Birding Cruise Galápagos: Natural History Extravaganza
Birding Cruise Galápagos: Natural History Extravaganza
Just 483 years ago the first man stepped onto the Galápagos Islands and marveled at this living laboratory. Today we continue to be awestruck by this constantly changing archipelago. As the Nazca Plate moves and new islands are formed, evolution is illustrated up close and personal. A birding and wildlife tour to the Galápagos archipelago is a dream for all naturalists.
From Quito we will fly to the island of Baltra. We then will make our way to our home for the next eight days, the Samba, a spacious and luxuriously designed motor sailing yacht with wide open and shaded sun decks, a fully stocked bar, and a library. The abundant marine life that visits these waters year-round, the Marine Iguanas that rule the rocky coastlines, and of course a unique group of birds make it easy to understand why this trip is a must for birders and natural history buffs.
The majestic Waved Albatross can be seen on Española Island.
Some of the Galápagos specials that we hope to find on this trip include Galapagos Penguin, Waved Albatross, Galapagos Shearwater, Wedge-rumped and Elliot’s Storm Petrels, Magnificent Frigatebird, Nazca, Red-footed, and Blue-footed Boobies, Lava Heron, Galapagos Hawk, Lava Gull, Galapagos Martin, Galapagos Flycatcher, Vermilion Flycatcher, Galapagos, Floreana, San Cristobal, and Espanola Mockingbirds, Vegetarian Finch, Woodpecker Finch, Common Cactus Finch, Green Warbler-Finch, Large and Small Tree Finches, Small and Medium Ground Finches, and Mangrove Finch.
Galapagos Hawk is often picked up on Española Island.
Itinerary (12 days/11 nights)
Day 1. Arrival in Quito
After arriving at Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito you will be met by your guide and transferred to your hotel.
Overnight: Hotel in Quito
Day 2. Buffer Day
This buffer day allows a little wiggle room for late flights. Today we will spend the day in Quito visiting the Botanical Gardens with lunch at Itchimbia Park and a walk around the Old Town.
Overnight: Hotel in Quito
Day 3. Baltra Island and Santa Cruz Island
On arrival at Seymour Airport on the island of Baltra all visitors pay their entrance fee to the Galapagos National Park. After picking up our luggage we will be checked by the quarantine system. After clearing quarantine Samba’s naturalist, Juan, will be there to greet us, explain the plans for the day, and answer any questions. As we head out of the airport terminal, we should be able to spot our first endemics, Medium and Small Ground Finches. We will be on the lookout for Vegetarian Finch,Woodpecker Finch, and Green Warbler-Finch, as well as Large and Small Tree Finches. From here we will take a water taxi to the nearby island of Santa Cruz.
The handsome Galapagos Dove is one of the many endemics we will be targeting.
The rest of the morning and afternoon will be spent exploring the highlands of Santa Cruz. We will pass by Bellavista and will then take the north trail to Media Luna, a volcanic crater that is similar in shape to a crescent moon. Here the scenery changes as we move through disturbed agricultural lands to large expanses of the endemic Miconia plants and then into an area sheltered by the Galápagos fern trees and surrounded by lichens, mosses, bromeliads, and orchids. Galapagos Martin often can be spotted in this area. Along the walls of the crater Galapagos Petrel nests – this is one of its largest colonies. We need to keep our eyes open for the ever-so-timid Galapagos Crake. This is also a great habitat for Large Tree Finch, Woodpecker Finch, Vegetarian Finch, and Green Warbler-Finch.
In the afternoon we will make our way to the Charles Darwin Research Station. Here we will have the opportunity to learn about the archipelago’s climate and geography as well as how various factors influenced the evolution of species on the islands.
After a quick scan for any more finches we will again board the Samba for our first dinner and night.
Brown Noddy can be seen along the shoreline of Floreana.
Day 4. Floreana Island
Following a four-hour navigation from Puerto Ayora we will arrive at dawn at the distinctive volcanic cones of Floreana Island.
We will make a wet landing on a green-crystal beach made from volcanic olivine (the name of a group of rock-forming minerals, typically found in mafic and ultramafic igneous rocks and green in color). Another Galápagos endemic nests here, Galapagos Petrel.
Punta Cormorant is located on the northern shore of Floreana. Around the brackish lagoon we can expect to find American Flamingo, White-cheeked Pintail, Whimbrel, Striated Heron, and Brown Noddy, while other shore- and migratory species are also likely to be encountered. On the other side Green Turtles use every corner of a white sand beach to lay their eggs. In this area you often see stingrays and reef sharks from the shore.
Around mid-morning we will take a dinghy for a 25-minute journey and have the option to snorkel at Champion Islet. This small piece of land is one of two places where the rare Floreana Mockingbird thrives, as well as Medium Tree Finch, due to the lack of invasive predators such as feral cats that still roam the main island. Other species we can expect here include Common Cactus Finch, Swallow-tailed Gull, Magnificent Frigatebird, and Red-billed Tropicbird. The beautiful landscape of cactus and terracotta rock formations seems almost unreal or dreamlike. Galápagos Sea Lions often enjoy playing in the waters in this area as well. The snorkeling around the island is extraordinary.
In the afternoon we will stop at Post Office Bay. This former whaling hub was built in 1973 and is well-known for being the first post office on the Galápagos. The original system is still working; you can deposit your letter at the office and those heading back to the mainland can stop by and pick up letters that are close to their destination, preferably hand-delivered.
Later we will take our kayaks and/or zodiacs and head west through a small series of islets and mangroves with a large sea lion colony close by. We will land near Baroness Lookout, named for a Viennese self-proclaimed baroness that lived here in the 1930s. On top of this eroded volcanic cone we will have the opportunity to envisage what this former whaling hub must have been like during that time. Dark-billed Cuckoo and Galapagos Flycatcher can often be seen up here.
