15 Days in Ecuador including an 11 day Boat Cruise of the Galapagos Isles
Photographers on Safari have teamed up with a specialist Galapagos travel company that conducts 11 day long and 2 week long Natural History Cruises round the Galapagos Islands on a regular basis. They are extremely experienced in all facets of putting together tailor-made cruises of the highest standard. They don’t offer the “run of the mill” cruises of less than 11 days, as they feel that it is just not enough time to see a true representation of the birds and animals present on the various islands. A short cruise of one week, or less, also prevents you from combining the three most popular parts of the Galapagos. These are the outer islands of Tower, Fernandina and Isabela. Our 11-day cruise itinerary will include all three. All itineraries assigned to each cruiser are pre-determined by the authorities and you are not allowed to deviate from your given program. You will go ashore twice each day on all but two occasions when we are in marine areas. You will be observing and photographing the unique wildlife that led Darwin to his theory of evolution when he visited the Galapagos in 1835, and will be accompanied by an English-speaking guide and also by John & Nadine Wright of Photographers on safari. The guide will have been trained, and ultimately licensed, by the Charles Darwin Research Centre.
Warmer Temperatures & Calmer Seas
The water will be at its warmest in February and it is crystal clear. We have chosen the month of February, as this is the time when the sea is at its most calm. The first question that most prospective customers ask is; “What will the sea be like?” The seas are certainly more rough just two months either side of this cruise when the temperature is cooler. The air temperature will be up to 30 degrees and although our period of time is described as the rainy season, the average monthly rainfall in February is just 2 to 4 inches, the smaller amount being at sea level and the larger amount falling higher up on the islands. Occasional showers are short and sharp (usually less than one hour) and are a small price to pay in return for calm seas.
Tour designed to give you 50% more Full Days Cruising
Our program has a very strong focus on wildlife. A number of things set this tour apart from “the standard” Galapagos tour. First and foremost is the amount of time, 11 days, actually spent cruising round the Galapagos Islands. The vast majority of cruises are 4, 5 or 8 days in total. The more days you spend on the boat, the more diversity and variety you will have the opportunity to photograph. An 8 -day cruise has 6 full days and 2 half days on the boat. This is the typical format included in the majority of the 14 day tours to the Galapagos Isles. Our tour will have 9 full days and 2 half days. This is 50% more full days to explore the wonders of these enchanted islands. Very importantly, it has been designed specifically for photographers by a photographer. I do not think that you will find a Galapagos tour anywhere with an itinerary of less than 2 weeks at sea that will give you more photographic opportunities than this tour will provide.
More Time on the Islands
Next is the amount of time actually spent on the islands. Most boats will offer one or two landings per day of one and a half to two hours each. Our landings will be more typically two and a half to three hours in length, and may even stretch to three and a half hours on occasions. We will do the same trails as the other boats do but we will take our time and linger in order to photograph the wildlife and capture their various behavioural traits. It will not be unusual to see groups land after us, pass us, and then leave while we are still savouring some intimate moments with our chosen subjects. We do, however, tend to take the routes round the islands in a reverse direction to most other groups. This means that we will not be competing for the same viewing area and will not find ourselves stuck behind another group.
More Quality Time on the Islands
The timing of our landings is also crucial. We will land much earlier in the mornings, and leave much later in the evenings than most groups. Our aim is to catch the peak times for animal activity, and also to make the best use of the available light. Wildlife is more active either side of the hotter parts of the day so we will land close to 7am, whereas most boats will not arrive until some time between 8 and 8.30am. Similarly, in the afternoons most boats depart at 5pm and we will stay until close to the 6pm limit for staying on an island. Far better to be taking pictures of the wildlife at sunset than relaxing on board watching the sun go down with a gin and tonic in hand. We can do the gin and tonic bit later. It is particularly important to arrive early when looking to view turtles nesting. In 2013 we successfully photographed this activity and watched the turtles return to the sea before any other group arrived.
