A cruise to the Galápagos Islands, once known as the Islas Encantadas, offers much to the inquisitive visitor. Investigate Charles Darwin’s favorite field site, where the wildlife wanders freely, fearless, it seems. Go eyeball-to-eyeball with the Galápagos marine iguana. Witness the feeding frenzy of blue-footed boobies. Snorkel with sea lion pups and schools of striped snappers. Marvel magnificent frigatebirds, wild orchids, and soul-stirring volcanic lava formations. Galapagos travel is an amazing trip of a lifetime!

The giant tortoises roam this wildlife sanctuary of over 29,441 square miles (50,000 square kilometers) of ocean, 13 major islands, 6 small islands, and numerous islets. These islands, volcanic humps shoved above the surface of the Pacific Ocean five to six hundred miles west of Ecuador, embrace one of the Earth’s premier natural history experiences. Natural history programs on small ships bring you closer to the feeling of Darwin’s surveying ship, Beagle, and Darwin’s own curiosity; which thrust him into fame, controversy, and the history books. Each day of a Galapagos cruise carries you to new sites, rich and varied vegetation, tropical fish, saltwater lakes, mangrove forests, red, black, and green sand beaches, hardened lava flows from extinct volcanoes, cormorants, herons, finches with distinct beaks, and penguins. Wildlife on the Galápagos does indeed make you stop and wonder. You breathe in the curiosity of biology. From cold-water penguins to leaf-toed gecko lizards to the Galápagos sulphur butterflies, this volcanic archipelago continues to amaze and puzzle its visitors.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, 75 percent of the land birds and 97 percent of the reptiles and mammals on the Galápagos Islands are found nowhere else in the world. Galápagos giant tortoises, which may live as long as 150 years and weigh as much as 400 pounds, lumber so close to you that portrait photography comes naturally. The islands’ isolation from the mainland means that many birds, iguanas, tortoises, and other animals have no natural predators. Their relative fearlessness of humans stems from this geographic isolation. The Galápagos Islands played a crucial role in the development of biological theories from evolution to island biogeography. The archipelago’s largest denizens, the giant tortoises, are endemic to almost all of the islands and, having outlived heavy harvesting in the whaling era, are regarded as a symbol of survival in the Galápagos. There is only one species of giant tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus), but the species splinters into 14 different varieties, each distinct from another. Shell shapes and patterns differ depending on which island the tortoises live. The upper portion of a tortoise’s shell is called the carapace. The shells of the giant tortoises range from a domed carapace to a saddle-backed carapace, with intermediate styles creating a spectrum of variation.

The Fernandina, Floreana, and Santa Fe tortoises are extinct, leaving only 11 of the 14 original varieties. The Galápagos’ most famous tortoise, Lonesome George, is the last known tortoise from the island of Pinta. His bachelor’s life in the corrals of the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, holds a ray of hope for romance, however, as researchers hope to launch a full-scale search of Pinta in the hopes of finding a mate for George. Although the tortoises provide visitors with boundless fascination, they are at risk of extinction. Goats and cattle introduced to the islands by man scarf up the plants-prickly-pear cactus, water ferns, and poison apple-that these ancient reptiles depend upon for sustenance and shelter. Scientists estimate that over 250,000 tortoises dominated these small islands prior to the arrival of man. Today, 15,000 remain. The Charles Darwin Research Station’s 37-year captive breeding program has improved the species’ outlook, releasing more than 2,600 tortoises to 6 different islands, including 8 sub-species of giant tortoise. Marine iguanas, the world’s only seagoing lizards, fascinated Darwin. As a young man, he grabbed one by the tail and swung it out into the ocean. It swam back. He repeated the exercise until he deduced that on land, the iguana faced no predators, but in the sea, unknown dangers lurked; though fully equipped to swim, the iguana found safety on shore.

Overshadowed by the dramatic size and coloring of the marine iguanas, lava lizards nevertheless outnumber the other reptiles amid the arid lowland habitats. Their skin tones and hues, which range from drab to brilliant red, often reflect their immediate surroundings. Several species of land iguanas, gecko lizards, and a snake also inhabit the islands’ inland environments. Wings fill the skies and shores of the archipelago. Masked boobies and waved albatrosses ride the coastal thermals, while flightless cormorants and penguins patrol the rocky shores. Lava gulls squawk from above and Galápagos hawks scan for prey. Galápagos land birds take a casual attitude toward humans, and although they are not dramatic in color, their relative tameness makes them delightful to observe. Seed-eating finches feed their young not seeds, but small caterpillars. What caterpillars don’t wind up as dinner for birds and other animals turn into the eight butterfly species and several distinct species of moths that flutter among the vegetation and pollinate flowers. Throughout the changing topography of the Galápagos, you’ll find white flowers, which are a good indicator of nocturnal pollination. Whether you choose to watch the sea lions and fur seals in the ocean or the lava lizards on the rocks, the Galápagos offers an odd assemblage of species that brings out the biologist in all of us.



Hotel Patio Andaluz Arrive in Quito, Ecuador and transfer to your hotel. The rest of the day is at your leisure. Overnight in Quito at the Hotel Patio Andaluz, or similar hotel.