After a quick scan for any seabirds and finches we will make our way back to the Samba for the night.
Day 5. Española Island
Española is one of the oldest Galápagos Islands. Geologists estimate that is was formed over four million years ago as a shield volcano. With the help of low-viscosity lava, Española moved away from the hotspot and became dormant. Key endemics on the island include Espanola Mockingbird and Espanola Lava Lizard, and this is a breeding island for the highly prized Waved Albatross. Upon arrival at its western tip, Punta Suarez, you will immediately notice the fiery-colored Española Marine Iguanas and the tame Galápagos Sea Lions, which leisurely wander around you.
We will follow a trail that leads to Punta Suarez, an endless cliff face shaped by strong wave action and winds and dotted with Blue-footed Boobies and Sally Lightfoot Crabs. Española Lava Lizard in their bright attire line the coastline. As we make our way through saltbrush we need to keep a lookout for Galapagos Hawk and Espanola Mockingbird. As the trail continues we come across large cliff-nesting colonies of Blue-footed and Nazca Boobies, Swallow-tailed Gulls, and Red-billed Tropicbirds. The trail then leads inland to a rookery of Waved Albatross overlooking the ocean to the south. Galapagos Shearwater, Elliot´s Storm Petrel, and Espanola Mockingbird can often be seen from here as well as Espanola Cactus Finch and Grey Warbler‐Finch.
Depending on weather conditions, either late in the morning or early in the afternoon, we will snorkel or kayak around Gardner Bay. Its calm waters and attractive landscape give you a great experience above and below the water.
Along the picturesque white sand beaches, you are likely to encounter sea lions and the curious Espanola Mockingbird as well as Espanola Cactus Finch. A little behind the beach in the scrub brush we will look for Grey Warbler-Finch, Galapagos Dove, and Galapagos Hawk.
In the late afternoon we will again board the Samba for the night.
Day 6. San Cristóbal Island
San Cristóbal was the first island for Charles Darwin to set foot on in the Galápagos, as it was home to the islands’ governor. The presence of fresh water at El Junco Lake in the highlands was the reason for the governor to set up residence here. San Cristóbal also became a penal colony for mainland Ecuador in the 1880s, and later the inmates were used as slaves for newly established sugarcane plantations and sugar factories. Today we will have the chance to see one new endemic bird, San Cristobal Mockingbird.
Before breakfast we will explore Kicker Rock, a large protruding volcanic feature. This eroded tuff cone has vertical walls of over 450 feet (137 meters) and has large numbers of seabirds nesting and resting on it, including Magnificent Frigatebird, Swallow-tailed Gull, Red-billed Tropicbird, Red-footed Booby, Nazca Booby, Brown Noddy, and Elliot´s Storm Petrel. We will circumnavigate the rock to fully appreciate its size. Snorkeling here is an option and can be spectacular, with Galapagos Sharks, sea turtles, and eagle rays swimming around a colorful drop-off, which is also full of tropical fish and invertebrates.
Red-billed Tropicbird breeds on the Galápagos Islands.
After three hours of navigating we will arrive at the Punta Pitt peninsula. Its mind-blowing landscape and its protected cove offer a great chance to kayak, for those interested. We should be able to get very close to a large mixed colony of nesting seabirds on a nearby islet. Breeding seabirds here include Swallow-tailed Gull, Lava Gull, Great and Magnificent Frigatebirds, Nazca and Red-footed Boobies, Elliot’s Storm Petrel, and Galapagos Shearwater, while American Yellow Warblers can be seen in the nearby scrub. The golden sand and Galápagos Sea Lions give us a welcome for our wet landing in the afternoon to explore the area for San Cristobal Mockingbird. This point is the closest landmass to South America.
In the late afternoon we will make our way to board the Samba for dinner and overnight accommodation.
Day 7. Santa Fe and South Plaza Islands
Rock formations on Santa Fe Island date back to 3.9 million years ago. Lava Heron enjoys hunting in these waters. Before whalers and pirates arrived the dense forests of the giant Opuntia cacti were once home to the now-extinct Santa Fe Tortoise, but Española Giant Tortoise has been introduced to Santa Fe Island. There are currently two extant endemics on this island, Santa Fe Land Iguana and Santa Fe Rice Rat (a subspecies of the Galapagos Rice Rat).
The nearby Barrington Bay is a breathtaking inlet, with the white sand on the seabed reflecting the sunlight, turning the calm waters turquoise. There is another large sea lion colony here. A trail takes you into the large Opuntia cactus forest, where you can often spot Santa Fe Land Iguana and Galapagos Hawk.
While enjoying lunch we will navigate south to South Plaza Island off the east coast of Santa Cruz. The dry landing takes you to a brilliant combination of life and colors. Sesuvium succulents, which change from bright green in the rainy season to red, orange, and then purple during the dry season, are gorgeous. Santa Fe Land Iguanas wander through bright, red-carpet weeds. Overhead Swallow-tailed Gulls nest in the overhanging rock formations, along with Red-billed Tropicbirds. This is one of the best spots in the archipelago to see land iguanas; their nests are scattered all over the hills.
In the late afternoon we will make our way back to the Samba.
Day 8. Santiago and Bartolomé Islands
This morning we will make a wet landing on a small islet 200 meters (218 yards) off the coast of Santiago Island, Chinese Hat, named for its uncanny resemblance to a Chinese wide, cone-shaped hat. The snorkeling in the small turquoise channel is very active with sharks, sea lions, Galapagos Penguins, and rays.
