|1||Sunday||AM - Flight to Baltra Airport|
|PM - Dragon Hill (Santa Cruz)|
|2||Monday||AM - Rabida|
|PM - Chinese Hat|
|3||Tuesday||AM - Prince Phillip's Steps (Genovesa)|
|PM - Darwin Bay (Genovesa)|
|4||Wednesday||AM - Bartolome|
|PM - Sullivan Bay (Santiago)|
|5||Thursday||AM - Highlands (Santa Cruz)|
|Tour ends. Transfer to Baltra Airport|
Our shortest 4 nights northern itinerary explores the heart of the Archipelago and also visits the exclusive bird-island of Genovesa (with red-footed boobies, frigate birds and the short-eared owl)! This route offers lots of opportunities for snorkelling (mostly even twice a day!).
From Baltra you will get to know centrally located sites such as Dragon Hill (with land iguanas), Rabida (with its red beach and brown pelican nesting colony), and the volcanic islet of Chinese Hat, where you will have a first opportunity to see Galapagos penguins (and perhaps snorkel with them).
After return from Genovesa you can make an impressive ‘moonwalk’ on the barren lava flow of Sullivan Bay and a short climb to the summit of Bartolome you will get impressed by the volcanic forces that have created the islands. On the last morning you will look for Galapagos giant tortoises in the highlands of Santa Cruz and continue to the airport.
This morning you will fly from Quito or Guayaquil to Baltra Airport.
After welcome, check-in, lunch, briefing and the safety-drill we head for our first visitor’s site, Dragon Hill. It is located just about 25 km / 15 mi West from the airport of Baltra (navigation time about 2:30 h). The ‘dragons’ that live on this hill are iconic inhabitants of the National Park, wherefore this guided walk will be an excellent start of your cruise (Easy level; about 2,4 km / 1.5 mi.).
Before dinner your guide will give the first daily briefing for tomorrow, and he/she will explain the yacht’s and National Park rules. Then the captain and his crew will present and toast with a welcome cocktail to celebrate your first evening on board.
Because we stay in the heart of the archipelago, we will lift the anchor in the dead of the night and sail just about 3 hours Northwest to the islet of Rabida.
At Baltra Airport you have to pay your Galapagos National Park entrance fee and your luggage is inspected. See Getting there for flight and arrival information. In front of the arrival hall you will meet your naturalist guide and fellow passengers, and be transferred to the landing dock by airport shuttle. Our inflatable dinghy brings you the last stretch to the yacht.
Dragon Hill offers two key-species very liked to be seen during each Galapagos visit, though not too common distributed throughout the islands: Galapagos land iguanas and American flamingos. You will climb a hill with giant opuntia cacti where these ‘dragons’ feed and breed. By 1975 this was one of the last populations of land iguanas on Santa Cruz, threatened by wild dogs. A rescue plan was executed and the iguanas even had to be dislocated to nearby undisturbed Venice Islets for over a decade, where they successfully reproduced. In 1990 the population was replaced; just three years before this scenic site was opened to tourism. Although they are quite shy and elusive, you stand a fair chance to see the success of this project with your own eyes.
The short walk crosses the coastal vegetation zone, as well as the somewhat higher arid zone with vulnerable tropical dry forest. In the warm and wet season in the first half of the year all turns green. Evergreen giant prickly pear cacti with internal reservoirs followed a different survival tactic in this dry climate than the leaf dropping palo santo trees; finally both were successful. Moreover, this is a very photogenic spot as well, with breath-taking panoramas over the bay and towards an intriguing steep volcanic spout of red lava that overlooks the area. Not in the last place Dragon Hill has become popular because of its saline lagoons behind the beach; these contain algae and shrimp and attract seasonally foraging American flamingos. Dragon Hill is best location on Santa Cruz to observe them.
On a clear morning it could be well-worth to get-up early to enjoy an unforgettable sunrise on the flaming red cliffs and beach. After breakfast you will make a wet landing (barefeet) to make 2 short guided nature hikes from the remarkable red beach and along the breeding colony of brown pelicans (Easy level; about 0,4 + 1 km / 0.25 + 0.6 mi.). On return you will be picked-up by the inflatable dinghies, which will bring you back on board for a snack and to prepare yourself for first-time snorkeling or a dinghy-ride.
Before lunch we lift the anchor and continue about 2 hours to another islet just out off the coast of Santiago: Chinese Hat. Perhaps you can spot some Galapagos penguins, which even can show-up during today’s 2nd snorkeling excursion. During the late-afternoon walk you will learn a lot about the geology on this typical volcano-islet (Easy level; about 0,7 km / 0.5 mi.).
