Day One – Baltra (AM) and North Seymour Island
We are finally there. It only took 45 years for me to finally make the decision to set foot on the Galapagos Isles. It is a location that has always been second or third on my to-do list. For some reason I have always found another destination that appealed slightly more. How wrong was my decision making for all those years. I will definitely be back to repeat this amazing experience as soon as possible. Read below to discover why these islands have been definitely promoted to number one on my to-do list.
We landed at the airport on Baltra Island at 10am. Bus transfer to the harbour – had to stop for an Iguana crossing the road and also saw our first Frigatebird and numerous Brown Noddies before we even reached the harbour. We all became very excited and were desperate to see more.
Transferred in Pangas (inflatable dinghies) to our home for the next 11 days –a beautiful cruiser named Tip Top IV.
Day One – North Seymour Island (PM)
Welcome aboard, safety chat and lunch as we sailed to North Seymour for our first island walk. Dry Landing. As we landed we were greeted by Sea Lions and huge numbers of Sally Lightfoot crabs on the rocks. Started to walk around the island stopping to photograph Galapagos Land Iguanas, Marine Iguanas, Galapagos Lava Lizards, Blue Footed Boobies (saw male and female dancing as a prelude to mating, the female kept taking off and then coming back in feet first!) Great Frigatebirds flying around collecting sticks for nesting and sitting on eggs – males sit too. The Frigatebirds were feeding and the ‘shouting’ chicks were very loud. Saw the male Magnificent Frigatebirds displaying by puffing up their balloon-like pouches to attract females. Some were flying while still displaying their blood-red inflated “balloon”. Also Yellow Warbler, Small Ground Finch, Galapagos Shearwater, Brown Noddy and Galapagos Doves. Sea lions and their babies on the beach as we made our way back to the boat at around 6pm – all of us very excited after a wonderful introduction to our first Galapagos Island!!!
Day Two – Tower Island – Darwin Bay (AM)
Up at 5.15am – breakfast at 5.45am – on Panga and away at 6.30am – wet landing. All landings will be described as either wet or dry. A dry landing is one where we step directly off the Panga onto a dry rock. A wet landing is one when we step off the side of the boat into shallow sea-water that is maybe just a little over knee deep. We typically wear plastic sandals until we reach dry land and then change into dry walking shoes.
Landed on Darwin Bay – small sandy cove – pretty, lots of dark lava rock where the birds perched or nested. Saw Red-Footed Boobies. They nest in the mangrove bushes to protect their nests from marauding Frigatebirds (both Great and Magnificent). Swallow Tailed Gulls – they have a bright red fleshy rim around each eye, and lots of Swallow Tailed Gull chicks. There were also Lava Gulls, flying or wading in the inlet. A Yellow Crowned Night Heron stood very still in the rocks. Vampire Finches – when food is scarce they peck Boobies’ feet to draw blood to get protein. Saw our first Mockingbirds as we landed on the beach. They were not at all afraid of us and came right up to where we stood. Green Warbler-Finches in the bushes. Weather grey, then began raining so back to boat. Just a brief shower and half of party went snorkelling. Saw Oceanic White-tip Sharks and large shoals of very colourful Surgeonfish.
Day Two – Tower Island – Prince Phillips Steps (PM)
Panga ride to base of Prince Philips Steps. Dry Landing. Steep climb up cliff face using steps carved into rock. Lots of nesting Red Footed Boobies. A Lot of chicks ranging from just hours old – very fluffy – to ones nearly ready to leave the nests. Watched the parents busily feeding the chicks with regurgitated food. Lots of cover – small trees. Then out onto the open to lava topped cliffs – saw Mockingbirds fighting. Various Finches and a juvenile Crown Headed Night Heron. Lovely Short Eared Owl in some rocks next to the path. Stayed there for more than 30 minutes. Three Frigatebirds were attacking and taking food from a Booby. Here we saw both the Blue Footed Boobies and the Nazca (Masked) Boobies, making three different Booby species photographed on one island. Galapagos Doves and some male Frigatebirds with inflated red pouches were perching low down in trees. The Red Billed Tropicbird is an extremely beautiful bird that has a long flowing tail that undulates as it flies. Absolutely stunning!!!. We saw Marine Iguanas on the cliff tops. When we were back on the boat, we took a trip along the base of the cliffs and saw Fur Seals on the rocks and in the water. Lots of Sally Lightfoot Crabs, various Herons, Shearwaters and Storm Petrels.