In the afternoon we will land on the north beach of Bartolomé Island. Here there is a small breeding colony of Galapagos Penguins along the golden beaches, which are also shared by Galápagos Sea Lions and Green Turtles. The impressive volcanic cone in the background, Pinnacle Rock, was created when expelled magma from an underwater volcano cooled and then exploded. This large rock was formed from thin basalt layers. Spotted Eagle Rays and Black-tipped and White-tipped Sharks can be seen from the beach.
Red-footed Booby is one of three booby species likely to be found on this trip.
Day 9. Isabela Island
This morning we will circumnavigate the geological formation of Punta Vicente Roca on the north shore of Isabela Island with our zodiacs. Besides the nesting Blue-footed and Nazca Boobies gulls, storm petrels, Brown Noddy, and Flightless Cormorant may be found here too. The cold waters coming in from the Cromwell Current provide abundant feeding opportunities for seabirds, whales, dolphins, and sea lions. There is a small colony of Galápagos Fur Seals here as well.
The afternoon will be spent looking for pelagic birds such as Galapagos Petrel and Waved Albatross as we navigate toward North Seymour.
Day 10. North Seymour Island, Baltra Island
A visit to North Seymour Island is the best way of saying goodbye to the Galápagos Islands. After a dry landing at sunrise we will walk among the largest Blue-footed Booby colony in the Galápagos. Swallow-tailed Gulls and tropicbirds decorate the large basaltic walls of the island.
Then we will make our way back to the Samba for our final Galápagos breakfast. After navigating back to Santa Cruz Island we will say goodbye to the Samba and its crew.
In the afternoon we will stop for lunch near the El Chato – Giant Tortoise Reserve and hang out with these incredible creatures. It is strongly recommended to wear appropriate gear for the visit to the highlands. Because the area is under constant influence of moisture it is likely to be muddy and humid. Pants, proper shoe wear, and a rain jacket are a must. American Yellow Warbler, Galapagos Crake, and Paint-billed Crake could make an appearance around the pond at El Chato.
In the late afternoon we will make our way to the coast and the town of Puerto Ayora, which is surrounded by cacti, which the Common Cactus Finch favors.
Overnight: Puerto Ayora
Day 11 Santa Cruz, Seymour
We will then travel to the south end of the island (a 15-minute ride) and cross the Itabaca Channel on a small ferry (barge) to dock on the north coast of Santa Cruz. Our driver for the day will be waiting to pick us up so we can begin to explore the island.
To get to the Highlands of Santa Cruz at 1800 feet (550 meters) we will pass through several habitats and agricultural land before we start to get into the remnants of a Galápagos mature forest. We soon come to the extraordinary geological formations “Los Gemelos” (Twin Craters), which are crater-like formations that were not created by impact but by tectonic shifts and erosion that caused empty magma chambers to collapse, forming sinkholes. The Scalesia forest that lines the formations is laden with bromeliads, orchids, mosses, lichens, and many birds such as Vermilion Flycatcher, Short-eared Owl, Galapagos Dove, Galapagos Mockingbird, Galapagos Flycatcher, American Yellow Warbler, and several of Darwin’s finches, including Small Ground Finch, Woodpecker Finch, Green Warbler-Finch, Vegetarian Finch, and Medium Ground Finch.
After lunch we will make our way back to the airport for our afternoon flight back to Quito. From Quito airport we will then transfer to our overnight accommodation in Quito.
Overnight: Hotel in Quito
Day 12. Departure
You will be transferred to Mariscal Sucre International Airport for your flights home.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors.Download Itinerary
Birding Cruise Galápagos: Natural History Extravaganza Trip Report
17 – 28 OCTOBER 2021
By Galo Real
DOWNLOAD TRIP REPORT
The majestic Waved Albatross was one of the many trip highlights.
The Galápagos Islands is a dream destination for naturalists. These ever-changing islands are a living laboratory, showcasing evolution before our very eyes! Our trips here are always popular which is no surprise when you consider the birds and other wildlife we enjoy along the way, not to forget the breathtaking scenery. While cruising around the Galápagos Islands, we were based on the boat La Samba, an idyllic way to experience the beauty and majesty of the Galápagos Islands.
During this Galápagos bird tour, we particularly focused on finding the many endemics and specials of the Galápagos Archipelago. Many of the species mentioned below have evolved without the presence of land mammal predators and as such do not show much fear towards humans which means they often provide us with point-blank views. Some of the more desirable species seen included Galapagos Penguin, Waved Albatross, Galapagos Petrel, Lava Heron, Galapagos Crake, Swallow-tailed Gull, Lava Gull, Galapagos Dove, Galapagos Hawk, Floreana Mockingbird, Espanola Mockingbird, Galapagos Mockingbird, Galapagos Flycatcher, Small Ground Finch, Woodpecker Finch, Vegetarian Finch, Medium Ground Finch, Medium Tree Finch, Common Cactus Finch, Espanola Cactus Finch, and Grey Warbler-Finch.
We experienced the beauty of Bartolome Island during the tour.
The tour also connected with some interesting and charismatic wildlife, such as Floreana Giant Tortoise, Galapagos Land Iguana, Galapagos Sea Lion, and Galapagos Fur Seal, some photos of these highly sought-after creatures are featured in this report.
The bird and animal lists for this Galápagos bird tour are included at the end of the report.
Day 1. Arrival in Quito
Today, clients arrived in Quito to be in the right location to join our flight to the Galápagos Islands. For this tour we have a buffer day (Day 2) to account for late-evening Day 1 flights arriving in the Ecuadorian capital.
Day 2. Buffer Day Quito
After a great breakfast at the hotel, we drove to Quito’s Botanical Garden. The gardens represent different ecosystems of the Ecuadorian Andes and attract many resident and migratory bird species throughout the year, so it is often a surprise as to what you will see.
