DAY 3-6: Galápagos Islands
Here is a sampling of the diverse islands that we visit on our itineraries. Part of the magic of any Galápagos voyage is the varied nature of the terrain, wildlife and experiences that each island offers, with each departure offering a well-considered balance. (B,L,D Daily)
On this wildlife-rich small island, follow trails past coastal groups of Galápagos sea lions and marine iguanas inland through a silvery forest of Palo Santo to colonies of magnificent and great frigatebirds, blue-footed boobies, and other seabirds. See land iguanas clambering over rocks in search of cactus and other flowers. Look for swallow-tailed gulls, noddy terns, red-billed tropic birds and Galápagos fur seals on the rocky walls of this small island (like neighboring Baltra), created by not by lava flows geologic uplift.
Climb to the summit of this 360-foot-high volcanic wonderland of spatter and scoria cones and tuff formations, well-worth the effort for the stunning view. Later, stroll the golden sand beach below, backed by a tangle of mangroves under famous Pinnacle Rock. Here lucky swimmers and snorkelers might encounter Galápagos penguins, one of world’s rarest and the only tropical penguin species.
Land on a red sand beach on this volcanically varied island, where we explore inland and may see migratory flamingos feeding in a brackish lagoon. Clownish brown pelicans entertain from their nests along the coast, where sea lions often play. Prepare for some magnificent sunsets.
In the remote western archipelago, walk among brightly colored Sally Lightfoot crabs, and the largest and most numerous population of marine iguanas anywhere. Hike over impressive lava past tide pools where young sea lions play and the strange flightless cormorant nests. One of the most active oceanic volcanoes in the world, Fernandina is a privilege to visit: the youngest, and most pristine island in Galápagos.
Toast crossing the Equator at Volcán Ecuador on Isabela, a towering island formed of six great shield volcanoes that make up 2/3 of the land area in Galápagos. Over two days, cruise, kayak and snorkel along wildly eroded formations of volcanic ash, hike along the uplifted coastline, land in the footsteps of Darwin and Melville for a hike at Tagus Cove. Fed by the upwelling of cool, nutrient-rich currents, this is a rich oceanic realm, once the haunt of whalers and pirates, and a good place to see whales, dolphins and other marine life.
Follow in the wake of Darwin and HMS Beagle at rugged Santiago, where we explore tide pools and look for fur seals sheltered in quiet grottos of black basalt at Puerto Egas. Swim, snorkel, kayak and paddleboard along the spectacular coast of Buccaneers Cove, a secluded atelier where pirates once careened their ships. Explore a dense coastal forest, home to Galápagos hawks and other land birds, at Playa Espumilla.
See wild tortoises roaming free in the green highlands of this central Island. Be greeted as a friend in Puerto Ayora, headquarters of both the Galápagos National Park and Charles Darwin Research Station. Tour the giant tortoise breeding corrals, a pioneering effort that has resulted in repopulation of Española and other islands. See Lonesome George, the last tortoise from Isla Pinta and a conservation icon, is at the center of the new Route of the Tortoises. The town of Puerto Ayora, lined with shops, hotels and restaurants, is connected by road across the island, and a short canal-crossing, to Baltra, the island on the north coast, home to a WWII-era U.S. Army air force base and still the primary airport.
Land on a small, sparkling beach at Punta Pitt for a hike up to a plateau where blue- and red-footed footed boobies nest and you may see endemic Cristóbal mockingbirds and lava lizards. On this easternmost island, also explore the celebrated expanse of powdery white sand at Cerro Brujo. One of four populated islands and the capital of the province, San Cristóbal has a rich agricultural zone in the highlands and a healthy tortoise population. The town is interestingly home to the largest sea lion colony in the archipelago.
See swallow-tailed gulls, Española mockingbirds, Nazca boobies and, seasonally, the world’s only population of waved albatross at Punta Suarez, where we walk among vividly colored marine iguanas, and breeding colonies of sea lions. Optional trails lead inland across iron-laden pillow basalt to the blowhole and seabird cliffs. At Gardner Bay, explore the expanse of bright white sand and snorkel offshore islets.
An island of rolling hills and fresh water springs, a favorite with pirates and whalers, scientists and settlers. Follow a trail along a rose-pink lagoon across Punta Cormorant. At Champion Islet, snorkel or cruise along the shore by Zodiac. Visit Post Office Bay, where you’re invited to join the 19th-century tradition of leaving and taking letters from the barrel for hand delivery. Paddleboard and kayak along the coast at Baroness Lookout, named after the early settler and eccentric Eloise Bosquet de Wagner. Floreana is an island rich in mystery.