Galapagos Cruises

The 2021 cruise has already run. We will add future Galapagos cruises in the near future

This cruise works well for both birders and photographers. While we do try to see all the endemics possible based on our itinerary, we also usually have plenty of time with each species, and the pace is quite relaxed. Most of the wildlife has little or no fear of people and can be observed and photographed at close range, even without expensive gear. Along with the birds, we will also devote some time watching and photographing other wildlife including reptiles and fish. A checklist of birds and other animals will be provided, and the tour leader will go through list every day.

The Galapagos Islands lie 1000km/625m off of the coast of Ecuador in South America. The destination had become one of the quintessential bucket list places to visit, and it is easy to see why. The wildlife of the islands is famously tame, and so appeals to people from all walks of life and allows anyone to walk away with more than merely decent photographs of them. To a birder, these islands have greater appeal still. In addition to the lure that they have for others, the islands are home to a discrete set of endemic bird species (more than twenty by current taxonomy, but ever increasing), many of which are easily found by taking a very comfortable cruise of this nature around some of the key islands. If ever there was a birding trip that you could feel totally comfortable inviting a non-birding partner on, this is it. Simply put, everybody likes the Galapagos, as it is a totally unique nature experience that is satiating to people from all walks of life.

Among the specialties we shall be seeking include Galapagos Penguin, Galapagos Shearwater, Waved Albatross, Galapagos Rail, Lava Gull, Espanola and Galapagos Mockingbirds, and a host of finches, including the tool-using Woodpecker Finch. Aside from these so-called specialties, there are other birds that arguably are as high on the list of priorities like seeing frigatebirds displaying spectacularly at close range, tropicbirds effortlessly hanging in the wind offshore, and Blue-footed Boobies dancing mere inches away onshore. Of course, even the most focused birders are likely to find other distractions for their binoculars and cameras, like enormous Giant Tortoises, unique aquatic Marine Iguanas, and the absurdly confiding Galapagos Sea-Lions. We will be traveling around the islands on the Beluga, a 16-passenger Superior First Class Yacht, with ten crew to look after our every need. There will also be optional snorkeling during the cruise too, for those who wish to do so.


Note: this itinerary is subject to change based on National Park policies and regulations, and we may substitute other sites or do them in a different order than listed.

Day 1: Arrival in Quito. Most flights arrive in the evening. You will be met at the airport and transferred to a hotel in Quito for the night.

Day 2: Quito to the Galapagos Islands (Santa Cruz). In the morning, we will take a flight from the Ecuadorian capital, Quito, to the island of Baltra in the Galapagos (exact details of this flight are not yet known, but will be passed on to you before the tour begins), the main entry point into the islands. Before we board our yacht for the cruise, we’ll spend our first day on the Galapagos exploring the neighboring island of Santa Cruz. Having arrived on the dry, arid coastal plain on Baltra islet, our drive and walk up into the highlands of Santa Cruz will be in marked contrast; here the habitat changes to wet, and verdant Scalesia forest. This is very different from the picture postcard images of the Galapagos. These higher elevations are home to an array of endemic species, and is particularly rich in “Darwin’s” Finches; we will especially be on the lookout for Large Tree-Finch, Woodpecker Finch, Vegetarian Finch, and Green Warbler-Finch. Our other key target, in the area of Media Luna, will be the shy and retiring Galapagos Rail. This day will also represent our best chance at the enormous animal after which the islands were named, the Santa Cruz Giant Tortoise. There is also a small chance of the increasingly rare, local form of Vermilion Flycatcher, a widely touted split due to vocal differences, and striking plumage differences in the female birds from the mainland forms. In the afternoon we shall drop back down to the coastal plain, visiting the world famous Charles Darwin Research Station on the edge of the town of Puerto Ayora. Here cacti grow, in sharp contrast to the highland areas visited earlier in the day, and we’ll keep an eye out for Common Cactus-Finch around the center, while also learning about the successful conservation projects involving among others, Giant Tortoises, which are now thriving in the islands. Late in the day, we shall board our comfortable yacht, the Beluga, our home for the next 7 nights. In the evening we will set sail for our next destination, the island of Espanola, in the far southeast of the archipelago.

