This cruise works well for both birders and photographers, and family groups too, as the relaxed pace of Galapagos cruises can address all of these varied needs. While we do try to see all the endemics possible based on this itinerary (and this one covers most of these), we also have plenty of time with each species (be it birds, iguanas or tortoises!) 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. Giant Tortoises, Marine Iguanas, Land Iguanas, bright red Sally Lightfoot Crabs, frigatebirds, penguins, finches, boobies, cormorants, albatrosses, and storm-petrels are all usually readily photographed on this itinerary. There are several opportunities to snorkel on the cruise too.
Links up with the Ecuador: The Andes Introtour tour..
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 a 16-passenger Yacht, with experienced crew to look after our every need.
The Covid situation in Galapagos is very good right now (Sept. 2021), where 100% of the people are vaccinated, and there are strict conditions for getting in and out, compared to other destinations. (See entry requirements below).
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 an airport hotel in Quito. Dinner is provided on this night if you arrive early enough. You will meet with your guide the next day for the flight to the Galapagos.
Day 2: Quito to the Galapagos Islands (Baltra). 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. We will have our first chances to see some of the strange residents of the Galapagos straight off the bat, with several of the endemic finches, like Medium and Small Ground-Finches likely, as well as Lava Gull and even Galapagos Lava Lizard before the days out. In the afternoon of this day, we may well explore nearby North Seymour island, where both species of frigatebirds nest side by side, and puff our their substantial scarlet throat sacs in frenzied excitement of display. This island hosts nesting Blue-footed Boobies and Swallow-tailed Gulls, which will keep us more than amused.
Days 3-8: Genovesa, Isabela, Fernandina, Espanola, Floreana, San Cristobal. These islands all offer different wildlife opportunities, and different endemic bird species, and will be visited on these days, as we cruise from island to island. The exact order that this will be done will not be confirmed by the national park until 50 days before the cruise.
The island of Genovesa is located within the northeast of the archipelago and is likely to be one of the most popular island among birders and photographers alike; there are simply birds everywhere leading to its other name – “Bird Island”. Vast numbers of Red-footed Boobies nest on the Genovesa and do so in small trees within inches of the trails that weave through the colony. Beside these boobies, which only nest on few accessible islands away from this one, we should also see nesting Great Frigatebirds along the same trail too, sitting within arm’s length. Genovesa is also an excellent place to watch Red-billed Tropicbirds hanging in the wind over their nesting cliffs, and three species of storm-petrels forage offshore. Onshore, we can sometimes find the dark endemic form of Short-eared Owl that rests in wait for unsuspecting storm-petrels to prey on. For endemic hunters, then the Genovesa Ground-Finch is a target species confined to this island. Large Ground-Finch and Gray Warbler-Finch are also possible, as are resting Swallow-tailed Gulls, an odd nocturnal feeding gull.
Isabela island lies in the west of the archipelago and is within the geologically youngest part of this volcanic archipelago. While seeing dramatic ancient lava flows there, we will also seek specialties of the western Galapagos like the unique Flightless Cormorant the only one of its kind on Earth, and the ever-popular Galapagos Penguin, the only tropical penguin. This can also be a good island for the sea crossings and pelagic birds, like Galapagos Petrel, Galapagos Shearwater, Waved Albatross, three species of storm-petrel, and sometimes whales too, species like Bryde’s Whales and Orcas occur. It is also a good place to watch out for the scarce Galapagos Martin, one of the scarcer endemics. While walking among sparsely vegetated crusty lava flows underfoot on these young islands, we will also come across oasis like pools that are often home to White-cheeked Pintail and bright pink American Flamingoes. While working the edges of mangroves can lead to us finding Lava Herons blending in with the dark volcanic rocks. Marina life is always close at hand, and seeing sharks, rays (even Manta Rays), and Pacific Green Turtles from above water is not uncommon!
Fernandina will be our westernmost point, and while Flightless Cormorants clamour along the shorelines awkwardly, we will see some staggering number of Marina Iguanas, which are found in epic concentrations on this island. We will see them throughout our cruise, and should also experience some of the Christmas-colored ones that occur on some of the southern island only.
Espanola is a southern island, which has its own endemic finch and Mockingbird, Espanola Ground-Finch and Espanola Mockingbirds, the latter arguably the tamest birds on all of the islands. A beautiful sandy beach at Gardener Bay with tame Galapagos Sea-Lions, and even tamer Espanola Mockingbirds is a treat, as is Punta Suarez, where a rocky coastline and clifftop play host to nesting Waved Albatrosses (almost the entire world population breeds on this remote islands), Nazca Boobies and dancing Blue-footed Boobies, one of the most famous residents of the islands. The walk among the ocean giants of the Waved Albatrosses, which nests in tens of thousands on Espanola (the largest single colony) is likely to be one of the highlights of the tour. Although widespread, this is also a good island for seeking out Galapagos Doves, Galapagos Flycatchers, and Galapagos Hawks while there.
