Today is a free day to relax and explore Quito. As the city is located 2,850 metres above sea level, you may experience some of the milder effects of altitude sickness, such as dizziness, insomnia and a shortness of breath. If so, we recommend you avoid any strenuous activity and rest today. Land Only clients should arrive at the start hotel today - there is a pre-departure meeting in the evening at 6pm when you'll have the opportunity to meet others travelling on your cruise to the Galapagos Islands.
This morning we are transferred to the airport for our flight to the Galapagos Islands. If you're following Itinerary A you will fly into Baltra, but if you're following Itinerary B you will fly into San Cristobal. On arrival you must pay the US$100 arrival tax for entry to the Galapagos National Park. This is best done using cash, as using credit cards can be time consuming. We are met in the arrival hall of the airport by our National Park Guide, and transferred to our catamaran 'M.C Queen Beatriz'. The rest of the schedule depends if you're following itinerary A or B (please ask your Sales consultant if you're not sure).
Itinerary A: Our first stop in the afternoon is Punta Carrion, located in north-eastern Santa Cruz. This is a shallow and protected cove, ideal for your first snorkel and swim in the Galapagos! Wildlife is plentiful; keep your eyes peeled for Blue-footed boobies, Galapagos herons and Great blue herons. Underwater, it's possible to see rays and White-tipped reef sharks.
Itinerary B: This afternoon we travel into the interior of the island to visit the highlands site of 'Galapaguera of Cerro Colorado' (Red Hill) where the national park has established a breeding program and information centre for tortoises. Here, we will be able to see giant tortoises in their natural habitat and learn all about their origin, evolution and their threatened future.
Itinerary A: Today we wake up on the South Coast of Isabela Island, the largest of the Galapagos Archipelago. Isabela was formed by five giant volcanic craters, all of which are still considered active. The island is located in one of the youngest geological areas in the world, having been formed less than 1 million years ago. This southern coast of turquoise blue waters has the largest area of beaches in the Galapagos. We visit Las Tintoreras, where from the viewing walkway you can look down into this narrow channel to see a colony of White-tipped reef sharks swimming and sleeping, and the occasional playful sea lion among them! Blue-footed boobies and penguins, Marine iguanas and crabs also make their home here, and the waters provide further opportunities to swim with turtles. Here we also visit the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre and the Wall of Tears, constructed from lava by prisoners of the penal colony here between 1946 and 1959 as punishment.
Itinerary B: Bartolomé is a relatively new island in the archipelago and traces of its volcanic past can be seen everywhere, as evidenced by the amazing lunar-like landscape. The Pinnacle Rock is one of the most photographed sites in the Galapagos - an abrupt jag of rock protruding from the earth like a tooth, while nearby two golden bays back onto each other. Here we can hike to the top of a once-active volcano and enjoy superb views across to Sullivan Bay, on nearby Santiago Island.
Itinerary A: The island of Floreana is a highlight of any Galapagos cruise, rich in natural wonders and wildlife. We go ashore at Punta Cormorant where the sand is made up of fine olivine crystals, a glassy volcanic mineral, giving the beach an olive-green colour. It is the best place to see Galapagos sea lions. Today is also one of our finest opportunities to see pink flamingos and other water birds wading in the lagoons, including Pintails and Stilts. Just offshore, the Devil's Crown is an old eroded volcanic cone and a popular roosting site for seabirds such as boobies, pelicans and frigates. Red-billed tropicbirds can also be seen nesting in the rocky crevices. The centre of the cone is an outstanding snorkelling spot, perhaps the most remarkable in the entire archipelago, full of sea lions and colourful fish. Floreana is also home to Post Office Bay, where 18th century whalers used a barrel as an unofficial mail drop. This custom continues to this day with visitors to the Galapagos - post one of your own, or see if there are any you could deliver back home!
