FAMED AND SECLUDED ISLANDS, PROTECTED HABITAT, RAREST WILDLIFE AND DARWIN’S THEORY OF EVOLUTION; GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, ECUADOR
Day 1 – Arrive Guayaquil, Ecuador
There are direct flights to/from Guayaquil, Ecuador from the USA cities of Miami and New York. We arrive one day earlier to Guayaquil to ensure we can board our scheduled flight to San Cristobal in Galapagos Islands. The port city of Guayaquil has an old district Las Peñas with wooden houses and scenic boardwalk along Guayas River, called Malecon. Another option is to fly to the Ecuador’s capital city of Quito and then fly to San Cristobal (most flights to/from Quito stopover in Guayaquil). Quito is a cultural jewel with a historic old town and picturesque scenery.
Day 2 – Arrive San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands
There are non-stop direct flights to/from Guayaquil to San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands. Upon the arrival to the San Cristobal Airport, we are met by representatives from our selected cruise company: Yacht La Pinta Galapagos Cruise. We transfer by an organized bus to the Yacht La Pinta and we spend the afternoon snorkeling, swimming and relaxing at the Playa Ochoa (Ochoa Beach).
Day 3 – North Seymour Island and Santa Cruz Island
In the morning, we visit the North Seymour Island to observe the island’s diverse wildlife in their natural habitat. We follow the circular nature trail that runs along the colonies of seabirds, including Blue-Footed Boobies, Frigatebirds, Swallow-Tailed Gulls and Yellow Warblers. We observe nesting Blue-Footed Boobies with their baby chicks, multi-colored land iguanas passing by, sleeping sea lions and marine iguanas warming on the rocks. We return to the yacht for lunch and scheduled lectures about the islands. In the afternoon, we arrive at the Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill) where we observe land iguanas, several bird species, marine iguanas and pink flamingos feeding at the lagoon.
Day 4 – Floreana Island
Today begins with a visit to the Post Office Bay where we post our post cards without any stamps, continuing an old tradition of mail delivery by hand, originally developed by the British. An afternoon snorkeling excursion at the Devil’s Crown, provides us with a thrilling experience and beautiful underwater scenery. We snorkel around cluster of rocks that host various schools of fish, colorful coral reefs, red crabs and free-spirited sea lions. Next, we venture to the Punta Cormorant, a beautiful white sand beach to observe green sea turtles’ nesting places and swimming stingrays.
Day 5 – Isabela Island and Fernandina Island
A morning boat expedition enables us to observe the island’s wildlife, such as brown pelicans, manta rays and Galapagos Penguins. We disembark our dinghy and proceed to the Punta Moreno that provides panoramic views of three volcanoes: the Sierra Negra, Cerro Azul and La Cumbre situated on the Fernandina Island. The nature trail reveals black lava formations, lava cactus with bright red fruits and many bird species, such as Flamingos and Blue Herons. We proceed with a snorkeling excursion just off the coast of Isabela Island. In the afternoon, we visit Punta Espinoza, situated in the Fernandina Island, where large colonies of marine iguanas reside. Along the trail, we spot flightless cormorants, pelicans, marine turtles, lava lizards, penguins and sea lions. At sunset, we take the dinghy to the yacht and encounter on the way a group of whales swimming nearby.
Day 6 – Santa Cruz Island
Today’s itinerary starts at the Los Gemelos (Twin Craters) where we observe two volcanic depressions, created by the collapsing ground. We learn about the preservation and restoration effort of the remaining Scalesia forest on the island. The excursion continues to the highlands of Santa Cruz Island and the historic Charles Darwin Research Center where we observe the Giant Tortoises surrounded by lush vegetation. The research center also educates us about the hatching process of the Giant Tortoises.
Day 7 – Bartolomé Island and Rabida Island
Our morning excursion begins in the Bartolomé Island with a hike to the summit point overlooking the Pinnacle Rock. The steady climb reveals multi-colored volcanic rock formations, beautiful beaches and the surrounding islands. We descent the summit and explore Bartolomé Island’s vibrant marine life around the Pinnacle Rock. The snorkeling excursion surprises us with abundant schools of fish and fast swimming Galapagos Penguins. After lunch, we visit Rabida Island, a small island with a rocky coastline. We walk along the beautiful red sand beach and the coast, and observe colonies of sea lions, pelicans and flamingos. The snorkeling at Rabida Island provides a surprise encounter with manta rays and a shark.