Day Three – Santiago Island – James Bay/ Puerto Egas (AM)
Wet landing – straight onto fine shingle beach. Lots of Marine Iguanas and Sally Lightfoot Crabs which we photographed in that special early morning light. The combination of the light and the subjects was so special that everybody was reluctant to move on. We walked up a path and straight onto a beautiful white sandy beach. Black lava rock made a beautiful contrast. Sea Lions with Marine Iguanas. Saw a young sea lion (they don’t have teeth until they are around six months) continually biting and pulling at Iguanas’ tails. Very funny! The Sally Lightfoot Crabs looked stunning against the black rocks. They constantly shed their shells as they get bigger. They were crawling over the iguanas which spat at them when they got annoyed. Saw Brown Pelicans and a Galapagos Haws flying and fishing. Kept walking along this beach – stopping to take photos all the time. This beach area was amazing. There was so much going on here. The various rock pools and crashing waves gave us endless photo opportunities. Our guide’s decision to move on was totally vindicated. So much to watch and look at. Sea Lions playing in a pool – then a turtle joined them. Yellow Warbler on the rocks. Saw a pair of American Oyster Catchers with a young chick. Small Ground Finch cleaning Iguanas and a Ruddy Turnstone also cleaning Iguanas. We were told that it is quite rare to see them doing that. Lots of spray from the waves was crashing over the Iguanas on the rocks at the water’s edge. Started to walk back via an inland pathway. A Galapagos Flycatcher landed on a camera lens and even spent some time inside the lens-hood trying to scare off its own reflection. Finally, saw a large group of Blue-Footed Boobies and chicks and a Whimbrel eating a crab before embarking our Pangas to return to our cruiser. When snorkelling we saw Sharks, Turtles, a Manta Ray and lots of Sea Lions.
Day Three – Santiago Island – Playa Espumilla/Salt Mine/Buccaneer Cove (PM)
Decided to re-schedule our afternoon. Playa Espumilla had recently been invaded by some very aggressive wasps so we opted to either spend the afternoon photographing from a Panga or to go kayaking in Buccaneer Cove. Six of us chose the kayaking the rest going the Panga ride – during which they saw Brown Noddies, Lava Herons on rocks, Brown Pelicans with young, and an impressive display of diving Blue Footed Boobies. There were some amazing rock formations – notably the Praying Monk and the Elephant – where the kayakers joined them. Kayakers saw (right up to the canoe) a juvenile turtle, Manta Rays, Sea Lions and diving Boobies. The second Panga accompanied us, and we managed to kayak about 2 miles along the cove until we finally saw our cruiser and the other Panga – phew!!
Day Four – Isabela Island – Punta Vicente Roca (AM)
Punta Vicente Roca is located at the mouth of the “sea horse’s head” that forms northern Isabela. It is a marine site that is home to an abundance of ocean life. No landings were scheduled this morning, so we delayed breakfast to stay with a huge pod of dolphins we found at first light (6.30 am). We were all either up on the very top deck or one of the others to photograph this amazing sight – literally hundreds of them jumping out of the silvery water into the low sunlight. We stayed with them for about half an hour and then had a later breakfast before taking a Panga ride at 8.15.
We saw Blue Footed Boobies diving – several Mola Molas (giant sun-fish), head and fins exposed above the water, Turtles, Sea Lions and Iguanas either climbing the cliffs or swimming in the water below. Brown Noddies were feeding on a shoal of tiny fish close to the water’s surface. Saw some Penguins on the rocks or swimming around and also Flightless Cormorants. Snorkelers later saw Turtles, Yellow Tailed Surgeonfish and lots of little colourful fish.
