Our 7 nights western route is a mini-expedition to the largest sea bird colonies and some of the remotest corners of Galapagos; outer islands belong often to the more exclusive places. This adventurous route contains longer nightly navigation stretches (but Sailing Catamaran Nemo I is faster than average, and you will also have two relatively quiet floating nights).
After visiting North Seymour and Genovesa, you will round the by far largest island Isabela, and pass by pristine Fernandina, which are both just recently born out of fire. On its way back Nemo I will anchor at Santiago’s James Bay (fur seal grottos and great snorkelling) and sail round the sea bird laden volcano islet of Daphne Major.
Though less frequented than popular central and south-eastern islands, the volcanic north offers most dramatic landscapes and reveal the first chapter of evolution. And the desolate west is truly exceptional. Become witness of some bizarre miracles of evolution, such as flightless cormorants, huge marine iguanas and Galapagos penguins close to the equator. During a climb to the rim of the huge caldera of Sierra Negra and on the volcano islets of Bartolome and Chinese Hat you will get impressed by the volcanic forces that still create the islands. Discover how pioneer species conquer barren lava fields and create habitats for new colonist species.
Walk at very short distance past frigatebirds, blue-footed boobies, red-footed and Nazca boobies whilst courtshipping, mating, breeding, nurturing or learning to fly (depending on the season). Furthermore, en route you will have chances to see emblematic and endemic Galapagos land iguanas, American flamingos and exciting whale watching!
• Itinerary is subject to change in case of force majeure caused by exceptional and natural circumstances.
• Approximate departure and navigation times are just indicative and depend on the sea state and decisions of the captain.
• Although Galapagos seldom requires quests for wildlife, observation of specific species can never be guaranteed.
North Seymour is the perfect start of your Galapagos visit, without the necessity to navigate a long stretch to get first contact with the unique insular nature. It is one of the most visited sites. This tabletop islet is overloaded with most extensive colonies of frigatebirds and blue-footed boobies in the archipelago, and there crawl Galapagos land iguanas around as well!
AM: This morning you will fly from Quito or Guayaquil to Baltra Airport.
PM: After welcome aboard Sailing Catamaran Nemo I, check-in, lunch and the safety-drill you will make your first landing at North Seymour for a guided walk through the large seabird‘s colonies, following a circular loop (easy level; 2km/1.25 mi/about 2hrs). Before dinner your naturalist guide will give the first daily briefing, and the captain and his crew will present and share a welcome toast.
Navigation: About midnight we will lift the anchor and sail to Genovesa. Depending on sea state we will navigate about 5:30 hrs north.
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.
The tabletop islet of North Seymour is an uplifted part of the seabed. Between the dry shrubs you might perceive a Galapagos land iguana. North Seymour originally did not count with land iguanas, but in the 1930s an eccentric American millionaire moved the last generation from Baltra, and saved them for starvation caused by competition with introduced goats; the afterwards breeding program at Charles Darwin Research Station turned into a big success.
You can spot lots of seabirds, such as brown pelicans, red-billed tropicbirds, endemic swallow-tailed gulls and seasonally even Nazca boobies. But the main attraction are the archipelago’s most extensive breeding colonies of blue-footed boobies and frigatebirds. At the start of the breeding season (shifting on our calendar) adult frigatebird-males blow up their vivid red pouches to impressive football-sized balloons. This is one of the few spots (besides Genovesa and Pitt Point) where you can compare the magnificent and the rarer great frigatebird breeding next to each other. Frigatebirds rather attack returning boobies and conduct aerial battles than fishing themselves and get a wet suit. The even more popular blue-footed boobies show their cute courtship rituals, in which their remarkable feet play an important role.
As one of the outer islands and most exclusive places of Galapagos, Genovesa is well worth last night’s longer navigation. All impressions will be nearly too much for a single day! Hundreds of thousands of seabirds perch and nest on the cliffs around its flooded crater.