After dinner we leave for the longest, about 7 hours passage to the northern island of Genovesa, and meanwhile will cross the equator.
The anchorage-site at the northern headland of Rabida is the only point in its shoreline that is not guarded by a barrier of rocks and armed with giant prickly pear cacti. The sharp corner of the bay holds a striking red beach that adds colour to your photo album. Walk to the end of the beach, blocked by spectacular brick-reddish cliffs that contain oxidized iron. Especially short after sunrise and short before sunset, colours become more intense, and the rusty sand and rocks seem to blaze!
Outside the mating season this remarkable red beach is occupied by a large bachelor colony of Galapagos sea lions that will welcome you. The beach wall on this compact spot holds a small and shallow, green-fringed lagoon. Although the water is salty, this pool is the most fertile place on the otherwise very arid islet, so it attracts all kind of aquatic and wading birds such as pintails (or Bahama ducks) and sometimes even American flamingos (although these seem to have found better foraging places). In the surrounding mangrove bushes many different species of songbirds are looking for hiding and breeding places between the evergreen foliage. Palo santo trees that drop their leaves in the dry season cover the rest of the island.
Outstanding attraction is the major breeding colony of brown pelicans, and one of the best places in Galapagos to approach them. Their brown plumage becomes striking white with chestnut markings on head and necks and a yellowish crown in the breeding season (period shifts on our calendar). Both parents breed about 4 weeks and nurture some 10 weeks more. Brown pelicans are the only pelicans in the world that plunge-dive. From the beach you can see their spectacular hunting V-formations, low above the surface of the sea. Juveniles don’t learn this fishing technique easily, resulting that many of them will starve short after fledging. It is interesting to compare the superficial dives of the pelicans with the rocket like plunge dives of the boobies.
Chinese Hat is a 52 m / 170 ft high volcanic cone, forming another islet right out off the coast of Santiago. Approaching from the north you certainly will agree with its name. Because the primordial fire has been extinguished recently, you can learn more about volcanism, lava bombs and lava tunnels. On the beach there are also curious pillow-type lavas with coral heads on top! These spheres have a submarine history and were uplifted above sea level.
You arrive exactly on time to witness next chapter about colonization by pioneers! Chinese Hat does not appear that inhospitable any more as Bartolome and lunatic Sullivan Bay. This tiny, rusty-coloured islet just begins to sprout. Beautiful beaches of white coral sand arose, and holes in the infertile, but eroding lava fields are getting filled up with lava sand, facilitating as well inland places for rooting. Galapagos sea lions and countless marine iguanas contribute to fertilization. Everything together creates more favourable options for newcomers, like saltbush, which sticks at the beach and sesuvium that rolls out a discolouring carpet, turning from green into red in the dry season. Colonization of Chinese Hat will probably occur in a much higher pace than elsewhere; hence Santiago is just a stone’s throw away, although its eastern tip is also lifeless. The separating channel with its turquoise waters is about 100 m / 300 ft wide. Across, at the foot of the cliffs lives a small colony of Galapagos penguins, which you might see occasionally during the inflatable dinghy-ride.
As one of the outer islands, Genovesa is well worth the longer trip; it belongs to the more exclusive places that add a lot of value to longer cruises. This bird’s and birder’s paradise is the only northern Galapagos Island that is open to tourism, and – surprisingly – not frequented too much and quite exclusive. Anchoring is an experience you are not likely to forget. The horseshoe shaped wall shows unmistakably that you are entering the partly collapsed and submerged caldera of a young volcano!
Today we have a full program. All impressions you gather will be nearly too much for a single day! After early breakfast you will make a wet landing at the isolated and peaceful beach of Darwin Bay for a guided nature walk (Moderate level; ca. 3 km / 2 mi.). Afterwards you can enjoy a snack aboard and a refreshing snorkelling excursion again. You can also ask your guide for the alternative option of a sea kayak-tour.
Around lunch-time we will sail to the entrance of the caldera where our second visitor’s site is located: Prince Philip’s Steps. There we have programmed another inflatable dinghy-ride and another spectacular guided nature walk (Moderate level; about 3 km / 2 mi.).
Heading back to Santiago this night, we have to navigate about 6 hours again, and lift the anchor after dinner.
Inside the submerged caldera of Genovesa lies Darwin Bay, with a diameter of more than 1,5 km / 1 mi and it is almost 200 m / 650 ft deep. Confusingly the beach deep inside the caldera has been called Darwin Bay as well… This quiet site is Galapagos in miniature! The small-scaled area will surprise you again and again, walking along a coral sand beach, crossing barren lava formations and creeks, passing tidal pools, shrubs and further ahead following the top of some cliffs. In this extremely varied and peaceful ambience, every single species has occupied its own ecological niche (or preferred habitat) without disturbing others.
