Spend a full 15-days/14-nights aboard the yacht in the Galápagos Islands, allowing you to visit all the significant outer islands, and allowing for a maximum of wildlife observations. Each day we typically go ashore twice, observing and photographing the unique wildlife - the plants and animals that led Darwin to his theory of evolution when he visited the Galapagos in 1835. Our days are full, with early-morning and late-afternoon excursions to catch the peak animal activity as well as best lighting for photography. There are also 1 or 2 snorkeling sessions most days. The evenings are devoted to natural history lectures conducted by the Tour Leader. Star viewing is also incredible as there is no outside light interference as you search the night sky for the Southern Cross and other constellations not visible from the northern hemisphere. I don't think you'll find a Galapagos tour where you will learn more or get more photo opportunities!
In addition to the legally-required Naturalist Guide, we provide a Tour Leader/ Biologist who gives evening lectures on natural history (on a variety of Galápagos-specific topics, possibly ranging from Island Formation to Volcanoes, Seabirds to Reptiles to Cetaceans, Darwin to the History of the early settlers). The Guide's role is to escort people on shore, to provide wildlife interpretation, and to make sure the rules of the National Park are enforced. Having a Tour Leader adds a serious educational orientation to the trip. We hand pick all Naturalist Guides and Tour Leaders for our expeditions from a pool of the best in the field.
• All accommodations, including 3 nights in a First Class hotel in Quito Ecuador and 14 nights aboard the yacht in the Galápagos.
• All meals and non-alcoholic beverages aboard the yacht and most meals in Quito.
• All Airport transfers in Quito and the Galápagos.
• The services of an expert-level Tour Leader accompanying the tour, and a University-level Naturalist Guide conducting the Galápagos land tours.
• Use of basic snorkeling equipment aboard the yacht (mask, snorkel & fins)
• Governmental fuel tax of $460 pp*
• Extensive pre-departure materials, including a copy of our guidebook, A Traveler’s Guide to the Galápagos Islands.
• Any airfare (round trip TAME Airlines Quito/Galápagos flights are currently $530)*
• Galápagos National Park entrance fee ($100 per person)*
• Galapagos Tourist/Migration Card ($10 per person)*
• International Departure Tax from Ecuador ($41 per person)*
• Gratuities to Naturalist Guide or Crew of the yacht,
• Alcoholic Beverages,
• Baggage/Trip Cancellation/Evacuation insurance,
• Passport or Visa fees,
• Optional local tours in Mainland Ecuador,
• Some meals in Quito (as specified),
• Items of a personal nature, such as room service, telephone or fax calls, and souvenirs.
*(Subject to change)
18 Day Natural History Galapagos Experience itinerary:
Day 1 - Arrive in QUITO
The trip begins in Quito, Ecuador. On arrival, you will be transferred directly to the HOTEL MERCURE
ALAMEDA where we will spend the night. We think very highly of the HOTEL MERCURE ALAMEDA in Quito.
After breakfast, we board a morning flight to Baltra Island in the Galápagos on TAME AIRLINES (Flights not included). Upon arrival we will be transferred to the yacht, the M/Y TIP TOP IV, waiting for us in the harbor. This afternoon we will begin our program of shore excursions with a visit to the island of SANTA CRUZ, Las Bachas are two white sand beaches on the north shore of SANTA CRUZ, backed by a small brackish lagoon where flamingos and coastal birds are occasionally seen. The soft sand of these beaches is a favorite nesting area for sea turtles.
Sullivan Bay offers a rare look at a recently-formed lava field, with fantastical Pahoehoe formations in every imaginable shape. If we’re lucky snorkeling along the shore we might be accompanied by penguins. BARTOLOME - One of the most popular visitor sites for the panoramic views (gained by climbing 360- plus wooden stairs). The view is educational as well as inspiring; the volcanic features include lava formations such as spatter cones, cinder cones, and tuff cones. There are also wonderful examples of pioneering plants and some beautiful stands of endemic lava cactus. The shoreline around Pinnacle Rock might be your best chance to snorkel with penguins
Located in the northeast portion of the Galápagos, Tower is an outpost for many sea birds (as is
Española to the south - perhaps this is why they are our two favorite islands). Depending on conditions we often will have a chance to snorkel and kayak within the bay. A visit to Prince Philip’s Steps begins with a panga ride along the cliffs, watching for red-billed tropicbirds and the occasional fur seal, while squadrons of frigatebirds fly overhead in their endless piratical pursuits. On shore a forest of dwarf palo santo trees is home to a colony of redfooted boobies, while Nazca Boobies nest below on the ground. Along the lava fields storm petrels fly overhead in great numbers, while short-eared owls hunt for them among the lava cracks. Darwin Bay is an anchorage within a caldera, with surrounding cliffs forming the inner portion of the rim. Along the small beach there is a forest of salt bush where adjacent colonies of great frigatebirds and red-footed boobies nest. There are two endemic gull species found in Galápagos; lava gulls and swallow-tailed gulls – both frequently nest here.
