Day 1 Baltra Island | Highlands | Puerto Ayora and Darwin Station
For this itinerary, you will be landing on the island of Baltra. After passing through Galapagos National Park inspection your National Park Guide will be there to greet you holding a sign with the name of your yacht on it and will accompany you on the short bus ride to the Itabaca channel.
Once we cross the Itabaca Channel, we will visit Los Gemelos. The terrestrial world of the tortoise and underworld of the lava tubes meet at Los Gemelos (the twins). These two large sinkholes craters were formed by collapsed lava tubes. The contrast between the marine desert coast and verdant Lost World look of the highlands is most striking here and you can easily encounter rain even when the sun is shining a half an hour away at the coast.
Los Gemelos is surrounded by a Scalesia forest. Scalesia is endemic to Galapagos and many endemic and native species call the forest home. This is an excellent place to view some of Darwin’s famous finches along with the elusive and dazzling vermillion flycatcher.
A highlight of any trip to the archipelago is a visit to the Santa Cruz Highlands, where the sparse, dry coastal vegetation transitions to lush wet fields and forests overgrown with moss and lichens. Our afternoon destination is the Wild Tortoise Reserve where we will have chances to track and view these friendly ancient creatures in their natural setting. This extends to the adjacent pasturelands, where farmers give tortoise safe quarters in exchange for allowing paying visitors to see them.
Then board your home while in Galapagos, the M/Y Grace. In the late afternoon, we can visit Puerto Ayora, home to both the Galapagos National Park Service Headquarters and Charles Darwin Research Station, the center of the great restorative efforts taking place in the park, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here we visit the Giant Tortoise Breeding & Rearing Program run by the research station, which began by rescuing the remaining 14 tortoises on the island of Española in 1970.
This program has restored the population of animals there to over 1,000 today. You will see many of these animals, with their sweet ET necks and faces; from hatchlings to juveniles to large, distinguished individuals. This is where famed tortoise, Lonesome George, lived out his last days as the last of his particular race of tortoise.
Enjoy your first Pacific sunset aboard the M/Y Grace by celebrating happy hour atop her sky lounge where drinks are available daily along with hors d'oeuvres. A little later we gather in the main salon for a presentation by our guide on the next day’s activates and visitor sites, before sitting down to dinner. We spend a bit more time in port this evening before setting sail for the island of Floreana.
Day 2 Peace Asylum | Cormorant Point | Devil’s Crown
- 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Floreana has a colorful history of pirates, whalers, convicts, and early settlers that were particular about their surroundings. At this location in 1793, whalers set up a barrel as a post office used to send letters home. Feel free to drop in a post card and grab another to mail when you return home. Continue inland to experience some exploratory swimming in a lava tube but make sure to bring a flashlight! Post Office Bay offers some amazing snorkeling where one can encounter sea turtles and tropical fish.
Next, stop at Asylum of Peace which is a historical site where the pirate Patrick Watkins once lived in a cave here. There is also a freshwater spring here that served as a source of water for early settlers.
Punta Cormorant offers to amazing and unique beaches. One is an incredible green color due to the volcanic olivine crystals present in the sand. The other beach is made up of very fine white sand and is known as Flour Beach. This sand was formed by the erosion of coral skeletons. There is a hypersaline lagoon in the basin of Punta Cormorant which is home to flamingoes, pintails, stilts, and other wading birds.
Champion is the next stop and is know for its outstanding snorkeling full of prime underwater sea lion interactions. Dolphins frequent this location as well as humpback whales.
Day 3 Punta Suarez | Gardner Bay | Gardner Islet
- 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Hood is the southernmost island of the archipelago, and is one of the most popular due to the stunning variation and incredible number of fauna that greet visitors. It is also home of the well known Gardner Bay. The giant tortoise was reintroduced to Hood in the 1970's and counts as one of the park's greatest stories of success.
Punta Suarez is a remarkable location based off it's quantity and variety of wildlife. Enjoy the friendly company of sea lions at this location. The tiny pups have been know to greet your toes upon arrival. Take a walk further inland to view a colorful variety of marine iguanas. The trail continues up the western edge of the island where masked and Nazca boobies' nesting sites can be viewed. The trail also allows for the chance to see nesting blue-footed boobies, Galapagos doves, the cactus finch, albatross, and mocking birds. Further down the trail there is a blowhole amongst the black lava landscape that shoots up water like a geyser.
Gardner Bay offers a striking long white sandy beach where colonies of sea lions bath in the sun, sea turtles swim offshore, and mockingbirds bolding investigate any new arrivals to the area. Enjoy some snorkeling off Gardner Island where whimsical sea lions swim around visitors. There is also an abundance of tropical fish to observe. There is also an option to kayak for those who are interested.
