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A colorful marine iguana

Galapagos Grace Circumnavigation

Example 15 Day Cruise aboard Grace
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Embark on a 15-day circumnavigation through the hidden wonders of the Galapagos. Indulge your senses and bask in the beauty that surrounds you while on vacation in this incredible place. Wander across island trails, explore peaceful lagoons full of unique birdlife, and swim and snorkel in crystalline waters with a variety of marine life. Immerse yourself into the beauty of your surroundings and enjoy the opportunity to have many close encounters with the exotic and curious creatures that call these islands their home. They love to interact with people and make the daily excursions an exceptional experience.
With our favorite tortoiseTraveler on a snorkeling trip in the Galapagos IslandsWalking on a beach excursion in the GalapagosCruising around the Galapagos in a ZodiacA colorful marine iguana
Highlights
  • View Kicker Rock, a formation rising 152 meters out of the Pacific
  • Enjoy snorkeling with sea lions off Gardner Island
  • Drop off a card in Post Office Bay and grab another to mail back at home
  • Walk up the beach of Darwin Bay and see great frigate birds
Activity Level: Relaxed
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Full Itinerary

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Day 1: Baltra Island | Charles Darwin Station | Highlands

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 | Champion or Devil’s Crown

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  • 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 postcard 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.

Continuing a bit farther inland at Peace Asylum where one of the islands’ few springs is located. This artesian spring attracted pirates, whalers and later settlers to Floreana as it was one of the very few year-round sources of fresh water in the Galapagos. Visit a tortoise reserve where you can watch many of the giant tortoises up close and personal. All the while, your Naturalist Guide will be pointing out the wildlife, filling you in on the colorful history of Floreana’s first inhabitants like the Baroness, and re-telling the legend of the “Floreana Mystery”.

Punta Cormorant offers to amazing and unique beaches. One is a stunning 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. The erosion of coral skeletons formed this sand. There is a hypersaline lagoon in the basin of Punta Cormorant which is home to flamingoes, pintails, stilts, and other wading birds.

The next stop is Champion known for its outstanding snorkeling full of prime underwater sea lion interactions. Dolphins frequent this location as well as humpback whales. Alternatively, we may snorkel at Devil’s Crown which is located some 250 meters (700 ft) north of Punta Cormorant.

Day 3: Punta Suarez | Gardner Bay | Gardner Islet

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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 | Bachas Beach

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  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
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.

At the north end of Santa Cruz Island is Las Bachas, comprised of two sandy white-coral beaches that is are major egg-laying sites for sea turtles. The official story of how Las Bachas got its name comes from the Galapagos National Park. During WWII the US military discarded two barges on the beaches. When the first settlers to the area following the war arrived they mispronounced barges as bachas, resulting in the name. There are other explanations of how the location got its name having to do with indentations left in the sand by both egg-laying sea turtles and their departing hatchlings, but we will go with the Park’s.

Go ashore the white sandy beach and are greeted by patrolling blue-footed boobies. A brief walk inland takes us to a lagoon where pink flamingos are often found along with great blue herons, common stilts, brown noddys, white-cheek pintail ducks and migratory birds. Snorkeling today is from the beach and you can also enjoy a swim in these waters, which are typically warmer than in other places in the Galapagos.

Day 9: Prince Phillip’s Steps | Darwin Bay Beach

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  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
The first landing is Prince Phillip’s Steps, named for a visit by the British Monarch in 1964. The dry landing begins at the base of this 25-meter (81-foot) stairway leading up to a narrow stretch of land that opens out onto a small plateau. This is actually a small peninsula that forms the southeastern section of the island. Red-footed boobies wrap their webbed feet around branches to precariously perch in the bushes where they nest. In contrast, their masked-booby cousins dot the surface of the scrublands beyond. Crossing through the sparse vegetation, you will come to a broad lava field that extends toward sea cliffs that form the island’s southern edge. The cavities and holes that have been eroded into the fragile lava are an ideal nesting ground for storm petrels. There are two species, the Galapagos petrel, which is active by day, and the wooden petrel, which feeds at night. The petrels flutter out over the ocean in swarms, then return to nest in the cracks and tunnels of the lava field but not without hazard. Short-eared owls lay in camouflaged wait here and make their living feeding off the returning petrels. After completing the two-hour hike we return to the vessel to change into your wetsuits for some snorkeling at one of the best sites in the islands.

