Our 5 days itinerary combines the incredible shark canal out off the coast of Isabela with best flamingo lagoons of Galapagos, and spectacular snorkeling around Devil’s Crown. The albatross and booby colonies and marine iguanas on Española promise to be next highlight! Most elder islands of Southeastern Galapagos have azure bays and striking beaches of white coral sand, which are favorite place for large colonies of sea lions. The visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station will be a nice conclusion of your cruise.
Walk at a short distance past blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies and waved albatrosses, whilst courtshipping, mating, breeding, nurturing or learning to fly (depending the season). Española is the sole option for those eager to admire synchronous courtship dances of the only tropical albatross in the world.
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. En route you can also observe marine iguanas, whitetip reef sharks, American flamingos and – if lucky – even Galapagos penguins. In the Charles Darwin Research Center on Santa Cruz you will learn more on the successful captured breeding programs of the emblematic giant Galapagos tortoises.
For many Devil’s Crown is Galapagos deep water snorkelling site number one, and one of the very highlights of their cruise. Besides that this route also offers plenty possibilities for optional scuba diving.
Bachas Beach is a pleasant start of your Galapagos visit, without the necessity to navigate a long stretch to get first contact with the unique insular nature. Along this beach (north coast Santa Cruz), which is popular breeding ground for the Pacific green turtle, you will make a relaxed stroll to a aquatic bird-rich saline lagoon.
AM: This morning you will fly from Quito or Guayaquil to Baltra Airport.
PM: After welcome aboard Sailing Catamaran Nemo I, check-in, lunch buffet and the safety-drill you will make your first wet landing (bare feet) at Bachas Beach, followed by an easy stroll along the waterline of this coral sand beach. Filled with impressions you will return on board for dinner.
Navigation: At dinner time we will lift the anchor and sail about 7 hrs – depending on the sea state – south-west to Isabela.
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.
Strolling along its coastline, blinding white Bachas Beach appears full of intertidal and bird life. But the symmetrical tuff cone-islet of Daphne Major will pull your eyes to the horizon as well. Beware of Galapagos sea lions, marine iguanas, a shark fin or (seasonally) mating Pacific green turtles in the surf! Both quiet beaches have become their preferred nesting site on the main island of Santa Cruz. ‘Bachas’ refers to the ‘minefield of nest holes’ in the dunes strip; though others argue that it is a ‘Spanglish’ mispronunciation of ‘barks’, referring to two rusty landing vessels that have been left on the longer second beach in World War II, when the American US Air Force used BALTRA as a strategic base to defend the Panama Canal.
Sparkling orange coloured and heavy-armed sally lightfoot crabs play seek and hide with you when you want to picture them on the dark basaltic rocks. A brackish lagoon in the dunes houses different species of wade and shore birds, including black-necked stilts, white-cheeked pintails (or Bahama ducks) and hunting herons. Migratory aquatic birds that winter in Galapagos, such as whimbrels, also frequent this pond. As soon as water level drops and the lagoon becomes saltier, you might even encounter some American flamingos tirelessly filtering water to catch shrimp and algae!
First overnight crossing will bring you to Puerto Villamil on Isabela. In the next few days Nemo I will navigate clockwise around this by far largest island of the archipelago. Its larger living space seems to cause that evolution is hunting for records over here (although some are disputed).
Huge marine iguanas crawl over undisturbed rocky islets just outside the harbour, which also contain a unique tidal channel where whitetip reef sharks rest. Saline lagoons in the wetlands house the largest insular colony of American flamingos and you will visit the botanical garden of another tortoise breeding center with native species.
AM: Before breakfast (we provide a snack) the inflatable dinghies will bring you to the Tintoreras islets for a guided hike to the tidal channel, following a rough volcanic rock trail (easy/moderate level). After breakfast you can experience some great snorkelling.
PM: After lunch you will have free time to enjoy Puerto Villamil and its striking beach. Than you will visit the local tortoise breeding center and the surrounding wetlands.
Overnight navigation: After dinner the anchor is lifted for rounding the southern lob of Isabela clockwise to its far west coast (about 6 hours).
