- Duration 16 Days
- Difficulty 3/5
- Group Size 14
8 – 23 December, 2017
The Galapagos archipelago, on everyone’s bucket list, is one of the planet’s last wild and incredible places. We have chartered the M/V Passion, a luxury vessel operating in the national park. On this full sixteen-day itinerary, we will visit many highlights including Genovesa Island (Tower), Española Island and Fernandina Island; this last is considered one of the most pristine islands anywhere in the world. We will walk on bare lava and come face to face with blue-footed boobies and displaying frigatebirds. We will wander the highlands for giant tortoises, be amazed by hundreds of unique marine iguanas basking at our feet and get up close and personal with the endemic flightless cormorants. We will swim with penguins and sharks, interact with curious sea lions, snorkel alongside green sea turtles and be surrounded by yellow-tailed surgeonfish. For the islands that inspired Charles Darwin we have customized this family charter to offer a fun, educationa trip of a lifetime.
Price not published
Single Supplement: None
Arrival: Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport, Guayaquil, Ecuador
Departure: Mariscal Sucre Airport, Quito, Ecuador
Arrival Time: 8th December
- Hotel in Guayaquil the night prior to departure to Galapagos.
- Airport transfers on arrival into Guayaquil and out to Galapagos.
- 14 nights full-board on the M/V Passion.
- Naturalist guide plus two Pete Oxford Expeditions trip leaders.
- Snorkel gear and wetsuits.
- Park tax, INGALA fee and tips to guide and crew.
- International airfare to and from Guayaquil.
- Domestic air fare between Guayaquil and Galapagos return.**Please note: For the domestic airfare Guayaquil-Galapagos-Guayaquil we will have a group block booking. DO NOT BOOK YOUR OWN FLIGHTS.
- International or domestic departure taxes and passport expenses.
- Additional hotel nights not mentioned in the itinerary.
- Items of a personal nature including laundry, postage, shipboard bar, personal shopping and internet.
Day 1, December 8th, 2017: Guayaquil
After arriving at the José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil we will transfer to the hotel for the night. As this is a travel day and many flights arrive late in the evening dinner will be on your own.
A Day 2, December 9th am: Baltra Island
After breakfast on day 2 we will fly to Baltra Island the gateway to the Galapagos. On arrival, we will immediately transfer to the boat to settle in and have lunch. From this night until the morning of day 16 we will eat and overnight aboard our vessel, the M/V Passion.
B Day 2, December 9th pm: Santa Cruz Island, Black Turtle Cove
The vessel will navigate a short distance to Santa Cruz Island where we will head out into the surreal mangrove system of Black Turtle Cove for a panga ride. This tranquil and sheltered lagoon is home to pelicans and herons that roost in the mangroves and it is where marine species such as sharks, golden cownose rays and turtles may cruise right next to our panga. We will travel overnight to the far north of the archipelago.
C Day 3, December 10th: Genovesa (Tower) Island: Darwin Bay & Prince Philip’s Steps
We will sail into the sunken crater of this isolated island where we anchor and spend the entire day. The crater walls form tall cliffs above sea level but also plunge down vertically allowing for excellent cliff face snorkeling. This island is the home to the largest red-footed bobby colony in Galapagos and has a good population of breeding great frigatebirds. There are no lava lizards here and the marine iguanas are the smallest on the islands.
Upon landing on the beach in Darwin Bay, finches come hopping over, sea lions feign nonchalance and red-footed boobies swirl continuously overhead. Great frigatebirds nest on the low saltbushes. We see the endemic swallow-tailed gulls widely recognized as the most beautiful gull in the world and the only one that is nocturnal as well as yellow-crowned night herons. After our visit we will snorkel and kayak in the caldera before having lunch.
For the afternoon’s landing we will climb Prince Philip’s Steps to another bird spectacle. Nesting Nazca and red-footed boobies line our way as we head to a lava field, home to thousands of minuscule storm petrels on which one of our target species, the short-eared owls, have learned to feed.
Our early evening sail out of the caldera is often in the company of dolphins as we say goodbye to this ‘island of birds’.
