|Day 1||Thursday||Flight to Baltra Airport||L D|
|Charles Darwin Station (Santa Cruz)|
|Day 2||Friday||White Tipped Reef Shark Canal (Isabela) - Sierra Negra||B L D|
|C.C. Arnoldo Tupiza & Wetlands|
|Day 3||Saturday||Punta Moreno (Isabela)||B L D|
|Elizabeth Bay (Isabela)|
|Day 4||Sunday||Punta Espinoza (Fernandina)||B L D|
|Tagus Cove (Isabela)|
|Day 5||Monday||Espumilla Beach / Buccaneer Cove (Santiago)||B L D|
|Puerto Egas (Santiago)|
|Day 6||Tuesday||Isla Lobos||B|
|Transfer to San Cristobal Airport|
Upon arrival at Baltra Airport you will be asked to pay your Galapagos National Park entrance fee and your luggage is inspected. In the arrival hall you will meet the naturalist guide and fellow passengers, and the airport shuttle will transfer you to the ferry across the Itabaca Channel. On Santa Cruz you continue by bus through the lush highlands to the harbor of Puerto Ayora on the southern side of the island. Our zodiacs bring you to the yacht.
On the outskirts of Puerto Ayora you will visit the shared area of the Charles Darwin Research Station and the headquarters of the Galapagos National Park Service. From here the indispensable conservation management and biological research of this unique archipelago and its surrounding waters are directed. This complex houses a number of interpretive expositions about the National Park and the Galapagos Marine Reserve around. One of the highlights from this visit will probably be the successful breeding center and the enclosures with Galapagos giant tortoises.
Just outside the harbor of Puerto Villamil on the largest island of Isabela, a group of islets protrude just above the ocean. These barely noticeable rocks form one of the most emblematic sites that you will visit during your cruise. The jagged black formations, dotted with mangrove and candelabra-cactus, are the remnants of a lava stream that has ended up into the ocean. Meanwhile these are being demolished by the waves, and a collapsed lava tube forms a channel that fills-up on high tide, while the entrance is closed on low tide. Marine life gets trapped, including spectacular white tip reef sharks (called "tintoreras" in Spanish, as is the site’s official name). This species of shark is fairly common in the archipelago, and generally spotted on the seabed when snorkeling, whilst these are resting from their nocturnal hunts. But on this unique place you can observe them comfortably from the bank in the crystal clear turquoise waters. Sometimes turtles and elegant white-spotted eagle rays or golden rays glide back and forth through this calm channel, as well as smaller fish and Galapagos sea lions.
In the breeding center Arnaldo Tupiza you can see hundreds of giant Galapagos tortoises of all sizes (the vulnerable hatchlings are not gigantic at all, even smaller than the size of your hand)! This project just outside Puerto Villamil is created to rescue the endangered populations that live on five different locations on both southernmost volcanoes of Isabela.
Don’t forget to walk through the attractive botanic garden of this breeding center. It is full of native species that attract colorful songbirds such as yellow warblers, Darwin’s finches, Galapagos and vermilion flycatchers. Finally there is no greater counterpart to the cumbersome tortoises as the graceful flamingos that frequently filter the saline waters of the neighboring lagoon Poza del Chapin for shrimp and algae.
During an inflatable dinghy-ride along the jagged shoreline, you will notice different species. The tidal pools form natural traps and attract scavengers and hunters, bright orange sally light foot crabs, oyster-catchers and herons. Marine iguanas wait patiently for their turn to graze weeds on the seabed at lowest tide, while brown pelicans have found an undisturbed place to breed in the mangroves.
Although there is no landing point, the marine visitor’s site of Elizabeth Bay offers actually two in one. You will undertake a prolonged ride by inflatable dinghy that combines a visit to the Marielas Islets in the mouth of the bay, with the mangles in its innermost heart. In 1963 these highest mangles of Galapagos were close to complete destruction, when Volcán Chico, a parasitic cone of Sierra Negra, sent lava flows to this 20 km (11 mi) distant bay. Miraculously the flows came just a few km´s back to a halt.