Not only because of its historical English name (Tower) Genovesa has a royal touch. Follow into the footsteps of Prince Philip – Galapagos lover of the first hour and patron of the Charles Darwin Foundation – and visit this favourite birding spot with largest breeding colonies of red-footed and Nazca boobies, and look for a remarkable short-eared owl that hunts on foot!
AM: Today’s full program includes two longer walks, snorkeling and optional sea kayaking. After early breakfast and a wet landing at the sheltered beach of Darwin Bay you will go for a guided walk (moderate level; about 3km/2mi). Enjoy a snack aboard before snorkeling (alternatively: sea kayaking).
PM: Around lunch-time we will sail to nearby Prince Philip’s Steps, close to the entrance of the broken caldera. There you will make a guided walk through cliff top seabird colonies (moderate level; about 3km/2mi).
Overnight navigation: Nemo I will lift the anchor shortly after dinner, and navigate about 5 hours, heading back south in the direction of Santiago (and anchoring at Bartolome).
Genovesa’s horseshoe shaped wall shows unmistakably that we have anchored inside the partly collapsed and submerged caldera of a submarine volcano! The visitor’s site named Darwin Bay is located at the very rear. This compact site shows the extreme varied coastal ecosystems of Galapagos in miniature. The trail starts from the coral sand beach and subsequently passes a zone with saltbushes and mangroves, than crosses tidal creeks and barren lava formations, dry shrub lands, and finally turns on the ridge of some cliffs.
In this extremely varied and peaceful ambience, every single species has occupied its own ecological niche (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. Impressive frigatebirds (both great and magnificent species) and red-footed boobies nest in the mangroves, where you can also notice some vocalists such as yellow warblers, Darwin’s finches and Galapagos mockingbirds. 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 soar along the cliffs. When you already have seen marine iguanas elsewhere, the small 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 have become endemic to this island).
Before landing you will make a dinghy-ride along the eastern arm of the caldera. On approach, the 25m/80ft 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 shaded ledges. Although there are also seabirds, the real spectacle will find 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 threatened ecosystem. Red-footed boobies with different plumages gratefully use these scarce nesting-places; different to their blue-footed relatives ‘red feet’ don’t nest on the rocky ground.
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 rim you will first pass a colony of 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!
Just out of the coast of Santiago, Sailing Catamaran Nemo I will anchor at two volcanoes islets: Bartolome (recently born out off fire) and Chinese Hat. You will arrive exactly on time at Chinese Hat to witness how this barren volcano islet gets colonized by pioneer species and begins to sprout! Enjoy the famous wild romantic panorama of Bartolome. Very close to the equator you will have first opportunities to meet endangered Galapagos penguins; whilst snorkelling you might even encounter these agile hunters fishing!
AM: Today’s full program is largely dedicated to volcanism. Wake-up during an early morning dinghy-ride along the barren shoreline. After breakfast it is not yet too hot to climb the stairs of Bartolomé’s Summit Trail, which is rewarded with panoramic views (guided walk, moderate level; about 800m/0.5 mi; 114m/375ft altitude difference). Next you can refresh and explore the fantastic shallow water snorkelling spot at the foot of Pinnacle Rock (alternative: walking around or relaxing on the beach).
PM: During lunch Nemo I navigates to Chinese Hat (about 1hr), where you can snorkel again. Learn more about Galapagos’ fascinating geology during the late-afternoon walk on this typical volcano-islet (easy level; about 0,7 km/0.5 mi).
Navigation: While sailing to Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz, about 7hr) you will have dinner. We will anchor in the sheltered harbour just after midnight, where you can enjoy a fairly quiet sleep.
