Galapagos: TRIP OF A LIFETIME
"It is the fate of most voyagers, no sooner to discover what is most interesting in any locality than they are hurried from it." -Charles Darwin, 1845
There are many ways you can experience the ecologically diverse places of our planet. Our Green Zone packages and custom trips let you opt for activities such as hiking, snorkeling and observing animals in their native habitat. You can even take a mission-based approach to travel, participating in environmental cleanup.
Want a different location, length or type of experience? We usually have other options available and would love to work with you on customizing your vacation! Click here for more options. Thanks!
Connect with nature with a truly unique experience. The Galapagos Islands are unlike anywhere else in the world.
The islands may not always be open to visitors, so get there soon!
This entire package is built around educating yourself with the animals and their environment.
Due to the busy schedule, no volunteer opportunities are currently available.
If this is something you wish to participate in, please let us know and we may be able to arrange a volunteer earth or animal conservation activity.
The Galápagos Islands are a dream come true for any wildlife lover!
This experience is educationally-oriented and accompanied by a Tour Leader / Biologist in addition to a local Naturalist Guide. The tours are oriented to the traveler who wants to observe and learn as much as possible about the Galapagos - the animals and plants - on land and in the water.
The tours are also oriented to photographers (although you don't have to be a photographer to get full value and enjoyment from our trips). We do offer some light photographic advice and, more important extensive, unique, and excellent photo opportunities.
Over the course of 11 days aboard the yacht you will be able to explore not just the center of the archipelago, but also the seldom visited yet extraordinary outer islands. While all routings are subject to approval by the Galápagos National Park, the following is a sampling of the sites you will likely call on...
NORTH SEYMOUR – In addition to being a major nesting area for the blue-footed booby, North Seymour is home to the largest colony of magnificent frigate birds in the Galápagos. Both marine and land iguanas are found in good numbers here, and sea lions often surf the rocky shore break.
TOWER – Located in the northeast portion of the Galápagos, Tower is an outpost for many sea birds (as is Española to the south - perhaps this is why they are our two favorite islands). Depending on conditions we often will have a chance to snorkel and kayak within the bay.
• Darwin Bay is an anchorage within a caldera, with surrounding cliffs forming the inner portion of the rim. Along the small beach there is a forest of salt bush where adjacent colonies of great frigatebirds and red-footed boobies nest. There are two endemic gull species found in Galápagos; lava gulls and swallow-tailed gulls – both frequently nest here. Tidepools are a favorite haunt of herons.
• A visit to Prince Philip’s Steps begins with a panga ride along the cliffs, watching for red-billed tropicbirds and the occasional fur seal, while squadrons of frigatebirds fly overhead in their endless piratical pursuits. On shore dwarf palo santo trees are home to a colony of red-footed boobies, while Nazca Boobies nest below on the ground. Along the lava fields storm petrels fly overhead in great numbers, while short-eared owls hunt for them among the lava cracks.
SANTIAGO – James Bay/Puerto Egas is home to Fur Seal Grotto - not only a beautiful site, but this is your only chance to get close to the endemic fur seals. Some of the best tide-pooling is also here, drawing a wonderful variety of shorebirds and seabirds, with yellow-crowned night herons and American Oystercatchers being the most commonly seen. Inland you might have a chance to see painted locusts, grasshoppers, and possibly even the Galápagos snake. Galápagos flycatchers and Galápagos hawks are also common on the inland trail. The snorkeling here is in shallower water, getting you closer to the smaller sea life.
• Playa Espumilla is a golden sandy beach where sea turtles nest, and ghost crabs and wading birds abound. Beyond the mangroves that frame the beach lie saline lagoons; further in you can find some of the 10 finches that inhabit Santiago, along with the vermillion and broad-billed flycatchers.
• Following our hike we will explore Buccaneer Cove from the yacht. This is one of the places where Charles Darwin went ashore - a site historically used by sailers to cleans ships, hunt meat, and collect firewood and water. Impressive tuff cliffs frame the southern cove, while eroded cinder to the north has been carved by time into fanciful shapes.