Just outside the harbour of Puerto Villamil (Isabela), a group of rocky islets protrude just above sea level. These are remnants of a lava flow that is demolished by the waves. A collapsed lava tube forms a channel that fills-up on high tide, while the entrance is closed on low tide. Marine life gets trapped, including turtles and elegant white-spotted eagle rays or golden rays. In the crystal clear water of this unique site you can also observe whitetip reef sharks (called tintoreras in Spanish; to which the islets are named after) resting from their nocturnal hunts. This species of shark is fairly common in the archipelago, and often spotted on the seabed when snorkelling, but here you can see them dry and comfortably from the bank.
Unlike the beaches of Puerto Villamil, tiny plagues along these black rocks offer undisturbed breeding places for marine iguanas. Over here the largest Isabela subspecies (up to 1,5m/5ft tall !) can reproduce successfully and thrive by hundreds. The rocky shoreline with its intertidal life also attracts sally lightfoot crabs, lava herons and occasional Galapagos penguins. Galapagos sea lions occupy the sand beach and complete this stereotypical Galapagos image.
In Arnaldo Tupiza Tortoise Breeding Center you can see hundreds of giant Galapagos tortoises of all sizes. Vulnerable hatchlings are not gigantic at all, even smaller than the size of your hand! This project just outside Puerto Villamil is created to rescue the endangered populations of Isabela’s both southernmost volcanoes.
From the almost incredible estimations of 250,000 giant tortoises in the 16th century only remained about 3,000 individuals in the 1970s. One thing becomes clear on your visit: it’s hard work to save these queer creatures for extinction by reproduction in captivity and repopulation. The good news is that these programs are successful and have saved several species for extinction so far. By 2015 their number has increased up to about 32,000 in all archipelago.
Don’t forget to visit the native botanic garden of this breeding centre. It also attracts colourful songbirds such as yellow warblers, Darwin’s finches, Galapagos and vermillion flycatchers. Finally there is no greater counterpart to the cumbersome tortoises as the graceful American flamingos that frequently filter the saline waters of the adjacent lagoon for shrimp and algae. They are joined by a handful of species of aquatic and shore birds, from which some even migrate from Canada and Alaska.
AM: After breakfast and a wet landing at the greeny beach of Cormorant Point and walk to a powdery coral sand beach on the other side of the peninsula (easy level; about 1,5 km/1 mi). En route you can observe the American flamingo lagoon from different viewpoints.
Then it’s time for fantastic deep-water snorkelling around Devil’s Crown (though sometimes stronger currents). If this is not your thing or if you prefer bird watching, alternatively you can make a dinghy-ride.
PM: Post your holiday greetings in the historical barrel at Post Office Bay, one of three nearby visitor’s sites on Floreana’s north coast (short displacement, wet landing) and relax.
Overnight navigation: Around midnight the Nemo I will navigate about 5 hours east to Española.
The peninsula of Cormorant Point forms the extreme north cape of Floreana, which is pockmarked by numbers of smaller volcanic cones and covered by tropical dry forest (predominently palo santo). Please don’t expect to spot the flightless cormorant at Cormorant Point. This emblematic example of evolution lives exclusively in the remote west of Galapagos on Fernandina and Isabela (Route A). Instead, its salty lagoon is one of the best places in Galapagos to observe a breeding colony of American flamingos. Though, when breeding is done and the lagoon dries up, these exotic birds tend to be on the move to look for shrimps and algae from other saline lakes.
At the landing beach you will be welcomed by a small Galapagos sea lion-colony. The green sand contains a high percentage of glassy olivine crystals that have been blown out by the surrounding tuff cones. The ‘flour sand’ beach on the south side of the peninsula feels very smooth to your feet; this is pulverized by parrotfishes. Schools of sting rays in the surf love this powdery sand to hide themselves, and Pacific green turtles come ashore to burry their eggs in it at night (first months of the year). Next morning you can notice their tracks from the dunes, or eventually still catch an exhausted, delayed one, crawling back to sea.