Small Ground-Finch is one of the many endemic finches on the Galapagos
Small Ground-Finch is one of the many endemic finches on the Galapagos (Nick Athanas)

Day 3: Española. All of our day’s activities on this day will be on this island; we will visit idyllic Gardener Bay in the morning, and then visit the Waved Albatross colony at Punta Suarez in the afternoon, after a break for lunch on board our yacht in between. Gardner Bay is located on the north of the island, and comprises a pristine white sand beach that borders this beautiful bay. On the beach itself, tame Galapagos Sea Lions often rest, and one of the most curious birds in all of the Galapagos can be found, the Española Mockingbird, that is known to use ‘scopes and even people as perches on occasion. The Large Cactus-Finches that also frequent the bay are only marginally less approachable, while on the scrub-covered hillside behind the beach, Gray Warbler-Finch, Galapagos Dove, and Galapagos Hawk can often be found. Punta Suarez is situated on the southern end of the island, and is the location of one of only two breeding sites for the Waved Albatross. The island hosts 25,000-30,000 albatrosses each year, representing almost the entire world population of the species. Your visit to the colony is likely to be one of the highlights of the whole cruise, as we get to walk past these ocean giants at close quarters, and perhaps too, see their breeding dance, (the latter is not guaranteed!). Overnight, we will set off for Isabela Island.

A visit to the largest colony of Waved Albatrosses is always a highlight
A visit to the largest colony of Waved Albatrosses is always a highlight (Pablo Cervantes)

Day 4: Isabela. Isabela is the largest island in the archipelago, and we will visit a number of sites over the next few days. The Tintoreras are small islands off the southeastern coast of Isabela. If conditions permit, we’ll explore these islands by Zodiac, and should see Lava Herons on the lookout in the mangroves, and Galapagos Penguins and Galapagos Sea-lions often pop out on shore. White-tipped reef sharks are fairly common here as well; their name in Spanish is tintorera, the name given to this site, and they are always found here swimming in the shallow waters. Other birds we may see here include Galapagos Shearwater, Lava Gull, Brown Pelican, Blue-footed Booby, and Wandering Tattler. This afternoon, the wetlands close to Puerto Villamil village may be visited. There are a few lagoons here that often have White-cheeked Pintail, American Flamingo, Common Gallinule, and sometimes some migrant shorebirds. Nearby scrub might give us our first Galapagos Flycatchers and Common Cactus-Finches. We will also visit the Arnaldo Tupiza breeding center, where giant tortoises are reared in captivity. The “Wall of Tears” is another point of interest; the wall was constructed from blocks of lava rock between 1946 and 1959, when Isabela was a penal colony.

Galapagos Hawk preys on the finches of the islands
Galapagos Hawk preys on the finches of the islands (Pablo Cervantes)

Day 5: Isabela. We’ll begin the day with a visit to Elizabeth Bay, one of the best spots to see Galapagos Penguin, and we may also encounter our first Flightless Cormorants. Later in the day, we’ll head over to nearby Punta Moreno, located on the coast of Isabela Island near the Sierra Negra and Cerro Azul volcanos. The trail runs along a Pahohoe lava flow (solidified lava in the form of an accordion) into a complex of coastal lagoons. Along with many of the species we had seen in the wetlands the day before, this is a reliable spot to see Galapagos Martin. Later in the day, we steam into the Bolivar Channel between Fernandina and Isabela, a great area for seabirds and also occasionally whales. We should see Galapagos Petrel, Galapagos Shearwater, Wedge-rumped and Elliot’s Storm-Petrels, with a reasonable chance to see something rare and unexpected.

Bizarre Flightless Cormorants can be seen on Fernandina and Isabela Islands
Bizarre Flightless Cormorants can be seen on Fernandina and Isabela Islands (Nick Athanas)

Day 6: Isabela. We’ll have a chance to stretch our legs this morning with a walk from Tagus Cove to the top of the cliff from where we can view Darwin Lake, an uplifted ultra-saline lake saltier than the sea. You can also see several volcanoes from this location. Galapagos Hawks can be seen here along with Red-billed Tropicbird, ground-finches, Galapagos Mockingbird, and others. In the afternoon, a visit to Urbina Bay will get us lots of colorful Land Iguanas – they are larger here than elsewhere in the Galapagos – along with more chances for Galapagos Hawk and Giant Tortoises.

Galapagos Penguin, the only penguin resident in tropical waters
Galapagos Penguin, the only penguin resident in tropical waters (Nick Athanas)

Day 7: Fernandina and Isabela. The morning will see us on a brand new Island, Fernandina, visiting Punta Espinoza on the northeastern side of the island. Marine Iguanas conglomerate here in larger groups than any other island. They bask around in the sand, swim near the shore and sometimes block the way from the landing area. This is another good spot for Galapagos Hawk. We’ll have more chances to photograph the bizarre Flightless Cormorants and even more Galapagos Penguins. In the afternoon, we’ll cross back over the Bolivar Channel to Punta Vicente Roca on Isabela. We will observe impressive geological formations including a large cave and volcanic tuft cones. The cliffs are home to a variety of nesting birds, including Blue-footed and Nazca Boobies, Swallow-tailed Gull, Elliot’s Storm-Petrel, and Brown Noddies. The calmer waters within the cave are a popular area for sea turtles. Above all, Punta Vicente Roca is an excellent snorkeling area due to the nutrient-rich waters of the Humboldt Current. In the evening, we’ll begin steaming towards Santiago Island.

