Our new, quite complete 6 nights northeastern combination bundles extraordinary Santa Fe and the popular, really not to be missed highlight of South Plaza (both with land iguanas and giant cactus trees) with no less than three sea bird colonies (exclusive Genovesa, North Seymour and easternmost Pitt Point). The thriving evergreen mangles of Black Turtle Cove contrast with the barren, spectacular volcano islets Bartolome and Chinese Hat, where you will get impressed by their creative forces.
The almost extinguished volcano islands in the south-west are geologically eldest, where evolution has had enough time to create plenty endemic species. Striking coral sand beaches at azure bays are favourite places for large colonies of Galapagos sea lions. Mind your step when strolling South Plaza, because you may tread on the Galapagos land iguanas that crawl below bizarre giant prickly pear cacti. En route you can also observe endemic marine iguanas, the evolutionary miraculous ‘dragons of Galapagos’. Walk at a short distance past nesting frigatebirds and blue-footed boobies, red-footed and Nazca boobies, whilst courtshipping, mating, breeding, nurturing or learning to fly (depending on the season).
Though less frequented than popular central and south-eastern islands, the barren north offers most dramatic landscapes and reveals the first chapter of evolution. Discover how pioneer species conquer barren lava fields and create habitats for new colonist species. Furthermore, en route you will have chances to see emblematic and endemic Galapagos penguins close to the equator! In the contrasty lush highlands of Santa Cruz you will encounter the famous Galapagos giant tortoises. You will also learn more on their successful captured breeding programs.
• 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 centre is an interesting introduction to this unique archipelago. There is also free time to relax in cosy Puerto Ayora.
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: Short before midnight the anchor will be lifted for this route’s longest navigation to easternmost Pitt Point, about 8 hours in eastern 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 centre 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.
The longest nocturnal passage of this route will bring you to Pitt Point, the extreme eastern cape of San Cristobal (and of the entire archipelago). On top of these eroded cliffs you can find blue-footed, red-footed and Nazca boobies breeding together, and also frigate birds with bright red, balloon-sized pouches in the mating season! You will land in a bachelor’s colony of Galapagos sea lions, and stroll along a cute nursery colony at the scenic beach below Witch Hill in the afternoon.
AM: After breakfast you will make a wet landing at Pitt Point, from where you will hike to the cliff-top sea bird colonies (and back). After that snorkelling is scheduled.
PM: During lunch we will navigate along the shore of San Cristobal to Witch Hill, where a lot of activities can be undertaken: a dinghy-ride, sea kayaking, snorkelling and a beach stroll.
Overnight navigation: This evening we will sail to Santa Fe (4 hrs west), in which sheltered bay you can enjoy a comfortable night rest.
AM: Pitt Point (San Cristobal)
Two wind sculptured tuff cones at Pitt Point constitute the extreme eastern end of San Cristobal, and thus of the archipelago as well. These cliffs were the first sight of land when HMS Beagle and Charles Darwin arrived on September 15th 1835. On the small green sand beach, you will be welcomed by a cacophony of barking Galapagos sea lions. This is a bachelor colony, where males usually recuperate from and prepare themselves for fighting and mating.
From saltbush and spiny shrubs behind the beach a trail leads up to an area of tropical dry forest vegetation: most of the year leafless palo santo trees, yellow cordia shrubs, tiny prickly pear cacti and carpetweed, that turns red in the dry season. After the pretty steep climb through a gully to the cliff top, you can wander around the only colony in Galapagos that counts with all three species of booby: blue-footed, red-footed and Nazca booby; as well as both species of frigatebird (great and magnificent), famous because of their scarlet balloon-sized pouches during mating season. Frigatebirds rather attack returning boobies and conduct aerial battles than fishing themselves and get a wet suit.
PM: Witch Hill (San Cristobal)
To scout out the dangerous reefs HMS Beagle’s Captain FitzRoy climbed in 1835 to the top of the obvious tuff-cone that overlooks this scenic bay. Nowadays it is called Witch Hill and not any more the main attraction of this site, but part of its romantic coastal panorama. Let your eyes travel from the volcanic cone, over the turquoise bay to the razor-sharp contours of Kicker Rock at the horizon, one of the photogenic landmarks of Galapagos.
You can walk about 1km/0.6mi along the romantic, crescent-shaped beach and feel with your feet the soft and powdery white coral sand (in fact it is pulverized by parrot fishes, that destruct living coral reefs). Enjoy the Galapagos sea lion rookery with its cute babies, or study the rich intertidal and bird life (mainly brown pelicans, blue-footed boobies and swallow-tailed gulls). Behind the beach and the narrow stretch of dunes, there is a dark lava tongue with several saline lakes that used to be a local salt mine (necessary for conservation of fish). Here reside some coastal and wading birds such as the great blue heron.
Heading back towards the heart of the archipelago you will visit extraordinary Santa Fe and not to be missed South Plaza that belongs to most popular sites. Below bizarre giant prickly pear cacti you will encounter characteristic land iguanas. Although this ‘Jurassic islet’ is different to every other site in the National Park, at the same time it is so typical Galapagos with its sharp contrasts, amazing diversity and stunning concentration of wildlife. While sailing along Santa Cruz we will look-out for whales.
AM: After breakfast you will make a guided walk from the beach of Santa Fe (wet landing). Your guide decides whether the easy shorter circuit is followed, or a strenuous longer hike land inward (moderate level; about 3km/2mi). Don’t forget to retain strength for excellent afterwards swimming or snorkelling in the crystal clear azure waters of Barrington Bay.