Right off the bat we spotted Great Thrush, Rufous-collared Sparrow, and some Band-tailed Pigeons. Once we entered the botanical garden, we were welcomed by two hummingbird species, Sparkling Violetear and Black-tailed Trainbearer. After visiting the orchid greenhouses, we saw a Black Flowerpiercer, and lots of other great birds. It was a nice relaxed-pace way to acclimatize.
We decided to go ahead and have an early lunch and go back to the hotel, to rest and prepare for the next day’s flight to the Galápagos Islands. In the evening we met up with the remaining members of the group to arrive in Quito and had a great dinner while going over the itinerary and the plans for the following day.
It is always a thrill to see the prehistoric and huge Floreana Giant Tortoise on Santa Cruz Island.
Day 3. Baltra Island and Santa Cruz Island
This morning we checked out of our hotel early so that we could be at the airport three hours before the flight, as recommended during Covid times. After presenting our vaccination cards and negative Covid test results, we boarded our flight to Baltra in the Galápagos Islands. Upon arriving in Baltra, we collected our luggage and were met by the naturalist guide and boat crew.
Right as we stepped out of the of the airport’s terminal, we saw two of the famous Darwin’s finches, Small Ground Finch and Medium Ground Finch, what a way to start our tour in the Galápagos Islands! After getting great looks of both ground finch species, we drove to El Chato, a tortoise reserve and restaurant that is home to hundreds of Floreana Giant Tortoises. We were mesmerized watching these ancient giants blissfully grazing on the lush vegetation around them. We also had our first encounter with the abundant Mangrove Warbler.
After a great lunch and a visit to the lava tubes, we made our way down to the waterfront to board our tour boat, La Samba. Blue-footed Boobies and Brown Pelicans watched on as we boarded the beautiful La Samba for our first dinner and night aboard.
Day 4. Floreana Island
After a relatively calm overnight crossing, we arrived at Punta Cormorant, which sits on the northern tip of Floreana, between two volcanic cones. The sand on one of the beaches here has a noticeably olive-green color. This is due to a much higher than usual concentration of olivine crystals in the sand. Another nearby beach is made up mainly of coral sand and is a jaw-droppingly brilliant white.
We made our way to a brackish lagoon where we all saw a large mixed group of American Flamingoes, White-cheeked Pintails, Hudsonian Whimbrels, Lava Herons, and Brown Noddies.
American Flamingo was seen well on Floreana Island.
We spent much of the morning watching the flamingos and exploring the area. Along the beach edges we saw Medium Ground Finch and Small Ground Finch and we even got the chance to watch and study their different behaviors. Before going back to La Samba, we had time to walk along the beach and take some photos of Ruddy Turnstone, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Brown Pelican, and Mangrove Warbler.
After lunch we took the zodiacs for a 25-minute journey and had the option to snorkel at Champion Islet. This small piece of land is one of two places where the rare Floreana Mockingbird thrives, as well as Medium Tree Finch, due to the lack of invasive predators such as feral cats, that still roam the main island. The mockingbirds and tree finches obliged and we also all got great looks at Common Cactus Finch, Swallow-tailed Gull, Magnificent Frigatebird, and Red-billed Tropicbird. Galapagos Sea Lions played in the waters while everyone was snorkeling. After a great afternoon we went back to La Samba for a shower and another enjoyable dinner.
Day 5. Española Island
We arrived at Punta Suarez on Española early in the morning, and I was pleased about that because it is one of those islands that, no matter where you look, there’s always something exciting happening. This particular island is one of the oldest of the Galápagos Islands. Geologists estimate that it was formed over four million years ago as a shield volcano. With the help of low-viscosity lava, Española moved away from the hotspot and became dormant.
A pair of Galapagos Hawks greeted us upon our wet landing and a horde of curious Espanola Mockingbirds scampered around our feet checking us out. Marine Iguanas and Galapagos Sea Lions were everywhere, with many being attended to by their own group of mockingbirds. We spent the morning slowly venturing down the loop trail, taking it all in. Nesting Nazca and Blue-footed Boobies, Red-billed Tropicbirds, and dozens of beautiful Swallow-tailed Gulls flew overhead, while the gorgeous Waved Albatross adults took care of their young. Most of the world’s Waved Albatross population breed on this one island and seeing them is always a tour highlight. There were some new land birds for us too, such as Espanola Cactus Finch and Grey Warbler-Finch, and we got our first decent views of the pretty Galapagos Dove.
Another famous natural feature here is the blowhole. This geological formation funnels the incoming waves into a chamber where it gets compressed and then the air and seawater are forced out at great speed, making a spectacular plume of water shoot high into the air.
In the afternoon almost everyone did a little bit of snorkeling and kayaking around Gardner Bay. The waters were warm and calm, and everyone was able to get great looks at the fascinating wildlife beneath the surface of the water.
Day 6. San Cristóbal Island
We visited Punta Pitt in the morning, this is a remote site on the far eastern tip of San Cristóbal. As we made a wet landing directly onto the beach we were welcomed by the friendly and noisy barking of the local colony of Galapagos Sea Lions! We made our way past the sea lions and followed a path that took us up to the cliffs where all three resident species of boobies nest, Blue-footed, Red-footed and Nazca Booby. Nowhere else in the Galápagos do all three species nest side-by-side like this.
While watching the very active booby nursery, we also saw a group of Magnificent Frigatebirds flying overhead and the unique Mangrove Warbler seemed to always be around. During the whole hike up to the top of Punta Pitt and back, a pair of Small Ground Finch accompanied us.