D Day 4, December 11th: Bartolomé Island & Sullivan Bay, Santiago Island
Now in the heart of the archipelago we begin with a climb up a series of wooden steps to the most famous viewpoint in the Galapagos, the Pinnacle Rock of Bartolomé. The iconic view across the pinnacle to Santiago Island is spectacular and often evokes the sensation of being on the moon. The island is young and the ‘spatter’ or cinder cones look as if they were just formed. One of our best chances to swim with Galapagos penguins on this itinerary is here at the base of Pinnacle Rock. A small family of resident penguins are easily photographed in shallow water as they ‘fly’ past snorkelers in the bay. There are also sharks, playful sea lions, rays and a host of colorful fish.
In the afternoon we head across to Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island to a recent, barren lava field. The flows of black, basaltic pahoehoe or ropey lava are only 100 years old. The different lava formations, crystallized minerals and pioneer plants are stunning and highly photogenic. Here too we have another great snorkel where we hope to interact with turtles, sea lions and rays.
E Day 5, December 12th am: Rábida Island
The dramatic red beaches of Rábida Island are made of sand eroded from the cinder cliffs to the west and are backed by large palo santo-covered cliffs and Opuntia cacti. The beach is home to several young, approachable sealions. Hiking further inland we look for a host of Galapagos specialties such as the vermillion flycatcher, Galapagos mocking birds and some of the 9 species of Darwin’s finches found on this island. There follows by a snorkel where we hope to find large schools of black-striped salema fish, white-tipped reef sharks and some playful sea lions underwater.
F Day 5, December 12th pm: Santa Cruz Island: Cerro Dragón
At Cerro Dragón beach on Santa Cruz Island we hike inland through palo santo trees on a trail frequented by land iguanas. This is a good location to see them at their burrows as December is nesting season for all the reptiles in Galapagos. Another target species that we will be on the lookout for is the tool-using woodpecker finch searching for grubs. A saltwater lagoon is the occasional home to flamingos, black-necked stilts and other waders.
G Day 6, December 13th: Santa Cruz Island: Highlands, tortoises & Darwin Station
We will spend this day visiting Santa Cruz Island. After landing on the dock of Puerto Ayora we will board our transportation and head to the highlands. This area, in contrast to the coastal region, has lush vegetation and forest due to the humidity that gathers in the higher regions.
We will visit one of the ranches of the area to see giant tortoises in their natural habitat and using mud wallows. As these animals migrate from the coastal area to the highlands and back, the ranch chosen will depend on the presence of the tortoises at the time. This is also a good place for a possible sighting of barn owl, various finches, Galapagos flycatchers and the yellow warbler.
Lunch at the ranch before heading back to Puerto Ayora to the Charles Darwin Research Station and Galapagos National Park where we will see tortoises from different islands. The grounds are also a good place to spot various species of Darwin’s finches.
After this visit, we will have some time to explore the town of Puerto Ayora and its many souvenir shops before boarding the M/V Passion for dinner and the evening briefing.
H Day 7, December 14th am: South Plazas Island
The tiny South Plazas Island has much to offer. The red carpet of the succulent Sesuvium vegetation growing between the Opuntia cactus provides a beautiful backdrop to swallow-tailed gulls, land iguanas and sea lions – many of them with newborn pups, all present at the landing to greet us. This sub-species of land iguana is the smallest in Galapagos and some have bred with the marine iguanas to form a hybrid species only found here. The path winds its way to the cliff top where we will sit and watch Galapagos shearwaters gliding over the waves while gulls, tropic birds and frigates cruise lazily below and at eye level.
I Day 7, December 14th pm: Santa Fe Island
Santa Fe is idyllic. It is a beautiful natural bay filled with turquoise water and two lovely white sand beaches used by sunbathing sea lions. Inland we hike past a grove of giant, tree-forming prickly pear cacti, a different land iguana species endemic to the island and perhaps an endemic Galapagos hawk or two. We follow the land visit with another fantastic snorkel with turtles, rays, surgeonfish, parrotfish and possibly even sharks. This can also be one of the most rewarding sea lion snorkels.