The Marielas islets are an excellent place to spot marine iguanas and Galapagos penguins, which prefer places in the front row at the base of the cliffs. The Galapagos penguin is considered as endangered with just some 1500 birds over all archipelagos, and therefore the rarest penguin species worldwide. So don’t expect vast colonies of uncountable numbers as in Antarctic regions, but rather small family groups.
Fernandina, located right above the Galapagos hot spot in the farthest west of the archipelago, is still under construction. It is estimated that between 60.000 and 400.000 years ago the top of this underwater shield volcano rose above sea level, which makes it the youngest of the main islands. Fernandina harbors one of the world’s most virgin, untouched ecosystems, and is therefore very well protected. This exclusive and fascinating island will make you eyewitness of evolution, which is happening right in front of you!
Espinoza Point is Fernandina’s only terrestrial visitor’s site, and one of the few locations where you will find some bizarre outgrowths of natural selection. Figurehead is the emblematic flightless cormorant that lives exclusively in the remote west of Galapagos, and could be considered as the ‘holy grail of evolution’.
Right on the eastern shores of the Bolivar Channel are two tuff cones containing ultra-saline crater lakes: Tagus Cove and Beagle Crater. Both present spectacular layered cliffs at their sea faces, providing plenty nesting places for sea and coastal birds. From the inflatable dinghy you can observe marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins and storm petrels. It’s impressive to see flocks of blue-footed boobies and brown pelicans plunge diving from considerable altitudes.
Explosive eruptions have blown out a part of the outer rims of both tuff cones, creating their characteristic horseshoe shapes. On one of these events the sea has entered the caldera of the northern cone and has formed Tagus Cove. The inner crater rim has remained intact and spared the region for an even more violent detonation when the seawater would have mixed up with the boiling volcanic materials. Nowadays it contains the emerald Darwin Lake.
Espumilla Beach is a visitor’s site at the northern end of James Bay, on the western coast of Santiago. This beach has revived as an important breeding site for turtles, as it is no longer suffering from digging wild pigs. The turtles return year after year to bury their eggs into the cinnamon colored sand dunes. About two months later (roughly from February to August) the eggs hatch at once. Most vulnerable hatchlings never will reach sea, and form a banquet for predators such as herons, frigate birds, mockingbirds and ghost crabs. The beach ridge hides a mangle with two picturesque lagoons on the backside. During the climb of a hill you will be rewarded with a beautiful overview of the transitions from sea into beach into mangrove into dry palo santo forest.
Santiago and its surrounding islets stand out by their spectacular and unique volcanic and coastal landscapes, and Puerto Egas is no exception. The almost sculptured coastline of black basalts, polished multi-colored ash-layers, collapsed lava tunnels, natural arches, caves and blowholes such as ‘Darwin’s toilet’ and tidal pools form a very photogenic scenery. If you are rather a wildlife lover, you will also fully enjoy this unique place that probably will become your favorite on this island. You will find lots of representative members of the Galapagos-population here.
Guess only once what you get to see at Lobos Islet… If you know a few words of Spanish, you will not be surprised that its beach harbours a colony of Galapagos sea lions. As in other colonies in the archipelago you can approach nurturing females within a few meters. In the breeding season this colony is also visited by very territorial males, defending and mating the harem on their part of the beach. Though at first sight barren rocks overgrown by palo santo, this low islet houses has more than just Galapagos sea lions. Two other emblematic species of Galapagos also breed here. Male blue-footed boobies and great frigate birds try to impress the females (and tourists) with clumsy dances heaving their striking blue feet or blow-up their balloon-sized scarlet pouches. Later in the breeding season the fluffy and hungry chicks cry for food and when their wings get strong enough these will learn to fly.
Assisted by the guide and some crew-members the dinghy will bring you and your luggage to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, where we board a private bus to the airport. Your guide will accompany you to the check-in counters in the departure hall. Check-in and flight back to Guayaquil or Quito.