Our 4 nights western route visits some of the remotest corners of Galapagos. 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 an introduction at Charles Darwin Research Centre (Galapagos giant tortoise breeding centre) 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 around the sea bird laden volcano islet of Daphne Major.
Though less frequented than popular central and south-eastern islands, 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. Discover how pioneer species conquer barren lava fields and create habitats for new colonist species. 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.
After arrival at Baltra your tour will start on adjacent main island of Santa Cruz, where you will cross the surprisingly lush highlands by bus and reach its cosy harbour town Puerto Ayora. A visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station and the famous Galapagos giant tortoise breeding center is an interesting introduction to this unique archipelago.
AM: This morning you will fly from Quito or Guayaquil to Baltra Airport.
PM: After welcome aboard S/C Nemo I, 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 your naturalist guide will give the first daily briefing, and the captain and his crew will present and share a welcome toast. The anchor will be lifted early for this route’s longest navigation to Moreno Point on Isabela, about 12 hours in southwestern direction.
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 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 harbour of Puerto Ayora. Our inflatable dinghies (‘zodiacs’) take you the last stretch to the yacht.
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; and exhibited since February 2017 in the CDRS); 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 2 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 2:30 hrs), 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 8 hours 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 sea kayaking or an optional thrilling dinghy ride. While the dinghy will enter 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 north 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: Early morning Sailing Catamaran Nemo I will navigate around the characteristic volcanic islet of Daphne Major. Afterwards you will disembark and fly back from Baltra Airport to Quito or Guayaquil.
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!