James Bay/Puerto Egas is home to Fur Seal Grotto - not only a beautiful site, but this is your only chance to get close to the endemic fur seals. Some of the best tide-pooling is also here, drawing a wonderful variety of shorebirds and seabirds, with yellow-crowned night herons and American Oystercatchers being the most commonly seen. Inland you might have a chance to see painted locusts, grasshoppers, and possibly even the Galápagos snake. Galápagos hawks are also common on the inland trail. SANTIAGO - A walk to the Salt Mine focuses on the human history of the islands, likewise a panga ride in Bucaneer Cove shows where sailors cleaned ship, hunted meat from the abundant sea lions along the beach, and collected firewood and water. Impressive tuff cliffs frame the southern cove, while eroded cinder to the north has been carved by time into fanciful shapes.
The cold waters approaching Punta Vicente Roca offer some of the best opportunities for whales and dolphins, and maybe the chance to kayak or snorkel with a mola mola.
FERNANDINA - This is the youngest of the Galápagos Islands. • Punta Espinosa is a wonderful visitor site, with the largest colony of marine iguanas in the islands, in addition to flightless cormorants, Galápagos Penguins, herons and Galápagos Hawks. This is often the best place to see marine iguanas in the water as they feed on the barely submerged rocks along the shore.
Tagus Cove is a natural harbor featuring steep cliffs replete with graffiti from ship’s crews
dating as far back as 1836 carved into the face. The cliffs are populated by marine iguanas, penguins, crabs, sea lions, and in the crevices outside the bay, brown noddy terns abound. Urvina Bay was the site of a dramatic volcanic uplift in 1954, where 4 miles of coastline suddenly raised nearly 15 feet, with the coastline driven three quarters of a mile farther out to sea. The marine remnants and giant coral heads are a stark reminder. Inland land iguanas, and an occasional tortoise, are found here. Along the shore flightless cormorants and brown pelicans typically nest. Elizabeth Bay is a mangrove inlet explored by zodiac, with an amazing concentration of green sea turtles and rays. The neighboring Marielas Islets are home to the largest colony of Galápagos Penguins, with penguins often seen in the water here.
Villamil Lagoons are located on the periphery of the Puerto Villamil fishing village, on the
southern coast of the island. Dense vegetation separates the lagoons creating habitat for numerous shore birds. The nearby beaches are some of the best in the archipelago for migratory bird viewing. This area was also the site of a penal colony in the middle of the last century, with the Wall of Tears and other historic features remaining. Sierra Negra Volcano is the oldest, and largest, of 6 volcanoes forming the island – the caldera alone measures 5 miles by 6 miles across. A journey to the rim of the caldera to see the active steam fumaroles and amazing geologic features includes travel by bus, horseback, and hiking. While mostly a site known for the geology, Galápagos Hawks & shorteared owls are often seen, along with finches and flycatchers. The Galápagos National Park Service also maintains a tortoise breeding facility on the flanks of the volcano.
A trip to the Highlands (by van) traverses all 7 vegetation zones of the Galápagos. In addition to two enormous pit craters, other volcanic formations include some of the largest known lava tunnels in the Galápagos. Not surprisingly, the lush highland vegetation is home to a variety of land birds, including vermillion flycatchers, Galápagos Flycatchers, woodpecker finches, darkbilled cuckoos, and Barn Owls. Tortoises are often seen in the wild here. Puerto Ayora is the scientific heart of Galápagos, including the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS), as well as the primary population center.
SANTA FE - This island is home to a unique species of land iguana; some of these iguanas can be 5 feet long! The stands of giant prickly pear cactus here are specially adapted to a larger size as a form of protection against the iguanas. Santa Fe is also likely your best chance at seeing the endemic rice rat. Snorkeling and kayaking round out the possibilities. SOUTH PLAZA is a geologically uplifted island
vegetated with the distinctive red mats of sesuvium, along with prickly pear cactus - both being the food
base for the land iguanas. A walk along the breezy sea cliffs is wonderful, with swallow-tailed gulls,
shearwaters, and red-billed tropicbirds in flight.
SOMBRERO CHINO perhaps more than any visitor site conveys the volcanic origins of the Galápagos.