Galapagos Mockingbird is the most widespread of the quartet of endemic mockingbirds
Galapagos Mockingbird is the most widespread of the quartet of endemic mockingbirds (Pablo Cervantes)

Day 8: Santiago and Bartolome. Dawn will see us at Espumilla beach, located at the northern coast of Santiago Island in James Bay. During the last El Niño event, one of the two lagoons of this site underwent a process of sedimentation, changing it completely. The main attraction is the Palo Santo forest, where we can see a variety of Darwin’s finches along with other birds like Dark-billed Cuckoo, Galapagos Dove, and Galapagos Flycatcher. The beach is also an important site for nesting marine turtles. At the nearby Buccaneers Cove we have a great snorkeling opportunity. In the afteroon, we’ll head over to nearby Bartolome Island. An optional hike could take you to the highest point on Bartolome for a spectacular view. Others may prefer to stay on the beautiful beach and swim with penguins and sea lions.

Lava Gull, one of the world's rarest gulls and endemic to the Galapagos
Lava Gull, one of the world's rarest gulls and endemic to the Galapagos (Nick Athanas)

Day 9: North Seymour and return to Quito. We have time to visit one last site before heading back to the mainland. North Seymour may be small, but it a fun island to visit with its colonies of Magnificent Frigatebirds and comical Blue-footed Boobies. We’ll then dock at Baltra and transfer to the airport for our flight back to Quito.

Quintessential Galapagos: Frigatebirds displaying
Quintessential Galapagos: Frigatebirds displaying (Sam Woods)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Relaxed. Landings are strictly controlled by the National Park and we are only allowed a few hours at each site. We will relax on the yacht as we transfer between each day’s landing areas, and there will be chances for optional snorkeling.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate. The walking is mostly easy, and relatively flat, though some of the walks are on lava with very uneven surfaces. It is necessary to transfer from our larger yacht to a smaller boat (“panga”) to visit many of the sites, and some involve wet landings (no dock), which requires you to wade ashore from the smaller boat. The daytime journeys on the boats are not long, as all the longer voyages are undertaken at night.

CLIMATE: Cool to warm and often overcast. Air temperatures range from about 66-80°F (19-27 °C), and can feel considerably cooler on the boat deck. Water temperature this time of year is a rather cool 70°F (21°C); if you intend to snorkel, you want to bring a wetsuit or rent one from the yacht. Rain is unlikely (except for some light mist)

ACCOMMODATION: On the arrival night, we’ll use a nice hotel in Quito. For seven nights in the Galapagos we will be on board a 16-passenger Superior First Class Yacht, the Beluga. The Beluga is a fully air-conditioned, spacious and comfortable motor yacht. There are 2 double and 6 twin cabins, each with private bath, hot/cold water showers and security safe. The salon area is equipped with flat screen TV and DVD systems.

PHOTOGRAPHY: The wildlife and bird photography on the Galapagos is amazing, with many photographs expected on this tour, with any type of camera, as the birds and animals are very approachable. In particular, there are good chances to photograph a variety of endemic finches, nesting frigatebirds, displaying boobies, storm-petrels, tropicbirds, and shearwaters in flight, nesting albatrosses, and foraging Yellow Warblers; Marine Iguanas, Galapagos Sea-Lions, and Giant Tortoises are also regularly photographed on this photo friendly cruise.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Tourist visas are currently not required for citizens of the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and all European countries. Visas are currently only required of a few nationalities, mostly in Asia, Africa, and the middle East. Travel requirements are subject to change; if you are unsure, please check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff for help.

For the Galapagos itself, there is no special entry requirements, although a $100 entry fee needs to be paid on arrival at the airport in the Galapagos, as well as a further $20 airport transit fee. Please bring cash for this.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 8; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 9; safe drinking water throughout (sometimes juice is also provided during meals on board the Galapagos yacht); Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 9; ground and boat transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from day 2 to day 9; one arrival airport transfer per person; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Tips; flights (Tropical Birding will book your roundtrip flight from Quito to Galapagos and add the coast to your final invoice); snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras such as snorkel rental, wetsuit rental, laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.