Day 8 – Española Island
Today, we explore Española Island’s beautiful beach, underwater life and diverse bird species. The visit to Gardner Bay reveals colonies of sea lions interacting and sleeping on the white sand beach, unique flora and picturesque coast. The ocean is cold as we begin snorkeling, revealing active and colorful marine life. We explore the bay and relax on the beach before returning to our yacht for lunch and scheduled lectures. In the afternoon, we arrive at the Punta Suarez to observe the island’s diverse bird species, such as Albatross, Blue Footed Booby, Nazca Booby and Galapagos Hawk. We observe a courtship dance of Albatrosses, spot fluffy and grey-colored Albatross chicks and then proceed to the rocky coast. At the coast, we watch the ocean waves push water into the air through the blowhole. We return to our yacht and enjoy lectures and dinner.
Day 9 – San Cristobal
In the morning, we disembark the Yacht La Pinta and visit La Galapaguera to observe the giant tortoise in their natural habitat. An organized bus excursion follows a 40 minutes’ route along San Cristobal’s picturesque coast, agricultural fields and green highlands. At La Galapaguera, we learn about the reserve and observe the giant tortoises. After the visit, we transfer to the San Cristobal Airport for our return flight.
Note: Our Galapagos Island itinerary can be followed individually or can be combined with our Machu Picchu, Peru itinerary. There are direct flights to Lima, Peru from Guayaquil and Quito in Ecuador.
Galapagos Islands – A province of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are beautiful, remote and untouched. In the Pacific Ocean, millions of years ago, volcanic hotspots created the Galapagos Archipelago. Situated 1,000km off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands contain amazing treasures of nature: exotic flora, unique wildlife, variable climate, spectacular ocean life, pristine beaches and indescribable landscape scenery. The English naturalist Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands, studied their diverse flora and fauna and developed a theory of evolution. Our Galapagos cruise enabled us to discover these famed islands and observe amazing wildlife.
San Cristobal Island – On the eastern side of the Galapagos Archipelago, San Cristobal Island presents a picturesque coast, pretty beaches, lush vegetation and hosts the Giant Tortoises Reserve. Our introduction to the Galapagos Islands begins at the Playa Ochoa (Ochoa Beach). The white sand beach, crystal clear water and abundant marine life create a lovely setting for swimming and snorkeling. The colony of sea lions that resides on the island, welcomes us with their distinct sounds. After a light rain, a clear blue sky reveals a perfect rainbow in the background as we swim and relax on the beach. On the southern part of the San Cristobal Island, La Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado serves as a research center and protected forest for the repopulation of the Giant Tortoises. It is an interesting and peaceful place to observe these unique creates in their natural habitat.
North Seymour Island – Located north of Baltra Island, North Seymour Island has an excellent nature trail where visitors may observe diverse and unique wildlife in their natural habitat. Large colonies of birds reside on the island, including the pretty Blue-Footed Boobies and spectacular Frigatebirds. The Blue-Footed Boobies have an interesting mating ritual, such as showing their bright blue feet to attract the mates. The Frigatebirds display their splendor to potential mates by inflating their bright red pouches on their necks. We walk on the circular nature trail and observe nesting Blue-Footed Boobies with their baby chicks, standing over them to protect them from the sun. We follow our naturalists to the area where we spot the Swallow-Tailed Gulls and Yellow Warblers. Along the way, we encounter multi-colored land iguanas, sleeping sea lions and marine iguanas warming up in the sun. We are amazed that we can walk near diverse wildlife without scaring them, as they did not evolve with humans as predators.
Floreana Island – In the most southern part of the Galapagos Archipelago, the Floreana Island serves as a premier scuba diving and snorkeling destination. First, we visit the Post Office Bay to deliver our post cards without any stamps, hoping that one day we receive them hand-delivered by other visitors to the island. This old tradition of delivering mail by hand, was developed by the British and involves depositing mail in a barrel so sailors could send and receive mail from England. They would take the mail from the barrel and hand deliver it when in England. This tradition is continued by the visiting tourists when they return home. To this day, we are still waiting for the postcards that we left at the Post Office Bay. The highlight of the day is an afternoon snorkeling excursion at the Devil’s Crown, cluster of rocks not far from the shore that serves as an excellent scuba diving and snorkeling place. Free-spirited sea lions residing on the rocks, decide to display underwater acrobatic moves as we snorkel around them. While swimming back to the beach, we spot colorful Sally Lightfoot Crabs around the rocky shore. On the northern part of the island, a beautiful beach called Punta Cormorant creates a peaceful setting with white sand, green sea turtles’ nesting areas and stingrays swimming in the shallow waters.
