to Isla North Seymour (North Seymour Island) which is one of the most visited islands in the Galapagos. The trail 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 nests 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.
After lunch you will visit the small sandy island of Mosquera, a relaxing, picturesque stop situated between Baltra and North Seymour. Along the rocks and in the tide pool, Sally Lightfoot crabs (red lava crabs) scamper back and forth, skipping across small pools of water in search of food. These crabs with their bright red shell tops and blue under shells are stunning against the black lava. The island also has a very large colony of sea lions as well as a sizeable resident brown pelican population. Depending on the tides and visibility, you may have a chance to go snorkelling here.
Estimated travel time/distance:
North Seymour to Baltra: 4 hours (35 nautical miles)
Baltra to Caleta Tortuga: 1 hour (7 nautical miles)
Black Turtle Cove - Cerro Dragón.
Today you will take a morning excursion on a 'panga' to Caleta Tortuga Negra (Black Turtle Cove) - a red mangrove wetland on the north shore of Isla Santa Cruz. You will paddle among the cove’s peaceful waters, for your first taste of the underwater riches of this region – it’s a wonderful place to see green turtle and is a nursery for golden cow-nose rays, eagle rays and Galapagos sharks. There is also abundant birdlife, such as the yellow warbler and lava heron. This is also a breeding area for turtles, so it is not uncommon to see them mating.
In the afternoon, cruise over for a walk on Cerro Dragón (Dragon Hill) this afternoon - one of the best places to see land iguanas in the islands. From our dry landing we walk to a brackish lagoon frequented by lagoon birds including stilts, pintail ducks, sandpipers, sanderlings and occasionally flamingos. Further inland, the trail offers a beautiful view of the bay and the western area of the archipelago. This area is a nesting site for land iguanas, which is constantly monitored and assisted by the Charles Darwin Research Station. The arid-zone vegetation makes for a rewarding location for birdwatching with Darwin's finches, Galapagos mockingbirds, the endemic Galapagos flycatcher and yellow warblers all regulars here. The path can be challenging but you will be well-rewarded with a spectacular view of the bay!
Estimated travel time/distance:
Caleta Tortuga Negra to Cerro Dragon: 2 hours (12 nautical miles)
Cerro Dragon to Sombrero Chino (Chinese hat): 1.5 hours (9 nautical miles)
Isla Rabida - Sombrero Chino
Sombrero Chino is a small islet located near the south-east coast of Santiago. It's shaped like a Chinese hat (Sombrero Chino) when seen from afar, and is geologically fascinating, with many lava tubes leading from the cone to the coast. We approach Sombrero Chino via a beautiful crescent-shaped, sandy beach that is home to sea lions and Sally Lightfoot crabs. Opposite Sombrero Chino, on the rocky shoreline of nearby Santiago, Galapagos penguins are often seen. We follow a trail that circles the cove and passes through a sea lion colony and innumerable marine iguanas. The cove also offers some great snorkelling opportunities, hopefully with penguins and sharks.
Isla Rabida, also known as Jervis Island, is a tiny island sitting roughly five kilometres south of Santiago and is one of the most striking of the archipelago. 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 beaches 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.
Estimated travel time/distance:
Sombrero Chino to Isla Rabida: 1 hour (7 nautical miles)
Isla Rabida to Bachas Beach: 1 hour (7 nautical miles)
Punta Carrión - Bachas Beach
Today you will take an early morning excursion to Las Bachas, which was so named after the barges abandoned by the American Navy here in the 1940s. The sandy, white beaches of Las Bachas on the north shore of Santa Cruz Island are a nesting site for the Pacific green turtle, and marine iguanas are also commonly seen. The sand here is particularly white and soft as it is made of decomposed coral.
The rocks provide great snorkelling and are the perfect habitat for the Sally Lightfoot crabs, which are plentiful on the island. A saltwater lagoon near to the beach is home to flamingo and whimbrel, and look out too for great blue herons.
You will then travel to Baltra where you will say good bye to some passengers and welcome new passengers on board the boat.
In the afternoon you will visit Punta Carrion which is located in north-eastern Santa Cruz. This is a shallow and protected cove, ideal for snorkelling.
Wildlife is plentiful; keep your eyes peeled for blue-footed boobies, Galapagos herons, great blue herons and underwater swim among rays and white-tipped reef sharks.
Estimated travel time/distance:
Bachas to Baltra:1 hour (nautical miles)
Baltra to Punta Carrion: 1.5 hours (10 nautical miles)
Isla Isabela - Las Tintoreas - Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre
Today you will wake up on the south Coast of Isla Isabela (Isabela Island), 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 US$5 fee to be paid upon landing on Isabela Island.
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 natives 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.
Estimated travel time/distance:
Isabela Island (Puerto Villamil) to Post Office Bay: 6 hours (40 nautical miles)
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 panga 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.
Estimated travel time/distance:
Post Office Bay to Punta Cormorant: 0.5 hours (3 nautical miles)
Punta Cormorant to Puerto Ayora: 4 hours (32 nautical miles)
Isla Santa Cruz - 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 our flight, our time spent on this final excursion could be limited.
Our final excursion will be a visit to the Santa Cruz Highlands. We travel through the agricultural region and into the misty forests where we can see the Unique Scalesia cloud forest, get up close to the dome shaped giant tortoises in the wild, different species of Darwin finches and possibly the world famous woodpecker and warbler finches as well as vermillion flycatchers.
This is your final excursion before you return to the airport in Baltra for your flight back to Quito. 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 you will be transferred back to your hotel for an overnight stay.
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.