By Phillip’s Steps, along the cliffs that form the protected southern bay of the Tower’s caldera, we enter the water into another world. The first thing you will notice when snorkeling here is very large tropical fish. These are warm water fish feeding off cold water nutrients. You’ll find the full assortment here including oversized parrot, unicorn, angel, and hogfish along with schools of perch, surgeonfish and various types of butterflyfish. Hiding in and around the rocky shoreline that drops off into the caldera you will also see a rainbow assortment of wrasse, basslet, anthias and tang. This is the place to bring your underwater tropical fish identification chart. There are some special treats to be found here including occasional visits by fur sea lions. This area of the bay is also excellent for some kayaking in the calm waters close to the shore to observe nesting birds and you might like to go out for a spin after lunch, before our next landing across the bay to the north.

Landing on the white coral sands of Darwin Bay and walking up the beach, you find yourself surrounded by the bustling activity of great frigate birds. Puffball chicks and their proud papas—who sport bulging scarlet throat-sacks—crowd the surrounding branches, while yellow-crowned herons and lava herons feed by the shore. Farther along you will discover a stunning series of sheltered pools set into a rocky outcrop. Watch your step for marine iguanas, lava lizards and Galapagos doves that blend with the trail. The trail beside the pools leads up to a cliff overlooking the ocean filled caldera, where pairs of swallow-tailed gulls, the only nocturnal gulls in the world, can be seen nesting at the cliff’s edge. Lava gulls and pintail ducks ride the sea breezes nearby.

A brief panga ride brings us to the base of those same cliffs to reveal the full variety of bird species sheltering in the ledges and crevices created by the weathered basalt. Among them, red-billed tropicbirds enter and leave their nests trailing exotic kite-like tails. This is also an intriguing place to go deep-water snorkeling. The center of the caldera is very deep and attracts hammerheads and large manta rays which sometimes patrol the western edge of the caldera that is more open to the sea. You can snorkel here gazing down into the depths where you just may spot these large animals if you are fortunate. But don’t worry, if you don’t really want to see them there is the equally amazing and far more sheltered snorkeling experience across the bay.

Right around sunset, leave Tower to set out across the archipelago to the far western islands. Remember to watch the inner bay at sunset as you might spot a giant manta ray

Day 10: James Bay | Espumilla Beach & Buccaneer’s Cove

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  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
In the morning we make our way along the northwestern shore of Santiago Island to South James Bay (Puerto Egas), which offers access to three unique sites. One landing is on a black beach with intriguing eroded rock formations inland. A trail crosses the dry interior eastward and rises to the rim of an extinct volcanic crater; cracks within it allow seawater to seep in, which then dries to form salt deposits that have been mined in the past. Darwin describes his visit to South James Bay in Voyage of the Beagle.

Another path leads south, where hikers are treated to a series of crystal-clear grottos formed of broken lava tubes. These are home to sea lions and tropical fish. This is the best place in the islands to see fur sea lions lazing on the rocks by the grottos. Further to the north, another landing and path lead to a series of inland lagoons, home to flamingos. Birders coming to James Bay will have the opportunity to spot vermillion flycatchers, Galapagos hawks, and the tool-wielding woodpecker finch. Puerto Egas is a good spot for taking pictures—the light for photography is perfect at either dawn or sunset. The lava and the black sand seem to catch fire and the animals acquire a surreal and lovely quality. The marine iguanas that inhabit the area resemble Samurai warriors and can easily be seen grazing on seaweed in the more shallow pools of the grotto.

James Bay is a snorkeling site that is accessed from the shore instead of a dinghy. The sandy beach slopes off into a rocky bottom where a multitude of sea turtles like to hide by blending in with the rocks. But these rocks move and will swim right up to you. At certain times of the year, large schools of golden rays and spotted eagle rays also glide by. Both fur sea lions and California sea lions occasionally pass through as well.

In the afternoon visitors to Espumilla Beach come in search of birds rather than freshwater. The short walk up the beach leads inland to a mangrove typically inhabited by the Common stilts. Beyond the mangroves is a brackish lagoon where flocks of pink flamingos and white-cheeked pintails wade in search of mollusks. The trail makes a passes over a tiny hilltop through a sparse Palo Santo forest before looping back to the beach. Galapagos finches and Vermilion fly catchers inhabit the area.

The tuff formations that form the cliffs that surround the cove have created a natural sculptor gallery rising from the sea with formations including the Monk and Elephant Rock. An audience of hundreds of seabirds looks down upon the gallery from surrounding cliffs. Buccaneer Cove and Espumilla Beach offer one of the more dramatic kayaking routes in the Galapagos for paddlers looking for a challenge.