After an amazing hike, we took the zodiacs and rode out to Punta Pitt Rock, which was literally crowded with seabirds, including Wedge-rumped Storm Petrels and Swallow-tailed Gulls, and several Magnificent Frigatebirds. The weather was so nice that part of the group decided they wanted to kayak, while others decided to take the opportunity to take photographs of the area. We saw King Angelfish, Blue-throated Parrotfish, Yellowtail Surgeonfish, Cortez Rainbow Wrasse, and the amazing Moorish Idol! Pelagic birding on our way back was slow, with an almost empty sea, but in the late afternoon the amazing Galapagos Petrel suddenly showed up right next to the yacht!
In the afternoon we had the opportunity to visit Punta Lobos, a very beautiful place where a large colony of Galapagos Sea Lion occur, and we all had great views of Magnificent and Great Frigatebird, as well as Lava Gull. We took the zodiacs around the island and then hiked a great trail.
Day 7. Santa Fe and South Plaza Islands
Santa Fe is a small, flat island right in the center of the Galápagos Archipelago and is another one of the oldest volcanoes in the chain. Dating of the rocks below the water estimates that they formed around four million years ago.
In the morning we made a wet landing on the beach at Barrington Bay on the north coast of the island. There are two hiking trails, we took the loop closer to the beach that leads into a gorgeous forest of massive Opuntia cactus. This was a wonderful opportunity to see the Galapagos Land Iguana. Along the trail we also spotted Galapagos Dove, Galapagos Mockingbird, and Grey Warbler-Finch.
Galapagos Land Iguana was seen on the island of Santa Fe.
We boarded La Samba before noon to escape a momentary heavy rain shower and have another delicious lunch. In the afternoon we visited South Plaza Island. The spectacular cliffs on both the south and north coast were formed as a result of a geological uplift. Inland areas are a mix of scrubby vegetation and giant Opuntia cacti. We learned that this is the only spot on all the islands that both the marine iguanas and land iguanas breed at the same time, resulting in a hybrid form of iguana unique to the island. We took the circular hiking trail that led to the top of the cliffs here, where we had some nice views and photo opportunities of Red-billed Tropicbird, Swallow-tailed Gull, Brown Pelican, and a Lava Heron. This was yet another day full of spectacular scenery and stunning wildlife.
Opuntia cactus forest.
Day 8. Santiago and Bartolomé Islands
This morning we were all up early and eager to look for the Galapagos Penguin on Chinese Hat (an island named for its resemblance to a cone-shaped hat). We cruised around large volcanic peaks and shorelines and eventually spotted one penguin sitting on a rock, trying to warm up. Further along the coast, we finally spotted a small family of three penguins on the edge of the water that quickly dived into the sea to search for food. The parents and the young were “snorkeling” on top of the water, frequently looking up and then back down. Eventually, after a few minutes, they dived down and started their chase of the fish below the surface. It was an amazing experience to be so close and observe this behavior.
In the middle of the morning, we decided to take the path along the lower part of Chinese Hat and walked just over half a mile (one kilometer). Our first sighting was of two Galapagos Hawks, a mother with a juvenile. The mother barely looked at us, before taking flight and picking another perch, but the juvenile entertained us for several minutes allowing us to take some photos. On another path we saw American Oystercatchers, Lava Herons, and many Nazca Boobies.
After our hike we decided to snorkel a bit before another excellent lunch, as we navigated our way to Bartolomé Island. After an easy landing opposite Pinnacle Rock, we climbed the 375-foot (115-meter) Bartolomé Peak. When we arrived at the top of the island we were able to see Pinnacle Rock itself, the huge black lava flows of Sullivan Bay, and both the islands of Daphne Major and Daphne Minor.
Galapagos Penguin in gorgeous early morning light.
On the way back down the hill, we were able to compare two different volcanic formations evident on the island, tuff cones and volcanic spatter. Back on the beach we took advantage of the excellent snorkeling, thanks to the underwater caves and rocks in the area. We saw many different species of sharks, rays and tropical fish. Right before we were about to get out of the water a group of five Galapagos Penguins joined the fun, a truly unforgettable experience. Swimming with penguins – magical!
Day 9. Puerto Egas and Rábida
This morning we woke up in the expansive and protected James Bay (named after King James II of England). Charles Darwin wrote about his visit to James Bay when he made landfall on Santiago during his famous voyage on the HMS Beagle.
After a great breakfast we made a wet landing onto the island, at which point we all stopped and really took in the significance of where we had just landed. Lava Gull, Galapagos Flycatcher, Galapagos Mockingbird, Small Ground Finch, Mangrove Warbler, and Smooth-billed Ani seemed to be everywhere. It was a great morning, after which we went back for lunch onboard our boat.
In the afternoon we visited the red iron-rich lava beaches on La Rabida. We made a wet landing at La Espumilla on the north coast. Here, there is a nesting site for Brown Pelicans in the saltbrush behind the beach. While exploring the area we saw Galapagos Flycatcher, Galapagos Mockingbird, Common Cactus Finch, and around the lagoon, we saw White-cheeked Pintail and Galapagos Martin. Afterwards we took advantage of the calm waters and enjoyed some nice snorkeling right off the beach before heading back onboard.
Galapagos Fur Seal offering great views.
Day 10. North Seymour Island, Baltra Island
This morning we woke up off the coast of North Seymour Island. After breakfast we made a wet landing and walked a small trail around the island before heading back to La Samba to pack up before the boat arrived at the Port of Baltra, where we said our goodbyes to the boat crew. After disembarking, we met our local Galápagos guide and drove to Rancho Manzanillo for lunch. We had the opportunity to see Galapagos Crake before heading down to Puerto Ayora to visit the incredible Charles Darwin Research Station. We then went back to Casa Redonda for a quick shower before an exquisite dinner at El Muelle de Darwin.
Day 11 Santa Cruz, Airport
We left our hotel early for some last-minute highland birding to get better looks of Galapagos Crake, as we made our way back to the airport for our flight back to Quito. After an easy flight back to Quito, we said our goodbyes and reminisced about a truly great Galápagos birding and wildlife tour.