Itinerary B: Today we visit some wonderful places. Espumilla Beach, on the northern coast of Santiago Island in James Bay, is one of the most idyllic locations in the Galapagos Islands and is an important nesting site for marine turtles. Espumilla beach is also well known for its Palo Santo Forest and some extraordinary lava formations. This morning we also visit Caleta Bucanero (Buccaneer Cove), a natural monument of rocks caused by sea erosion. This cove was used by pirates to careen their ships. It is a place of local legends and stories! Port Egas is a black sand beach located on the west side of James Bay and northwest of Santiago Island. South of the beach is Sugarloaf Volcano, which has deposits of volcanic tuff. This site is named Puerto Egas, after Hector Egas who last attempted to mine salt here. The walk along the beach offers hundreds of marine iguanas, California sea lions and Galapagos fur sea lions.
Itinerary A & B: Today we visit Santa Cruz, the second largest island in the Galapagos. The small town of Puerto Ayora is the economic centre of the archipelago, and home to the Charles Darwin Research Station. As well as undertaking vital conservation work, the station also makes for interesting exploration and offers the best opportunities for close encounters with giant tortoises. We also observe baby tortoises and land iguanas. Afterwards we head up into the highlands for a total change of scenery. Beginning at the coast we travel across Santa Cruz through the agricultural region and into the misty forests. Here it is a lush humid zone containing miconia bushes, scalesia and inactive volcanic cones. Santa Cruz has more endemic plants than any of the other islands and we are likely to see Galapagos giant tortoises in their natural habitat and perhaps even the bright red feathers of a Vermillion flycatcher!
Itinerary A: Santa Fe is home to more sea lions, and these ones are very eager for swimming partners! It's a lovely place to take a dip, and the landscape on the inland trails is also beautiful, with cacti forests home to a unique sub-species of land iguanas. Hiking towards the cliffs on Santa Fe leads us to a forest of prickly pear cactus. A member of the cactus family, their name comes from the pear shaped fruit the plant produces. Santa Fe is home to endemic land iguanas. Once back at the beach we have free time to snorkel back in the lagoon. Playful sea lions pups and florescent fish make for fascinating company. A small island, Plaza Sur is nonetheless a place of great beauty, where we get close to sea lions and onto trails past one of the Galapagos' largest land iguana populations, resting amid cacti and volcanic landscapes coloured bright red and green by sesuvium. The island's rugged southern cliffs are an excellent place to spot tropicbirds and Swallow-tailed gulls, as well as 'the gentlemen's club', a gathering of male sea lions either too young or too old to be 'beachmasters'!
Itinerary B: Today we take a morning excursion to North Seymour. The trail on North Seymour crosses the inland through the island and then explores the rocky coast. Along the way the trail passes colonies of Blue-footed boobies and frigatebirds. The magnificent frigatebird, a large black bird with a long wingspan, and a hooked beak, is extremely fast and has excellent vision. Frigatebirds are known for the large red pouch on their necks. During mating season the males throw back their heads, inflate their pouch (sometimes to the size of a soccer ball), and shake trying to capture the attention of females. Boobies and frigates have an interesting relationship. Sharing the same nesting area on North Seymour, Blue-footed boobies nest on the ground making their nests from the twigs of the palo santos trees, while the frigatebirds' nests just above them in the saltbushes. After lunch we visit the small sandy island of Mosquera, a relaxing, picturesque stop. Along the rocks and in the tide pool, Sally Lightfoot crabs (red lava crabs) scamper back and forth, skipping across small pools of water in search of food. These crabs with their bright red shell tops and blue under shells are stunning against the black lava. Ever aware of movement around them, the Sally Lightfoot is quick to escape from any approaching movement, a natural defence that helps protect them from their natural predators, herons, Moray eels and hawkfish. This quick escape technique seems in stark contrast to the unabashed way the crabs climb over the sedentary marine iguanas.