Day 11: Punta Vicente Roca | Tagus Cove

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  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Located at the ‘mouth’ of the head of the sea horse, which forms the northern part of the Isabela is Punta Vicente Roca. Here the remnants of an ancient volcano form two turquoise coves with a bay well protected from the ocean swells. The spot is a popular anchorage from which to take panga rides along the cliff where a partially sunken cave beckons explorers. Masked and blue-footed boobies sit perched along with the point and the sheer cliffs, while flightless cormorants inhabit the shoreline. The upwelling of coldwater currents in combination with the protection of the coves makes Punta Vicente Roca one of the archipelago’s most sought after dive spots.

One cove is only accessible from the sea by way of an underwater passage. The passage opens to calm waters of the hidden cove where sea lions laze on the beach having traveled along the underwater route. The entire area of Punta Vicente Roca lies on the flank of 2,600 foot Volcano Ecuador. This is the island’s sixth largest volcano. Half of Volcano Ecuador slid into the ocean leaving a spectacular cutaway view of its caldera. The site offers deep water snorkeling where sea lions turtles, spotted eagle rays and even manta rays are the attraction. After our visit here we set off south and west across the Bolivar channel. Keep your eyes open in this best place in the islands for spotting whales.

Isabela is the largest island in the archipelago, accounting for half of the total landmass of the Galapagos at 4,588 square kilometers. Though narrow in places, the island runs 132 km from north to south or 82 miles. Isabella is formed from six shield volcanoes that merged into a single landmass. It is also home to the highest point in the Galápagos, Wolf Volcano at 1,707 meters (5,547 feet), and calderas of up to 20 kilometers (12½ miles) across.

Head north along the western coast of Isabela Island, to Tagus Cove, named for a British warship that moored here in 1814. Historically the cove was used as an anchorage for pirates and whalers. One can still find the names of their ships carved into the rock above our landing, a practice now prohibited. The cove’s quiet waters make for an ideal panga ride beneath its sheltered cliffs, where blue-footed boobies, brown noddies, pelicans and noddy terns make their nests, and �flightless cormorants and penguins inhabit the lava ledges.

From the landing, a wooden stairway rises to the trail entrance for a view of Darwin Lake; a perfectly round saltwater crater, barely separated from the ocean but above sea level! From the air one can see that both Tagus Cove and Darwin Lake are formed from one, partially flooded, tuff cone on the eastern edge of giant Darwin volcano.

The cove is formed by a breached and flooded section of the crater with Darwin Lake forming the very center of the same cone. The trail continues around the lake through a dry vegetation zone and then climbs inland to a promontory formed by spatter cones. The site provides spectacular views back toward our anchorage, as well as to Darwin Volcano and Wolf Volcano to the north.

While one does not normally think of greener pastures when planning to go snorkeling, that is exactly what you will find at Tagus Cove. The carpet of green algae that covers the floor of the cove gives the impression of a submerged pasture, and really that is just what it is. You can find marine iguanas grazing the algae along with numerous sea turtles gliding and munching their way along. Because the cove opens to the rich waters of the Bolivar Channel this is one of the best snorkeling sites in the island. You also have a good chance of snorkeling with underwater feathered friends including Galapagos penguins and rare flightless cormorants. For those who want to dive deeper, there are special rewards waiting for you at 3 meters where camouflaged creatures await, including scorpion fish nestled against the outcrops and sea horses masquerading as twigs of the seaweed waving in the currents. The rare Port Jackson shark can also be found here. Kayakers can enjoy a paddle around the cove, offering excellent views of nesting birds on the cliff walls above.

Day 12: Espinosa Point | Urbina Bay

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  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Fernandina is the youngest and westernmost island in the Galapagos. It sits across the Bolivar Channel opposite Isabela. Our destination is Punta Espinosa, a narrow spit of land in the northeast corner of the island, where a number of unique Galapagos species can be seen in close proximity. As our panga driver skillfully navigates the reef, penguins show off by throwing themselves from the rocks into the water. Red and turquoise-blue zayapas crabs disperse across the lava shoreline, while great blue and lava herons forage through the mangrove roots. The landing is a dry one, set in a quiet inlet beneath the branches of a small mangrove forest. A short walk through the vegetation leads to a large colony of marine iguanas—a schoolyard of Godzilla’s children—resting atop one another in friendly heaps along the rocky shoreline, spitting water to clear their bodies of salt. Nearby, sea lions frolic in a sheltered lagoon.