Floreana is one of the less visited islands, a small one located in the southeast. It has some great areas for snorkeling offshore, and onshore there are pools with ducks, flamingos and shorebirds, like Wandering Tattler. Numerous endemic finches occur on the island, and we will be focusing on finding the one that is only found there – Medium Tree-Finch, Plentiful seabirds abound offshore, with big numbers often foraging overhead whilst snorkeling for the abunday tropical fish that occur there. While at sea off Floreana, we will request to tour Champion Islet by boat to see if we can one of the birds with one of the smallest populations in the World, the Floreana Mockingbird. This will decided by the boat’s captain.
Moving further east we will reach the island of San Cristobal, the youngest island in the archipelago, which is home to a mockingbird found nowhere else, the San Cristobal mockingbird. Like most places we will visit on the cruise, there will be further chances to see and photograph seabirds, sea lions and marine iguanas at close quarters too.
Day 9: Baltra to Santa Cruz. On this day our cruise comes to an end at Baltra island, where it started. However, our trip is not yet over. We will spend a single night in the biggest town in the Puerto Ayorra. This will give us this day to explore the island of Santa Cruz by bus and go up into the highlands for some of the most impressive habitat of the tour, the dense, tall, verdant Scalesia forests found above the coastline. This is where the vast majority of the endemic finches (sometimes referred to as “Darwin’s Finches” live, and we will be seeking some of the scarcer species, like Vegetarian Finch, Large and Small Tree-Finch, the tool-using Woodpecker Finch, and Green Warbler-Finch. The scarce Brujo Flycatcher is also possible, a rare and declining split from Vermilion Flycatcher. Other species we will be on the lookout for, include Dark-billed Cuckoo, and we will go to a special area to try and track down one of the highlands most elusive denizens, the Galapagos Rail that only lives on a few of the highest peaks on the islands. Down at the coastline on Santa Cruz, we will also seek out the Common Cactus-Finch among the giant pribkly pear cacti that are dotted along the arid coastline. No visit to Santa Cruxz would be complete without standing among giants, Giant Tortoises, the huge reptiles that gave the islands their name. We will not only see them, but stand among them, with great photo opps in doing so. While on Santa Cruz, we can also check out a few roost sites for Barn Owl, which is of an endemic race there that could be a split someday, who knows!
Day 10: Santa Cruz to Baltra; transfer to Quito. After some final time on the large central island of Santa Cruz, we will move back to the islet of Baltra, where we will fly back to Quito after an exceptional Galagos Cruise, which is geared towards birders seeking endemics (few cruises can better this for going after these), provided endless daily photo opps of not only the birds, but also Marine Iguanas, Giant Tortoises, endemic Lava Lizards, Land Iguanas and boobies to keep both photographers and birders in their comfort zone on this relaxed pace, comprehensive Galapagos tour.
Day 11: Departure from Quito. On this day you will transferred to the airport for flights out. Breakfast is included on this day if you do not leave too early.
PACE: Relaxed. Landings are strictly controlled by the National Park and we are only allowed a few hours at each visitor site. This will be governed by the national park guide who represents the park on the boat and will help guide us around. 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 (up to your knees) from the smaller boat. The daytime journeys on the boats are not long, as all the longer voyages are undertaken at night. There are a number of long crossings (around 8 hours, which are done through the night). If you get seasick, it is best to bring medication from home, although some is usually supplied on board too. Most of the trails are short, with the exception of the Punta Suarez trail on Espanola to the albatross colony. This is uneven and fairly long (2 miles each way) in exposed sunny, hot conditions. However, most make it and feel it is worth it for seeing the albatross colony. You do not always have to go as far as 2 miles to see the first albatrosses.
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 up in the Santa Cruz Highlands on one day)
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 Nemo III. The specifications of the yacht can be seen here: https://nemogalapagoscruises.com/nemo-iii-galapagos-islands-cruise-thechnical-specifications.html
PHOTOGRAPHY: The wildlife and bird photography on the Galapagos is exceptional, 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, albatrosses, and Yellow Warblers; Marine Iguanas, Galapagos Sea-Lions, and Giant Tortoises are also regularly photographed on this photo friendly cruise.
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 are special entry requirements regarding Covid, so that incoming travelers need to have proof of a negative PRT-PCR test for Covid and also have a vaccine card showing the full dose of vaccinations has been taken at least 14 days or more from your entry into Galapagos. If you wish to arrive early and do some other things before the tour, Tropical Birding can arrange the PCR tests for the entry into Galapagos easily for you in Quito and the surrounding areas.
There is also a $100 entry fee that 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, as this is not included in the tour fee.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 10; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 9 (unless you leave before breakfast is served); 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 10; ground and boat transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from day 2 to day 10; 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?: Any Covid test fees; ANY tips; entrance and transit fees in the Galapagos (currently $120 payable in cash in the airport in Ecuador); flights (Tropical Birding will book your roundtrip flight from Quito to Galapagos and add the cost 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.