The shoreline is a wonderful snorkeling area with numerous coves and grottos. RABIDA - This is one of the best snorkeling sites in the islands. The red sand beach makes a striking backdrop for the ever-present sea lions. Just inland a salt-water lagoon often has a few flamingos, while yellow warblers are in the salt bush, and brown pelicans nest in the mangroves. The higher elevations of the island host palo santo trees.
SANTA CRUZ - Black Turtle Cove is a mangrove-surrounded series of coves and inlets. Exploring by
panga (zodiac) we often see mating green sea turtles, plus rays and white-tipped reef sharks. Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill) is a small hill on the northern shore, with a wonderful view. This is the nesting site to a growing number of land iguanas, many of which have been repatriated to the area. Below the hill there is a hypersalinic lagoon that is often frequented by flamingos and waders.
FLOREANA – Post Office Bay, while possibly not the most scenic visitor site, is one the most historically famous - be sure to bring a postcard or two ashore with you to "mail." Punta Cormorant is one of the most interesting landings (on an olivine beach), with an emphasis on plant life and shore birds. A brackish lagoon is home to flamingos, pintail ducks, and commons stilts. Favorite snorkeling areas are the offshore islets of Devil’s Crown and Champion (where you might also get a glimpse of the endemic Charles Mockingbird on shore).
ESPANOLA - Punta Suarez is a paradise for birders, with waved albatross, Nazca Boobies, blue-footed
boobies, Galápagos Hawks, Galápagos Doves, and also marine iguanas (the most colorful in the islands) all vying for center stage. Gardner Bay is a tranquil white sandy beach known for sea lions (often in the hundreds), lava lizards, finches, yellow warblers & Hood Mockingbirds, to name just a few. Gardner or Tortuga Rocks offer great snorkeling, as well as the occasional chance to kayak
SAN CRISTOBAL - This is the easternmost and oldest island in the archipelago (and also the provincial
capital). San Cristóbal is also home to the endemic Chatham Mockingbird – one of four mockingbird species found only in Galápagos. An Interpretation Center highlights archipelago history and conservation projects. • Kicker Rock is an eroded tuff cone rising almost 500 feet from the ocean. The yacht will cruise around Kicker Rock as the sunlight plays off the contours of the cliffs and formation (complete with blue-footed boobies, Nazca Boobies, and frigatebirds).
This morning we will end our journey with a visit to the island of NORTH SEYMOUR. In addition to
being a major nesting area for the blue-footed booby, North Seymour is home to the largest colony of magnificent frigatebirds in the Galápagos. Both marine and land iguanas are found in good numbers here, and sea lions often surf the rocky shore break. BALTRA - Transfer to the airport for your mid-day return flight to Quito, Ecuador (Flights not included).
Overnight in Quito at the HOTEL MERCURE ALAMEDA.
Today is a free day in the High Andes city of Quito, with a spectacular old town district that is recognized
by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. Nearby sightseeing possibilities include Indian markets, the Equatorial Monument, tropical cloud forests, the Amazon Basin, and active volcanoes. Lunch and dinner on your own. Overnight Quito; HOTEL MERCURE ALAMEDA.
Day 18 - Depart QUITO
After breakfast transfer to the airport for your return flight home.
Tip Top IV
The 125 ft, steel-hulled, TIP TOP IV was built in Guayaquil, Ecuador in 2006. She is owned, and occasionally still captained by Rolf Wittmer - the first person born in the Galapagos Islands.
The interior is very spacious and attractive, and features a library/conference room, and a spacious dining room. Cabins, Bar and lounge are fully carpeted for your comfort. A beautiful teak floored sun deck and dinning room creates a delightful place for resting and relaxing on board.
There are extensive outside viewing (both sun and shade) areas.
There are 10 air-conditioned double cabins (4 on the bridge deck and 6 on the lower deck). All cabins, six in the Lower Deck and four in the upper deck have two single lower berths that may be transformed in a king size bed and the cabins in the lower deck can be transformed in familiar suites by interconnecting doors.
Special equipment on board includes basic snorkeling gear to loan as well as 8 double kayaks.
Staff and Crew
With our highly trained professional crew on board, twin main engines, twin electric generators, twin Radars, Eco-sounders and GPS, Reverse Osmosis Water Maker, all the coastguard required safety equipment and twelve knot cruising speed, the Tip Top IV ensure safe cruising around the Galapagos Islands. Our Captain, Multilingual guide, Engineer, International cook, Barman, waitress and two sailors will be at your service. Our relatively numerous crew on board will ensure the best personal service to all of our guests.