Our 3 nights eastern route heads first to the little-frequented Pitt Point, the easternmost point of the archipelago and only site where blue-footed, red-footed and Nazca boobies gather together. It returns through extraordinary Santa Fe and the popular, really not to be missed highlight South Plaza (both with land iguanas and giant cactus trees). Your visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station will be a nice introduction to this cruise, while it is concluded in the evergreen mangles of Black Turtle Cove on the north coast of Santa Cruz.
Walk at a short distance past nesting boobies and frigatebirds. These 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 ‘dragons of Galapagos’ and another miracle of evolution. You will also learn more on the successful captured breeding programs of emblematic giant Galapagos tortoises. Last contrasty morning an adventurous dinghy ride is scheduled in the thriving cradle and bird-rich mangrove inlet, and the ocean seems far away.
• 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 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.
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 and other endemic creatures that are unique to this island. Although these ‘Jurassic islets’ are different to every other site in the National Park, at the same time these are so typical Galapagos with their sharp contrasts, amazing diversity and stunning concentration of wildlife. While sailing along Santa Cruz we will lookout 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.
Even at the very end of your cruise Galapagos keeps surprising. On this last 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.
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).
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.
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!