Itinerary A: Today we cruise to the island of Española - the southernmost island of the Galapagos and one of the most spectacular. Because of its remote location this island place has a large population of endemic fauna. It is the breeding site for nearly all of the world's 12,000 pairs of Waved albatrosses and also home to colonies of Blue-footed and Masked boobies. Trails from the golden beaches, where sea lions bathe and marine iguanas make their way towards the water, lead us right through the middle of booby colonies, and Galapagos doves and mockingbirds are also often seen. We also visit the beautiful white sandy beaches at Bahia Gardner, which are great places for swimming and relaxing. The rocks off the coast provide excellent snorkelling opportunities, with reef sharks, turtles and many species of tropical fish, including surgeon and angelfish, often seen. The small White-tipped reef sharks are also often spotted resting under the rocks. We also pay a visit to Punta Suarez, one of the most attractive locations in the Galapagos and home to large and varied wildlife population - a walk along its trails takes us to a cliff top viewpoint, where we gain a magical panorama. Boobies line the rocky shoreline beneath us, while frigatebirds may be seen overhead; nearby enormous male sea lions can be seen lounging and albatross use the cliffs as their 'runway', helping become airborne by the southeast winds that blow across this part of the island. If we're lucky we'll see the elaborate courtship rituals performed by albatrosses before the female chooses her lifelong mate!
Itinerary B: Today we take a morning excursion to Caleta Tortuga Negra (Black Turtle Cove) - a red mangrove wetland on the north shore of Santa Cruz Island. We paddle among the cove's peaceful waters for our first taste of the underwater riches - it's a wonderful place to see green turtle and is a nursery for rays and Galapagos sharks. There is also abundant birdlife, such as the Yellow warbler and Lava heron. This is also a breeding area for turtles, so it is not uncommon to see them mating. Go for a walk on Cerro Dragón (Dragon Hill) this afternoon, this is one of the best places to see land iguanas in the islands. We'll walk along the trail from the beach and along with the land iguanas other sightings include marine iguanas, flamingos and Sally Lightfoot crabs.
Itinerary A: This morning we visit Punta Pitt on the eastern end of San Cristobál Island. Walk to the top of the volcanic hill for expansive views of the sparsely vegetated area. A variety of seabirds nest here, including Blue-footed boobies, Red-footed boobies and frigates. Close by we pass through Leon Dormido (Kicker Rock), which is a magnificent rock in the middle of the sea, the shape resembles a sleeping lion. The rock rises 150 metres above the surface and is divided into two parts by a narrow channel. We also visit Isla Lobos, a tiny island almost touching San Cristobál Island. This is the perfect time to witness the always friendly sea lions as they play in the calm shallow waters here.
Itinerary B: Rabida, also known as 'Jervis' is a tiny island sitting roughly 5 kilometres south of Santiago and is one of the most striking of the archipelago. Introduced species were eradicated in 1971, meaning that the indigenous wildlife has now been returned to a state of splendid isolation. Additionally, volcanic activity here has produced vivid, fantastical colours, not least the beaches of red sand and cliffs of scarlet. From the shore, the trail leads through to what is one of the finest lagoons in the Galapagos for viewing flamingos. Rabida is also a wonderful place to spot nesting pelicans. Elsewhere, Pintail ducks, marine iguanas and sea lions are all present. Sombrero Chino is a small islet located near the south-east coast of Santiago. Shaped like a Chinese hat when seen from afar, it is geologically fascinating, with many lava tubes leading from the cone to the coast.
Itinerary A: We visit the Interpretation Centre in the morning. The centre brings the history and geography of the archipelago to life, from its volcanic origins to the present day. The human history exhibit offers an insight into the discovery and colonisation of the Galapagos, and the reality of the problems the islands face today is also explored. This is a great way to complete your time in the Galapagos.
Itinerary B: Today we take an early morning excursion to Las Bachas, which was so named after the barges abandoned by the American Navy here in the 1940's. The sandy, white beaches of Las Bachas on the north shore of Santa Cruz Island are a nesting site for the Pacific green turtle, and marine iguanas are also commonly seen. The sand here is particularly white and soft as it is made of decomposed coral. The rocks provide great snorkelling and are the perfect habitat for the Sally Lightfoot crabs, which are plentiful on the island. A saltwater lagoon near to the beach is home to flamingo and whimbrel, and look out too for Great blue herons.
Both itineraries return to Quito after this mornings excursion. If you have followed Itinerary A the departure airport is San Cristobál, whereas Itinerary B departs from Baltra. If you have enjoyed the services provided by your guide and crew, a tip would be very much appreciated by them. Upon arrival in Quito Airport you are transferred back to our hotel for an overnight stay.
Our adventure comes to an end today after breakfast.