J Day 8, December 15th am: Española (Hood) Island: Punta Suárez
One of the best sites in Galapagos, Punta Suárez is a true naturalist’s paradise! From the moment we set foot on land we will be enthralled. The island’s endemic mockingbird will be there, as well as the most colorful marine iguanas, sea lions and finches. We will see nesting Nazca boobies, Galapagos hawks and the largest and perhaps most spectacular island endemic, the waved albatross. We will spend time and sit quietly while observing the complex courtship rituals from a cliff edge and be awed by these magnificent birds as they glide past effortlessly at eye-level.
K Day 8, December 15th pm: Española (Hood) Island: Gardner Bay, Gardner Islet
Another fantastic snorkel around the offshore islands of Española (Hood) Island where we may find and play with curious sea lions in the water. We will visit one of the most beautiful beaches in the islands, either sitting with sea lions, looking for the warbler finch or walking the length of the beach to find a quiet place to sit in self-reflection.
L Day 9, December 16th: Santa Cruz Island
Today’s activities will be determined after discussion but we do plan to offer an optional full day of diving for those interested.
M Day 10, December 17th: Floreana Island: Punta Cormorant, Devil’s Crown, Post Office Bay
At Punta Cormorant, on Floreana Island, we land on a beach where the sand has a greenish tinge caused by large amounts of the volcanic mineral olivine. Here sea lions, wading birds and Darwin’s finches all greet us on arrival. We walk past mangroves and unique vegetation, some of which grows nowhere else in the world but this island, to arrive at a saltwater lagoon where startlingly pink flamingos nest and feed.
Next, some exhilarating snorkeling off the Devil’s Crown, a sunken cinder cone. The coral reef in the center is perfect for attracting large schools of fish, turtles, rays and with luck even some hammerhead sharks who could be swimming below us at this site.
In the afternoon, at the historic Post Office Barrel we can send a few postcards home and, in so doing, maintain a centuries old tradition. In 1793, British navigators placed a large wooden barrel here, leaving messages and mail to be forwarded by homebound colleagues. The tradition has continued until the present day, with the barrel being replaced when necessary. We will be able to send postcards through this quirky ‘free’ postal service. We can then get back in the water for another snorkel looking for turtles in particular.
N Day 11, December 18th: Floreana Island: Black Beach, Navigation & Whale Watching
Landing at Black Beach on Floreana we learn about the most renowned human history to come out of the islands: the story of Margaret Witmer, the Ritters, the Baroness, her lovers and murder. Floreana was the first island in the archipelago to be inhabited, as it has one of the very few fresh water sources. We visit the highland areas of this inhabited island looking for the Floreana-endemic medium tree finch.
In the afternoon we will navigate into the rich waters of the western islands. On the way we have a very high chance of spotting whales, dolphins and pelagic birds. With covered deck space on the back of our vessel we can spend the entire time outside birding and looking for marine mammals in comfort.
O Day 12, December 19th am: Isabela Island: Punta Moreno
We now venture into the ‘wilder’ side of the Galapagos for three days, where penguins, cormorants and marine iguanas flourish! Against an austere backdrop we will explore the region in all its majesty. After anchoring at Punta Morena off Isabela Island we will hike on superb pahoehoe lava flows in search of endemic plants and a brackish lagoon which is home to flamingos and pintail ducks all the while with the backdrop of basaltic volcanoes.
P Day 12, December 19th pm: Isabela Island: Elizabeth Bay
Following the coast of western Isabela Island we will depart the M/V Passion in our pangas to explore the more hidden regions of a mangrove labyrinth. We will see Galapagos shearwaters, brown noddy terns, blue-footed boobies, Galapagos penguins and the more uncommon flightless cormorants. The quiet waters in the bay are a refuge for myriad species including turtles and baby sharks. This is also one of the best places to see and photograph golden rays.
Q Day 13, December 20th am: Isabela Island: Urbina Bay
We will begin today with a wet landing onto a black volcanic sand beach of this geologically uplifted area. On our hike we can usually observe another species of giant tortoise. We will also search for large, yellow, land iguanas and more of the finch species that inspired Charles Darwin. After our walk we will go for a snorkel in the hopes of being accompanied by a few Galapagos penguins.