ISABELA – The cold waters approaching Punta Vicente Roca offer some of the best opportunities for whales and dolphins. Zodiac cruise and snorkel here and you may be rewarded with mola mola, penguins and turtles.
FERNANDINA - This is the youngest of the Galápagos Islands. Punta Espinosa is a wonderful visitor site, with the largest colony of marine iguanas in the islands, in addition to flightless cormorants, Galápagos Penguins, herons and Galápagos Hawks. For endemic flora the island is home to some of the best stands of Lava Cactus. This is often the best place to see marine iguanas in the water as they feed on the barely submerged rocks along the shore.
ISABELA – Tagus Cove is a natural harbor featuring steep cliffs replete with graffiti from ship’s crews dating as far back as 1836 carved into the face. The cliffs are populated by marine iguanas, penguins, crabs, sea lions, and in the crevices outside the bay, brown noddy terns and the occasional Galápagos Martin. Ground and tree finches, hawks, yellow warblers, large-billed flycatchers and perhaps the woodpecker finch can be viewed along the way.
• Elizabeth Bay is a mangrove inlet explored by zodiac, with an amazing concentration of green sea turtles and rays. The neighboring Marielas Islets are home to the largest colony of Galápagos Penguins, with penguins often seen in the water at Elizabeth Bay.
ISABELA - Urvina Bay was the site of a dramatic volcanic uplift in 1954, where 4 miles of coastline suddenly rose nearly 15 feet, with the coastline driven three quarters of a mile farther out to sea. The marine remnants and giant coral heads are a stark reminder. Inland land iguanas, and an occasional tortoise, are often found here. Along the shore flightless cormorants and brown pelicans typically nest. We might have a chance to snorkel along the rocky bay.
• Situated against a backdrop of 3 volcanos, Punta Moreno features views of Isabela’s Sierra Negra & Cerro Azul, and Fernandina’s Le Cumbre. The trail traverses sharp Pahoehoe lava to verdant interior and coastal brackish lagoons. You’ll find all 3 types of cactus colonizing this relatively recent lava flow. The shoreline features Blue-footed Boobies and nesting flightless cormorants while the lagoons are home to white-cheeked pintail ducks and flamingos feeding on abundant brine shrimp.
FLOREANA – Punta Cormorant is one of the most interesting landings in Galápagos, on an olivine beach, with an emphasis on unique plant life and shore birds. A large brackish lagoon is home to flamingos, pintail ducks, and commons stilts. Flour Sand Beach here is a favorite nesting beach for the Green Sea Turtle. Offshore Champion Islet offers great snorkeling as well as a chance to spot the endemic Charles Mockingbird from the zodiacs.
• Post Office Bay is one of the most historically famous sites - be sure to bring a postcard or two ashore with you to "mail" from the barrel that has been in use by passing sailors for decades.
• Black Beach & the Highlands are outside the national park lands, yet quite rewarding. Much of the early human history of the Galápagos, and especially the Wittmer family, played out in the highlands of Floreana. A visit to the highlands is also your only opportunity in the archipelago to search for the endemic medium tree finch. The village here is home to about 60 people, with the seaside Wittmer hotel featuring an exhibit of early photographs from sailing expeditions and explorers to call on the island.
SANTA CRUZ - A trip to the Highlands (by mini-bus) traverses all 7 vegetation zones of the Galápagos. In addition to two enormous pit craters, other volcanic formations include some of the largest known lava tunnels in the Galápagos. Not surprisingly, the lush highland vegetation is home to a variety of land birds, including vermillion flycatchers, Galápagos Flycatchers, woodpecker finches, dark-billed cuckoos, and Barn Owls. Tortoises are often seen in the wild here.
• Puerto Ayora is the scientific heart of Galápagos, including the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) and Galápagos National Park tortiose center, as well as the primary population center. This will be the only opportunity to see the rare Galapagos saddleback tortoises.