Day 4 Punta Pitt | Lobos Island | Kicker Rock
- 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Punta Pitt is located at the east end of San Cristóbal Island. The trail includes an olivine beach approximately 90 meters and a trail that ascends to the top of a volcanic tuff hill passing through several natural viewpoints. Punta Pitt is composed of a volcanic tuff substrate.
This is the only site in the Galapagos Islands, where you can watch the three species of boobies and two species of frigates nesting in the same area. This is due to its geographic location, an abundance of food so there is hardly any competition between them. The blue-footed boobies nest in the interior of Punta Pitt, red-footed boobies nest on bushes and masked boobies nest in the cliffs. Sealions can also be found in the area
San Cristobal was the first island Darwin visited when he arrived in 1835. He reported encountering a pair of giant tortoises feeding on cactus during that outing.
To the southeast of Kicker Rock lies Isla Lobos. The tiny island is separated from much larger San Cristobal by a narrow channel and little bay. This basalt island outcropping lives up to its name of Sea Lion Island and is home to a noisy population of frolicking and barking beasts. It is also a nesting place for blue-footed boobies and an excellent spot for snorkeling with sea lions. After walking the trail for some baby sea lion and booby watching amidst the sands beneath the salt bushes we have a real treat in store. We change into our snorkeling gear for some swimming with sea lions! The sea lions like to dart past and then swim up to you to blow bubbles at your mask. On occasion, they have been known to leap over, and then dive in front of unsuspecting snorkelers.
Following our snorkeling outing, you will discover that the best place to warm up from your dip is in Grace’s Jacuzzi. Heading up the coast from Isla Lobos we will have a chance to visit Leon Dormido, also known as Kicker Rock, a spectacular formation that rises 152 meters (500 feet) out of the Pacific. It takes the form of a sleeping lion, hence it’s a Spanish name. From another angle one can see that the rock is split forming a colossal tablet and, piercing the sea, a great chisel ready for etching. We will circumnavigate the rock formation and possibly, depending on weather, a snorkeling outing can be organized to get a chance to see hammerhead sharks.
Day 5 Santa Fe Island | South Plazas
- 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
s anta Fe offers one of the more beautiful and sheltered coves in the islands. Its turquoise lagoon is protected by a peninsula of tiny islets forming an ideal anchorage. The island lies southeast of Santa Cruz Island within sight of Puerto Ayora. Geologically it is one of the oldest islands in the archipelago and for many years was thought to be a product of an uplift event. Through satellite imagery, it has been possible to determine the island’s volcanic origins.
A wet landing on a sandy white beach brings us into contact with one of many sea lion colonies. Bulls contend for the right of being beach master, while smaller males mask as females to make stealthy mating moves. Galapagos hawks are sometimes easily approached, perched atop salt bushes. An ascending trail leads toward the cliffs, where a dense thicket stands to the inland side of the island. The cliffside provides an expansive view of the ocean. You will be struck by the forest of giant prickly pear cactus found here that live up to their name, with tree-sized trunks! These are the largest of their kind in the Galapagos.
At the top of the trail, our goal is to spot one of the large species of land iguana endemic to Santa Fe. Beige to chocolate brown in color with dragon-like spines, these big iguanas truly resemble dinosaurs. An indigenous species of rice rat also inhabits the thicket, and lucky hikers may spot harmless Galapagos snakes. After the hike, there is nothing more inviting than snorkeling in the calm waters of the bay where sea lions play, sea turtles swim and tropical fish hide amidst the islets that form the natural reef. Santa Fe offers a more advanced kayaking route along its northern shore that ends at sea caves and is subject to conditions.
South Plaza Island lies just a few hundred meters off the east coast of Santa Cruz Island. South Plaza is one of the smallest yet richest islands in the archipelago. Just over 400 feet wide, it was formed by lava upwelling from the bottom of the ocean. Our landing is in the channel between North and South Plaza, where the island tilts toward the water. South Plaza is known for its lush and diverse flora. A grove of luminescent green prickly-pear cacti, a ground cover of red Vesuvius, the turquoise waters of the channel and fiery sally lightfoot crabs combine to create a colorful palate of an island to explore. One of the big attractions here are the friendly yellow land iguanas waiting for lunch to drop from a cactus in the form of a prickly pear. We follow a trail up the tilt of the island to cliffs that look out over the ocean. Swallow-tailed gulls with red-banded eyes nest atop the overlook where you may spot marine life such as manta rays. South Plaza has a very healthy population of sea lions including a colony of bachelors that sit atop the cliff. They unintentionally polish the surrounding rocks with the oil from their fur. We may see red-billed tropicbirds, Nazca, and blue-footed boobies catching rides on the wind currents.