Dominating this landscape from high overhead looms the summit of La Cumbre, 1,495 meters (4,858 feet), one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Farther down this stretch of shore, the world’s only species of flightless cormorants have established a colony near an inviting inlet frequented by sea turtles. Because these birds evolved without land predators—it was easier to feed on the squid, octopus, eel, and fish found in the ocean—the cormorants progressively took to the sea. They developed heavier, more powerful legs and feet for kicking, serpent-like necks and fur-like plumage. Their wings are now mere vestiges. Back toward the landing and farther inland, the island’s black lava flows become more evident, forming a quiet, inner mangrove lagoon where you will spot rays and sea turtles gliding just below the surface. Galapagos hawks survey the entire scene from overhead.

The snorkeling off Punta Espinoza offers some real treats, as many of the creatures you just saw on land, including the Godzilla-like marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins, and sea lions await you in the waters of the point (which incidentally was used as a set during the making of Master & Commander). A key feature of the ocean bottom here are the troughs formed by volcanic rock and ocean currents. Because these waters reach out into the Bolivar Channel they can be quite cold. Sea turtles like to hang out in the warm water of the troughs. You’ll also see marine iguanas ferrying back and forth between underwater grazing areas and their colonies onshore. This is an excellent place to see underwater iguanas munching on algae. If you are fortunate you may catch a glimpse of a flightless cormorant demonstrating their swimming abilities or watch a Galapagos penguin zip by. You will feel the difference in ocean temperature and watch the water get clearer as you move from the more protected shallow areas out into the cold rich waters of the channel. The Bolivar Channel is the very best place in the Galapagos to see dolphins and whales. On rare occasions the groups have been able to swim with dolphins, kayak with melon-headed whales and even spot the elusive sperm whale.

Urbina Bay is directly west of Isabela’s Volcano Alcedo, where we will make an easy, wet landing (a hop into a few inches of water) onto a gently sloping beach. In 1954, a Disney film crew caught sight of this gleaming white strip and went to investigate. To their astonishment, three miles (5 km) of the marine reef had been uplifted by as much as 13 feet (4 meters) prior to their arrival. They discovered schools of stranded fish and other creatures in newly formed tidal pools along with the skeletons of sea turtles and sharks unable to make it to the ocean as a result of the uplift event. Alcedo erupted a few weeks later.

Now visitors can walk amongst the boulder-sized dried coral heads, mollusks and other organisms that once formed the ocean floor. A highlight of this excursion is the giant land iguanas, whose vivid and gaudy yellow skin suggests that dinosaurs may have been very colorful indeed. Giant tortoises inhabit this coastal plain during the wet season, before migrating to the highlands when it turns dry. Our landing beach provides a nesting site for sea turtles and will also provide you with opportunities to snorkel amongst marine creatures, or just relax onshore. Here we must take care not to step on the sea turtle nests dug carefully into the sand. For those looking for snorkeling from a beach, this is the place, with tropical fish hiding amongst the rocks to the north side of the bay. This evening you have a real treat as the M/Y Grace sits at anchor in the Bolivar Channel where you will be spectacularly surrounded by the towering shield volcanoes that form Fernandina and Isabela. Sunset in the channel is also an excellent time to spot whales and dolphins that feed in these productive waters created by the upwelling of the Cromwell Current, while you enjoy a happy hour at the Sky lounge on the upper rear deck.

Day 13: Elizabeth Bay | Punta Moreno

  • Ship
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
continuing our voyage south along the west coast of Isabela we enter the outer part of Elizabeth Bay where we come upon a tall rocky islet that is home to a colony of Galapagos Penguins. Looming to the south is Sierra Negra volcano that forms the southern part of Isabela Island. In 2018 glowing rivers of lava lit up the night as they flowed down the flank of Sierra Negra toward Elizabeth Bay, where some of our lucky passengers had a front-row seat on one of the archipelagos most spectacular performances.

In contrast to the rugged lava fields of Sierra Negra, Elizabeth Bay is one of the most sensitive habitats in the Galapagos. This outing is entire aboard our pangas. The tangle of mangroves roots that line the Bay, as it narrows to a channel before widening out to the back bay, tend to still the waters making it seem like a giant aquarium while giving the area a green forested look. Spotted eagle rays, golden rays, and sea turtle glide just below the surface with the latter coming up occasionally to breathe. You may see a Galapagos hawk circling high overhead as we drift the calm waters. Approaching the back of the Bay, we bring our panga closer into a cluster of mangroves for a surprise. Sealions use the horizontal trunks of the mangroves as resting areas earning them the nickname tree lions.