Isabela Island – Isabela Island, the largest island of Galapagos, has a rich flora and fauna. The island’s shape resembles a seahorse. A boat expedition enables us to quietly observe brown pelicans resting on the rocks, manta rays floating close to the ocean surface and fast swimming Galapagos Penguins. We disembark the dinghy and follow the nature trail along black lava formations. The Punta Moreno offers panoramic views of three volcanoes: Sierra Negra, Cerro Azul and La Cumbre situated on the Fernandina Island. The topography of lava craters, coastal lagoons and mangroves attracts various species of birds, such as Flamingos and Blue Herons. The Lava Cactus with its bright red fruit is one of few plants that grows on the black lava flows.
Fernandina Island – Fernandina Island was formed by volcanic hotspot and displays a rocky lava topography. Punta Espinoza displays a black lava landscape with large colonies of Marine Iguanas. The mostly black Marine Iguanas change color into a mixture of red, green and black during the breeding season. Flightless Cormorants, pelicans, marine turtles, lava lizards, penguins and sea lions also inhabit Fernandina Island. Black lava landscape is surrounded by colorful mangroves. There are panoramic views of the surrounding Pacific Ocean and nearby Isabela Island. As the sunset approaches, we take the dinghy back to our yacht and are lucky to encounter a group of whales swimming nearby.
Santa Cruz Island – In the center of the Galapagos Archipelago, Santa Cruz Island is a popular destination to view diverse bird species, volcanic depressions and the Giant Tortoises. At the Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill), situated in the northern part of Santa Cruz Island, we observe land iguanas and various bird species. Along the nature trail, we spot black neck stilt birds, marine iguanas and pink flamingos feeding at the lagoon. The visit to the Los Gemelos (Twin Craters) reveals two volcanic depressions that were created by the ground collapsing when the above magma chamber emptied. During the garua season, the highlands of the Santa Cruz Island receive more moisture that benefits the Scalesia forest. There is a restoration effort to preserve the remaining Scalesia forest. The excursion highlight is our visit to the historic Charles Darwin Research Center where we learn about the hatching process of the Giant Tortoises. At the time of our visit, the last survivor of the land turtle dynasty, nicknamed Lonesome George resided at the center (he passed away in 2012).
Bartolomé Island – An awe-inspiring landscape of multi-colored volcanic rock formations describe best Bartolomé Island. The Pinnacle Rock, created by the erosion of lava, is the most photographed landmark in the Galapagos Islands. The wooden stair pathway guides us to the summit point, overlooking an incredible view of the Pinnacle Rock, moon shaped beaches and surrounding islands. There is a vibrant underwater life around the beaches and Pinnacle Rock, such as marine turtles, schools of fish, sharks and Galapagos Penguins. The Galapagos Penguins are the only species that live north of equator and are one of the smallest penguin species in the world. Our snorkeling excursion is truly exhilarating as we snorkel with fast swimming Galapagos Penguins. Our expedition took place during the winter with a 16 degrees Celsius water temperature around Bartolomé Island but we were rewarded with very active marine life.
Rabida Island – Rocky coastline and red lava formations describe Rabida Island. The excursion to the Rabida Island reveals a beautiful red sand beach where sea lions were warming up and sleeping in the sun. The high iron content in the lava formations results in the distinct red color of the island’s topography. We climb up the cliffs and discover a dramatic view of red cliffs and ocean waters glittering in the sun. We walk along the rocky shore and observe the island’s wildlife, such as pelicans and other bird species. Snorkeling excursions provides us with an unexpected encounter with manta rays and a shark.
Española Island – Situated in the southeastern part of the Galapagos Archipelago, Española Island attracts visitors to its pristine beach, vibrant ocean life and large population of diverse bird species. Our excursion begins at Gardner Bay, where we encounter sleeping sea lions on the white sand beach. Gardner Bay serves as an ideal beach setting for snorkeling, swimming and sunbathing. The ocean waters are calm as we explore the colorful ocean life. The visit to Punta Suarez reveals an astonishing gathering of wildlife along the designated walking trail. As soon as we arrive, we encounter a seal lion mother and pup calmly relaxing on the trail. The sea lion mother’s sounds and posture direct us to choose a different pathway through the rocks. Along the walking trail, we observe diverse wildlife, such as: Albatross, Blue Footed Booby, Nazca Booby and Galapagos Hawk. We get lucky as we watch a courtship dance of Albatrosses, involving bowing and beak clacking. We continue walking to the rocky coast where the ocean waves push the water into the air through the blowhole, unexpectedly sprinkling us with the salty water. At the end of the trail, we observe many Albatross chicks, fluffy and grey-colored, that will grow into spectacular looking adults.