Additional options scuba-diving: Bartolome or Cousin Rocks (both advanced)
The wild romantic volcano islet of Bartolome is among the youngest of the islands, and on a geological scale just recently born out off fire. Although tiny (only 120ha/300ac) and at first sight lifeless, Bartolome offers some of the wildest landscapes and best panoramas in the entire archipelago. To enjoy the postcard view of the idyllic ‘Pinnacle Bay’ you have to climb the stairs to the viewpoint on top of the island (114m/375ft). Enter suddenly a dramatical world of threatening (though extinguished) nearby spatter cones, craters, and lightweight lava droplets that have been spewed out by fiery fountains. The Summit Trail is also ideal to witness how scanty pioneer vegetation such as lava cactus is struggling to take root in the bare virgin lava fields.
From the summit you suddenly face a second, paradisiacal world; Galapagos’ landmark ‘Pinnacle Rock’ towers prominently over an isthmus with crescent sand beaches on each side, and dunes with evergreen mangrove bushes in between.
Underwater, a third, completely distinctive world opens up to you, resembling a tropical aquarium. Its shallow, clear and warm waters are ideally for snorkeling between coral-grinding parrot fishes, shoals of surgeonfishes, harmless whitetip reef sharks and Pacific green turtles. If you are lucky you can even catch the sight of fishing Galapagos penguins.
Chinese Hat is a 52m/170ft high volcanic cone, forming another islet right out off the rocky coast of Santiago, where a small colony of Galapagos penguins has settled. Approaching Chinese Hat from the north, you certainly will agree with its name. Because its primordial fire has been extinguished recently, this is an excellent place to learn more about volcanism, lava bombs and lava tunnels. On the beach you can also find curious pillow-type lavas with coral heads on top! These spheres have a submarine origin before being lifted above sea level.
But Chinese Hat does not appear that inhospitable any more as almost virgin Bartolome and lunatic Sullivan Bay. You arrive exactly on time to witness how this barren islet gets colonized by pioneer species and begins to sprout! Beaches of white coral sand grow, and holes in the eroding lava fields are filled up with lava sand, which enables rooting. Galapagos sea lions and countless marine iguanas contribute to fertilization. All together create more favourable options for newcomers, like saltbush and the discolouring sesuvium carpet. Colonization of Chinese Hat can occur in a much higher pace than elsewhere, hence Santiago is just a stone’s throw away.
Last night’s crossing has brought you to Puerto Ayora. Without any doubt most-emblematic representatives of the archipelago are the Galapagos giant tortoises. Today is mainly dedicated to these slow creatures on the central island of Santa Cruz. First you will have the opportunity to quest for a wild population in El Chato Tortoise Reserve in the lush highlands, and afterwards you will visit the successful breeding center at the Charles Darwin Research Station. There is also free time to relax in cosy Puerto Ayora.
AM: A Route: After breakfast you will travel by inflatable dinghy and private bus from the harbour of Puerto Ayora into the highlands. In the Chato Reserve (or a ‘tortoise farm’ in the agricultural zone) you can see Galapagos giant tortoises in the wild before continuing to the airport.
A4 Route: After an early breakfast it’s time say goodbye and to leave the yacht. The dinghies will bring you to the pier of Puerto Ayora, where you can visit a ‘tortoise farm’ in the highlands before continuing to the airport.
PM: After lunch buffet and the safety-drill you will visit the Charles Darwin Research Station as an introduction to Galapagos and get some free time to stroll through the cosy town of Puerto Ayora.
A5 Route: After welcome, check-in, lunch, and the safety-drill you will visit the Charles Darwin Research Station as an introduction to Galapagos and get some free time to stroll through the cosy town of Puerto Ayora.
Overnight navigation: Before dinner the anchor will be lifted for this route’s longest navigation to Moreno Point on Isabela, about 12 hours in southwestern direction.