Day Four – Fernandina Island – Punta Espinosa (PM)
Dry landing, lots of Sally Lightfoot crabs and Iguanas. Lots of in-species spitting and fighting was going on amongst Iguanas. They were swimming in low level creeks, often toward us. We saw a Galapagos Snake in the rocks and small Lava Lizards standing up to clean Iguanas’ faces. There were several Flightless Cormorants -a male was seen bringing in seaweed to try to impress his lady! Great Grey Heron standing in the mirror-like water of a secluded pool, Turtles in the same area swimming very close to us. A Lava Heron was perched on a branch as we made our way back to where we were to meet our Pangas. We saw a Yellow Warbler taking a bedtime bath in a little pool in the rocks.
Day Five – Isabela Island – Tagus Cove and Urvina Bay (AM)
We chose to omit Tagus Cove from our itinerary as it is a landscape-only opportunity. This gave us more time at Urvina Bay. Wet landing onto a beach. There were a few turtles on the beach and some eggs were on the shoreline, which were really soft to the touch. These had been dug up by turtles using an already occupied nest to lay their eggs. An unfortunate occurrence that happens regularly. Food for birds and sea-life is their only function now. Easy walk through bushes. Then suddenly we saw our first Tortoise – much bigger than you could imagine! Then a few more, all of varying ages and all equally impressive. We stood on lava rocks that had formed over huge lava tunnels. Our guide told us to jump up and down on these, and it was clear to all from the echoes beneath our feet that the rocks were hollow. As we were walking we saw a Galapagos Flycatcher, Large Ground Finch, Mockingbirds nesting, and on the way back Land Iguanas warming themselves in the early sun – they don’t like to come out before the sun is warming up! We saw more Tortoises on the way back and spent some time lying on the ground getting good low-down shots of them. Snorkelling produced Turtles, Manta Rays and lots of small fish in large shoals.
Day Five – Isabela Island – Elizabeth Bay (PM)
No landing this afternoon but instead a spectacular Panga ride to mangrove swamps – calm inlets from the sea. We saw a juvenile Striated Heron, Turtles and several fish, very close and clear in the shallow waters. Good to photograph. We saw a Penguin chick and mum on some rocks and others were calling from inside the mangrove. Then we headed out to sea to some lava rocks for some action shots of Pelicans diving while Magnificent Frigatebirds and Great Frigatebirds flew overhead. Some were dive-bombing a number of Flightless Cormorants with eggs or even chicks to protect. It made a great spectacle. Marine Iguanas were also on the rocks and swimming in the sea around us. Blue Footed Boobies were also perched on some of the lava rocks nearby.
Day Six – Isabela – Sierra Negra Volcano (AM)
Dry landing. We drove from the port of Villamil to the rim of the Volcano. Fog enshrouded the 11 mile wide caldera (volcanic crater) so we decided to change plans and try to track down the rare Vermilion Flycatcher. We walked up and down a tree and bush lined country lane and luckily managed to see and photograph both male and female. The male had a beautiful red head and breast – the female was plain! After taking hundreds of photos we left them to go to the Sucre Cave, a short walk down then though and out. On our way back down the volcano we spent more time with a second pair of Vermilion Flycatchers. We were extremely lucky to have some quality time with these striking subjects. Drove back to the port and back to the boat for lunch.
Day Six – Isabela – Villamil (PM)
We went back to Villamil and drove to the visitor centre. We stopped to take photos of Flamingos in the disused salt mines. We then visited the Tortoise Breeding Centre where they had numerous hatchlings and adults up to 85 years old. They breed them here and release them when old enough to survive the rats that gobble up all of the baby Tortoises. Only the eggs that are taken to this centre now survive. Those left in the wild are all eaten, so this centre’s survival is paramount to the continued existence of Tortoises in the Galapagos. We then had 2 hours free time in the town of Villamil. Some found an internet café to catch up with emails. Others went on the beach, swimming right where a pelican was diving and fishing! Others chose to photograph birdlife on the optional walk from the visitor centre to the village, and were rewarded with pictures of Black Winged Stilts, Pin Tailed Ducks, Sanderling, Wandering Tattler, Whimbrel, Little Ringed Plover, Frigatebirds, Lava Gulls, and Red Throated Lizards.