ESPANOLA - Punta Suarez is a paradise for birders, with waved albatross, Nazca Boobies, blue-footed boobies, Galápagos Hawks, Galápagos Doves, and also marine iguanas (the most colorful in the islands) all vying for center stage.
• Gardner Bay is a tranquil white sandy beach known for sea lions (often numbering in the hundreds), lava lizards, finches, yellow warblers, & Hood Mockingbirds, to name just a few.
• Gardner or Tortuga Rocks offer great snorkeling, as well as the occasional chance to kayak.
SAN CRISTOBAL - This is the easternmost island in the archipelago (and also the provincial capital).
• Punta Pitt is a coastal tuff formation that serves as a nesting site for many sea birds, including blue-footed, Nazca & red-footed boobies (the only site where all 3 species might be seen together), frigatebirds, swallow-tailed gulls, and storm petrels.
• Cerro Brujo is a very striking, eroded tuff cone. One of the first places visited by Charles Darwin, the beautiful white coralline sand beach and lagoon are home to brown pelicans, blue-footed boobies and swallow-tailed gulls, plus a variety of shore birds. Stroll the beach and you will soon realize that you are being watched by hundreds of shy ghost crabs. San Cristóbal is also home to the endemic Chatham Mockingbird.
• Kicker Rock is a similarly eroded tuff cone, this time rising almost 500 feet from the ocean. The yacht will cruise around Kicker Rock as the sunlight plays off the contours of the cliffs and formation (complete with blue-footed boobies, Nazca Boobies, and frigatebirds).
MOSQUERA - This is a tiny islet, really more of a long, narrow sand spit, with a huge population of sea lions. Additional occupants include Sally Lightfoot Crabs and lava lizards, plus a wonderful variety of birdlife flying over. It makes a perfect "last landing" to reflect on the wonders of Galápagos experienced during your 11 days in the islands.
(Contact us directly if you would prefer more or fewer nights, we'll be happy to create a special package just for you!)
The trip begins in Quito, Ecuador.
On arrival (typically in the evening), you will be met and transferred directly to the centrally located Hotel Mercure Alameda
Today is a free day in the High Andes city of Quito, with a spectacular old town district that is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. Nearby sightseeing possibilities include Indian markets, the Equatorial Monument, tropical cloud forests, the Amazon Basin, and active volcanoes.
Breakfast is provided, lunch and dinner on your own. Overnight Quito; Hotel Mercure Alameda
A morning flight will take you from the High Andes, to another world; the Galapagos Islands. Upon landing on Baltra Island we will be will be transferred to the yacht, which will be waiting for the group in the nearby harbor. This afternoon you will begin your island explorations to North Seymour
Tower, Darwin Bay, Prince Phillip's Steps
Santiago, James Bay/Puerto Egas, Playa Espumilla, Buccaneer Cove
Isabela (Punta Vicente Roca), Fernandina, Punta Espinosa
Isabela (Tagus Cove), Elizabeth Bay, Marielas Islets
Isabela (Urvina Bay), Punta Moreno
Floreana (Punta Cormorant), Post Office Bay, Black Beach & the Highlands
Santa Cruz (Highlands), Puerto Ayora
Española (Punta Suarez), Gardner Bay, Gardner of Tortuga Rocks
San Cristobal, Punta Pitt, Cerro Brujo, Kicker Rock
Mosquera, Baltra (to depart to Quito) On arrival (late afternoon) in Quito, we will be transferred directly to the Hotel Mercure Alameda where we will spend the night. We will have a group Farewell Dinner at one of the leading restaurants in Quito.
Transfer to the airport today for your return flight home.
What ELSE Do I Need To Know?
When is the best time to go to the Galapagos Islands?
This is the question prospective passengers ask us the most. Our answer is, "It doesn't matter when you go; what matters is how long you go for!"
