Remote and starkly beautiful, this precious archipelago of volcanic islands lies along the Equator 1,000 kilometres west of Ecuador.
Filled with many strange and unique species, the Galapagos are one of the most fascinating places on earth and a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. Charles Darwin visited here in 1835 and his observations on the evolutionary changes that have taken place amongst the wildlife, in particular the 14 species of finch’s, helped him to formulate his ground-breaking theory on the origin of earth’s species. The Galapagos Archipelago is made up of 13 main islands and hundreds of small rocks and islets.
There is no better way to discover these magical islands than on an intimate, luxury cruise ship or yacht. All shore visits and marine excursions are accompanied by experienced guides. When walking on the island’s you will always have to watch your step in case you stand on a sunbaking land or marine iguana. Keep an eye out for bird species such as blue footed, red footed and Nazca boobies, frigate birds, flamingos, finches and Galapagos penguins. Spend your days on guided walking excursions, swimming or snorkelling the crystal-clear waters or exploring the coastline by kayak or motorised-dinghy.
Please note: To reduce the impact of tourism, the national park authorities control the itineraries for all Galapagos cruise operators.
- Set foot on the island’s made famous by Charles Darwin
- Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station
- Discover diverse birdlife including blue-footed booby’s, frigate birds and shearwaters
- Swim and snorkel with sea lions and other marine species
- Be careful not to step on sunbaking iguanas or sea lions
- Stop at Prince Philip’s Steps on Genovesa Island – home to a wealth of birdlife
- Explore Punta Espinoza on Fernandina Island and get close to marine iguanas
There are daily flights (2 hours) from Ecuador’s capital Quito and the country’s largest city Guayaquil to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal Island. Both Quito and Guayaquil are serviced by a number of airlines directly including KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, American Airlines, Air France and United. Latam Airlines, the major airline in South America offers direct flights to a handful of major US and European cities.
8 Days / 7 nights
Please note: This itinerary is an example of what you may do and see. Changes to the itinerary may occur without prior notice due to readjustment of National Park policies, weather conditions, seasonal changes or safety reasons. These decisions are oriented in terms of passenger safety and in the interest of the islands’ conservation and protection.
San Cristobal Island
On arrival in San Cristobal, you will be met and escorted to your vessel by bus and Zodiac. Settle into your cabin and enjoy a delicious welcome lunch before an introductory briefing and safety drill. After a delicious buffet lunch your Galapagos adventure begins with an excursion to Cerro Colorado to visit the Jacinto Gordillo Breeding Center. Here you’ll learn about the giant tortoise breeding program established by the national park to ensure that these animals continue to thrive, despite the endangered status of some species. You’ll also have a chance to learn about their evolution and the threats they face, from invasive species to habitat loss. While here you might also see the San Cristobal mockingbird and the Calandrinia plant, both endemic to this island. Return to the vessel where you will be welcomed by the captain and crew. There will be a short briefing on tomorrow’s activities before an elegant multi-course dinner, prepared by the accomplished onboard chefs.
This morning your first excursion takes you to Prince Philip’s Steps on Genovesa Island. It is one of the most spectacular places in the Galapagos for bird watching because of its sheer diversity of species. Expert guides will point out the different species such as red-footed boobies nesting in palo santo trees, Nazca boobies nesting near the trail or storm petrels. If you’re lucky you may even see the elusive short-eared owl.
Return to the vessel for a BBQ lunch on the yacht’s sun deck and a demonstration on how to make Ecuadorian ceviche. You will also have the option to explore the cliffs up close, either by kayak, stand-up paddleboard or on a deep-water snorkelling excursion from the Zodiac. Later in the afternoon, land at Darwin Bay – a gorgeous coral sand beach. Both swallow-tailed gulls and lava gulls gather her near the tide pools. A forest of Optuntia cactus and mangroves provide shelter for Great frigate birds. Males looking to attract a mate inflate a red pouch on their chests. Finish off a superb afternoon by relaxing on the beach or swimming in the water – potentially with friendly, playful sea lions. Return to the yacht for a short briefing followed by a delicious dinner. If the night is clear, take some time to stargaze – your guides will help point out constellations.
Santa Cruz Island
Today begins with a visit to Las Bachas (Spanish for barges) on the northern side of Santa Cruz Island. An interior lagoon is home to dozens of bright pink flamingos and the long white sand beach is a beautiful place for a quiet stroll. Guides will point out endemic plant species and share their knowledge about the Galapagos Islands fascinating history. You’ll also have time to snorkel from the beach, home to colourful tropical fish, sea stars, sea turtles and maybe even sharks that can be seen along the ocean floor. Return to the yacht for lunch. Afterward, listen to an enriching lecture that is informative and entertaining – the topic is on marine currents, climate and the geology of the Islands.