Day Seven – Floreana – Punta Cormorant (AM)
Wet landing. We didn’t waste time here – we were first on the island and headed straight to a bay on the far side of the island. There were saw lots of Turtle tracks heading back into the sea, but there was still one female laying her eggs. She was high up on the beach in the soft sand and we could see her flippers working away on the sand covering her eggs. When she was satisfied with her efforts she started her long journey back to the sea. It was hard going for her – Turtles do not like being on land. We spent a long time photographing her ‘long walk’ back and all cheered when she finally slipped into the waves and swam away, her job done. It was patently obvious that she was absolutely exhausted as the waves crashed over her. It was an extremely moving experience for the group to have witnessed this rare event. The entire group saw this single event as one of the highlights of the trip. Afterwards we retraced our steps stopping to photograph the scenery across an inlet lake with flamingos – seen at a distance. And just to illustrate the reason for our early landing times each morning, a large group of travellers from another boat arrived to begin their Turtle viewing just as we were getting back into our Pangas. All the Turtles had gone !!!!!!!!!!!!!
Later we had a really good snorkelling session – Sharks, a Manta Ray, Turtles and Sea Lions playing with us and swimming alongside us to see what we were up to!!
Day Seven – Floreana – Post Office Bay & Highlands/Black Beach (PM)
We made a short visit to Post Office Bay. Since the 18th century whalers have kept a wooden barrel here that served as post office so that mail could be picked up and delivered to their destination, mainly Europe and the United States by ships on their way home. Cards and letters are still placed in the barrel without any postage stamps. Visitors sift through the letters and cards in order to deliver them by hand on their return to their native country. Some of our group took cards to deliver to previous visitors and some have since received cards that they themselves left in the barrel. Quite amazing.
We did not follow the remaining itinerary for this afternoon. One of our party was ill and the unanimous decision was made to sail straight to Santa Cruz – where we could seek medical help. The lady was unwell when she first arrived in Ecuador and unfortunately her trip ended here.
Day Eight – Santa Cruz – Puerto Ayora & The Highlands (AM)
Leisurely start this morning – taking the Pangas across to Puerto Ayora, where we met our transport for our trip to the Highlands. Dry landing. We stopped on the way to buy packets of local coffee and then continued our journey up and up through green scenic countryside. We walked a route through woods to see the rare Woodpecker Finch and also the Tree Finch and Ground Finch. We saw a Yellow Flycatcher and several Smooth Billed Anis. We then drove onto a Tortoise Farm where they are allowed to roam free – we walked to find them and take photos of them wandering around feeding in their natural habitat. Driving on we stopped for lunch at a lovely rural place where we appeared to be up in the trees. Lots of birds flying about while, as a special treat, we were served with rum based fruit juices!!
Day Eight – Santa Cruz – Puerto Ayora – The Darwin Centre (PM)
We moved onto the famous Darwin Centre – where there were more Tortoises being kept before release. There are considerable numbers of Tortoises here from each of the islands where Tortoises live. Several enclosures offer good natural backgrounds. In the trees and surrounding bushes we saw a Cactus Finch, Tree Finches, a Medium Finch, Yellow Warblers and a Large Finch. There are also enclosures with various Iguanas. It is an extremely interesting place to visit and one that offers plenty of photo opportunities of a large variety of different species. We then took a look around the shops, walking back into town at a leisurely pace before meeting and joining the Pangas and returning to our boat for dinner.
