13-17 Ports 1 Country
The weird and wonderful Galapagos Islands are definitely contenders for the world best travel destination. These are the islands where the animals look at humans curiously, rather than the other way around! Inspiring and educational, each island has its own species and strengths, ranging from miles of dramatic coastline to nesting colonies of endemic birds. The islands may be small, but be prepared for some big surprises!
Like so many of the islands in the Galapagos, San Cristobal is formed by dormant volcanoes. It lies to the east of the archipelago and is one of the oldest islands in the group. Approximately 6,000 people live on the island, making their living from tourism, fishing, in government offices, or off the rich volcanic soils with some limited farming existing in the highlands. Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on the southwestern tip of the island is the capital city of the Galapagos Islands. A statue of Charles Darwin graces the harbor, marking one of the first places he likely stepped ashore in the 1830s.
Kicker Rock is the vertical remnant of a former tuff cone less than 5 kilometers to the west of San Cristobal. Both its Spanish name “Leon Dormido” (Sleeping Lion) and English name Kicker Rock imply that it is one rock only -when in fact it is a larger one 300 meters long by 100 meters wide with a maximum height of approximately 150 meters and next to it an obelisk-like rock separated by a narrow channel some 20 meters deep. When approaching Kicker Rock, Blue-footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies and frigatebirds can be observed in the air, while sea lions can be seen along the shore. Snorkelers and divers have reported manta rays, hammerhead sharks and turtles. The Spanish name implies that the geological formation seen from the south resembles a sleeping lion. An interesting explanation for the English name suggests that James Colnett in 1794 likened it to famous landmarks in Portsmouth.
Our ship anchors in sight of the volcanic moonscape of Isla Bartolomé, at Sullivan Bay. Zodiacs bring guests ashore to ascend a boardwalk of 388 steps. Passing through the arid volcanic landscape provides a chance to watch for lava lizards, Galapagos Hawks, and Blue-footed Boobies. However, the climber’s ultimate reward is one of the most beautiful panoramas in all of the Galapagos Islands – the view towards Pinnacle Rock with black, volcanic cones of Baltra, Daphne Major and Daphne Minor in the distance. On the way down watch how the sunlight catches the green of pioneering plant species in stark contrast against dark volcanic rock, and look forward to time swimming and snorkeling from the golden beach at Bahia Dorada.
Punta Vicente Roca (Isabela)
Punta Vicente Roca is one of the marine sites Isabela Island has to offer. On the southern side of Ecuador Volcano, the tip of land on the western end of Isabela is named after Vicente Ramon Roca, President of Ecuador from 1845-49, who as Prefect of Guayas had proposed the Ecuadorian annexation of the Galapagos Islands in 1831. The geological formations, the underwater caves and lava tubes offer fascinating views of the coastline. The South Equatorial Countercurrent hits this part of the archipelago from the west and the water offers abundant food sources for different marine life and seabirds. It is normal to see Pacific green turtles, but sharks, rays, whales and dolphins can also be expected, apart from a small colony of fur seals. Blue-footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies, Brown Noddies and other seabirds nest in the cliffs and both the endemic Galapagos Penguins and Flightless Cormorants have established small colonies nearby.
Punta Espinoza (Fernandina)
With the gentle slopes of La Cumbre volcano in the distance, the low, lava-forged coast of Punta Espinoza on Fernandina Island is a spectacular sight. Hundreds of marine iguanas rest on the black rock of recent lava flows absorbing heat from the stone and defending their territories against one another. Galapagos sea lions and their pups also take shelter here, resting on the beach and playing in the shallow tide pools sprinkled along the coast. Walk past high sandy areas where marine iguanas lay their eggs and along low, shallow mangrove ponds ringed with bright red Sally Lightfoot crabs and Flightless Cormorants drying their stubby wings in the sunshine.
Tagus Cove is bordered by a steep rocky coastline and has for centuries offered shelter for ships and yachts. The cove is named after the British frigate HMS Tagus visiting the Galapagos in 1814. Already by the 1830s other ships had their visits recorded by painting or scratching their name onto the rocks. On approach Galapagos Penguins and Flightless Cormorants –both birds mainly found on Isabela’s west coast and neighboring Fernandina- are often seen. From the landing a trail through an incense tree forest leads past Darwin Lake to a viewpoint on top of a splatter cone. During the hike several land birds including Medium Ground-Finches, Galapagos Hawks, Yellow Warblers as well as Large-billed and Vermilion Flycatchers are often present. Brown Noddies and Blue-footed Boobies prefer the rocks along the shore.