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Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included. This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.
GALAPAGOS TOUR-SPECIFIC INFORMATION
Since their documentation by Charles Darwin, the Galápagos Islands are perhaps the ultimate destination for every naturalist, birder, and nature lover around the world and they offer one of the best wildlife-watching experiences on the planet. Fortunately, the times of overfishing and whaling are now passed and The Encantadas (the Enchanted Isles) are managed with great care by the Ecuadorian government, to provide all visitors a unique and magical experience.
During our Galápagos tour we will explore San Cristóbal, Floreana, Española Baltra, Santa Fe, Santiago, Bartolomé, Isabela, and Santa Cruz islands targeting the wonders of this archipelago, including the likes of Blue-footed Booby, Red-billed Tropicbird, Galapagos Penguin, Flightless Cormorant, Galapagos Hawk, Lava Heron, Magnificent Frigatebird, and large colonies of Waved Albatrosses. In addition, we will of course target as many of “Darwin’s finches” as possible. We will also enjoy amazing creatures such as Marine Iguanas, Galapagos Tortoises, and Galapagos Sea Lions.
Our tour will start and finish in the city of Quito, Ecuador’s capital. You can reach Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) with non-stop flights from the USA, Spain, the Netherlands, and Panama. Please e-mail us before you book any flights, as the information shown here is just an initial guide. You might wish to consult your travel agent to book your most convenient flight, and please feel free to contact us if you need any further assistance. You will be met by our representatives at the airport who will welcome you and transfer you to your hotel. Please remember to keep your luggage tags, as they are normally required to exit the terminal building at Quito Airport. Please note that if you choose to arrive on an early flight, you will be transferred to the hotel but may have to wait until check-in is available (usually in the early afternoon). For an early check-in, you might be charged extra directly by the hotel; this cost is not included in the Birding Ecotours tour price. If you know in advance that you might require an early check-in (or if you just would like to spend some extra time in Quito/Ecuador prior to the tour) we will be happy to make extra bookings for you.
When filling out the customs declaration form on arrival into Ecuador, please use the following address for the hotel:
Hotel José de Puembo, Manuel Burbano S7-150 y San Fernando Puembo, Quito, Ecuador
Our tour will end in Quito after a wonderful twelve days and eleven nights exploring the Galápagos Islands. On the last morning, your tour leader, or one of our tour representatives, will arrange your transfer to Quito Airport, from where you can catch your flight home. If you would like to extend your birding in Ecuador or another South American destination please let us know.
DOMESTIC FLIGHT INFORMATION
This trip includes a two-hour domestic flight from Quito to Seymour Airport (GPS) on Baltra Island. The flight tickets are included in the tour price.
MONEY AND PAYMENTS
We recommend bringing US$ cash for your own payments and gratuities, other currencies are not accepted. There are no ATMs on Baltra Island (or anywhere else during the tour), and credit cards are not accepted. You can withdraw cash while in Quito from ATMs or from the Quito Mariscal Sucre International Airport.
VISITING THE ISLANDS
The Ecuadorian government, through the Galápagos Conservation department, usually closes off access to one island each year to give the wildlife of that island a break from the pressure of visiting tourists. It is then not possible to visit the island that is closed during that year. The island to be closed is usually announced approximately twelve months in advance of closure, to allow people to prepare for, and to take account of the closure. If you are interested in seeing a particular species (or particular island) on this tour, rather than the whole general “Galápagos experience”, we advise that you contact us prior to booking to find out which island will be closed during the year of your tour. During 2021, all islands should be open because the Galápagos Islands have been closed for a year, and the wildlife is considered ‘rested’ from tourist disturbance.
The custom control on arrival in the Galápagos Islands is extremely strict. All luggage will be scanned by X-ray machines and hand luggage will be checked by the custom crews. Bringing organic products (animal or vegetable), food, seeds, dried fruit, tea bags, coffee beans or instant coffee, stevia bags (or other sweetener/sugar packets), liquids, plastic, glass bottles, and cans is prohibited. You will be required to fill out a declaration form on arrival stating you do not have any forbidden items. Failure to observe the rules will result in loss of the item(s) and an expensive fine. Any fines will be your responsibility. We strongly advise you to follow the rules and if you need further information, please contact us.
After arriving in the Galápagos Islands (at Baltra), we will have about 30 minutes to visit a nearby grocery store prior to boarding our boat, the Samba, to pick up any essentials that might be required (noting the items that you might usually have with you on a tour but are prohibited to bring to the archipelago, such as tea bags, sweetener, coffee, etc.). This will be the only opportunity to purchase such goods during the tour, until Day 10, when we are scheduled to arrive at Puerto Avora. Payments here need to be in US$ cash.
We will be aboard the M/V Samba, a graceful 78-foot motor yacht of European vintage. To experience the mystical isolation that shaped the life of the Galápagos, this sturdy, stately and very comfortable motor-vessel is the best choice.
The Samba is a true European Dutch classic and the best in her class. A great ocean-going vessel with her specially designed high bow, she provides safe crossings and boasts a special stabilizing sail. Her main salon and aft dining facilities make her socially versatile while top-side settees and a flush and ample forward deck provide great getaways or extra space for group activities such as birding, stargazing, whale watching, or simply sunbathing. The Samba accommodates 14 guests, a perfect number to enjoy the magic of the Galápagos Islands, with privacy and flexibility. Its professional, experienced, and friendly crew, and naturalist guide, are devoted to go the extra mile to make your journey a trip of a lifetime. She is a graceful, top-quality craft and very environmentally friendly as well as socially responsible. She is locally owned and all the crewmembers are from the Galápagos Islands.