Day Nine – Espanola – Punta Suarez (AM)
Dry Landing. We went straight to a lovely small bay. A Galapagos Hawk was perched up high watching us. There were Lava Lizards, Sea Lions, Iguanas, Mockingbirds, Swallow Tailed Gulls with Frigatebirds continually dive bombing them to try to steal their catch. We walked up until we were on the top of the cliffs. We were lucky to see one last remaining Waved Albatross chick on the island. It was sitting waiting patiently for its parents to return from feeding out at sea. All the other Albatrosses had already fledged and left. We saw the beautiful Red Billed Tropicbird fly back and forth. Some of us got some amazing photos of this stunning bird. As we walked back across the cliff-top we saw nesting Boobies, Galapagos Doves and Mockingbirds plus lots of Lava Lizards running amongst the rocks. We went back to the cruiser where some of our group swam off the back of it amongst fish that were playing around the boat. We sailed whist we were having lunch and then snorkelled later at Gardner Bay where we saw shoals of Surgeon Fish, a Manta Ray and Galapagos Sharks.
Day Nine – Espanola – Gardner Bay (PM)
This afternoon we experienced our one and only session of heavy rain. Almost the entire group took the opportunity to recharge their body-batteries and to enjoy a relaxed afternoon aboard the boat. An extensive review of all photographers’ photos was completed and various Photoshop techniques were demonstrated. Only one stalwart went on the Panga to the beach. Wet landing (in more ways than one!). Needless to say that he was rewarded with some quite unique and really dramatic images of Sea Lions and other subjects on the beach and on the inky-black volcanic rocks.
Day Ten – San Cristobel – Punta Pitt and Kicker Rock (AM)
Wet landing. Sea Lions on the beach before taking a steep walk up the hill. We photographed landscapes from various view-points. There were Boobies on nests, Lava Lizards and we also saw a Red Billed Tropicbird. Frigatebirds were circling high above. Some Iguanas were coming out of their crevices as the sun warmed the sand around them. There was a lot of green and red scrub which looked pretty on the rock. We returned to the cruiser and moved off to Kicker Rock where we had an amazing final snorkelling session. There were sheer rock walls disappearing into the depths either side of a narrow channel which we swam down. There were the usual shoals of colourful fish, Manta Rays and a few Turtles. However, what was different this time was the amount of sharks we saw, over two hundred we guessed – a huge school of them below us swimming slowly feeding on the plankton as they went. An amazing sight that we will all remember for the rest of our lives!
Day Ten – San Cristobel – Cerro Brujo (PM)
Wet landing onto a really pretty beach (long and wide) with soft white sand. Lots of Sally Lightfoot Crabs and then we saw our first Ghost Crabs. They, as their name suggests, are almost transparent and they run sideways at high speed when disturbed. They disappear down tiny holes in the sand if you approach too close. Wait a few moments and they soon re-appear. We spent quite a while being entertained by these guys. There were several female Sea Lions nursing their very young pups a little further down the beach. Some people chose to swim in the sea while the majority continued with their photography. Pelicans were fishing very close to the shore and provided some great diving shots. The highlight was a pair of Oystercatchers with a tiny chick that could only be a couple of days old. They allowed us to photograph them from about ten metres away and carried on feeding as if we were not there. A male Frigatebird flew overhead and was chased off by the very noisy and proud father. It is quite incredible to think that such a small bird can chase off such a large and usually aggressive opponent. There were a number of other smaller shore birds working the edge of the sea to harvest anything that was washed up in the surf.
Day Eleven – North Seymour (AM)
This was our last day! We had spent time packing the previous evening and there was only time for a Panga ride around the cliffs of North Seymour Island. We had planned to land on Mosquera Island, but a low tide meant that this was not possible. North Seymour was beautiful in the early morning slightly misty sunshine. We photographed many different seabirds on the cliffs before breakfast and heading off on the final leg of our voyage back to Baltra harbour. We said our “goodbyes” to our guide (she was amazing and worked really hard to give us extra quality time ashore whenever possible) and the wonderful crew. Transport to the airport and our flight back to Quito.