The Galápagos – cruising in Darwin’s footsteps
A true wildlife holiday of a life time, exploring the Enchanted Islands of the Galápagos.
When Charles Darwin first arrived in the Galápagos on board The Beagle in 1835, he described ‘a broken field of black basaltic lava, thrown in the most rugged waves and crossed by great fissures… nothing could be less inviting than the first appearance.’ On this holiday, we will show you that appearances can be deceptive, as we explore the wonderful natural history of the ‘enchanted isles’, the world famous islands of the Galápagos. Unlike most trips, we also have extra time on the main island giving us a different insight into the life here, plus time to explore the highlands and experience the friendly town at a relaxed pace. We also have excursions in mainland Ecuador to explore the diversity here – an added bonus.
Specialities of the Galapagos include both Blue-footed and Red-footed Boobies, Marine and Land Iguanas and Waved Albatrosses at their nesting colony, as well, of course, as Darwin’s famous finches and the giant tortoises. Snorkelling to discover the amazingly rich marine life in these waters is optional (cost included) but promises close encounters with turtles, sea lions and (friendly) sharks. After our fantastic time on the boat, we enjoy a two night stay in Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz.
With their incredible wildlife, who could fail but be enchanted by Las Islas Encantadas?
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Please note that holidays change, although sometimes only slightly, from year to year and previous trip reports may not reflect the planned itinerary, or other holiday details, for the current trip. Please ask us if you would like to know of any significant differences.
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Local transport as specified in the itinerary. Twelve nights’ accommodation half board, 10 lunches. Snorkelling equipment on the boat.
Galápagos National Park entry ($100), two lunches. Refreshments. Gratuities. Travel insurance.
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Our tours always include a well-planned selection of islands for a superb range of wildlife. All itineraries, however, are subject to the authority of the Galapagos National Park and amendments may need to be made.
Day 1 Flight from UK to Guayaquil, via Amsterdam. Short transfer to our hotel.
Day 2 A gentle morning takes us to the reserve of Cerro Blanco, just outside the city. This important reserve protects a large area of Tumbesian dry forest, an ecosystem unique to the lowlands of southern Ecuador and northern Peru.
Day 3 After our morning flight to Baltra we have time to enjoy our first Galapagos wildlife: Darwin’s finches hop around the airport buildings, Galapagos Mockingbirds sing from the top of giant Opuntia cactuses, Magnificent Frigatebirds soar overhead and you may even catch a glimpse of a Land Iguana shuffling past: and that’s before passing through customs! We take the short ferry-ride across to Santa Cruz and travel into the highlands, to search for Giant Tortoises. Here we explore the cloud forest home to a variety of Darwin’s famous finches. After lunch, we head to Puerto Ayora, and board Daphne, our home for the next week.
Day 4 Today is spent on the island of Floreana. We visit Post Office Bay, where a short trail leads us to the famous ‘post office’, a large wooden barrel used by travellers for hundreds of years. After lunch we may have the opportunity to snorkel around the Devil’s Crown, a large submerged cinder cone, with the chance of seeing Moorish Idol, White-tipped Reef Sharks and Pacific Green Turtle, as well as nesting Galapagos Shearwaters. Our afternoon excursion is to Punta Cormorant where we will watch Galapagos Flamingos on the lagoon behind the beach, while White-cheeked Pintail and a variety of shorebirds feed alongside them. Walking across a rise in the island should reveal the endemic Floreana Daisy, while turtles nest on the beach and stingrays and Galapagos Sharks feed in the shallows.
Day 5 We wake up anchored offshore Espanola. Our day starts at Punta Suarez, for many the highlight of their time in the Galapagos. After landing and making our way past the sealions playing in the surf and the sunbathing Marine Iguanas, we find ourselves on an eroded beach, amongst nesting Nazca and Blue-footed Boobies, Swallow-tailed Gulls and American Oystercatcher. From the cliff edge we enjoy the spectacular blow hole and the view into the open Pacific, and our first views of the Waved Albatrosses gliding up on the updrafts as they take off from their nesting colony. Round the other end of the island we visit Gardner Bay, a wide sweep of white sand where sealions sunbathe or play in the surf, inquisitive Hood Mockingbirds follow our every move and Espanola Large Cactus Finches gather seeds at the back of the beach.
Day 6 Today we explore San Cristobal. In the morning we will cruise around Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido), the basaltic remains of a volcano, rising 150 metres above the surface and split by a narrow channel: there are few more scenic spots in the islands. From here we travel to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, where we visit San Cristobal Interpretation Centre, which describes the history of the archipelago, a great place to get an overview of the Galapagos. A trail leads us through the arid zone vegetation, where we will try to catch sight of Chatham Mockingbird and San Cristobal Lava Lizard, two species found only on this island, before making our way back to the harbour.
Day 7 After breakfast, we visit Santa Fe. We will have a short walk around the island, home to the endemic Santa Fe Land Iguana. The sheltered bay, with clear water, white sands and abundant reef fish provides the perfect place for another foray into the underwater world. Over lunch we travel north to the wonderful island of South Plaza. After picking our way past the welcoming committee of young sealions, we will spot colourful Galapagos Land Iguanas beneath the shade of the large Opuntia cacti: unusually here they can be seen alongside Marine Iguanas and even, on occasion, a hybrid between the two. At the far side, the low cliffs give wonderful views of Red-billed Tropicbird, Galapagos Shearwater and Swallow-tailed Gulls at their nesting sites.