In the afternoon step ashore on Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill) and enjoy a magnificent panoramic view of the bay and island landscape. You may see flamingos in the brackish lagoon, along with a variety of plants such as the opuntia cactus and Muyuyo trees. As you walk the trail, look for Darwin’s finches, Galapagos flycatchers, yellow warblers, and Audubon shearwaters. Your guides will also pause to point out birds such as stilts, pintail ducks and sandpipers. Scan the path for yellow Land iguanas (endemic to the Galapagos) resting in the sun. After walking the trail, return to the yacht for a briefing and dinner.
Enjoy a morning Zodiac ride at Punta Vicente Roca, navigating the wave-sculpted caves and bring you up close to the tuff walls covered in colourful Sally light-foot crabs. Don’t miss the opportunity to snorkel here, there are chances to see penguins diving playfully in the water or grooming themselves on rock formations. Look for sea turtles as they poke their heads above the water or follow them as they swim gracefully beneath the surface. Afterward, return to the vessel for lunch. Following lunch, relax on deck and enjoy the scenery as the yacht sails through the Bolivar Channel. You may be lucky and see whales riding the bow waves or dolphins jumping in graceful arcs.
This afternoon disembark at Urbina Bay on Isabela Island and see some surprising evidence of volcanic activity. Four files of coastal seabed were exposed due to a dramatic uplift during an eruption in 1954, and some of the remaining coral skeletons still stand several feet high. A diverse collection of animal species await on the island including Galapagos land iguanas, marine iguanas, Darwin’s finches, brown pelicans, flightless cormorants and the occasional giant Galapagos tortoise. After your visit, return to the vessel for your nightly briefing and dinner. After dessert, step outside and observe the pale glow of the Milky Way. Guests of all ages will enjoy this fun filled evening and maritime ritual – the crew dress as pirates and guest participation is optional.
This morning you’re in for another geological wonder – a visit to Punta Espinoza on Fernandina Island – the youngest and most pristine Island in the Galapagos, formed by active volcanoes that stretch around the coast. There are no introduced animals on the island. Sea lions occupy the beach with resident bulls carefully guarding their territory from potential threats such as sharks. The island is also home to the largest colony of marine iguanas in the archipelago that warm themselves along the rugged shoreline, blending in with the dark rocks. Out on the point, your guide will point out the nests of flightless cormorants, which stay close to shore since they have lost their ability to fly. Take the opportunity to snorkel here, this area is frequented by large sea turtles. Return to the yacht for lunch served on the sundeck and don’t forget to keep an eye out for passing whales.
Enjoy a presentation on Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution, before heading off for your afternoon excursion to Tagus Cove. This fascinating cove was a favourite stopping point for pirates and whalers for centuries, you will see sections of the rocky cliffs are covered in graffiti from as far back as the 1800s. Hike through the beautiful landscape and witness a saltwater lagoon, lava fields and volcanic formations. It is also possible to explore the shoreline of the secluded cove by kayak or paddleboard. There are many animals to see here including Galapagos penguins, boobies, pelicans and other seabirds. Return for dinner. Tonight, the vessel heads towards the geographic centre of the archipelago and cross the equator for the third and final time.
Rabida and Santiago islands
This morning explore the dark red beach of Rabida Island. This small island is considered the geographic centre of the archipelago because its volcanic rocks are the most diversified in the archipelago. Enjoy a short hike that leads you to a saltwater lagoon filled with greater flamingos. Along the way, look for marine iguanas, mockingbirds and yellow warblers and keep your eyes peeled for Darwin’s finches. There are 14 species of finches on the islands – observing them helped Darwin formulate the basis for his theory of evolution. You can also choose to snorkel this morning. You may be able to see sea lions or rays; there are several species of rays that live on the Galapagos, the most common are golden rays and spotted eagle rays.
The itinerary for the remainder of the afternoon will depend on your vessel; but all visitors will enjoy lovely views and some of the Galapagos’ renowned wildlife.
- Theory – Guests visit Puerto Egas on Santiago Island, where you’ll stroll along the shoreline looking for octopus, starfish and other sea life caught in the tide pools. Birdlife is also excellent and there is a chance to see species including great blue herons, lava herons, American oystercatchers and yellow-crowned night herons. At low tide, catch a glimpse of marine iguanas as they feed on exposed green algae. During mating season, green and red algae give the usually black marine iguanas beautiful coloration. The walk ends at the grottos, deep pools of clear water where you can encounter Galapagos fur seals once on the verge of extinction. Before returning to the yacht, take the opportunity to snorkel from the beach.