Santa Cruz offers excellent opportunities for viewing wild Galapagos giant tortoises, roaming through pastures in the agricultural zone and in the transition zone of El Chato Tortoise Reserve. The pond in the native forest reserve is the most authentic setting, but sometimes also requires an adventurous quest for these silent heavyweights. Than you have to listen carefully for the sound of heavy footsteps and of shrubs being slowly crushed. Most time of their stretched lives is spent slowly and silently, except for a warning hiss, or loud screams during mating, which can be heard 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. You will certainly also appreciate the native scalesia forest, overgrown with lichens, ferns, and other epiphytes; plus chances to spot endemic Darwin’s finches, vermilion flycatchers, yellow warblers, and less common birds like short-eared owls, Galapagos rails and paint-billed crakes.
The Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) and the headquarters of the Galapagos National Park Service share same location on the outskirts of Puerto Ayora. From here biological research and indispensable conservation management of this unique archipelago are directed. The complex houses a bunch of interpretation and information centers about the National Park and the Galapagos Marine Reserve around.
Most memorable from your visit will probably be the successful breeding center and the enclosures with Galapagos giant tortoises; even after the death of its world famous resident, emphatically called ‘Lonesome George’ († June 2012; the last known individual of the Pinta subspecies, who sadly failed to reproduce offspring). Most remaining adult giant tortoises in the corals are former pets and many of them are accustomed to human company.
In the next few days SC Nemo I will navigate clockwise around Isabela, by far the largest island of the archipelago. Its larger living space seems to cause that evolution is hunting for records over here (although some are disputed). Explore some of the remotest visitor’s sites in Galapagos, offshore rocks with a small colony of Galapagos penguins, and penetrate Galapagos’ highest mangle in the sheltered creeks of the estuary. Perceive how pioneer vegetation progressively converts barren lava fields into lush oases and evergreen mangle forests, and is creating new habitats for specific species.
Thanks to major upwellings out off the deep sea (Cromwell Current) the nutrient-rich west coast of Isabela is a magnet to all kinds of marine and birdlife. Bolivar Channel (between Isabela and Fernandina) can be great for whale watching.
Please note: From 2017, April 1st we will visit Urbina Bay instead of Elizabeth Bay. Magenta texts are being verified and updated as soon as possible.
AM: After breakfast first we make an inflatable dinghy-ride along the shoreline, followed by a ‘dry landing’ (with footwear) and a guided hike that crosses the crumbling, pitch black lava fields of Moreno Point (moderate level; about 2km/1.25mi). After a snack snorkeling is planned.
PM: At noon we will sail in ? hours to Urbina Bay. Meanwhile you can enjoy lunch and a siesta. At the geologic interesting site of Urbina Bay you will make a second guided walk, and you can snorkel as well. Navigation: Before dinner we will continue to Espinoza Point (Fernandina, about 4hrs), while actively looking for whales. You will be able to enjoy a relatively quiet floating night.
Moreno Point tells the continuing story of the famous lunatic lava fields of Sullivan Bay (actually not visited by Catamaran Nemo). This once lifeless lava field becomes dotted with tidal pools and filtration lagoons since parts of the crust have broken and fallen into the undermining lava tunnels.
Pioneer life takes advantage; finally the lava cacti get company of two more species of cacti, from which the candelabras can grow up to 7m/23ft tall, and dominate the rest of the shrubby vegetation. Fringes of reed, sea grass and mangrove bushes transform the picturesque lagoons in lush oases. Your pictures get the perfect finishing touch when bright American flamingos forage in the largest lagoon as well. The fresh promising pioneer vegetation seems on the winning hand; just until Sierra Negra volcano spits a new layering cover, and the story starts all over again.
Tidal pools form natural traps and attract scavengers and hunters, such as bright orange sally lightfoot crabs, oystercatchers and herons. During a dinghy-ride along the jagged shoreline, you can spot marine iguanas that wait patiently for their turn at lowest tide to graze weeds on the seabed, and a breeding colony of brown pelicans in the mangroves.
Urbina Bay presents you Isabela’s latest geologic curiosity. In 1954 tectonic forces lifted the former seabed several meters above sea level and formed present coastal plain. The tilted seabed ran dry at once and 6kms/3,75mi of coastline was shifted outward. Pretty far land inward you can find marine remnants, such as fish bones, shells, scales from lobsters, urchins and corals.