Snorkelling, Kayaking & Star Gazing
We will have an amount of free time each day between morning and afternoon visits to the islands, typically somewhere between four and five hours. Some of this time will be taken up travelling from location to location. Usually these will be relatively short journeys. Some time will also be needed to download and review your photos. There will be an optional snorkelling session on most days. The boat has its own basic snorkel gear that it will loan to all participants. In 2013 most of the participants took part in this activity and found it fairly easy to get some reasonable quality close-up shots in these waters with very basic equipment and little knowledge. The snorkelling sessions were very addictive and some members said that that were the highlight of the whole trip. They snorkelled with many shoals of colourful fish, turtles, sea lions and plankton-eating sharks. There are also double kayaks available for guest use. Star gazing is 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.
Click here for more Photos from this Galapagos Cruise
Typical Daily Itinerary
05.15 Wake up call
06.30 On shore for up to 4 hours
13.00 Free time; Activities may include; Downloading and reviewing images, Kayaking, Snorkelling for a second time, or simply relaxing on the boat.
15.00 On shore until sunset (approx 18.00)
18.00 Return to boat
20.00 Downloading and reviewing images
Top Naturalist Guide & Photographic Tuition
You will be escorted throughout by myself and by a top naturalist guide who has, very importantly, previously worked with photographers. He will be a hand picked guide rather than the normal contract guide assigned to the boat by the authorities. He will understand our photographic needs and will endeavour to get us in the best locations at the right time. He will offer relevant information on our subjects while making sure we do not fall foul of the National Park rules. I will be there to help with photographic needs and will make time available each day to look at a selection of your photographs. I will offer a gentle critique, plus any relevant advice that might help to improve your photography. The boat has all the power you will need for viewing laptops and recharging batteries etc.
The 125 ft, steel-hulled TIP TOP IV was built in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in 2006.The design includes all modern navigation instrumentation and safety features. She has a crew of 8 and carries up to 16 passengers in 10 air-conditioned double cabins (all with two lower twin berths, which can be arranged together to create a larger berth), each with a private bathroom and hot shower. The interior is very attractive, and features a library/ conference room and a spacious dining room. There are extensive outside viewing (sun/shade) areas, all with very comfortable, cushioned lounge chairs. Twin diesels give her a cruising speed of 12 knots. Shore landings are made via twin 17-foot inflatable zodiacs. There is also a desalination water making system on-board. There are 8 double kayaks available for guest use, as well as basic snorkel gear to loan.
Click here for Trip Report for Galapagos Cruise 2013
Detailed Itinerary for 2018
January 24: The trip begins in Quito, Ecuador. On arrival, you will be transferred directly to the Hotel Mercure Alameda where we will spend the night. Our agents think very highly of this hotel and say that, of the finer hotels in Quito, it has the most personal service. The quality of the food here is outstanding. Meals on your own. Overnight Quito; Hotel Mercure Alameda.
January 25; 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. You may simply choose to unwind and have a day of relaxation to recover from your international flight. 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
January 26: After breakfast, we board a morning flight to Baltra Island in the Galápagos on Tame Airlines. Upon arrival we will be transferred to our yacht, the M/Y TIP TOP IV, waiting for us in the harbour. This afternoon we will begin our program of shore excursions 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 frigate birds in the Galápagos. Both marine and land iguanas are found in good numbers here, and sea lions often surf the rocky shore break. This island is an amazing start to your visit to the Galapagos Islands. You will be blown away by the close proximity of most subjects.
January 27; TOWER – 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 favourite islands). Depending on conditions we often will have a chance to snorkel and kayak within the bay. Darwin Bay is an anchorage within a caldera, with surrounding cliffs forming the inner portion of the rim. After landing on the small beach we find a forest of salt bush where adjacent colonies of great frigate birds and red-footed boobies nest. There are two endemic gull species found in Galápagos; lava gulls and swallow-tailed gulls – both frequently nest here. An afternoon 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 frigate birds fly overhead in their endless piratical pursuits. On shore a forest of dwarf palo santo trees is home to a colony of red-footed 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.