Snorkeling with Sea Lions – Many books describe the unique and beautiful Galapagos Islands. One must visit the islands to truly comprehend the remarkable wilderness and exotic flora and fauna of the Galapagos. Colonies of sea lions reside on the islands where they spend care-free hours swimming, soaking in the sun and sleeping on the beach. When the Yacht La Pinta docks nearby Floreana Island, we take small boats to the beach for our snorkeling excursion. As we begin snorkeling, the playful sea lions perform an underwater dance. They display their presence and curiosity by pretending to charge at us and then receding at the last moment. The encounter is a bit intimidating, surprising and exhilarating at the same time. The sea lions swim around us, bite each other playfully, blow bubbles and at times stare directly into the camera. I receive an unexpected attention from a young sea lion who treats me as his playmate and gently bites my wetsuit to attract my attention. This play encounter both startles and amazes me. We continue snorkeling along the island’s rocky shore and explore the vibrant and colorful underwater life. The visit to the Galapagos Islands offers a glimpse into an unspoiled natural habitat showcasing nature’s treasures both on land and underwater.
Snorkeling with Galapagos Penguins – The snorkeling expedition to the Bartolomé Island leads us to the Pinnacle Rock, an area abundant with schools of colorful fish, sharks and Galapagos penguins. The Bartolomé Island hosts one of the smallest species of penguins, the Galapagos Penguins. These small penguins are generally very shy so we pay extra attention to spot them swimming or resting on the rocks. They are incredibly fast swimmers and they seem to gracefully glide underwater and toward the surface. We are thrilled when we spot Galapagos Penguins swimming and swirling in small groups underneath us. As we observe them, they appear and disappear at an amazing speed, making it difficult to photograph them. We spot a penguin in a quiet cove cleaning himself and resting on the rocks. We are careful not to intrude into the penguin’s space, even though he seems completely unaffected by our presence.
Ceviche –There are many versions of ceviche throughout the Latin America. Traditionally, ceviche consists of raw fresh fish and/or seafood marinated with tasty herbs in lime juice. The common ingredients to make a ceviche include lime juice, coarse sea salt, onions, cilantro, chilies and tomatoes. The Ecuadorian style ceviche incorporates additionally a tomato based sauce, which gives its rich flavor and beautiful red color. This delicious marinade of fresh herbs, seafood and vegetables serves as a refreshing and healthy appetizer.
Hornado (Whole Pig) – The rich flavored Hornado is traditionally served as a street food in the mountains. The whole pig is roasted in a special clay oven for many hours and served with potatoes. The lengthy marinate and roasting process results in crispy skin and succulent meat texture. The Ecuadorian cuisine was strongly influenced by the European and South American native ancestors. Today, the traditional Ecuadorian cuisine is defined by its unique spices, distinct flavors, wonderful aromas and preserved cooking styles. Sampling Hornado reminds me of my grandmother’s cooking: simple, flavorful and delicious.
Yacht La Pinta Galapagos Cruise – Visits to the Galapagos Islands are strictly controlled by the Ecuadorian government in order to protect the natural eco system of the islands. The reinforced regulations limit the cruise ship size to maximum capacity of 100 passengers. Yacht La Pinta is a medium size cruise accommodation with 24 luxury cabins, including few that can be connected for families. The cabins are comfortably furnished and have large windows to enjoy unobstructed sea views. The ship’s restaurant serves wonderful Ecuadorian and international cuisine and the scheduled meals offer a chance to socialize with other guests. Yacht La Pinta has a sundeck to relax, soak the sun and enjoy an outdoor hot tub. The common areas include the natural history library and spacious salon and bar where each day there are scheduled lectures and presentations. The well-organized daily expeditions include hikes, boat excursions, snorkeling tours and wildlife watching. Experienced naturalists accompany us during each expedition and share their knowledge about the Galapagos Islands’ diverse wildlife, colorful flora and history. Yacht La Pinta offers unforgettable adventures, humorous lectures, sampling of Ecuadorian delicacies and splendid scenery of the Galapagos Islands. Metropolitan Touring provides excellent travel arrangements for Yacht La Pinta Galapagos Cruise.