Far behind you will reach the original coastline and the typical palo santo-bush from the arid zone. This very wide beach provides ample nesting places for iguanas, turtles and even for Galapagos giant tortoises that descend all the way down from Alcedo volcano in the wet season. The marine and land iguanas of Urbina Bay are the largest of Galapagos.
Without any doubt Espinoza Point belongs to the more exclusive sites of the Galapagos National Park. Fernandina harbours one of the worlds most virgin, untouched ecosystems. Today you will become eyewitness of evolution, which is happening right in front of you! Wonder again about bizarre creatures as flightless cormorant, marine iguana and Galapagos penguin.
Before leaving the remote west, Isabela will present you latest geological curiosity and the largest Galapagos land and marine iguanas. While crossing the Bolivar Channel to Urbina Bay, you will have opportunities for great whale watching again!
Please note: From 2017, April 1st we will visit Vicente Roca Point instead of Urbina Bay (which we visited yesterday). Magenta texts are being verified and updated as soon as possible.
AM: After breakfast and a dry landing the guided morning walk (easy/moderate level; about 2km/1.25 mi) runs over the lava tongue of Espinoza Point. After a snack we will bring you to today’s snorkeling site.
PM: While having lunch we will continue to the marine visitor’s site Vicente Roca Point, just at the snout of Isabela’s seahorse shape.
Overnight navigation: Before dinner we will start our 10 hour’s navigation around the north cape of Isabela to Santiago (crossing the equator two times).
Espinoza Point is Fernandina’s only terrestrial visitors 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’. The cormorant had not to fear terrestrial enemies and lets you approach very close. Next generations gradually lost their flying capabilities to become excellent divers. Together with its neighbour, the Galapagos penguin, these are two of the rarest and most vulnerable bird species in the world, with less than 2000 individuals each.
Besides the endemic wildlife, you will also love the almost unworldly views with the dominating cone of Volcán La Cumbre (= the summit) as a spectacular backdrop. The narrow headland that you walk is the end of a lava tongue that has reached the coast and solidified on contact with the cold seawater. The black rocks are not yet covered by more vegetation then lava cacti and mangroves, but are teeming with hundreds of dragon-like marine iguanas that breed and conglomerate in larger groups than in any other island.
The impressive cliffs and coves of Vicente Roca Point are an excellent backdrop for a thrilling dinghy ride. While entering a dark cave below a spectacular arch, roaring echoes of the waves will accompany you. Just around the corner the collapsed amphitheatre of Volcan Ecuador offers another impressive view. Just 3 minutes of a degree south of the equator you can encounter a family of endemic Galapagos penguins (!) and flightless cormorants along the shoreline.
These rocks face thousands of kms/miles of open ocean and stand right on the edge of the submarine Galapagos platform. The Cromwell Current, an upwelling of nutrient-rich waters from the deep sea, makes this coast a magnet to all kinds of marine and birdlife. Against the higher walls perch and nest numerous seabirds, including blue-footed boobies, storm petrels and gulls.
The calmer waters of the coves are well-protected against the ocean swell and are a fairly cold, but distinctive place for snorkelling between other species of shark, penguins, puffer fish and even sea horses! Pacific sun fishes (mola mola) – with 2 metric tons the heaviest bone fish species – sometimes take a sunbath at the surface in this corner of the archipelago.
At James Bay (Santiago) Charles Darwin spent most of his time in Galapagos, while HMS Beagle continued mapping the archipelago. Highlight of this pearl necklace of visitor’s sites are the outstanding fur seal grottos at the beautiful sculptured coastline of Puerto Egas, together with other coastal landscapes that could well be exotic film sets; not to forget Bucaneer’s Cove crystal clear snorkelling waters.