Day 8 We wake moored off the magical island of Genovesa, one of the gems of the Galapagos and home to a large colony of Red-footed Boobies which make their nests in the branches of the low-growing Palo Santo trees. The Red-footed Booby spends most of its time far out to sea, and is not frequently encountered away from nest sites. Large numbers of Great Frigatebirds also nest in the island’s trees. Another highlight is the broken lava field, home to a large population of Wedge-rumped Storm Petrels, flying back and forth from their nesting burrows amongst the lava. Yellow-crowned Night Herons stalk at the back of the beach, Galapagos Fur Seals will join us as we snorkel, and for the finch enthusiasts there are two new species: Genovesa Large Cactus Finch and Genovesa Sharpbeaked Finch, both endemic to just this island.
Day 9 We wake up moored off of Santiago. We will visit Sullivan Bay to enjoy some of the most spectacular lava formations in the islands. From here we move around to the red beaches of Rabida, hoping to see Galapagos Petrel along the way. The two islands of Santiago and Rabida have recently been cleared of goats, and the vegetation is gradually recovering from over-grazing.
Day 10 We visit the mangrove-fringed waters of Black Turtle Cove, on the north coast of Santa Cruz, for our final zodiac cruise. We bid farewell to Daphne as we disembark at Baltra, travel across to Santa Cruz and back to Puerto Ayora. Later in the afternoon, we visit the famous Charles Darwin Research Centre, to learn more about the conservation challenges facing the islands, and we will be able to visit the captive breeding program for the islands’ tortoises: animals from several populations are being bred to reinforce the wild populations.
Day 11 We head back up to the highlands to visit the Miconia Zone, home to Green Warbler Finch and Galapagos Crake, as well as a range of endemic plants. Back down in the arid zone, we take a water taxi across to German Bay, where we should be able to compare Small, Medium and Large Ground Finches and Cactus Finch side by side. singing from the top of the tall Candelabra Cactuses.
Day 12 After breakfast we travel to the airport and take our flight back to Guayaquil.
Day 13 Today we have a tour of the city and learn about Guayaquil’s revolutionary history. We will also wander along the river front, where a surprising number of birds can be found. We should encounter the locally endemic Guayaquil Squirrel and enjoy the bizarre sight of Green Iguanas behaving like city pigeons. After lunch we make our way to the airport for our evening flight, arriving in Amsterdam on Day 14, and from there on to Heathrow.
Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders.
In Guayaquil, we stay at the UniPark Hotel, a four star hotel with air conditioning and good food.
Our cruise around the Galapagos will be on board the Daphne. It is a newly refitted and redesigned motor yacht, which accommodates a maximum of 16 passengers, in eight air conditioned cabins. Each twin/double cabin has ’lower berths’ only (ie no bunk beds) with individual climate control, security box, and bathroom with shower. The Daphne has a comfortable dining room, lounge, bar and a wonderful viewing deck. All the social areas have a direct view to the sea. We will have our evening meetings in the lounge and enjoy relaxing or wildlife watching on the sun/viewing decks. Meals on board are taken in the dining room. (As with all cruises, in the event of having to change the boat, due to unavoidable reasons, a similar standard of boat will be used.)
Single occupation of a double cabin on the boat would be very expensive and we have therefore given the single room supplement to cover the rooms at the hotels only. We will arrange for single travellers to share a cabin with a suitable fellow traveller, a system that has always worked well in the past. Let us know if you would prefer to pay the extra for a single cabin.
The group flights are with KLM from London Heathrow. It is also possible to fly with Iberia or Lan via Madrid, with a slightly later start, although the price may be more. Ask us for details, if interested.
The Galápagos is seven hours behind of UK time.
You must have a valid passport for this trip (recommended valid for at least six months after the end of the holiday). Temporary tourist visas are issued on arrival in Ecuador for holders of a UK/EU passport. Please obtain further advice (prior to booking) if you hold another type of passport.
In the Galapagos we should have very pleasant, hot (dry rather than humid), sunny weather although rain is possible. At this time in Galapagos, it is the ‘wet’ season, when there are mostly blue skies interrupted by occasional heavy rain (in contrast to the ‘garua’ season from July to December when it is cooler and drier but can be misty, with colder and rougher seas). Much of the travelling is done at night. Generally, the sea is fairly calm as this area of the Pacific is not affected by severe storms (it is in the ‘doldrums’).
No strenuous walking is involved but you need to have a reasonable level of general fitness to be able to participate in the holiday.
We will sometimes be walking on rough ground e.g. in lava areas. Although most of the walks are not long (maximum is a slow walk up to about three hours or so), it can be hot. Walking boots are recommended for most areas. There are a few occasions when walking uphill is needed but this is not excessive and not strenuous. The islands are reached from the yacht by small motor boats and landings are either ‘dry’, where we step out onto the rocks or ‘wet’ onto the beach. Because of this and the need sometimes to walk on rocky ground (e.g. in some places rounded rocks), the holiday is not suitable for those with significantly limited agility or problems of balance. Safety rules (e.g. wearing life jackets whilst in small boats) are strictly adhered to.
The sun is very strong. Sun protection (hat, sunglasses and suncream) is essential. We avoid walking in the hottest part of the day.
The Galápagos are not known to be malaria or yellow fever areas, nor are the areas that we visit on the mainland but general inoculations for overseas travel are recommended.
Safety advice given by the leaders must be heeded at all times. We will receive a safety briefing once on board the boat.