Whimbrels and wandering tattlers forage actively along the surf, next to resting Galapagos sea lions. Herons wait motionless at the tidal pools and creeks behind the saltbushes. Impressive frigatebirds (both species, as on North Seymour and Pitt Point) and red-footed boobies nest in the mangroves, where you can also notice vocalists such as the yellow warbler, Darwin’s finches and the Galapagos mockingbird (although this island is: similar to Española: relatively poor in song bird species). Unique is that two subpopulations of the same species large cactus finch differ from singing.
Tropicbirds, Nazca boobies, storm petrels, endemic lava- and swallow-tailed gulls among others soar along the cliffs. When you already have seen marine iguanas elsewhere, the Genovesa species might not look too impressive. But consider that these are virtually the only reptiles that succeeded to reach and survive on this remote, upstream island, and meanwhile have become endemic.
Genovesa has a royal touch. And that’s not only because of its former English name Tower (after the Royal Palace in London). The often used English name of the visitor’s site El Barranco commemorates the 1964 visit of the Duke of Edinburgh, a Galapagos lover since the first hour and patron of the Charles Darwin Foundation. In his footsteps (and in those of Prince Charles) you will be able to admire one of Galapagos’ favourite birding spots with largest breeding colonies of Nazca and red-footed boobies.
Before landing you will make an inflatable dinghy-ride along the eastern arm of the caldera. On approach, the massive 25 m / 80 ft high walls become overwhelming, and will give you a better impression of the dimensions of this crater. Sometimes a Galapagos fur seal is resting on one of the ledges at the base. You also will see first seabirds, although the real spectacle finds place on top and on the outside of the rim, which provide better perching and nesting places.
Therefore you have to hike and overcome the steep stairs from the landing dock to a bush of palo santo shrubs on top. Tropical dry forest vegetation appears dead during most months of the year, but just drops its leaves to prevent drying out by evaporation. It’s a very threatened ecosystem. Red-footed boobies with different plumages gratefully use these scarce nesting-places; different to their relatives ‘red feet’ don’t nest on the rocky ground.
On arriving at the seaside of the rim, the bushes open up and you can enjoy wide views, a strong sea breeze and the amazing flying skills of uncountable seabirds. Following the exposed seaside rim you will first pass the Nazca boobies and finally reach the extensive storm petrel nesting places, where you might be lucky spotting how the well-camouflaged short-eared owl is hunting for them on foot!
The wild romantic islet of Bartolome is located just south of the equator, and close to the eastern coast of Santiago. This is the north-western corner of the archipelago, where volcanoes are still active. So today is largely dedicated to volcanism and spectacular geologic ‘moonscapes’, but you will also have the opportunities to observe Galapagos penguins again, and of snorkelling in a warm, shallow bath full of colourful reef fish. Bartolome and Sullivan Bay are incomparable to any other visitor’s site. The programmed excursions are extremely rich in contrast and promise to become an unforgettable experience.
In the early morning, we will undertake a charming inflatable dinghy-ride along the barren shoreline of this volcanic islet. After breakfast, when it is not yet too hot, you will follow the steep stairs of the Summit Trail to the top, rewarded by spectacular and panoramic views, hopefully illuminated by the golden, early morning sun (Moderate level; about 800 m / 0.5 mi. with 114 m / 364 ft. altitude difference). Next it’s time for a refreshing swim, snorkelling at the foot of Pinnacle Rock, or just walking around or relaxing on the beach.
After 15 minutes of navigation you can enjoy our delicious lunch buffet again. Bartolome is right in front of another fascinating place: Sullivan Bay. You will land on the black lava flow for an impressive moonwalk, whilst you will learn more on the distinct forms of volcanism (Easy level; ca. 1,5 km / 1 mi.). A hot afternoon will be concluded again with another opportunity to explore underwater life.
Before dinner you can enjoy a farewell cocktail with the crew and your fellow passengers. By that time we are already on our way to Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz), which we will reach before midnight. While floating in the harbour you can enjoy a quiet sleep during your last night on board.
Additional options scuba-diving: Bartolome or Cousin Rocks (both advanced)
Nothing is too much promised when the National Park authorities praise Bartolome as ‘flagship site of the Galapagos Islands’. Although tiny (just 1,2 km² / 0,46 sq. mi) and lifeless at first sight, this young islet offers you some of the best panoramas and wildest landscapes in the entire archipelago. Surprisingly these warm equatorial waters with coral reefs are even one of the best places in the archipelago to encounter endangered Galapagos penguins!