Day 6 North Seymour Island | Bartolomé Island
- 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Bartolomé is famous for Pinnacle Rock which is a towering spearheaded obelisk rising from the ocean off the shore here. This is a well liked place for snorkelers with hoards of tropical fish, urchins, sea stars, and anemones. There is also the chance to swim with playful sea lions. The beach here is beautiful and is used as a nesting site by sea turtles.
North Seymour Island was lifted by seismic activity leading to its low, flat profile. There is a tiny forest of silver-grey Palo Santo trees above the landing here. Have the chance to view the courtship dance of the blue-footed boobies. A truly unique site to see. Up the trail a bit there is a nesting site for the frigates. The males can be seen inflating their large throat sacks to attract females.
Day 7 Chinese Hat Islet | Dragon Hill
- 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
The tiny Sombrero Chino (Chinese Hat) Island is named for the resemblance its shape has to a traditional Chinese Coolie’s hat. Today’s visitor site is off-limits to larger groups and day boats, making Sombrero Chino, along with Daphne Major, one of the least visited sites in the central islands. The island lies just off the southeastern tip of the large nearby island of Santiago; separated by a narrow channel that makes for very calm, protected waters. Our landing site is a tiny crescent-shaped cove with sandy white beach cradled between black lava rocks and the crystal turquoise waters of the channel. A sea lion colony likes to rest on the warm white sands, while the rockier sections of the coast are alive with fiery colored sally lightfoot crabs. Marine iguanas sun themselves atop the rocks after foraging for algae in the channel. American oystercatchers stalk the tide pools stabbing at shellfish with their bright orange beaks. A quarter-mile (400 meters) trail sets off into the island’s volcanic interior to explore its rock formations, including excellent examples of pahoehoe lava resembling black rock ropes. The area is inhabited by ground-hugging red sesuvim plants and curious lava lizards.
Back at the cove, you will not only have another opportunity to snorkel with sea lions, but rockier sections of the coastline are inhabited by Galapagos penguins that dart past unsuspecting snorkelers. You’ll also have a chance to see the penguins during a panga ride. Galapagos penguins are the only species of penguin you’ll find living north of the nearby equator. Paddlers will have the opportunity to kayak here in the areas that are not off-limits (indicated by National Park Signs).
In the early afternoon, set out to Dragon Hill. There be dragons in the Galapagos in the form of bright yellow land iguanas that inhabit the northeastern shore of Santa Cruz Island. The large spines on their backs make them look even more like their legendary cousins. All they lack are wings. In the 1900s their ancestors were once moved to nearby Venezia islet to protect them from the feral dogs that once roamed Santa Cruz. When the dogs were removed the colony was returned and today they thrive around the hill that is named in their honor, Cerro Dragon. The lava flows that reach out from the shore from Cerro Dragon form black reefs that make for excellent snorkeling at high tide.
As we make our dry landing keep your eyes open for yellow warblers that stand out against the black lava. We head up the beach to a trail that takes us to a hypersaline lagoon. This is a seasonal haunt for pink flamingos. As we make our way from the coast toward the top of Dragon Hill you’ll notice the transition from intertidal vegetation like mangroves to dry zone vegetation including Palo Santo cactus and the silvery leafed Palo Santo trees. Keep your eyes open for the famous Darwin’s Finches. Also known as Galapagos finches, they were first collected by Charles Darwin and make a group of about 15 species that are found nowhere else. Ironically they are not related to true finches.
While you walk through the Scalesia forests that ring the hill, keep your eyes open for the dragons. Endemic cactus finch and woodpecker finch perch overhead. The loop trail heads inland and up the hill. The rough terrain makes this hike a bit challenging, but the view back toward the bay is rewarding. The real reward, of course, is the dragons hiding in the thicket which you are sure to spot. Back at the beach, you may be lucky enough to see one of Santa Cruz Island’s fearless Galapagos hawks perched atop the lava surveying the surroundings.
Day 8 Black Turtle Cove | Baltra
This last morning of your voyage through the Galapagos we visit Black Turtle Cove. Located on the northern shore of Santa Cruz, the cove is a living illustration of how mangroves alter the marine environment to create a rich and unique habitat. Four species of mangrove crowd from the shore out into the lagoon, which stretches almost a mile inland. As you drift through the quiet waters in your dinghy, see eagle rays and cow nosed or golden rays, which swim in a diamond formation. White-tipped reef sharks can be seen beneath the boat and Pacific green sea turtles come to the surface for air and to mate. Sea birds, including brown pelicans, blue herons and lava herons, come to feed in the cove which has also been declared a “Turtle Sanctuary”. It’s time to begin your journey home as you set sail for nearby the Baltra Island. d.