There's not much rain, and there's never been a tropical storm of any type in the Galápagos. While there are a couple of official "seasons," the differences are slight.
Actually, Darwin said it all:
"Considering that these islands are placed directly under the equator, the climate is far from being excessively hot; this seems chiefly caused by the singularly low temperature of the surrounding water, brought here by the great southern polar current. Excepting during one short season, very little rain falls, and even then it is irregular."
-CHARLES DARWIN, 1845
There are some differences in what you will see in the islands from month to month, but again, the differences in the qualitative experience are small.
Where should I go?
More important than when you go to Galapagos, is really where you go in Galapagos. You want a voyage long enough to take in as many of the islands and visitor sites as possible (which is why we spend either 11 or 15 days aboard the yacht in Galapagos).
Each island is unique, with its own remarkable flora and fauna. If you don't go north to Tower/Genovesa your chances of seeing Red-footed Boobies are slim.
Don't go west to Isabela and Fernandina and you'll likely miss the Flightless Cormorants, Galapagos Penguins, Mola-mola, and more.
If you bypass Santiago you'll not get close to Fur Seals or the best tide pools.
Santa Fe is the only home to one land iguana species.
Miss Espanola and you'll miss the Waved Albatross...
Migratory and Weather patterns:
There is not really a "best" time of year to visit the Galapagos - the archipelago is always magical.
There are 2 distinct seasons however. From around the first of the year through roughly May is the "hot and rainy" season. During this time you can expect daytime temperatures to be in the upper 80's/mid-90's (30-36c) with the evenings in the mid 60's (17-19c). Average rain this time of year is typically 15 to 20 minutes, every 2 or 3 days, mixed with bright sunny days and blue skies.
Humidity isn't too bad at any time. The ocean is the calmest, flattest, clearest, and warmest this time of year - water temperature average is around 74-76 degrees (24c).
Around the middle of May the ocean currents will change and the annual upwelling will resume. This colder water reaching the surface brings with it the change of seasons - the start of the "garua" (mist) season. Mist will be common at the upper elevations of the volcanoes, but fairly unusual at sea level.
Rain is virtually unheard of, but there may be some light overcast. Temperatures will be about 10 degrees cooler; upper 70's/lower 80's (24-28c) during the day, and mid to upper-50's (13c) at night. This cooler ocean, averaging 66-70 degrees (19-21c), is richer with more particulate matter (nutrients!) and fish.
Galapagos flora responds to the rainfall, with the environment being lusher and greener typically between February and June.
The rest of the year the islands will have a more stereotypical desert island appearance, with many of the remarkable plant adaptations to the environment obvious.
There is only one migratory species in the islands; the waved albatross. They are not present January-March (the males typically return the last week of March, with the females returning the first week of April).
Other seasonal changes include more breeding activity for the land birds (Darwin's Finches, Galapagos Mockingbirds, Galapagos Doves, etc) during the first half of the year (due to increased precipitation, and therefore increased plant growth).
During the latter half of the year there is apt to be more activity among the sea birds (the cooler, richer, water bringing an increase in the number of fish, which in turn prompts activity amongst any opportunistic breeders in the seabird colonies).
Other seabirds, like the great frigatebird, are seasonal, with courtship and display peaking in the spring (April and May typically). Blue footed and red footed boobies tend to court and breed year round, as do magnificent frigatebirds, although again, they are opportunistic. Nazca boobies are more seasonal, with nesting happening between October and March.
The majority of sea lion pups are born in the fall, with the pups reaching their most playful stages when snorkeling with us in the spring and early summer.
Giant tortoises follow the moisture, so tend to be at lower elevations in the first half of the year, and higher elevations (where we are more apt to find them) later in the year.
Marine iguanas court and nest in the December-February time frame. Following is a very abbreviated species list highlighting a few of these seasonal differences.
As with all nature, there are no guarantees, although the Galapagos are remarkably predictable. Every year/season is unique however, which is part of the fun! Endemic species included on this list are noted with an *
Activity and Donation Info
Is my donation to the Galapagos Conservation Trust tax-deductible?