- Origin – Guests enjoy a Zodiac excursion at Caleta Tortuga Negra (Black Turtle Cove) through a series of peaceful coves and inlets surrounded by mangroves whose large roots rise out of the water. If travelling between September and febuary you may see pairs of mating sea turtles. Possibly sightings also include white-tipped reef sharks and golden cow-nosed rays.
Return to the vessel for the Captain’s Farewell cocktail with the crew. Afterward enjoy dinner and a special presentation by your guides.
Santa Cruz Island
This morning you will wake up to a very different view – a harbour full of boats anchored in Academy Bay. Disembark at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. Bustling with activity, the town has a population of 24,000 residents. This morning you will visit the Fausto Llerena breeding centre and the Charles Darwin Research Station where you will learn about ongoing conservation efforts. The newest exhibit honours Lonesome George, the last surviving tortoise from Pinta Island. With his species now extinct, Lonesome George has become a worldwide icon, emphasising the importance of preserving and protecting endangered wildlife. There’s another story with a happier ending: Diego, a tortoise from the San Diego zoo. Diego brought his species back from the brink of extinction by fathering hundreds of offspring. Afterwards, you will also learn about the history of the settlers of this Island on a guided tour through the streets of Puerto Ayora. You will also get a chance to stroll through town to shop for handmade souvenirs, Ecuadorian chocolate ice cream or coffee grown in the Galapagos. Return to the yacht for lunch.
In the afternoon board a bus for a short ride to a lava tunnel – a hollow formation created when lava on the earth’s surface cools and hardens while molten lava continues to flow in the middle. Your next stop will be Los Gemelos (The Twins), a pair of large, deep craters with vibrant plant life at higher elevation. Lastly, visit a privately-owned hacienda, where giant tortoises roam freely in their natural habitat, feeding or resting in shallow pools. Some weigh in excess of 225 kilograms (500 pounds). You’ll have the option to stay on land for dinner with transfers provided by Zodiac. Your guides or concierge will happily recommend a restaurant. Otherwise, return to the yacht for the usual delicious dinner.
San Cristobal Island
For your last morning in the Galapagos, disembark after breakfast and travel by bus to Cerro Tijeretas (Frigatebird Hill). Here you will come across colonies of both species of frigate birds – Great and Magnificent – lava lizards, medium ground finches and San Cristobal mockingbird. As the perfect way to finish your trip, follow the trail to Punta Carola for a spectacular view. A short bus ride will get you to the airport with plenty of time for check in.
More Galapagos Itineraries
This 15 day/14 night itinerary combines the very best of the southern, north and central islands exploring Floreana, Espanola, San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, South Plaza and North Seymour islands.
Legendary Galapagos – Beaches & Bays
This 7-night itinerary combines the very best of the southern and central islands exploring Floreana, Espanola, San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, South Plaza and North Seymour islands.
Legendary Galapagos – Volcanic Wonders
This 7-night itinerary combines the best of the northern and central islands including Genovesa, Santa Cruz, Isabela, Rabida and Fernandina islands.
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Galapagos Islands Overview
Why travel to the Galapagos Islands?
With its iconic wildlife, unique marine life and beautiful landscapes, the Galapagos Islands are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most fascinating places on Earth to visit.
What can I combine the Galapagos with?
The Galapagos Islands are easily combinable with mainland Ecuador. The country is home to fascinating cultures, beautiful colonial cities, Amazon rainforest experiences and the marvellous Andes Mountains. Alternatively, neighbouring Peru is another popular options. Peru has a handful of superb Amazonian eco-lodges and luxury riverboats, the Sacred Valley of the Incas and of course Machu Picchu – the mesmerising 15th century “Lost City of the Incas”.
How do you get to the Galapagos Islands?
There are daily flights from Ecuador’s two biggest cities – Quito and Guayaquil – to Baltra Island, just off Santa Cruz Island, and to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal Island.
US – Ecuador is very easy to fly to from the United States. There are plenty of direct flights to either Quito or Guayaquil from a number of US cities. Airlines that fly between the countries include United Airlines, American Airlines and Latam Airlines.
UK/Europe – There are a number of countries that operate direct flights into Ecuador from Europe including France and the Netherlands. Alternatively Latam fly to European countries such as Germany and Spain.