The yacht M/V Samba will take us around the Galápagos Islands during this tour.
The M/V Samba layout.
Guest accommodation on board the Samba consists of six air-conditioned double cabins and one exterior double bed cabin, all with private bathrooms and hot water.
Very efficient Twin DAV diesel engines (280 hp, Cummins) that use just six gallons of diesel every hour. Two generators each of 21 and 12.5 kilowatts (kW) for 110 volts (V) and 220 V alternative current and 12 V and 24 V direct current, Furuno Navnet Radar, Plotter and Sonar, Global Positioning System (GPS), VHF and SSB radios, two tenders (small boats) with outboard motors, 32” High-Definition (HD) LCD TV, and DVD video equipment.
- Overall length: 78 feet (23 meters)
- Beam: 18 feet (5.4 meters)
- Tonnage: 134 tons
- Speed: 8.5 knots
- Range: 2,500 miles
- Sails: Genoa, main, mizzen
- Water capacity: 1,500 gallons and water maker
- Electric Power Supply: 110 V and 220 V (A/C)
One self-contained, 20-passenger life raft, EPIRB (Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacon), two bi-directional VHF emergency radios, one VHF (Motorola) wide-range radio, VHF and HF radios, one cell-phone, a satellite phone communication system, life jackets, fire extinguishers, safety smoke and fire detectors with overhead sprinkler systems, A.B.C fire-control system, and CO2 bank for the engine room.
GALAPAGOS NATIONAL PARK RULES
The Galápagos Islands is by far the most pristine archipelago in the tropics. The natural beauty of the islands has been maintained thanks to the conservation status declared by the government of Ecuador who decided, in 1968, to make the conservation and restoration of the Galápagos Islands a national priority. The national park area constitutes more than 95% of the total landmass of the islands!
To help preserve this unique paradise, please follow these simple rules:
- Stay with your group and naturalist guide at all times. Always follow the directions given by your naturalist guide.
- Walk only on the marked trails and be careful and quiet as you move through the island.
- Be careful not to transport any live material (animals or plants) to the islands or from island to island (insects, seeds, and soil etc.). To reduce the risk of moving living organisms between islands, we are not allowed to take any food on our visits to the islands.
- No plants, rocks, animals (or their remains, such as bones), pieces of wood, feathers, sand, corals, shells, or other natural objects should be collected, moved, or disturbed. Removing or disturbing any of the above may damage the integrity of the national park. Take back home great memories and photos only.
- Animals should not be touched or handled. Do not disturb or pursue any animal from its resting or nesting spot. Best practice is to always be passive with wildlife, if you blend in as much as you can you will have a better experience and generate less impact on the animals.
- Keep a distance of at least seven feet (two meters) from all animals and remember that they are not pets and we must respect their space.
- Clean your shoes and snorkel equipment before and after you visit each island.
- When photographing animals turn off your flash.
- Do not litter, anywhere. Please do not hesitate to show your conservation attitude and pick up any litter you encounter. Litter left on the islands or in the sea can be a death trap for a wide range of creatures.
- Building fires or smoking within the park is not allowed.
Each day we (the local naturalist guide and the Birding Ecotours tour leader) will brief you on the plans for the day ahead. We usually do this in the evening to allow you time to better plan for the following day. The briefing will prepare you for the island visits, times of disembarking, guidelines of what to bring, information on the terrain and expected weather conditions. We will of course also brief you on the birds, animals, and plants we will be looking for. In the evening we will run through all of the sightings from the day during our bird and animal listing session.
DO NOT FORGET
In preparation for our daily excursions, please make sure you carry the following items:
- Comfortable and informal clothing such as shorts, light pants, cotton t-shirts, sweaters, and windbreakers, according to the season of the year of your visit
- Cap or hat
- Sunglasses (polarized always better)
- Insect repellent
- Water bottle (note prohibited items)
- Appropriate walking gear (good walking shoes/walking sandals)
- Binoculars, cameras, batteries, and memory cards
When you return to the Samba, please make sure to leave your excursion shoes at the stern. Use other sandals or comfortable shoes for walking in all outside areas of the yacht. This will help prevent carrying alien microorganisms from island to island. Shoes are not allowed inside the boat.
To have a pleasant journey, we have made your safety our number one priority. The boat has been approved by strong national and international regulations to prevent and respond to any emergency scenario. All crewmembers are trained to assist you in case of any emergency. As a mandatory regulation, you will be part of a safety drill exercise in order to know what to do in case an emergency occurs. The safety drill will happen within the first 24 hours of boarding the Samba. Your naturalist guide will instruct you with safety procedures.
Please make yourself familiar with the location of the life vests and fire extinguisher in your cabin, as well as the quickest way to get to safety. Should you have any questions, please approach our onboard naturalist or captain.
SNORKELING SESSIONS (OPTIONAL)
The water in the Galápagos is quite cool, considering the archipelago straddles the Equator. The cold Humboldt Current, flowing north from Antarctica and northwest from South America, accounts for both the cold water and the high productivity of the water around the archipelago.
Snorkeling is highly recommended to get an unparalleled view of the underwater world. There will be opportunities to snorkel on most days before or after landings. This is an optional activity and if you are not keen there will be plenty of other activities to keep you occupied.
The snorkeling equipment on board is included in the price of your trip. The equipment is of excellent quality and the masks, snorkel, wet suits, and fins are in excellent condition. We ask you kindly to take good care of all the gadgets provided on the Samba. We supply three-millimeter, full-length suits which are considered essential for all but the most warm-blooded of us, giving better protection from cold, sunburn, rocks, and the occasional jellyfish.
SMOKING ON BOARD
Smoking is not allowed inside the boat. Smoking is only permitted on the deck away from other people (the crew will provide you with an ashtray). Smoking is not permitted on the islands near wildlife or while we are birding. Smoking is not permitted during group meals or while doing the checklists when the group are together. Please be considerate to other people on the boat if you are a smoker.
