Galapagos Photography Cruise
If you're thinking of a dream photo holiday, this is it!
The Galapagos have gained fame as the world’s premier wildlife photography destination. The reason is simple: nowhere else can you approach animals so close. The wildlife is simply fearless making ideal subjects for a photo tour. We will focus on those islands that offer the best opportunities for memorable photo shoots. Colonies of frigatebirds will leave us with memory cards packed with images of these distinctive sea-faring creatures with their scarlet throat sacs inflated to dramatic effect. Alongside these, the trails that criss-cross the volcanic islands are dotted with breeding boobies. As we walk through the colonies we will sidestep excitable Blue-footed Boobies as they “dance” to impress their mates, raising their most prominent feature as they do so.
Of course the Galapagos are not only colonized by birds but other animals too, most notably reptiles. The bizarre Marine Iguana is a prominent feature on many of the islands, large piles of which “litter” many of the rocky coastlines. The fact that these distinctive marine reptiles allow approach to within inches make for the perfect “models” and are sure to be a tour favorite. The islands are also sometimes referred to as the “land of reptiles”, as so many they feature prominently there, form the iguanas to the lava lizards to the giant tortoises. Indeed, they are officially named after another of their famous residents, the enormous Giant Tortoise. An undoubted highlight of our visit will be coming across groups of these massive reptiles as they wallow in large muddy pools or quietly munching away in an open grassy pasture.
Then of course are the famous “Darwin’s” finches that left such an impression on that famous 19th century naturalist and explorer. They epitomize the character of many of the birds on the Galapagos. Everywhere you go on the islands there are finches aplenty of some sort or another, and they are often hopping around right at your feet, filling your lens. On top of that are several endemic mockingbirds, some of which are remarkably tame, even using people as regular perching posts, and leaving any photographer with a long-lasting memory. Another attribute of the Galapagos that is less spoken-of are the cruises between the islands, these mini-pelagics traverse waters packed with seabirds that allow great opportunities for flight shots of very local seabirds like Galapagos Petrels, Galapagos Shearwaters and Elliot’s Storm-Petrels.
Furthermore, the Galapagos Islands are accessible and appealing to people of all ages and all walks of life, making for an ideal family venue. The nature photographer does not need to leave anyone at home. You can shoot away while the rest of your family marvels at the birds and animals just inches away from your lens!
Please be aware that this itinerary is highly likely to change based on the complicated and ever-changing Galapagos National Park permitting process.
Day 1: Arrival in Quito. You arrive in Quito and are transferred to a hotel for the night.
Day 2: Baltra and Plazas. We begin our tour with a two-hour flight to the island of Baltra. After completing entry formalities, we have a short transfer to the yacht, and we may even see Lava Gull, White-vented Storm-Petrel, and Brown Noddy even before getting on board. After lunch, it’s a short trip to Plazas where the shooting will probably start with Sally Lightfoot Crabs and Sea lions before we get on the island. Once there, we will photograph the first of our Land Iguanas, Swallow-tailed Gulls and Red-billed Tropicabirds. We wil stay here till dusk, maybe go for an evening swim and then set sail for Genovesa. As will become customary on this trip, the guides will go through the list of what was seen and photographed, so that you will be easily able to catalog the multitude of shots you take.
Day 3: Genovesa. Genovesa is simply fantastic. Huge numbers of seabirds nest on the island, including Great Frigatebird, Swallow-tailed Gull, Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel, and three species of booby: Nazca, Red-footed, and Blue-footed. We can expect to not only see, but get great photographs of all of these species. The Nazca and Blue-footed boobies nest on the ground, while the Red-footed shares the small bushes with the frigatebirds, making for some great behavioral shots of the two species stealing each others sticks. This is a very good place to get some of the harder finches like Sharp-beaked Ground-Finch and Large Cactus-Finch. We will also target the Galapagos Hawk and try to shoot the endemic race of the Short-eared Owl hunting the Storm-Petrels.
Day 4: Isabela and Fernandina. Waking early, the more intrepid photographers might want to get up-close and personal with Galapagos Penguins by going swimming with them. Along with the penguins are the seriously funky looking Flightless Cormorants, and even more bizarre marine iguanas chomping away at the seaweed below. We will also have plenty of time to photograph all of these on land. After lunch we cross to Fernandina where we will search small brackish pools for flamingos, ducks, and a good chance of Galapagos Martin cruising overhead.
Day 5: Santiago and Bartolome. When you arrive at Santiago you get a feel for the succession stages of the Galapagos. Barren lava flows, with a few plants clinging to survival and trying to colonise this area. That is not to say it has nothing to offer. The opportunity for both macro photography and landscapes is enough to keep us occupied for a few hours, so throw in the pristine rock pools, and it is a very good morning indeed. We then cruise over to the very small island of Bartolome and spend time photographing Galapagos Penguins. Those people willing to make the walk, will have the opportunity to take one of the Galapagos’s iconic photographs; the stunning isthmus shot from the top of Bartolome has to be one of the biggest selling of all Galapagos post cards. From here it is just a short sail across to the main Galapagos island, Santa Cruz
Day 6: Santa Cruz. We take a short trip by bus to the higher elevations of Santa Cruz Island where, along with birds we will photograph Giant Tortoise and some great sinkholes. The climate becomes more humid the higher we climb, and we’ll take a walk through a wet Scalesia forest, which is a very cool experience in itself. Here we’ll try photographing some of the scarcer Darwin’s finches, such as Woodpecker Finch, Vegetarian Finch, and Large Tree-Finch. After we have played with these endemics, we shall return to the Charles Darwin station, where the can try to photograph the finches around the buildings. After dinner we set sail for Floreana, the southern most of the inhabited islands of the archipelago.
Day 7: Floreana. This island was devastated by settlers and introduced predators in the 1800’s, but luckily the endemic species managed to survive. Medium Tree-Finch is found only in the higher elevations of the island, and we’ll hire the only bus on the island to take us up there. Photography today will be hit and miss, but we will try to shoot the Tree-Finch, knowing that what ever we get, it will be one of the best shots in existence. Once that one’s in the bag (or on the CF card), we’ll head back to the yacht and cruise over to Champion Islet. This is one of the two tiny islands that support the last sixty or so Charles Mockingbirds left on the planet. While it is prohibited to land on the islands, we can take skiffs along the shore and get great views of the mockers. There should be time for some snorkeling a the Devil’s crown.
Day 8: Española. This island is the very best place to see and photograph the exquisite Waved Albatross. We will not only have it cruising close past our yacht, but spend some time with them on land at Punta Suarez, where you have the world’s largest breeding colony of this albatross. Usually a fearless group of Hood Mockingbirds are waiting for us when we are ready, and we will get very good photos of these guys as they check out our hats, cameras and anything else that they find interesting. Large Cactus-Finches regularly come bounding across the sand towards us, giving us very good macro opportunities. There is often also a pair of Galapagos Hawks look nearby, and good photos usually only require a 300mm lens.
Day 9: North Seymour. We shall arrive at North Seymour well before dawn and plan to be on the island shooting at the earliest possible time. This is by far the best place anywhere to photograph land iguanas. Expect to be able to do great up close photography of these guys eating cactus flowers. We will also spend time with the breeding colonies of Magnificent Frigatebird and Blue-footed Booby. Later we return to Baltra for our flight back to Quito.
Day 10: Departure. The tour ends this morning with a transfer to the airport.
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: Cabins are small but comfortable and have A/C and private bath. Single rooms cannot be guaranteed on the yacht without paying for an extra berth. The single supplement for the two nights in the hotel in Quito is about $70 (2011 rate).