January 28: SANTIAGO – 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. In 2013 we found that we took more photographs at this venue than anywhere else. the photo opportunities are both amazing and endless. it was here that we first encounter the amazingly colourful Sally Lightfoot Crabs. SANTIAGO – Playa Espumilla is a golden sandy beach where sea turtles nest, and ghost crabs and wading birds abound. Beyond the mangroves that frame the beach lie saline lagoons; further in you can find some of the 10 finches that inhabit Santiago, along with the vermillion and broad-billed flycatchers. A walk to the Salt Mine focuses on the human history of the islands, likewise a afternoon 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.
January 29: ISABELA – 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. We encountered in excess of 200 dolphins in 2013 and later saw a number of Mola Mola (large sunfish) from our panga boat ride. Punta Vicente Roca is a marine site and there is no opportunity to land this morning, but the panga ride round the rocks produces some great photographs. 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.
January 30: ISABELA – Tagus Cove is a natural harbor featuring steep cliffs replete with graffiti carved or painted into the face by ship’s crews dating as far back as 1836. The cliffs are populated by marine iguanas, penguins, crabs, sea lions, and in the crevices outside the bay, brown noddy terns abound. Galápagos Martins are often found here. An interior trail leads to the tuff cone salt crater; Darwin Lake. Ground and tree finches, hawks, yellow warblers, large-billed flycatchers and perhaps the woodpecker finch can be viewed along the way. Elizabeth Bay is a mangrove inlet explored by zodiac, with an amazing concentration of green sea turtles and rays. It is our second marine site of the itinerary and all photography on this afternoon is done from the panga. the waters are extremely calm as we make our way up a narrow inlet to where a small colony of penguins nest. The neighboring Marielas Islets are home to the largest colony of Galápagos Penguins, with penguins often seen in the water here.
January 31: ISABELA • In 1954, Urvina Bay was the site of a dramatic volcanic uplift, where 4 miles of coastline suddenly rose nearly 15 feet with the coastline driven three quarters of a mile further 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. • Situated against a backdrop of 3 volcanos, Punta Moreno features views of Isabela’s Sierra Negra & Cerro Azul, and Fernandina’s Le Cumbre. The trail traverses sharp Pahoehoe lava to verdant interior and coastal brackish lagoons. You’ll find all 3 types of cactus – lava, candelabra, and prickly pear – colonizing this relatively recent lava flow. The shoreline features Blue-Footed Boobies and nesting Flightless Cormorants while the lagoons are home to White-Cheeked Pintail Ducks and Flamingos feeding on abundant brine shrimp.
February 1: FLOREANA – 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. Snorkelling at the offshore islet of champion (where you might also get a glimpse of the endemic Charles Mockingbird on shore). 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”. Black Beach & the Highlands – while not official park visitor sites, both are rewarding. Much of the early human history of the Galápagos, and especially the Wittmer family, played out in the highlands of Floreana. A visit to the highlands is also your only opportunity in the archipelago to search for the endemic medium tree finch. The seaside Wittmer hotel features an exhibit of early photographs of sailing expeditions and explorers to call on the island.
February 2: SANTA CRUZ – 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, dark-billed 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 centre.
We spend the afternoon here. It is a wonderful place and you can take great shots of captive tortoises and Iguanas. Different species of wild finches and flycatchers populate the bushes as we go round the centre.
February 3: 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 colourful in the islands) all vying for centre stage. Gardner Bay is a tranquil white sandy beach known for sea lions, 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.