Elizabeth Bay is one of the marine sites on Isabela’s west coast. South of Alcedo Volcano and north of Sierra Negra, Elizabeth Bay is found at Isabela’s narrowest east-west extension where the lava flows of these two volcanoes have connected each other. Elizabeth Bay’s shores show mangroves and specifically the easternmost part, a cove which can only be entered via a narrow channel, has red, white and black mangroves. Different animals prefer different parts of Elizabeth Bay. Las Marielas, three rocks at the entrance to the bay, are favored by Blue-footed Boobies, Flightless Cormorants and Galapagos Penguins as a resting place, while the mangrove area is preferred by Great Blue Herons for hunting or the Magnificent Frigatebirds for perching. The bay is used by turtles, rays and even sharks for feeding or resting. The shallow water and the root system of the mangroves in the small inlet allow smaller fish to hide from bigger predators.
Post Office Bay (Floreana)
Floreana’s Post Office Bay has received its name as the site was used to leave mail for retrieval by others who were thought to stop at the Galapagos Islands or might be heading for the addressee’s direction. First mentioned by Porter in 1813 as “Hathaway’s Postoffice”, HMS Beagle’s captain FitzRoy stated that it was not in use in 1835 as the island was already settled at that time. Floreana had been the first island to be settled by Ecuadorians in 1832. Today a barrel instead of the original box is used by visitors who leave their own postcards and retrieve mail for hand-delivery. Apart from the beach and mail barrel the bay offers good swimming and snorkeling. The area holds remains of a failed Norwegian fish canning plant and settlement dating back to the 1920s.
Punta Cormorant (Floreana)
Floreana Island’s northernmost point is called Punta Cormorant – named after the British naval vessel HMS Cormorant and dating back to the late 19th century. From the landing beach a short track leads to a shallow lagoon that is famous for its flamingos. The brilliantly pink birds skim the salty waters for shrimp and tend to chicks on the nest. The trail then scales a low hillside through scattered Palo Santo trees to reveal an idyllic white-sand beach on the other side of the point. Standing at the edge of the lapping waves, you might spot mammoth female sea turtles hauling themselves out of the sea to lay eggs in the sugar sand dunes that lay high above the tide line.
Champion Islet (Floreana)
Champion Islet is a small islet some 700 meters off the northeast coast of Floreana. It is one of four marine sites surrounding Floreana and offers excellent deepwater snorkeling opportunities. Curious sea lions approach the snorkelers while turtles slowly swim by and sharks, sting rays, and a high diversity of colorful fishes can usually be seen. During a Zodiac cruise around Champion Islet not only seabirds such as Nazca Boobies, Swallow-tailed Gulls, or Red-billed Tropicbirds will be seen, it is also possible to spot the rare Floreana Mockingbird.
Fausto Llerena Breeding Center, Puerto Ayora
Silver Origin will anchor in front of Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, where the prestigious Charles Darwin Research Station is located. The station also houses the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center for giant tortoises and land iguanas where guides interpret the centre’s captive breeding and reintroduction programs. In addition to these star species, throughout the station there are huge prickly pear cactus trees being fed upon by the pretty Galapagos Cactus Finch. To round out the stay in Puerto Ayora, enjoy free time in town where local artists have created charming art galleries and corner cafés.
Santa Cruz Highlands
Los Gemelos (The Twins) is a visitor site in the Santa Cruz highlands. Found some 15 kilometers northwest of Puerto Ayora, the road leading from Puerto Ayora in the south of Santa Cruz to Itabaca in the north dissects the twin pit craters. Pit craters are formed when the roof of an underground void collapses. The smaller pit crater is on the eastern side of the road, while the larger one is on the western side. See from above, the two openings in the ground are not at all identical. Their layout might imply an elongated magma chamber or a lava tube leading further west and the larger twin actually having formerly been two small pit craters whose connecting wall collapsed as well. Trails through a Scalesia forest not only give access to good views of the pit craters, but also permit to observe some of the smaller land birds.