The jagged crater rim of Devil’s Crown just protrudes sea level and is beaten by the waves. The inner walls of the crater rim are coated with coral formations and protected against the surf. The depth and very transparent waters of this deep-water snorkelling site gives you some sensation of flying once you plunge in this huge tropical aquarium. You will swim amidst schools of thousands of brightly coloured tropical fish, as yellowtail surgeon fishes, king angelfishes, and many other species. On the seabed you can distinguish resting whitetip reef sharks, different species of ray and starfishes. A Pacific green turtle or Galapagos sea lion might swim by, and don’t scare when you encounter scalloped hammerhead sharks!
Above sea level the dramatic decor of the jagged crater rim provides living space to lots of coastal birds, including lava gulls, blue-footed and Nazca boobies, brown pelicans, and red-billed tropicbirds. The opposite land head of Floreana is a nesting place for magnificent frigatebirds, where you could also head for during an alternative dinghy-ride.
Bring your unstamped postcards and post them in the peculiar barrel on this historic site. Together with James Bay (Santiago) this used to be a popular base to complement stocks. Present barrel commemorates the improvised mail service between British 16th century whalers and poachers. Returning vessels also picked-up letters for home delivery. Finally this post box became the termination of the flourishing British whaling industry in this region (Moby Dick), because it let the American frigate USS Essex easily locate and hijack British whalers during the Anglo-American War (1812-1815).
AM: Before breakfast (we provide a snack) you will make a ‘dry landing’ at Suarez Point. During a longer guided walk (moderate level; 4km/2.5 mi/about 2 hours) you will pass awakening sea bird colonies on top of the cliffs (some short scrambling passages; avoidable depths). Back on board you will have a deserved breakfast and S/C Nemo I will navigate about an hour. Next you can plunch into the alluring turquoise-coloured Gardner Bay for snorkelling.
PM: After lunch and a ‘wet landing’ (bare feet) on the wide sand beach you can stroll along the sea lions colony (easy level), or enjoy a moment of reflection, relaxation, or rolling with sea lions in the surf.
Overnight navigation: After dinner we will navigate about 5 hrs north, and anchor just before midnight in the sheltered harbour of Academy Bay, Puerto Ayora, where you can enjoy a quiet floating sleep.
Huge ocean waves bang on the southern basaltic cliffs of Suarez Point, and form a spectacular blowhole, where a fountain of sea water sprays meters/feet high into the air (depending on the tide and how strong sea breeze pushes the waves). Take a meditative break in silence on this emblematic viewpoint to convert this unforgettable moment in a lifetime experience.
Waved albatrosses soar most time of their lives far out at sea and just come to Española (March-December) to breed and nurture their huge chick. This spectacular seabird is the only tropic albatross (critically endangered species). Besides some strayed individuals on Isla de La Plata (out off the Ecuadorian coast) it only breeds on Española, where you can witness its synchronous courtship dances, which include bowing, whistling and even a stylized form of ‘sword fighting’ with their bills (especially in October)!
Suarez Point is also a massive breeding site for Nazca and blue-footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls and red-billed tropicbirds. Blue-footed boobies don’t bother to breed in the middle of the trail. Especially during the food-abundant garúa-season (2nd half of the year) you can admire amusing courtship dances, mating, breeding, emerging from the eggs, nurturing or first flight-attempts.
Española marine iguanas become bright red with a turquoise-colored crest and legs at the start of the breeding season (starting from Christmas). Hood lava lizards are the largest of the 7 endemic species in the islands, as well as endemic mockingbirds, that have turned to carnivorous behaviour!
Make your first ‘dive’ in the alluring turquoise-coloured Gardner Bay, and admire colourful reef fish, snorkel side by side with a Pacific green turtle, or find yourself in the middle of playful Galapagos sea lions.
The striking white coral sand beach is an important breeding site for Pacific green turtles. But without doubt its main attraction is the Galapagos sea lion colony. Females stay year round in this nursery, suckling their pups up to an age of 3 years, although these start to learn fishing already after 5 months. During the breeding- and mating season the colony becomes even more populous. The strongest bachelors and elder males return from their secluded bases and start again to conquer and defend their part of the 1300m/4250ft long beach. Pregnant females choose the best territory to give birth, and will mate again with their landlord within a month.
Day 5 – Thursday
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
AM: Highlands (Santa Cruz)
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.
We expect that you will return home with stunning pictures and unforgettable memories for life!