PM: Around lunchtime we will proceed to South Plaza (about 2 hrs northwest), possibly escorted by bottle nose dolphins. You will make an unforgettable guided walk on this Jurassic islet (easy level; about 1,25 km/0.75 mi; avoidable depths on the cliff-edge).
Navigation: While navigating to Black Turtle Cove (2 hrs, before dinner and sunset) we will have opportunities of some great whale watching. After dinner you can enjoy a relatively quiet floating sleep.
Additional options scuba-diving: Gordon Rocks (Expert/Advanced) or Santa Fe (All levels).
Practically every animal on Santa Fe is unique; endemic to Galapagos, or even to this island alone and extremely vulnerable! This extraordinary island is remnant of the probably most ancient volcano of Galapagos, and gave evolution enough time and isolation to create its wonders.
Your experience starts already before anchoring, when the contours of its bizarre giant prickly pear cactus (opuntia) forests become distinguishable. These largest cacti of the islands have extremely thick trunks indeed, and can grow over 10m/33ft tall! You will land right into a Galapagos sea lion colony on the beach. From their outlooks at the beach ridge surprisingly fearless Galapagos hawks are ready to snatch away a lava lizard; not worrying that even these are unique…
Almost every visitor of Santa Fe becomes eager to get a glimpse of the rare Barrington land iguana. But this pale endemic version is not as easy to spot as its modelling counterparts on South Plaza. This one asks for an adventurous quest (rather untypical to Galapagos); other times it surprises waiting for you next to the trail. Whether you spot it, or not, you will keep going from one surprise into the other.
While snorkelling in the azure coloured Barrington Bay between tropical reef fish, maybe a curious Galapagos sea lion is willing to play with you!
The southern of both Plaza islets is best place to encounter endemic Galapagos land iguanas. Watch your step and don’t stumble over one of them whilst distracted by equally bizarre giant prickly pear cactus-trees! These iguanas are not only ugly as Darwin pronounced, but also very patient and photogenic models with strikingly saffron colours. Overpopulation and severe food competition have affected their smaller size. It is incredible to see how cactus spines don’t harm them while chewing pads, flowers and fruits. Beware as well for some unique hybrids between a male marine iguana and a female land iguana.
Arriving at the upper rim, you get to know the other, wild and windy face of South Plaza that provides a complete different habitat. About 20m/75ft downwards impressively droning waves splash against the foot of massive cliffs. Being talented rock climbers, sun basking marine iguanas have escaped the cool shadows of the wall. Clouds of petrels, storm petrels, shearwaters and brown noddies make spectacular flights and sometimes appear to walk on the waves. Take your binoculars and don’t miss the red-billed tropicbird with its graceful long tail and spectacular mating fights. These cliffs are also a nesting place for the endemic swallow-tailed gull, most beautiful gull in the world. Its neatly lined eyes are perfectly adapted for its exceptional nightly fishing habits.
This morning you will explore the evergreen mangle forest of Black Turtle Cove, and feel a while as if you are in the Amazon rainforest instead of at the north coast of Santa Cruz. These lagoons and adventurous creeks teem with marine and birdlife, and (seasonally) with mating turtles and sharks. Nearby North Seymour 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: Shortly after your wake-up call and a snack you will leave for this farewell dinghy-ride. After breakfast it’s time say goodbye, leave the yacht and continue to the airport (unless you have booked an extension on the A-route).
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 the sea state we will navigate about 5:30 hrs north.
The ancient mangle at Black Turtle Cove has grown out to forest proportions and forms the backdrop for a distinct adventure. You might even feel yourself a while in the Amazon rainforest instead of close to sea; though on a closer look vegetation mainly exists of red mangroves with characteristic aerial roots that let them survive in salty and brackish water. By inflatable dinghy we will explore the calm emerald lagoon and enter the surrounding shallow creeks of these salt-water marshes. The outboard engine is sometimes turned off, so that you can enjoy the ambiance at its fullest. You have to keep your eyes peeled when looking around and staring into the crystal clear waters to observe all the life that is flying and swimming around.
You can spot silently hunting lava herons on the banks and brown pelicans nesting on top of the mangroves. Various species of ray and shark come to this nutritious cradle to give birth; scaloped hammerhead sharks come back to the place where they’ve born and their babies tend to be close to the surface. Pacific green turtles (black turtles was their former name) visit this cove in their reproduction season (November-January); if you’re lucky you can catch them mating at the surface! Afterwards their eggs are deposited on coral sand beaches along this north-western coastline of Santa Cruz.
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 short 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 snorkeling 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 Villamil (Isabela, about 7hr) you will have dinner 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.
This cruise itinerary ends in Puerto Ayora. En route to the airport you will pass the lush highlands of Santa Cruz, where you will get the opportunity to quest for most-famous representatives of Galapagos: a wild population of Galapagos giant tortoises.
AM: After an early breakfast it’s time say goodbye and to leave the yacht. You will travel by inflatable dinghy and private bus from the pier of Puerto Ayora into the highlands. In the agricultural zone you can see Galapagos giant tortoises in the wild before continuing to the airport.
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 their concentrations around their favourite muddy pools, these semi-open pastures and moist scalesia-woodlands 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! Their dome-shaped shells characterize the Santa Cruz subspecies.
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.
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!