Galapagos is an excellent destination for wildlife and bird observation, and of course also for photography and filming. Our programs include a wide range of activities, such as guided hikes, dinghy-rides, visits to giant tortoise breeding projects, interpretive botanic trails and visitors centres. Additional activities such as snorkelling, and sometimes even active sea kayaking* are part of the itineraries as well. Latter depend on local conditions and will be coordinated together with the guide. These activities are meant to experience the closest and most intimate encounters with wildlife, and to perceive the unique nature of Galapagos from different perspectives; and not to pump adrenaline through your body.
The encounters with unique and fearless animals at very short distances are absolutely one of the most fascinating and unforgettable aspects of your visit to the Galapagos Archipelago. It is like you find yourself in the middle of a bustling nature documentary!
Even the young Charles Darwin continued to be astonished about the tameness and stoicism of lots of species, despite his experiments such as throwing stones to them, and shouting to or even riding apparently ‘deaf’ giant tortoises; experiments which fortunately are forbidden nowadays. According to the National Park visitor’s rules the animals may touch you, but you may not touch the animals.
The Galapagos Islands are particularly a bird watcher’s dream: 29 of the 58 resident bird species are endemic (unique), such as the flightless cormorant, waved albatross, Galapagos penguin, lava and swallow-tailed gull, Galapagos hawk, four subspecies of mocking bird and of course the about 14 species of Darwin’s finches, among others.
Although not exclusive to the Galapagos Islands, blue-footed, red-footed and Nazca boobies remain very popular amongst visitors, as are frigatebirds with their impressive to balloon-size inflated red pouches during the breeding season. In every month of the year it is possible to witness seabirds, mating, breeding or nurturing their young.
As elsewhere in the great outdoors we never can guarantee with certainty that you will observe certain species, but we can assure that you will observe numbers of sea-, shore-, wading-, aquatic-and song bird species, as well as raptors. The islands count with Galapagos hawks and two species of owl; barn owls nest in the lava tunnels and the short-eared owl hunts on foot on Genovesa. Favorite birding islands are Española, Genovesa, North Seymour and Santa Cruz.
Follow the footsteps of Sir David Attenborough, Tui de Roy and Pete Oxford. The Galapagos Islands are a paradise for image makers; probably every serious nature photographer or filmmaker – professional or amateur – aspires to visit Galapagos at least once in a lifetime. And even for those who just want to record a memory of their extraordinary trip, it will be difficult to select which shots will perk up their holiday picture album or home video.
There is probably no easier place in the world to make wildlife portraits. The animals often pose as patient models or actors. You generally don’t even have to pursue, look or wait patiently for them! The warm season in the first half of the year generally has more sunshine and greener landscapes, while seabirds are more active in the overcast garúa-season (with generally sunny afternoons).
In your cabin on board you will find facilities at hand to charge your batteries and make a first selection of your shoots; but your valuable time on board will be limited to select your images. Take enough storage space! Polarizing filters are useful to eliminate reflections on the water surface (at white-tipped reef shark channel or during dinghy-rides in the mangles). You won’t regret to bring also an underwater camera, because the transparent waters of Galapagos are ideal for underwater photography. And leave your flash gun better at home; National Park visitor’s rules prohibit taking flash pictures from the wildlife (unless you also want to take interior or night pictures on the yacht or in the visitors centers).
Guided hikes during the island visits will give you amazing opportunities to get up close with nature. Moreover you can set foot on lunar like lava fields, climb volcanic cones, stare into craters that recently have erupted and even entering lava tunnels.
Very contrasting to the hikes in the Coastal and Arid Zones are those in the highlands of Isabela and Santa Cruz, where you can visit the lush and moist cloud forests and meet Galapagos giant tortoises in the wild and colorful song birds.
The island tours start and end generally with a transfer by inflatable dinghy (or ‘Zodiac’, or ‘panga’) from your yacht at the anchorage-site to the island. Sometimes there is sort of a jetty or a rocky shore, where you can make a so-called ‘dry landing’. Otherwise you will land on a beach where you have to put on shorts and sandals or water shoes, and step into shallow water (‘wet landing’). Dry landings however can be slippery or somewhat bumpy when the sea is rough; but the crew is trained and always attentive to help you in and out safely.
During the hike your very knowledgeable, National Park-certified guide will denominate which species you see, and add intriguing stories about their behavior, or what makes them so special. You will also learn more about the interesting geologic formations or conservation of these islands.
National Park visitor’s rules forbid to leave the trail, and you have to stay with your guide and group as well. The walks are performed in a relaxed pace, and are generally no longer than 4 km (2.5 mi.), about 1-3 hours walk.
Most trails are easily accessible for all, mainly flat or gently ascending (especially trails in the more popular central and southeastern islands). Some of them include walk boards, stairs or lookouts. On other sites there are just wooden stick signs, trails can be steeper, or you have to scramble some rocks (especially on more remote islands) or walking muddy paths (especially in the highlands of Santa Cruz and Isabela). Please ask your guide for alternatives when you expect that a certain part of the program might be too tough for you.
Besides so called terrestrial visitors sites the Galapagos National Park offers a host of marine visitors sites, where it is allowed to snorkel, scuba dive, sea-kayak or to undertake dinghy-rides by inflatable dinghy (or ‘Zodiac’ or ‘panga’).