AM: After breakfast you will make a guided walk along the coastline (easy level) to the fur seal grottos. Back on board we will provide a snack before snorkelling.
PM: At lunchtime we will navigate 12km/7 mi/45 min north to Espumilla Beach. After a wet landing (bare feet) at the beach a guided walk leads uphill and land inward (easy level; about 2km/1.25 mi). Afterwards you can make a dinghy-ride (or alternatively sea kayaking) along the coastline.
Overnight navigation: Before dinner SC Nemo I will continue along the south coast of Santiago to Daphne Major, where we will arrive after about 4 hrs for a relatively quiet floating night sleep.
Dominated by Sugarloaf Hill (395m/1300ft) and named after a former salt mine (1960s), Puerto Egas is the southernmost visitors site along James Bay. Its masterly sculptured coastline of black basalts and polished multi-coloured ash-layers forms a photogenic scenery with collapsed lava tunnels, natural arches, caves and blowholes such as ‘Darwin’s toilet’.
In a grotto right below a spectacular rock arch at the end of the beach a colony of Galapagos fur seals occupies the shade, sheltering from the equatorial sun. Unlike more common Galapagos sea lions this smaller species of seal is no beach lover at all, due to their adorable, but insulating coats. This refuge is the very best place to see these endemic, shy and once heavily hunted marine mammals.
Especially at low tide Puerto Egas teems with extremely varied intertidal life. Notice how marine iguanas just leave, return cold or warm-up after grazing weeds on the seabed at lowest tide. Ossified night herons and lava herons keep an eye on the tidal pools that are refilled every flood again with small fish, octopuses, star fish, snails, urchins, shells, green algae and many other snacks. Noisy oystercatchers, turnstones, plovers and whimbrels inspect these pools zealously. Hundreds of sally lightfoot crabs seem even brighter orange against the pitch-black rocks (immature are dark-coloured).
Espumilla 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 burry their eggs into the cinnamon coloured 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, frigatebirds, mockingbirds and ghost crabs.
The beach ridge hides a mangle with two picturesque lagoons on the backside. A colony of American flamingos and aquatic birds used to be its main attraction, but after the climate phenomenon of El Niño, strong sedimentation altered the brackish water environment, and it no longer contains their food…
As often in Galapagos, different vegetation zones are very close by, providing great scenic contrasts. 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.
At the nearby Buccaneer Cove we have a great snorkeling opportunity.
On your last morning in Galapagos you can feel the ocean breeze in your hair while navigating around the characteristic volcanic islet of Daphne Major. A wide range of sea birds will wave you out!
AM: Daphne Major
The characteristic offshore tuff cone of Daphne Major looks how a child draws a volcano islet. Perhaps you have already got a first glimpse of it from your airplane window on arrival. Access to the 120m/400ft high islet is restricted because of its fragility and susceptibility to erosion. On your last morning in Galapagos you will make a dinghy-ride around. You can spot large flocks of storm petrels and other sea birds.
This islet forms an almost undisturbed semi-closed ecosystem and is therefore of great scientific interest. Coexisting Nazca boobies, red-billed tropicbirds, magnificent frigatebirds, blue-footed boobies and 8 other breeding species have nicely distributed different sections of the cone, according to their needs and the ecological niches they occupy. The caldera contains two craters, both completely white-plastered by the increments of blue-footed boobies, which have founded a very large breeding colony on this sheltered place. There is a colony of Galapagos sea lions on the only small beach. This islet also has been the location for an important multidecade study of Darwin’s finches. This concluded that population fluctuates strongly and finches that survived in dryer years were mainly the ones with larger beaks; results that supported strongly Darwin’s theory of natural selection and evolution.
Assisted by the naturalist guide and some crew members the dinghy will bring you and your luggage to Baltra, where we take the airport shuttle. Your guide will accompany you until the check-in counters in the departure hall.
We expect that you will return home with stunning pictures and unforgettable memories for life!