An individual air-conditioning unit works in each of our cabins. Please ask the naturalist guide or one of the crewmembers about its use, should you need help.
We have a freshwater tank, with enough for our entire trip but we would like to ask you to save as much as possible, because there is little additional water on the islands. A simple effort from you might make a meaningful contribution. Please take short showers, in this way you will be helping to save energy used in the production of clean water.
Potable and drinking water is provided on board and is produced through a reverse osmosis plant. To limit the amount of waste produced while in the Galápagos, we ask you kindly to reuse the bottle given to you on the first day. This bottle can be refilled with fresh water from the dispenser placed in the lounge. If you can bring your own refillable bottles that is best (but please note the list of prohibited items).
The Samba has electricity outlets of 110 V and 220 V in every cabin. Extra electricity outlets are found in the dining room.
MEALS AND DINING SERVICES
Our chef offers fine cuisine ranging from international to local specialties, served in our dining room with a perfect environment. Please let our chef know if you have any dietary restrictions. The regular schedule for meal service is as follows:
- Breakfast: usually served between 06:00 and 07:00
- Lunch: normally served between 11:30 and 13:00
- Dinner: usually served between 18:30 and 20:00
- Snacks: served twice a day.
In the fridge, you will find a variety of, beers, soft drinks, wines, cocktails, and liquors on board the Samba. The barman will open a consumption card with your name, without which no liquor or soft drinks can be purchased.
Prices on board are competitive and you do not need to bring your own liquor onto the boat.
Your purchases will be kept on record on your bar card and tallied at the end of your voyage. Your account must be settled prior to disembarkation. Payment must be in cash (US$).
The yacht is equipped with two UHF/VHF/Motorola radios, satellite, and a cellular phone. The satellite phone on board can be contacted by dialing (008) 7077 318 0983. Guests can use the SAT phone on board at US$4 per minute to call out. Internationally enabled cell phones should get reception at some places in the Galápagos Islands. Communication with the coast guard and office in Puerto Ayora is possible at any time. There is no Wi-Fi on the Samba.
No immunizations are required for the Galápagos Islands and malaria pills are not needed on this tour as there is no malaria on the islands.
The water on board our boat is desalinated and perfectly safe to drink. Please bring a water bottle that is comfortable to carry to refill on board. The meals will be very carefully prepared, so you need not worry about hygiene standards during the tour.
On mainland Ecuador, prior to and after our time in the islands, we recommend drinking bottled water. If you are extending your stay on the mainland, a small water filter, such as Steripen, is great to bring along to help save plastic and money when buying bottled water. In the Galápagos, use plenty of sunscreen, wear a hat, polarized sunglasses (to have a better filter to see through water) and bring good hiking shoes for walking on uneven surfaces such as dry lava. Bring an adequate supply of any medications you take regularly or might need; nothing will be available in the Galápagos.
Seasickness is not a large problem in the Galápagos as we are near the islands most of the time and the seas tend to be calm. Nearly all of the open sea passages, when the boat could rock a bit more, will be at night. If you do experience motion sickness, you should bring medication or other preventative measures (electronic “Relief bands” seem to work well also). Please feel free to contact us for recommendations. Eating well, avoiding excessive amounts of alcohol, and getting a good night of sleep are also key in preventing an over-active stomach. Please be sure you have listed any medical problems, special dietary requests, food allergies, or food preferences on your tour booking form and update us if there are any changes before the trip.
From May until October, the weather is typically very pleasant in the Galápagos Islands, with an average daytime temperature of 75–85°F (24–30oC) (usually on the warmer side in May). It is pleasantly cool at night out on the deck and on early morning landings; you may want a sweatshirt or fleece for these times. Rain is a possibility, more so in early May, while late May and June there is a chance of heavy mist (called “garúa”), particularly in the highlands.
From November to April, the weather is typically very hot in the Galápagos Islands, with an average daytime temperature of 85–95°F (30–35oC) (usually on the warmer side in January). It is pleasantly cool at night out on the deck and on early morning landings; you may want a sweatshirt or fleece for these times. Rain is a possibility, more so in early January, because we start the transition between “cold-dry” and the “warm-wet” season. It can be particularly wet in the highlands.
Insects are not usually a problem in the Galápagos Islands, though there are wasps at a few landing sites. Please let us know if you are allergic to wasp stings. In general, use insect repellent if you use it at home on field outings in the summer. Mosquitoes are not generally a problem even on the mainland and there are almost no mosquitoes in the Galápagos Islands. Long, lightweight cotton or nylon pants are the most practical for protection from the sun, scratchy bushes along the trails, and insects.
Galápagos walks vary from short to a couple of miles long over broken and uneven terrain. If you are not accustomed to walking these distances, especially over rocky and uneven terrain, you will still be able to join in most activities as we travel at a pace that allows us to see, appreciate, and photograph the unique nature of the islands. There are some basic walking sticks on board that you can borrow, or you may prefer to pack your own for stability on rocky terrain (e.g., for walking over rocky landscapes). San Bartolome Island requires negotiating a 100-step stairway for access. If you anticipate struggling with the walks, we strongly urge you to get out and do some good forest walking and hiking beforehand to get yourself in good condition for the trip. The fitter you are when the trip begins, the more you will enjoy your time in the field!
There is no laundry service on board the Samba.
‘We birded with Galo Real for eight days in Ecuador as an extension from a family trip to the Amazon Basin and the Galapagos. He is a good birder with a great ear for the bird calls and knowledge of all sites. He is very agreeable and was patient and considerate of our needs and capabilities. We look forward to birding with him again.’
Jim and Barbara