Obviously, the naturalist guide again comes into action to give these observation tours more significance. Generally you will not make a landing, but you can observe the wildlife from the waterside, observing the intertidal life, or for example Galapagos penguins and flightless cormorants. We will also navigate underneath towering cliffs full of nesting sea birds, or even entering a dark cave in which the thundering waves are echoing. The inflatable dinghy can also enter and explore the lush and bird-rich mangrove forests, a cradle for baby sharks, rays and others fish, and the quiet mating-place for turtles. Paddling with switched-off engine and feeling nature is one more experience of the perfect outdoor life!
Some of our yachts take double or single inflatable kayaks to explore quietly in your own pace the protected bays or shorelines of admitted marine visitors sites. As during inflatable dinghy rides, you can see wildlife and birds from the waterside. But in a sea kayak you can peddle yourself, in your own pace, and where you want to go. Imagine yourself in a kayak, amidst a group of playful Galapagos sea lions! This recreational activity can also be a quiet, almost introspective experience, that can make you realize most intensely the extraordinary ambiance you find yourself in. You can observe dozens of marine species through the crystal clear Galapagos waters.
Note: This activity can only be done at designated areas set by the Galapagos National Park authorities, and availability depends heavily on the weather.
During your cruise there are almost daily opportunities to emerge yourself into the amazing submarine world around the islands. Underwater, a complete distinctive world opens up to you. Especially snorkel sites in rockier areas generally possess extreme transparent waters (famous are sites around Kicker Rock, Floreana and Santiago).
Even in shallow bays where you perhaps even don’t expect it, you will be surrounded by plenty colourful tropical reef fish such as yellow-tail surgeon fishes, sergeant-majors, king angelfishes and parrotfishes, among many others. It is an unforgettable experience to submerge yourself in a giant aquarium with coral formations, different species of ray and graceful green marine turtles. (Harmless) white-tip reef sharks rest on the bottom of quiet sites, and when you have eye for detail – you can even spot star fish, octopuses and sea horses. Most emotional highlights are encounters with young playful sea lions or with hunting penguins. Snorkelling is also great fun for the kids!
Shallow-water snorkelling spots, are often located near the beaches from which you walk yourself (backwards) into the water. On deep water snorkelling sites you plunge into the sea from the inflatable dinghy (or ‘Zodiac’, or ‘panga’), while the crew keeps a watchful eye on the people that are inside the water. The naturalist guide stays with the group in the water. Difficulty depends on the strength of possible currents and water temperature.
On board we provide you with snorkelling equipment*, consisting of a mask, snorkel, and fins. Optional you can also hire wet-suits for being able to stay longer in the water and support flotation (please, reserve with anticipation). The need for a wet-suit is quite personally, and depends mainly on the water temperature, but generally it’s better feeling too warm than too cold. Sea water temperatures are determined by many factors, including the geographic location, depth of the water, the season and possible currents. Shallow sites are generally warm enough to snorkel without a wet-suit, but for example North and West of Isabela the Cromwell Current is considerably colder, as well as the Humboldt Current in the cooler season. See Galapagos climate for a table with approximate water temperatures.
* Please look at What is Included? what applies to your yacht.
Most of our routes also contain a scheduled visit to one of the Galapagos giant tortoise breeding projects, an interpretive botanic trail or an interesting visitors centre. These visits are a good introduction, as well as an interesting complement to briefings and field-explanations of your knowledgeable naturalist guide during the cruise, because these tell and show the background stories from a different point of view.
Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz) is the seat of the Charles Darwin Research Station and the headquarters of the Galapagos National Park Service, and also houses various small visitor’s centres and the famous Galapagos giant tortoise breeding project, with branches in Puerto Villamil (Isabela) and Cerro Colorado (San Cristobal). It’s hard work to save these queer creatures by reproduction in captivity and repopulation, but these important programs are successful. These centres are the quickest and most comfortable places to see Galapagos giant tortoises. You don’t have to search them over there, as in the humid and often muddy highlands.
In the interpretation centre just outside Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristobal) you can learn what makes Galapagos so unique, history and which conservation challenges are confronted. The exhibition that it houses is attractively presented with information panels (in English and Spanish), pictures, maquettes and true to life dioramas and help to get overview.
To make the most of your Galapagos trip, we offer an almost continuous well-filled daily program. Longer hikes are usually scheduled in the morning and snorkel and swim activities mostly in the afternoon, when the sea water has been warmed-up. The activities are interspersed with moments to rest. Don’t forget to relax during your stay and realize where you are!
Depending on the luxury class your yacht offers also comfortable facilities to recharge, such as deck chairs, loungers or cushions on the sun deck or shaded deck, the living room with a small library, a bar that serves delicious cocktails and beverages, or you can also air at the edges, or just quietly relax in your own cabin. Please see Yacht Design which facilities you can expect on the yacht of your choice.
During most longer itineraries one island excursion gives some free time for relaxing on the beach (sunbathing, swimming, snorkelling from the beach or walk along the shoreline).
Anchoring in the harbours of Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz), Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristobal) and Puerto Villamil (Isabela) generally also gives some free time to stroll along the promenade of these settlements, visit souvenir shops or have an ice-cream, or a drink on a terrace.