The Galapagos Conservation Trust is a non-profit based in the UK, so donations are not tax deductible for US citizens.
We chose this organization to highlight because of the amazing work they are doing for the Galapagos Islands.
If you need your donation to be tax deductible, we would suggest the Charles Darwin Foundation.
Please click here for more information
Why do I need to spend 11 days in the Galápagos?
Actually, a 2 week tour of the Galápagos Islands is recommended for maximum observation, photographic opportunities, and just plain enjoyment. But 11 days will work.
". . . By far the most remarkable feature in the natural history of this archipelago . . . is, that the different islands to a considerable extent are inhabited by a different set of beings. I never dreamed that islands, about fifty or sixty miles apart, and most of them in sight of each other, formed of precisely the same rocks, placed under a quite similar climate, rising to a nearly equal height, would have been differently tenanted. . . . "
-CHARLES DARWIN, 1845
Basically, each island is different, with its own unique ecosystem and wildlife distribution. Not only are many species endemic to the Galápagos Islands, they are often endemic to a specific island. In other words, each island has plants and animals that you're not going to see on any other island. So, the more islands you visit, the more unique wildlife you're going to see.
If you want to see the red-footed booby, you have to go to either Tower (Genovesa) Island or Punta Pitt on San Cristóbal Island. If you want to see the flightless cormorant, you have to go to Fernandina or Isabela Island. If you want to see the waved albatross, you have to go to Hood (Española) Island. And the list goes on.
What is a typical daily schedule like?
Well, first off, there is no "typical" day in nature - our schedule is purposely loose to allow us to take advantage of unusual animal encounters or conditions - flexibility is one of the advantages of a small group size.
Some landings might warrant a 2 hour visit, while others are more suited to 4 or more hours.
That said, your day on the yacht might look something like this:
• 5:45am wake-up call
• 6:15am breakfast
• 7:00am-10:00am morning excursion (on occasion we might land as early as 6am depending on the location)
• 10:30-11:30am snorkeling
• 12 noon lunch
• 1:45-2:30pm snorkeling, kayaking, or zodiac cruising possibly
• 3:00-6:00pm afternoon excursion
• 6:15pm Tour Leader's evening lecture
• 7:15pm dinner
• 7:45pm Naturalist Guide's briefing for tomorrow
The one sure thing is that our trips are active. It is your vacation, but we want to provide you with as many options as possible to allow you to see and experience the Galapagos as fully as you wish.
On that note, be sure to also take the time to enjoy the stars from the top deck of the yacht - your guide will be happy to point out the Southern Cross or other equatorial constellations.
What are the trails like?
Trail conditions are mixed. Some visitor sites are a walk on the beach, literally - soft sandy beaches that happen to be populated by unique and wonderful creatures. Other trails can however be more challenging, with difficult terrain including rocks to step up, over or around or inclines. With only a couple of exceptions the longest trails in the islands are no more than 1.5 miles in total. We also walk at a leisurely pace allowing you to both watch where you are walking, and stop and take in your surroundings.
What if I'm not a photographer?
No problem. Once again, our trips are totally oriented to providing a comprehensive, professionally-led, natural history tour of the Galápagos Islands.
Natural History and Photography are actually very compatible activities. For both interests we want to be ashore early in the morning, as well as late in the afternoon - this gives us the peak animal activity, in addition to the best lighting of the day.
It is not unusual for us to be the first group ashore in the morning, and the last group to leave shore at the end of the day. Our slower pace (maybe 3 hours on a trail that other groups might do in 2 hours) also allows both more time to observe behavior as well as capture the photos you have dreamed of.
On the trails the Naturalist Guide is physically leading the group and identifying and interpreting the flora and fauna. The Tour Leader will traditionally "bring up the rear" quietly lingering behind a bit with photographers as needed (although by park regulations we do need to remain in one loose group with the guide).