Cerro Dragon (Santa Cruz)
Cerro Dragón’s land iguanas once played an important part in a conservation program headed by the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park. When the reptiles’ numbers declined in the 1970s, some animals were taken to breed in captivity and were released back into undeveloped areas. Today, it is an honor to see the success of this program firsthand at Cerro Dragón. Walk inland on a trail past small saltwater lagoons that periodically feature flamingos, to see the reintroduced animals. In a periodic local phenomenon, during rainier times the salinity in the lagoons drops with the inflow of freshwater.
Bahia Borrero (Santa Cruz)
In the northern area of Santa Cruz Island, Bahía Borrero is a beautiful white coralline beach used as a nesting site by Green Sea turtles. Behind the dunes, we have a forest of typical vegetation from the arid zone: Palo Santo, Leather leaf, and Salty bushes. This vegetation welcomes Yellow Warblers, and some of the most characteristic species of Darwin Finches, such as the Common Cactus Finch or the Small Ground Finch. This extinct volcano, due to its altitude, shows all the different zones of vegetation, changing from the littoral to the arid, and then with more moisture into the humid zone, to end in the dry pampa zone. It is an impressive landscape to enjoy while you swim in the turquoise waters of the bay or have a nice relaxing walk along the beach.
Baltra Island, also known as South Seymour, is truly the entrance to the Galapagos Islands. Despite not being considered as part of the National Park proper, Baltra definitely offers a taste of the weird and wonderful nature that thrives on the islands. The island is located in the central part of the archipelago. At just eight sq. mi it is one of smallest islands, yet its flat, volcanic rock surface and central location in the archipelago makes it an ideal place for one of the islands’ two airports. The airport was built by the US Air Force, who used it as an army base during WWII. As a travel destination in itself it offers few attractions, and all travellers who come here are just passing through, either on either way to or from the islands. There is no tourism infrastructure (save a few agencies that offer tours of the islands) or shops on Baltra and any purchases that you might wish to make should be done at the airport if they can.
Punta Moreno, Isabela
Impressive Pahoehoe lava field that lies between two active volcanoes, Sierra Negra and Cerro Azul, on the south coast of Isabela Island. The rich waters of Cromwell current wash the shores, and as a result, you can see the largest marine iguanas of the archipelago basking on the rocks, flightless cormorants and Galapagos penguins diving for food. Snorkeling can be one of the coldest of the trip, but also one of the most rewarding experiences with good chances to see penguins “flying” underwater, Green Sea Turtles, and Marine Iguanas feeding. During the walk you will experience, as an oasis in a desert of lava, some coastal lagoons in the middle of the field, here you can find shorebirds such as White-cheeked Pintail Ducks, Black-necked Stilts and even sometimes Flamingos.
Isla Santa Fe
This island is home to a reptile that exists nowhere else in the world: The Santa Fe Land Iguana. A beach covered by sea lions is the beginning of our adventure where sea lions’ pups welcome the visitors with their naive curiosity. Then a rocky terrain will guide us to explore the island and the view from the cliff becomes a reward by itself. View some of the tallest and the widest prickly pear cactus of the islands. Also know for beautiful snorkelling and kayaking.
Cerro Brujo, San Christobal
An impressive tuff cone has been carved by erosion into an outstanding natural sculpture, being a resting place for marine birds such as blue-footed bobbies and brown pelicans. One of the most beautiful white sand beaches of the Galapagos (swim or snorkel). View sea lions, sally lightfooted crabs, blue-footed bobbies. Behind the dunes, you find a coastal lagoon, which was visited in the past by the locals to extract salt, today it is home to some shorebirds such as stilts and plovers. The vegetation (as it is one of the oldest islands) shows some endemic species such as Scalesia incisa (flowering plant) only found on this island.
Punta Suarez (Espanola Island)
Punta Suárez lies at the western point of Española, the oldest island in the Galápagos. Sheer cliffs provide superb thermals for seabirds and you may spot Swallow-tailed Gulls, Nazca Boobies and Blue-footed Boobies on the breeze. The largest seabird to nest in the Galapagos Islands is the Waved Albatross. These ocean wanderers can be seen seasonally here from April through December, when pairs reunite on Española, going through an elaborate pair-bonding display. Mockingbirds, doves, and occasional Galápagos Hawks can also be seen on the point, along with sea lions and colorful marine iguanas.