This famous archipelago straddles the equator 600 miles (1000 km) off the coast of Ecuador, and it is home to 24 endemic bird species. It is not just the hope for a few lifers that draws birders here, but the chance to get up-close and personal with wild animals that are still unafraid of humans; you can feel as if you are a participant in nature rather than just a spectator. The stark volcanic scenery is beautiful in its own right and some visitors find themselves returning again and again.
PLEASE NOTE: The itinerary listed here is subject to approval by the national park; if we do not get approval for this, day 4 on Isabela, will be changed to visit South Plaza Island and Santa Fe Island instead, while the rest of the itinerary will more than likely remain the same.
The Galapagos Islands are a photographer’s dream, and millions of photographs have been taken of nesting Waved Albatrosses, dancing boobies, displaying frigatebirds, and even the drab but fascinating finches endemic to the islands. We will explore these amazing islands from a medium-sized motor yacht which holds 16 passengers in comfort. All cabins have private bath and air conditioning. Plenty of food and juice are provided during the family-style meals, and snorkel gear is available.
Day 1: Arrival in Quito. You arrive in Quito and are transferred to a hotel for the night.
Day 2: Baltra and Bachas. We begin our tour with a 2.5 hour flight to the island of Baltra. Here we’ll be met by the crew of the yacht, which will be our home for the next week. After boarding, we steam to the nearby beach of Playa Bachas, where Small and Medium Ground-Finches can be seen in the scrub, and we’ll likely find our first Galapagos Mockingbirds and Yellow Warblers. A nearby lagoon often has a small colony of Greater Flamingos, and occasionally Galapagos Martins can be seen overhead. This is also a great spot for migrant waders. Late this evening we’ll start a longish cruise Genovesa Island
Day 3: Genovesa. This island is simply fantastic and is often the favorite island of tour participants. Huge numbers of seabirds nest, including Great Frigatebird, Swallow-tailed Gull, Red-billed Tropicbird, and three species of booby: Nazca, Red-footed, and Blue-footed. This is a great place to see some of the harder finches like Sharp-beaked Ground-Finch and Large Cactus-Finch, as well as an endemic subspecies of Short-eared Owl. Genovesa also holds a subspecies of Large Ground-Finch that somehow is longer-beaked than the other subspecies, and probably deserving species status. During the night we navigate southwards towards Bartolomé.
Day 4: Isabela (pending approval by the national park). This morning after a longish navigation we wake up in front of the north most visit site of Isabela Island. The Pahoe hoe lava fields end on some mangrove patches where Galapagos Flycatchers sometimes are present. The main target of the site is the unique and funky looking Flightless Cormorant which here is present on a sizable colony. We will see the contrast in sizes on Marine Iguanas, having seen the smallest subspecies in Genovesa the previous day, in Albermarle we will find the biggest of the individuals of the entire Archipelago. It is still a not well explored site for birders and surprises like Galapagos Martins may be present given the interesting conditions of the fields. After having spending the morning on this site we will start a navigation towards Bartolomé and this will be the first navigation during the day in open seas where we can eventually find the first pelagics like Galapagos Petrel, some Storm-Petrels, and even the first Waved Albatross.
Day 5: Bartolomé and Sullivan Bay (Santiago). Waking early, we’ll find from the pangas (small boats required to land on shore) some Galapagos Penguins diving for fish and with some luck one or two perched on our way to one of the most emblematic islands in the archipelago, Bartolome. The pinnacle rock of this island is present on every postcard shop in the islands. In the afternoon we’ll take a walk on a barren lava field, where scattered endemic lava cactus can be interesting either for macro or wide angle shots. The shape, pattern and texture of the lava fields can produce some attractive pictures as well. Remember that we are talking about pahoehoe lava that is rare in the world but only common in Hawaii and the Galapagos. Here we have the first chances for the desired Galapagos Hawk which regularly soars overhead and we can even see it from the boat with having some beers. By night we will cruse to San Cristobal.
Day 6: San Cristobal. The coastal area of San Cristobal does not have the beauty of areas visited later on the trip, but the scrub does have the endemic San Cristobal Mockingbird. Here we will have the chance to find some of the local highland species like Vegeterain Finch, Small Tree-Finch, and Woodpecker Finch. Normally not difficult to find, Galapagos Flycatcher and Galapagos Doves are common at several elevations. The afternoon would be partially spent visiting some snorkelling spots called Leon Dormido and Lobos islets which are very attractive visually and very rich in terms of marine life. When we are done we might start the navigation towards Española. Time permitting we will do this navigation still in daylight.
Day 7: Española. The whole day will be spent on this wonderful island, the southern part during the morning and the fantastic northern beach of Gardner Bay in the afternoon. The morning takes us to one of the nicest visit points of the Galapagos, Punta Suarez. We will walk along risks that hold colonies of several marine birds, typically nesting along the path. The highlight is for sure the wonderful Waved Albatross, which nests only here and on Isla de la Plata off the Ecuadorian coast. This island is also home to the super curious Española Mockingbird, a bird so tame that it will sometimes land on people. If we had not seen well a Galapagos Hawk, we have great chances here. Gray Warbler-Finch is regular on the scrub near the beach and the Española subspecies of Large Cactus-Finch is normally close by. We will navigate by night towards Floreana.
Day 8: Floreana and Santa Cruz. While we approach Floreana Island around dawn, we will be passing close to Champion Islet. These tiny islands support the last populations of the critically-endangered Floreana Mockingbird, which was extirpated from Floreana by introduced predators. While we are not allowed to set foot on the islets, we can approaching the edge, where the mockingbird is usually found. Afterwards we will walk a bit around Punta Cormorant in Floreana after some specialties. The target is the super local Medium Tree-Finch and once we get it, we will focus on the brackish lagoons after American Flamingos and several shorebirds. We will not spend much time here as we need to navigate to Santa Cruz during the day. Once we reach the island we will need to take a short trip by bus to the higher elevations of Santa Cruz Island, visiting Media Luna area for Galapagos Rail, Large Tree-Finch, and Giant Tortoise. The climate becomes more humid the higher we climb, and we’ll take a walk through the wet Scalesia forest, which is a very cool experience itself. Here we’ll be looking for any of Darwin’s finches that we may have not seen yet, such as Green Warbler-Finch, Woodpecker Finch, Small and Large Tree-Finches, and Vegetarian Finch. After we have nailed the needs, we’ll try to return on time to visit the Charles Darwin station.
Day 9: North Seymour. We have a journey back from the south of Santa Cruz, and we’ll arrive at North Seymour before we wake up. This area is very good for land iguanas which are always fun to watch. Nesting Frigatebirds are easy to photograph and Blue-footed Boobies dance their famous feet-up swing. Later we return to Baltra and fly back to Quito, to be transferred to the Hotel Sebastian for a farewell dinner.
Day 10: End of tour. You depart on morning international flights or join another Ecuador tour.
CLIMATE: Warm and overcast, occasionally sunny and hot. Water temperature can be surprisingly cool during this season.
DIFFICULTY: Fairly easy. Most trails are flat, but a few are a bit steep. The terrain is rough and rocky. It is necessary to transfer from the yacht to shore with small boats called pangas to reach many landing sites, and some of the landings are “wet” landings, where you have to wade from the panga onto the beach.
ACCOMMODATION: We have charted the Fragata yacht for the 2013 tour. Cabins are very comfortable and have A/C and private bath. Single rooms cannot be guaranteed on the yacht without paying for an extra berth. If space is available at the time the tour runs, we will give out single rooms. The single supplement for the two nights in the hotel in Quito is $80 (2012 rate).