Galapagos’ landmark ‘Pinnacle Rock’ towers prominently over an isthmus with paradisiacal sand beaches on each side, and emerald coloured bays. Underwater, a second, completely distinctive world opens up to you. The warm, clear and shallow waters are ideally for snorkelling between surgeonfishes, harmless whitetip reef sharks and Pacific green turtles. If you are lucky you can even catch the sight of fishing Galapagos penguins.
To enjoy the postcard view of the idyllic ‘Pinnacle Bay’ you have to cross a third, dramatic type of scenery, climbing the stairs to the viewpoint on top of the island (114 m / 375 ft). During this geologically and botanical interesting climb, you will find yourself in the middle of several very close spatter cones, craters, and lightweight lava droplets, that where spewed out by spectacular fountains and cooled and solidified in the air. Bartolome is among the youngest of the islands, and on a geological scale just recently born out off fire. The Summit Trail is ideal to witness how scanty pioneer vegetation such as lava cactus is struggling to cover the lunar-like volcanic landscape of majorly virgin, uneroded lava fields.
Sullivan Bay is incomparable to any other visitor’s site; the miraculous bas-reliefs you will observe in the crust of the lava flow are unique to Galapagos and Hawaii. Those who are interested in geology and volcanology really should not miss the opportunity to witness earth formation in process, although it is unlikely that you will notice real fireworks and lava fountains on spot. Anyway, the power of volcanic activity will impress you forever. Setting foot at the Sullivan lava stream is like landing on the moon.
The desolate, stretched-out fields seem mostly lifeless, but this doesn’t mean that there is nothing to see. In contrary! And this can best be proofed by its popularity amongst photographers, especially those who have eye for detail and love close-ups.
And there is even some life! Pacific green turtles sometimes use the tiny white sand beach to lay their eggs, and eventually you also might spot a strayed heron, oystercatcher, or some crabs. Behind the beach there is just some sparse pioneer vegetation such as lava cacti and carpetweed. At best you will encounter a lava lizard, surprising locusts or the small snake-species Galapagos racer hunting for them (or for turtle hatchlings on the beach).
The barely eroded flow seems to have been solidified for short, and suggests that you are just able to set foot on it. The winding and rippled pahoehoe rope-lava still contains intriguing traces, which tell flaming stories about vaporized leatherleaf trees and miniature cones of volcanic glass. The surface may have cooled down, but the baking sun completes the sensation of heat.
Distinctive tuff cones pockmark the new-formed lunatic landscape. Their rusty, oxidized colours and the vegetation reveal that these cones are from an older generation, and count with a very different geological history. Originally these were volcano islets on their own, but have become part of Santiago when a hot flood of ooze filled up large parts of Sullivan Bay during the last eruption of 1897, which in fact is the black crust you walk on. For the time being only the opposite islet of Bartolome escaped from incorporation. In a certain way the distinctive cones still can be considered as islands, though no longer surrounded by sea, but by wide infertile lava fields.
After early breakfast it’s time to leave the yacht and say goodbye (unless you have booked an extension on the A-route, in which case you can enjoy the cosy town of Puerto Ayora between the morning excursion and lunch aboard).
Our inflatable dinghy brings you to the harbour of Puerto Ayora, from where we will travel by road to the highlands for our last excursion. In the agricultural zone you can see Galapagos giant tortoises in the wild. Then we will accompany you and your luggage to the airport, where you can check-in and return to Guayaquil or Quito.
Because wild Galapagos giant tortoises don’t stop at official National Park boundaries, dozens of them also roam and even mate on the adjacent woodlands in the populated agricultural zone of Santa Cruz. Thanks to the semi-open pastures and scalesia-woodlands, and their concentration around muddy pools, these farmlands are best place for a quick visit. Armed with a rain poncho and (provided) rubber boots you will get good chances to approach wild Galapagos giant tortoises just within a few meters.
Most time of their stretched lives is spent slowly and silently, except for a warning hiss, or loud screams during mating, which you can here from far in the first half of the year. Subsequently females leave the highlands and descend all the way down to the beaches to dig holes and lay their eggs. It is estimated that in 2015 about 32.000 tortoises live in the wild in all the islands, most on restricted locations of Isabela.
Assisted by the guide and some crew-members the inflatable dinghy will bring you and your luggage to Baltra, where we take the airport shuttle. Your guide will accompany you to the check-in counters in the departure hall.
We expect that you will return home with stunning pictures and unforgettable memories for life!