February 4: SAN CRISTOBAL is the easternmost island in the archipelago (and also the provincial capital). Our morning destination is Punta Pitt. This is the only site on the Galapagos Islands where you can see three species of Boobies and two species of Frigate Birds nesting on the same island. Following a steep climb you will have some great opportunities for some landscape photography. Kicker Rock is our second destination this morning. It is a similarly eroded tuff cone, this time 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 frigate birds). It is here that you will possibly have your best snorkelling experience. In 2013 we swam with turtles and a few metres above no less than 200 plankton eating sharks. Cerro Brujo is a very striking, eroded tuff cone. One of the first places visited by Charles Darwin, the beautiful white coraline sand beach and lagoon are home to brown pelicans, blue-footed boobies and swallow-tailed gulls, plus a variety of shore birds. Stroll the beach and you will soon realize that you are being watched by hundreds of shy ghost crabs. San Cristóbal is also home to the endemic Chatham Mockingbird.
February 5: MOSQUERA – This is a tiny islet, really more of a long, narrow sand spit, with a huge population of sea lions. Additional occupants include Sally Lightfoot Crabs and lava lizards, plus a wonderful variety of birdlife flying over. Landings here are tide-dependant, and we may be forced to opt for a pre-breakfast panga ride along the shores of Espanola Island. BALTRA – Transfer to the airport for your mid-morning return flight to Quito, Ecuador. This evening we will enjoy a typical Ecuadorian dinner in one of the city’s leading restaurants. Overnight Quito; Hotel Mercure Alameda.
February 6; After your cruise Photographers on Safari have decided to include an extra day in Quito to allow you to unwind and to prepare yourself for your long journey home. You are free to explore the city of Quito or to do absolutely nothing if that is what you prefer. Overnight Quito; Hotel Mercure Alameda.
February 7;After breakfast transfer to the airport for your return flight home. Or you may choose to remain on in Ecuador for a few days exploring the High Andes, Amazon Basin, or tropical cloud forests…
Dates; January 24 – February 7 2018
To avoid confusion due to the volatility of exchange rates this tour has been priced in US dollars.
The appropriate US dollar – UK pound conversion rates will be applied when payments are transferred.
$9250.00 – Bookings now being taken.
All accommodation, including 4 nights in a First Class hotel in Quito Ecuador and 10 nights aboard the yacht in the Galápagos.
All meals and non-alcoholic beverages aboard the yacht and meals in Quito where specified.
All transfers to and from airports in Quito and the Galápagos.
The services of an experienced 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 $360 per person (subject to change*)
Extensive pre-departure materials, including a copy of our guidebook, A Traveler’s Guide to the Galápagos Islands.
Any airfare. Aerogal Airlines Quito/Galápagos return flights are currently approximately $650.
International flights (London to Quito) approximately £625 for Jan 2014.
Galápagos National Park entrance fee ($100 per person),
Galapagos Tourist/Migration Card ($20 per person),
International Departure Tax from Ecuador ($41 per person),
Gratuities to Naturalist Guide or Crew of the yacht,
Baggage/Trip Cancellation/Evacuation insurance,
Passport or Visa fees (none are currently needed for US, UK or Canadian citizens),
Optional local tours in Mainland Ecuador,
Meals in Quito where not specified
Items of a personal nature, such as room service, telephone or fax calls, and souvenirs.
Booking this Holiday
Photographers On Safari must pay non recoverable deposits for all berths required on the yacht several months in advance. It is vital that any interested persons make their intentions known as soon as possible to secure their places on this trip of a lifetime. The final balance is due 120 days prior to departure. There is already a huge interest in this holiday and bookings are now being taken. Secure your place ASAP by paying a deposit of £1000. This is non refundable. Places may be booked (subject to availability) at any time prior to departure.
Optional Add-on to Bellavista Cloud Forest
In 2015 70% of the group greatly enjoyed 4 days photographing Hummingbirds plus a few other species. Depending upon our chosen location, there were anything from 10 to 50 hummingbirds in view at any one time. These birds are fearless and will fly within inches of your face while travelling between feeders and flowers. This is a “no frills” extension costing around £700.00. There is a whole page of photographs from Bellavista (last page) in the Galapagos Photo Gallery. See the link below. This add-on will run immediately prior to the Galapagos Cruise.
Click here for Hummingbird photos
Contact us to book…