Waved Albatross at arm’s length; just another marvelous Galapagos moment. Photo: Rich Hoyer
The Galápagos Islands were born out of the bowels of the earth millions of years ago as intense volcanic activity spewed forth lava and buckled the seabed. The resulting archipelago, some 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, now straddles the equator, scattered far and wide by the slow movement of tectonic plates within the earth’s crust. This isolation, from both continental South America and each other, has given each island a unique character. As wildlife colonized the islands, it began a process of adaptation to the specific conditions, and Charles Darwin’s observations here during his voyage on the Beagle helped crystallize his epic theory. Today one can still see virtually all the creatures Darwin did—a mind-boggling array of fascinating, fearless, and endemic birds and other animals.
Visits to the Galápagos are carefully controlled by the Ecuadorian government, and though the restrictions keep prices high, they also ensure that only a very limited number of boats can visit at one time. We’ve chartered a fine boat, the sea catamaran Nemo III, following an itinerary with natural history exploration in mind. In addition to seeing as many of the endemic birds as we can (among which are a couple of gulls, 13 finches, a flycatcher, four mockingbirds, a dove, a penguin, a cormorant, a rail, and a martin), we’ll have plenty of chances to spend time with the storied seabirds, sea lions, and marine iguanas, as well as the many other endemic species worth looking for, including lizards, a few small snakes, a butterfly, a dragonfly, and even a scorpion. We’ll also have almost daily opportunities for snorkeling among the abundant sea life, from schools of colorful fish to sea turtles.
This tour may be combined with with Steve Howell’s tour Ecuador: Mindo and the Northwest Andes.
Day 1: Our Galapagos Islands tour begins this evening with a briefing about our upcoming cruise among the islands made famous by Charles Darwin. Night in Quito.
Day 2: We’ll fly this morning to Baltra, but before noon we’ll be seeing our first island endemics, including Medium Ground-Finch around the Baltra airport, Galapagos Sea Lion, and many species of endemic plants. We’ll make an official stop in the interior of the island of Santa Cruz within the protected national park, as well as some visits to private ranches, before we check in to our comfortable hotel. Night on Santa Cruz.
Day 3: We’ll continue our birding in the highlands of Santa Cruz. One of our targets is the tiny Galapagos Rail, a species whose highland habitat is readily accessible only here. We’ll likely need more time to look for less common finches such as the Vegetarian Finch as well as the declining endemic subspecies of Vermilion Flycatcher. Later we’ll descend to the town of Puerto Ayora for some time in the shops for postcards and gifts. Before dinner we’ll board our boat. Night aboard the S/C Nemo III.
Days 4-9: Each of these days will feature a different island. Typically, we’ll arrive at our island of the day in the early morning, waking up to a new and exciting place. After a complete breakfast on board we’ll depart in the Zodiacs for a short hike to view the island’s specialties. Depending on the length of our hike, we’ll either return to the boat for our daily snorkeling opportunity or head immediately to lunch and a siesta followed by an afternoon snorkeling option. We’ll motor to a different part of the same island or to a nearby island for an afternoon hike of a different nature.
Each of the islands has its own highlights, and here are brief descriptions of some we will visit, pending final approval of our itinerary.
Baltra is a low, flat island, once a U.S. military base and overrun with goats; it’s now goat-free, vegetation has rebounded tremendously, and native wildlife is again common. This is also the location of the larger of two main airports, where we begin our tour.
Santa Cruz, the second-largest of the islands, hosts the largest human settlement, Puerto Ayora, and is immediately south of Baltra, separated by a narrow channel. Our stay here will feature a visit to a Giant Tortoise sanctuary where wild tortoises still roam. We’ll also visit the Darwin Research Center to see the breeding program for all other races of the tortoise, and we’ll stroll through town, where gift and art shops abound.
North Seymour is another low island, just to the north of Baltra, and is popular for the large colonies of ground-nesting Blue-footed Boobies and bush-nesting Magnificent Frigatebirds (with a few Great Frigatebirds for comparison).
San Cristóbal is home to its own species of mockingbird as well as several finch species.
Bartolomé and its satellite islands is where we’ll have the chance to see Galapagos Penguin (and swim among them), as well as view the iconic peak at sunset. Tidepooling is at its best here, and the scarce Galapagos Fur Seal has a small colony on the island.
Española will provide one of our most memorable visits, for this is where the colony of Waved Albatrosses is located. Galapagos Hawk, the shockingly inquisitive Española Mockingbird, Gray Warbler-Finch, and many other creatures are easily seen here as well.
Floreana is home to the historic Post Office Bay and offers a good chance for American Flamingos, while the satellite islet of Campeón harbors the only population of Floreana Mockingbirds and provides some of the most exciting snorkeling in the islands.
Day 10: This morning we’ll awake in the harbor of Baltra, where we’ll say farewell to the Nemo III crew and transfer to the airport for the flight back to Quito. Night in Quito.
Day 11: Our Galapagos Cruise concludes this morning in Quito.
Updated: 10 December 2015
This tour is limited to 14 participants with Rich Hoyer and local leaders.
Credit cards are not accepted in payments for this tour other than for the standard deposit if made through the WINGS website.