The remote Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, are one of the world’s most fascinating corners of the Pacific Ocean, famously known for their crucial role in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. You will reach these equally beautiful and fascinating islands via a flight from Quito / Guayaquil and land on the islands’ main airport on Baltra Island. At this former strategic point of the Second World War, both tourists and colonists arrive for their stay in the Galapagos. Upon your arrival to Galapagos Islands, your naturalist English speaking guide will assist you and transfer with you by bus to the nearby dock. From here, you’ll embark on your home for the next days, the charmingly sturdy and reliable New Flamingo Motor Yacht. After a friendly welcome aboard and a briefing, you will start your adventures right away with a trip to Highlands after lunch. The highlands of Santa Cruz are a deep green, contrasting beautifully with much of the dry, lower islands. The dominant vegetation in the highlands is the Scalesia trees in Galapagos Islands, create the lush green color. The lava tubes, over half a mile long, are underground and walking through them is a unique, surreal experience. After this first relaxing outing, you return to the yacht for a delicious dinner and your briefing for the next day.
We will arrive on the northern coast of Santa Cruz Island, where we will visit the long and sandy Bachas Beach, one of the most important nesting beaches for sea turtles. Here you can also find flamingos, Black-winged stilts, sea lions, herons, marine iguanas, and — with a little bit of luck — tiny Galapagos penguins. In addition, this beach is one of the main nesting sites of sea turtles in the Galapagos. A female can lay eggs 3 or 4 times with an average of 70 eggs each, but they then spend 3 to 5 years without breeding. In Santa Cruz Island, we will also find the remains of barges that sank long ago; these were once property of the United States Navy when they operated an airbase on Baltra Island during World War II. In fact, the beach got its name because the English word “barges” was hard to pronounce for the local people – hence “Bachas” Beach. You will also have the opportunity to swim on this soft white sand beach or explore the fascinating underwater by snorkeling. After Santa Cruz Island and concluding this amazing experience in the Galapagos Islands, you will be transferred to the Baltra Island airport for your return flight to the Ecuadorian mainland. Enjoy your last look back at the “enchanted islands,” a unique paradise with inspiring natural wonders.
Upon arriving on Bartolome Island, you will discover a fascinating moonscape formed by various volcanic formations — including lava bombs, spatter, cinder cones — as we hike to the island’s summit for striking views of the surrounding islands, Sullivan Bay and the towering Pinnacle Rock. As the beaches at the foot of the Pinnacle Rock boast some of the finest snorkeling in the islands, you can discover a marvelous underwater world here and have a good chance of finding sea turtles gliding gently alongside you. On the rocks beneath Pinnacle Rock, it’s quite possible to spot some of the quick-as-an-arrow Galapagos penguins; at around 25 centimeters tall, these are members of the second smallest species of penguin in the world. In Bartolome Island likewise, you’re likely to see harmless Whitetip reef sharks sunning in these waters. For many visitors, this may turn out to be the best of snorkeling experiences, as the water here is generally clear, without too much surf and full of marine life.
In the afternoon we will land on the fourth largest island in the Galapagos: Santiago Island, also known as “James Island” or “San Salvador Island.” The old rusted machines and run-down buildings of former salt mine workers are still apparent on the island, though the last attempts to populate Santiago Island were given up on forty years ago. Sullivan Bay is located on the eastern coast of Santiago Island. Its lava field, covered with lava cactuses, has a variety of interesting patterns of important geologic interest, as you will be able to observe the contrasting lava landscapes from an older eruption and a newer one formed during the last quarter of the 19th century. After exploring these lava flows, you can swim or snorkel with playful sea lions.
Today we will visit Santa Cruz Island, the second largest of the Galapagos Islands and located in the center of the archipelago. Located there is Black Turtle Cove, a nesting site for sea turtles, who peak their heads above the surface of the water while fish and other forms of marine life circle below. In Santa Cruz with luck, the calm water will allow you to see different types of sharks (like the Whitetip reef shark) and schools of golden-colored Mustard rays. There are a number of mangrove forests here as well.
After a dry landing onto North Seymour Island, we will take a short walk along its coast, where you will encounter Swallow-tailed gulls, sea lions and Cliff crabs. This part of Seymour Island is also known for being a major nesting site for Blue-footed boobies and one of the largest colonies of Magnificent frigatebirds (a species different from the Great frigatebird) As you enjoy this relaxing hike around various nesting sites, you can also spot both of the endemic species of iguanas: marine iguanas and land iguanas.
Santiago Island, also known as “James Island” or “San Salvador Island” is amongst the fourth largest islands in the Galapagos. The old rusted machines and run-down buildings of former salt mine workers are still apparent on the island, though the last attempts to populate Santiago Island were given up on forty years ago. This afternoon we will make a wet landing onto Puerto Egas’s beach of black volcanic sand, visited by Darwin in 1835 and still maintaining an abundance of marine iguanas. After a short walk of about 2 km along the coast, we will reach the rugged lava coastline of James Bay. The unique, truly striking layered terrain of Santiago’s shores is home to a variety of resident and migrant birds, including the bizarre Yellow-crowned Night-heron and an astounding array of marine wildlife – including lobsters, starfish and marine iguanas grazing on algae beds alongside Sally Lightfoot Crabs. Colonies of endemic fur seals swimming in cool water pools formed by volcanic rocks are another highlight.
We will make a wet landing on Chinese Hat Island, located southeast of Santiago Island. Its name describes the shape of the island, which you will be able to discern from a distance. This island’s landscapes are dominated by volcanic formations and fragile lava tubes. Because of this, it’s very important to stay on the paths. You will encounter a small colony of sea lions and then proceed to hike through this dark, unyielding island of solid rock.