Hotel Patio Andaluz Today is at your leisure. A variety of day tours are available for purchase. Overnight at the Hotel Patio Andaluz, or similar hotel.
Arrive to Baltra Island and transfer by bus to the dock to board the Santa Cruz. Cabin assignment and introductory welcome talk. Later, lunch, and ship’s boat drill. This afternoon, you may visit Santa Cruz and enjoy a Zodiac ride among mangrove-lined islets allows the observation of the bird life and dramatic landscape and coastline. Quite commonly, the black lava will reveal the presence of marine iguanas and you may find sea turtles, rays and sharks in the shallow turquoise waters. Following the Zodiac ride, enjoy a walk to a brackish water lagoon frequented by greater flamingos, common stilts, pintail ducks and a variety of shore and lagoon birds. Further along the trail, head to Dragon Hill, offering beautiful views and a fairly large number of land iguanas and bird watching.
On Bartolome Island, hike to the summit. This is a steep climb aided by a wooden staircase, but the view from the top is worth the effort. There will be time for a panga ride (dinghy) around Pinnacle Rock to observe penguins, snorkeling and swimming from the beach, or a ride on the glass-bottom boat. Lunch on board. Fernandina is one of the youngest island volcanoes of our planet. Pitch dark and black lava flows dominate the land here. The refreshing green of mangroves provides shelter for sea lions and other species. This island is home to the only cormorant that gave up flying: the Galápagos Flightless Cormorant. If black rocks seem to quietly move, it is most likely that you are watching the largest clusters of marine iguanas of the archipelago. Watch them graze on the emerald-green algae.
Far out to the west, this island is the result of volcanic fusion; six volcanoes have joined forces to create an island shaped like a sea horse. Here, land iguanas roam the land next to bulldozer-like giant tortoises. An uplifted piece of land reveals a not-so-distant volcanic past. Look for gaunt marine skeletons as evidence that this once was ocean and now is land. The plankton-rich waters attract encounters with goliaths of the ocean: whales.
Disembark at Punta Cormorant at an olivine-crystal beach for an easy walk that includes a brackish water lagoon where bird species like Greater flamingos, pintail ducks, common stilts, herons, sandpipers, and others may be observed. This outing also includes a white-sand beach where sea turtles come out at night for nesting (from December to May). Snorkeling can take place from the beach, and for those experienced marine enthusiasts, Devil’s Crown can be an option. Non-snorkelers can enjoy an introduction to the Marine Reserve on the glass-bottom boat.
A morning bus ride takes you to the highlands of Santa Cruz Island for a special breakfast at a selected property. Then, view the islands’ most famous reptile: the Giant Tortoises in their natural habitat. The vegetation, including the Scalesia Forest, and birds such as the vermilion flycatcher, will delight you. Look for Darwin’s finches (most of them from the tree-finch group), particularly the famous Woodpecker Finch.
This was Charles Darwin’s favorite island. He was touched by the many different types of habitats seen here. By now, it is easy to understand why Galápagos was a true wake-up call for him. The eroded shores of this island include black beaches made out of volcanic ash. This location holds one of the strangest marine mammals in the tropics: fur sea lions. What is a furry animal doing in the tropics? Galápagos hawks patiently look for lizards, just as herons patiently look for fish. If you have an eye for migrant birds, get ready for a fair good number of new records. Red is not a common colour in Galápagos. A male frigatebird carries a red pouch, just like an oystercatcher holds a red beak. In higher elevations a male vermillion flycatcher will stand out from plants, just like red hot lava gently flows on black slopes. This island shows the uncommon: red terrain against a blue ocean. It is an artist’s dream come true. Pelicans nest here, and their neighbours are sea lions that peacefully rest on red sand. Another plunge and more marine creatures will surprise you.
Here, it seems like a volcano just collapsed and sank. In fact, the opposite happened; a volcano rose from the depths of the ocean and formed an island. Brown and white rocks hold large amounts of life, but it is here where sounds will impress you the most. Sea birds are always on the lookout for mates or food. Watch a male frigatebird and its red-scarlet pouch attract a mate, or watch a couple of blue-footed boobies parade. Look carefully near the shores, as sally-lightfoot crabs add orange to this ever-dark stones. If the ocean shows a swell, sea lions will surf it well. This is where humans don’t touch nature, but where nature touches humans. Perhaps, this is one of the most remarkable examples of volcanic activity. This volcanic cone is surrounded by aquamarine colours mixed with basaltic blacks. This small islet is a satellite of neighbouring James Island. Its secluded white beaches host sea lions, marine iguanas, and great marine diversity. Rays, fishes, penguins, and more, are common underwater highlights at this picturesque location.
Hotel Patio Andaluz Disembark at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. This small attractive port is the provincial capital of the Galápagos Islands (population 4,000), along a crescent-shaped bay. Visit the San Cristóbal Interpretation Center, which emphasizes human history and conservation. Afterwards, stroll through Puerto Baquerizo Moreno before heading back to the mainland. Transfer to the airport to take the flight back to the mainland. This afternoon is at your leisure. Overnight at the Hotel Patio Andaluz, or similar hotel.
This morning, transfer to the airport for your return flight home.