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.
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 ($110), two lunches (Days 10 and 11). Refreshments. Gratuities. Travel insurance.
Day 1 Flight from UK to Guayaquil, via Amsterdam. Short transfer to our hotel.
Day 2 We visit the reserve of Cerro Blanco, which protects a large area of Tumbesian dry forest, home to a suite of birds such as Grey-cheeked Parakeet, Grey-backed Hawk, Black-capped Sparrow and Tumbes Pewee. We will also visit a nearby reservoir, where wetland birds including Neotropic Cormorant, Wattled Jacana and various herons may be found.
Day 3 After breakfast we take our morning flight to the Galápagos Islands, and transfer to our boat for lunch. After an introduction to the islands, we will take a short trip to Mosquero Inlet, a peaceful reef and white sandy beach, where we will have our first introduction to Blue-footed Boobies, sealions and Brown Pelicans.
Day 4 This morning we visit Sullivan Bay on Santiago where we will enjoy some of the most spectacular lava formations in the islands. From here we then move around the island to the red beaches of Rabida, hoping to catch sight of Galápagos Petrel along the way.
Day 5 We spend our morning on the island of Fernandina. Visiting is limited to just a single site, the beautiful Punta Espinosa, where large groups of Marine Iguanas haul out on the lava shore and we will visit a breeding colony of Flightless Cormorant. Galápagos Penguins are also found in the area in good numbers. A morning spent on Punta Espinosa is amongst the most memorable of Galápagos’s highlights. After lunch, we will visit to Elizabeth Bay on nearby Isabela. The islands at the mouth of the bay are one of the most important breeding sites for the lovely Galápagos Penguin, the northernmost penguin species in the world. We will also take the zodiacs into the mangroves surrounding the bay.
Day 6 Today we will visit the western side of Isabela: Urbina Bay in the morning, and then an afternoon visit to Tagus Cove. Historically an anchorage for pirates and whalers, who preyed on the whales which can still be found in the deep waters of the Bolivar Channel, our afternoon zodiac ridge here will be our last excursion on Isabela before we set sail back eastwards.
Day 7 This morning we wake up in James Bay, Santiago. Our morning excursion will take us around the coast of Puerto Egas, where Galapagos Fur Seals hide among the lava caves and we have our best chance of finding Sharp-beaked Finch. Over lunch we travel to Bartolome. The 372 wooden steps take us across a barren volcanic landscape that looks as if it could have emerged from the sea only yesterday, up to the summit and the most spectacular view in the islands.
Day 8 After breakfast we will make a wet landing on Sombrero Chino, a small island off the coast of Santiago, an excellent snorkelling site. Our afternoon visit will be to Cerro Dragon, where Land Iguanas feed. The trail takes us through the arid vegetation to the nearby lagoon, home to Galápagos Flamingos, Black-necked Stilts and White-cheeked Pintail.
Day 9 We spend today on the island of Santa Cruz, in the centre of the archipelago. We travel up into the highlands, where we will search for Giant Tortoises, as well as exploring the cloud forest. After lunch we visit the famous Charles Darwin Research Centre and Fausto Llerena Interpretation Centre, to learn about the conservation challenges facing the islands and some of the projects being undertaken.
Day 10 Our morning excursion takes us around the bird colonies of North Seymour. Magnificent and Great Frigatebirds nest side by side, enabling us to get to grips with the differences between the two. Blue-footed Boobies nest amongst the bushes, performing their comical foot-waving dance, while Lava Gulls, the world’s rarest gull scavenges around the colony for scraps. Behind the beach is also a good spot to search for Galapagos Snake, while the island’s Land Iguanas lumber past. From here we travel across to Santa Cruz and back to Puerto Ayora.
Day 11 We will start the day with a walk out through the arid zone vegetation to the beach at Tortuga Bay. Along the way we will enjoy the endemic plant life, and look for the shy Dark-billed Cuckoo and Galapagos Dove.
Day 12 After breakfast we take our flight back to Guayaquil.
Day 13 Today we have a tour of some of the more interesting corners of the city and learn something of Guayaquil’s revolutionary history. We will also wander through the parks and gardens along the river front, where a surprising number of birds can be found. After lunch we make our way to the airport, ready for our evening flight; arriving in Amsterdam on Day 14, and from there on to London and home.
Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders.
On Santa Cruz our base is the Hotel Isla Azul in Puerto Ayora (2 nights), an attractive and comfortable hotel in the quiet streets behind Darwin Avenue and a short walk away from the ‘main drag’. In Guayaquil, we stay at the UniPark Hotel, a four star hotel with air conditioning and good food.
Our cruise around the Galápagos will be on board the Tip Top II. It is a recently (2016) refitted and redesigned catamaran motor yacht, which accommodates a maximum of 16 passengers, in ten 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 Tip Top II 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).
The group flights are with KLM from London Heathrow.
The Galápagos is seven hours behind of UK time.
It is possible to fly with Iberia or Lan via Madrid, with a slightly later start, although the price may be more – please ask us for details.
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 Galápagos we should have very pleasant, hot (dry rather than humid), sunny weath-er although rain is possible. At this time in Galápagos , 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 ad 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.