Today we will make a dry landing on Point Espinoza, one of Fernandina Island’s visitor points. It is filled with fascinating scenery, such as cactuses growing on the surface of lava. One gets a sense of how life ought to begin when seeing these plants emerging from crevices in this barren landscape. Within this unique scenery in Point Espinoza you will encounter numerous animals – the highlights being sea lions, Galapagos penguins, Flightless cormorants (especially in the spring and summer), and one of the largest iguana colonies in the Galapagos Islands. In fact, on this small strip of land that constitutes Point Espinoza, you can find literally thousands of marine iguanas, which gather in large groups. After a dry landing, we will visit the notorious Tagus Cove, which was historically used as an anchoring place for pirates, buccaneers, and whalers. Still exiting here is some graffiti that is believed to have been left by 19th-century pirates …a curious reminder of an intriguing past. Perched on the ledges of the cliffs around this deep blue bay, you can observe a large number of Blue-footed boobies, as well as marine iguanas, brown pelicans, brown noddy terns, swallow-tailed gulls and tiny Galapagos penguins (members of the only penguin species in the world to extend its range into the northern hemisphere along the equator). A steep trail also passes through an area of dry vegetation and volcanic landscapes with scalesia woods and cactuses.
This morning we will visit Moreno Point, a young volcanic landscape with numerous fresh-water pools and lagoons. You will be able to see flamingos, Bahama ducks and other birds here. Fernandina Island is not only the westernmost island but also the youngest and most pristine island in the Galapagos. Huge fields of lava were created here by the La Cumbre Volcano’s 2005 eruption, which was followed on April 11, 2009, when the volcano flared up again, forming a cloud of ash and steam as hot lava flowed down the slopes of the volcano into the ocean. Nonetheless, an abundance of wildlife calls Moreno Point home, including the famous Flightless cormorants, penguins, pelicans, marine iguanas and sea lions. You can also find mangroves on Fernandina Island, in addition to a great diversity of wildlife – such as orcas and whale sharks (which can sometimes be seen while snorkeling and when they surface). This afternoon we will head for Punta Mangle, located on the southeastern coast of Fernandina Island and constituting one of the best snorkeling spots in the islands. While snorkeling here, you will be sure to meet sea lions and tiny Galapagos penguins.
Isabela Island is one of the largest landmass in the Galapagos archipelago. With a surface of 1,770 sq. miles (4,588 sq. km.), the island constitutes more than the half of the land area of the entire Galapagos archipelago – which is why it has the most visitor points in the islands. Five volcanoes are found on Isabela Island, including the archipelago’s highest: Wolf Volcano, reaching 1,707 m (5,600 ft.). In addition, Isabela Island is the only island in the Galapagos that is actually crossed by the Equator. Today we will visit Puerto Villamil, on Isabela Island. The inhabitants of this town, located on the southeastern edge of the island, make a living off of agriculture and fishing, but tourism is also growing here. The town, which is small enough to explore in an hour, is a nice place for snorkeling or just hanging out on the beach. In fact, this is the only town in the islands with a beachfront. The harbor is frequently full of sailboats as Puerto Villamil (the westernmost town in the Galapagos Islands) is a popular stop for private yachts making their way to the Marquesas Islands. On the southwestern edge of Isabela Island, a boardwalk has been built that leads through mangrove environments and passes along saltwater lagoons. From it, you will be able to see flamingoes, common stilts, whimbrels and Bahama pintails. On the northern edge of town is a series of islets; one of them is known as “Las Tintoreras,” where a colony of Whitetip reef sharks can be seen resting in the lava channel. After visiting that site, we will hike through the Los Humedales wetlands of the island to a breeding station for giant tortoises. At the breeding station you can get up close and personal to some of the giant tortoise species from Isabela Island. This full day of activities will be completed by a visit to the “Wall of Tears,” one of the most touching human-built monuments in the Galapagos.
Fly from Quito or Guayaquil to Baltra Island, in the heart of the Galapagos archipelago and the main point of entrance to this natural paradise. Upon your arrival at the airport, you will need to pay the national park entry fee, which goes to protecting both the Galapagos National Park and Marine Reserve. A member of the ship’s crew will welcome you and accompany you to your yacht: the M/C Millennium.
After Baltra Island, we will then visit the Highlands of Santa Cruz Island, where the lush landscape is a welcome contrast to the arid scenery of the smaller, lower islands. On the way, we will cross through different vegetation zones – from the dry lower region full of cactuses to the scalesia woods in the Highlands. There one can find two small agricultural communities that grow the famous organic Galapagos coffee. While in the Highlands of Baltra Island you will have the option of visiting one of two tortoise breeding centers: El Chato or Rancho Las Primicias. At either site, approaching these enormous and slow-moving reptiles is always an inspiring adventure. The El Chato tortoise reserve was founded in 1964 to allow visitors observe the island’s huge Galapagos turtles and White herons in their natural habitat. You will also be able to walk through nearby underground lava tunnels formed during volcanic eruptions. As the outside of the lava hardened, the inside continued to flow to the ocean, creating these tunnels. Alternatively, Rancho Primicias is a great place to see about ten to fifteen Galapagos giant tortoises in the wild
Early in the morning before breakfast, a bird watching excursion is optional. Breakfast and transfer to Lago Agrio to take your flight back. NOTE: In the 5 days 4 nights tour, a visit to Canangueno Lagoon by Indian paddle canoe and another hike in the forest are the activities for the 4th day.