R Day 13, December 20th pm: Fernandina Island: Punta Espinosa
On Fernandina, the world’s largest, most pristine island, we land directly into the heart of Darwin’s ‘Imps of Darkness’ the marine iguana ‘capital’ of the world. As we sit or walk along the shoreline, the world’s only truly marine lizard will be strewn at our feet in dense congregations. We will watch the endemic flightless cormorants in hopes of observing their courtship ritual all the while being entertained by jovial sea lions. Turning inland we face a dramatic and inhospitable vista of lava and pioneer vegetation of the archipelago’s youngest island. Snorkeling in this area ranks as one of our favorites as we will swim with turtles, a diversity of fish species and look for Galapagos penguins, flightless cormorants and marine iguanas feeding underwater.
S Day 14, December 21st am: Isabela Island: Tagus Cove
At Tagus Cove a hike leads us to an overview of a flooded crater, Darwin’s Lake, and onward through a stunning volcanic landscape for a true understanding of how the hot lava of the Earth’s core has molded the Galapagos Islands – geologist heaven! Tagus Cove is also an historic hideaway from which pirates would ransack the whaling fleets hunting in the area. Even today graffiti dating back as far back as 1836, one year after Darwin’s visit, can be found carved in the rock face.
T Day 14, December 21st pm: Isabela Island: Punta Vicente Roca
Another one of our top snorkeling sites, we take to the deep water in search of penguins, rays, turtles, flightless cormorants and a host of fish species, some only found in the western isles. Turtles are usually plentiful here and we may, with luck, also spot a southern ocean sunfish. A panga ride along the dramatic cliffs of Ecuador Volcano, straddling the equator, gives us the opportunity to photograph blue-footed boobies, brown noddies and amazing geological features.
U Day 15, December 22nd am: Santiago Island: Buccaneer Cove
Cruising Buccaneer Cove in our pangas we see where ships were careened (hauled out and cleaned) back in the 17th and 18th centuries. Some of the largest specimens of palo santo trees we will see are set in truly dramatic scenery. This is followed by a long snorkel.
V Day 15, December 22nd pm: Santiago Island: Puerto Egas
We first embark on another great snorkel, followed by a wet landing onto the dark volcanic beach of Puerto Egas, also on Santiago Island. Here we will hike to submerged lava grottos where we will commune with endemic fur seals that consider the grottos home. Along the shoreline we can watch Sally-lightfoot crabs, herons, oystercatchers and waders. At low tide this is an excellent site for tide pooling.
W Day 16, December 23rd am: North Seymour Island & Baltra Airport
On North Seymour Island we will enter the habitat of another kind of pirate: the frigatebird. These birds are known for stealing the meals of smaller birds and frequently even shake boobies in mid-air until they regurgitate their catch. We will watch their display as the males show off their bright red pouches to attract the females. On this visit we will walk through nesting blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies and frigatebirds all the while encountering more land iguanas and sea lions.
After this, our final excursion, we return to the island of Baltra and the airport to fly back to mainland Ecuador for our onward flights home.
NOTE: This itinerary is subject to change at the discretion of the Galapagos National Park Service.
Discover the world with experienced travelers
Pete Oxford & RENEÉ BISH
Photographers | Owners | Trip Leaders
Pete and Reneé have lived in Ecuador since 1985 and 1991 respectively. They travel as a professional photographic and tour-leading team specializing in wildlife, conservation and indigenous cultures. Pete began his association with Galapagos in 1986 and then, in 1987, became a licensed naturalist guide in the islands where he lived for-two-and-a-half years. Shortly thereafter he co-founded of the Galapagos Naturalist Guides’ Association which was created to help train guides to a higher standard. With Galapagos as their ‘backyard’ Pete and Reneé quickly fell in love with the islands and have been fascinated by them ever since. Together they have published four books on Galapagos. They are excited to be able to share the islands that are so dear to them. This expedition will be a blend of fun, intimate wildlife interactions and education imparting a strong conservation message.