We return to the Grace for lunch as she makes her way a bit farther along the coast of Isabela to our next visitors’ site, Punta Moreno. You’ll likely be surprised at just how much life you can find in and around a pahoehoe lava field. In 2018 Sierra Negra Volcano, which looms over the entire southern part of the island (and really is the southern part of the island) gave the area a fresh coat of glowing lava that reached within 3 miles of our landing site. This is one of the least visited sites in the Galapagos.

Along the shore, you’ll have chances to see Galapagos penguins, flightless cormorants and a colony of marine iguanas with a reddish tinge that sport the usual mohawk from head to tail. Sally light-footed crabs dot the coast reminding us of the color of molten lava.

This is one of those landing sites where you are best off with sneakers or hiking shoes due to time spent hiking over fields of broken lava (not because of hot lava) and there’s more here than lava lizards and cactus. As we cross the broken fields that sometimes sound like clinking glass, you’ll come upon little oasis formed by natural pools surrounded by green grasses. These have become home and resting place for a variety of birds including gallinules, pink flamingos, pintail ducks and more.

As we continue along, the trail brings us to series of coastal lagoons, that again provides a surprising oasis of green including mangrove forests where pelicans nest. Look toward the bottom of the lagoons for resting white-tipped reef sharks, while green sea turtles ply the surface and great blue herons wade the shoreline.

The snorkeling off Punta Moreno above a rocky bottom offers a similar assortment including sea turtles, stingray, and sea lions mixed in with bumped head parrotfish, king angelfish and schools of yellow-tailed and surgeon Pacific creole fish and much more.

Day 14: Las Tintoreras, Sucre’s Cave, Breeding Center & Wetlands

  • Ship
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Puerto Villamil has a feeling of standing on the edge of the earth. The tiny fishing village, founded in 1897 by Don Antonio Gíl, is something of a forgotten gem in the islands. It has a population of roughly 2,000 people and is set amidst miles of white sandy beaches that rest at the outer edge of Sierra Negra Volcano. Buried pirates treasures have been unearthed here some years ago in the shadow of a tall coconut palm, thereby giving credence to all the legends of hidden treasure buried beneath palm trees.

We visit Las Tintoreras which showcase colonies of sea lions, Galapagos turtles and iguanas; skates, sharks, penguins, sea cucumbers, urchins and a myriad members of the native flora and fauna whose peaceful interactions make you question exactly who’s really watching who. We continue to cuevas del Sucre which are fascinating lava formations, caves and tunnels located at an endemic forest.

Before finishing up the morning and navigating in the afternoon, we visit a breeding station for the endemic giant tortoise lead by the National Park Service as well as a hyper-saline lagoon frequented by flamingos and other waders and shorebirds.

Day 15: Los Gemelos | Disembark | Baltra's Airport

  • 1 Breakfast
Say goodbye to the Grace to take a 40 min. bus ride early in the morning to 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 sun is shining a half an hour away at the coast.

Los Gemelos are 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.

After visiting Los Gemelos,  continue your bus ride for another 20 mins to the Itabaca channel. We will cross the channel and take a short bus ride to Baltra’s airport.

Ship/Hotel

Grace

Grace sailing across the Galapagos Islands
Soak in the jacuzzi on the sun deck
Relax indoors in the main salon

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Child Discount

15% discount for children 15 years and under at time of Galapagos cruise. Max. 3 children per family. Child discounts are conditional and may not apply on certain departures. Please contact us for more information.

Children under 12 may receive discounts on Galapagos flight fares and entrance fees. Contact us for details.
Included
  • 14 Breakfasts, 13 Lunches, 14 Dinners
  • 14 Nights Accommodations
  • Accommodations as listed
  • Ground transportation as listed
  • Excursions and activities as listed
  • Meals as listed
  • Snorkeling equipment, wetsuits, transparent sea kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards are all included in the cruise cost and are available for your use onboard.
  • Bilingual Naturalist Guide 
  • Adventure Life Pre-departure Services and In-Country Assistance (Quito Representative)
  • Shore Excursions, Swimming and Snorkeling 
  • Transfers and Baggage Handling in the Galapagos
Excluded
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  • Personal Expenses
  • Flight costs (please request a quote)
  • Additional excursions during free time
  • Galapagos Park Entrance Fee: $100 per adult, $50 per child under 12
  • Internal Flights: Mainland Ecuador - Galapagos - Mainland Ecuador: $475-675
  • Fuel Surcharge - to be invoiced separately
  • Fuel Surcharge

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