The Tour Leader might also offer very brief photo advice on angles, filters or exposure, as well as what are some of the "signature images" of the islands. Photographers and non-photographers alike will get their get full value and enjoyment from our programs.
This trip is different than most, for several reasons:
1. Most important is that we allow you to maximize and get the most out of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure travel experience. Our Workshops provide an in-depth orientation to the islands beyond the scope of most "vacation- type" tours.
2. We spend a longer time in the islands than most tour groups. We feel that 11 days is the minimum time necessary to see most of the important Visitor Sites (including the outer islands) and be assured of a maximum viewing opportunity of the significant plant and animal species. We include 3 days in the volcanically-active western islands, where we whale-watch, see penguins, flightless cormorants, and giant tortoises in the wild.
3. In addition to the legally-required Naturalist Guide, we provide a Tour Leader/ Biologist who gives daily lectures on natural history. The Guide's role is to escort people on shore, to provide some wildlife interpretation, and to make sure the rules of the National Park are enforced. Having a Tour Leader adds a serious educational orientation to the trip.
4. Our two daily island visits are longer (2-4 hours each) than most tours. We also go on shore earlier in the day (typically landing between 6 and 7am. vs. 8am for most other vessels) to enhance viewing and photographic opportunities.
Is the yacht considered a "luxury" yacht?
The yachts, while comfortable, certainly are not what we consider a luxury yacht. Tours are natural history and educationally focused and while the ship will be comfortable, clean and efficient, the cabins will be cozy and the amenities on board will be nice, but not luxury.
What If I'm Traveling Alone?
First, we do not have a Single Supplement Charge. For example, if you are a female and are willing to share a cabin with another female, you pay the standard Trip Cost. If it turns out that there isn't another single female on the trip, you get the cabin to yourself - again at the standard Trip Cost. Second, about half of our passengers are couples and half are singles. What is more important is that almost everyone has a common orientation - a serious interest in natural history. Singles should not be concerned about being "left out."
Should I bring cash?
There are some things that we cannot purchase for you in advance. Things like: • Galapagos National Park entrance fee of $100 per person • Gratuities to the crew and guide (based on $20 - $25 dollars per day which come to a total of $200 - $250 per passenger for an 11 day trip and they divide between the crew and guide) • Wetsuit rental fees • Alcoholic beverages and items of a personal nature.
What is included in the package price?
• All accommodations, including 3 nights in a First Class hotel in Quito, Ecuador and 10 nights aboard the yacht in the Galápagos.
• Accommodations in Quito include 2 people sharing a double room. If you prefer your own room, there is a Single Supplement Cost of $375 per person
(All boat cabins must be shared, except by special arrangement.)
• All meals and non-alcoholic beverages aboard the yacht, and most meals (as indicated in the itinerary) in Quito.
• All airport transfers in Quito and the Galápagos.
• The services of an expert-level Tour Leader accompanying the group and a University-level Naturalist Guide conducting the land tours.
• Governmental yacht Fuel Tax of $360 per person for 11 days aboard the yacht (subject to change).
* * The government of Ecuador implemented a diesel fuel tax, effective mid-2008, on all vessels purchasing in excess of 4,000 gallons of fuel per month. We now include this fuel tax in the total Land Cost of our workshops. Total Land Cost may however be adjusted at any time based on governmental changes in the fuel tax, which are beyond our control.**
What is NOT included in the package price?
• Any airfare (the Quito/Galápagos roundtrip is currently $550 per person)
• Galápagos National Park Entrance Fee (currently $100 per person)
• Gratuities to guide and crew (suggested at roughly $21-$22 per day but discretionary)
• Alcoholic beverages
• Trip Cancellation Insurance Coverage is strongly suggested, both to protect your investment in the tour, but also to safeguard yourself in the case of an accident while abroad - you will be traveling to a remote and wonderful corner of the globe that however has minimal ready care in the case of a medical emergency