"If you love nature, close encounters with birds, seals, tortoises and flamingos (to name a few) and would enjoy staying on a luxurious yacht with all the amenities in one of the most unique and beautiful places on earth, this trip is for you! Photo ops were phenomenal, good times and memories outstanding!"
Participants see virtually all of the famous Galápagos wildlife specialties, and photograph many of the incredible and unique life forms that captivated Charles Darwin. One of the great joys of a visit to these islands is the remarkably unwary seabirds, which include such photogenic favorites as the red-footed, blue-footed and Nazca boobies, as well as the flamboyant magnificent frigatebirds with their scarlet throat pouches and aerial acrobatics. These birds of the open ocean allow human approach within a few yards during courtship and breeding. In addition there are elegant swallow-tailed gulls, handsome waved albatrosses, red-billed tropicbirds and flocks of resplendent American flamingos in their feathered finery.
Our extended tour includes the less-visited western side of the archipelago where we photograph, and possibly snorkel with, endearing Galápagos penguins and comical flightless cormorants—both of which are rare endemics of the archipelago. The islands are also home to those marvels of evolution, "Darwin's finches," as well as lumbering giant tortoises, marine and land iguanas, colorful Sally Lightfoot crabs and abundant sea lions with their doe-eyed pups. Each island is its own microcosm, different from but integrally linked to, the others of the group.
Our comprehensive schedule is arranged for early morning and late afternoon photography—the best times for observing and photographing animals. Whenever possible between morning and afternoon shooting sessions, we take time to snorkel in the coastal waters of the islands, searching for green sea turtles and enjoying the myriad coral reef fishes that bejewel the clear, warm waters.
We have timed the trip to coincide with one of Nature's busiest seasons in the islands. Spring is the time when warm weather, calm seas, blue skies and occasional showers combine to stimulate elaborate courtship displays in the birds, and cloak the desert landscape in greenery and flowers. It is the perfect season to capture a multitude of memorable images and the perfect season to relax and enjoy the tropical Pacific.
This voyage has been designed as our Galápagos dream trip. Most trips to the islands are a week in length and confine themselves to the eastern half of the archipelago. These days, popular landing sites have restricted access to make the nature experience a wilder one. Therefore, on weeklong trips, many of the best photo locations may be excluded from an eastern-oriented itinerary to cut down on visitor traffic. Our route and landing permissions take us to all the best visitor sites in the east, but also include Fernandina Island and the western shore of Isabela. In addition to the penguins and cormorants we see there, the area offers great opportunities to shoot American flamingos and rugged volcanic landscapes. We go where the majority of tourists never go and see the islands as they really should be seen—with a small group, at a relaxed pace, and on a new and comfortable boat.
Join us for this exceptional opportunity to photograph all of the extraordinary wildlife of the Galápagos, without sacrificing time to relax, snorkel and get a true "sense of place."
For more information on this trip, check out the 2016 Galápagos Trip Report by Joe Van Os.
Day 1 (June 6)
Depart home for Quito, Ecuador. Arrive in late evening and transfer to our hotel.
Following breakfast, a relaxed city tour of Quito provides opportunities to photograph regal metropolitan landscapes and pleasing architectural details in this beautiful colonial city nestled in the slopes of the Andes at 9,200 feet. Those who would like to rest in lieu of the city tour can meet the group for dinner at our hotel. (B, L on city tour, D)
Fly to San Cristóbal Island in the Galápagos, complete national park formalities and embark our comfortable vessel. This afternoon we make our first photography landing in the archipelago. (B, L on the plane, D and all meals aboard ship)
We have 14 days to photograph at the following productive sites:
Kicker Rock (Spanish: León Dormido—Sleeping Lion)
The remains of an eroded lava cone, two towering basalt monoliths rise 500 feet out of the sea—an excellent location for sunset photography.
Santa Fe Island
Santa Fe Island From a picturesque anchorage the land rises quickly to a high, rolling interior of eroded lava. Many birds nests here, but of particular interest are Galápagos hawks, Galápagos mockingbirds and Galápagos doves. A colony of sea lions provides constant entertainment. Walking inland rewards us with attractive scenery and a cactus forest—and a photo opportunity with the large endemic Santa Fe land iguanas. We snorkel the island's rocky shallows for their many fish and close underwater views of sea lions and, possibly, sea turtles.
Santa Cruz Island
From the dock at Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, we have two options—drive into the highlands or visit the town and Charles Darwin Research Station.
In the highlands we explore the lush scalesia forests—the favorite haunt of vermillion flycatchers—investigate volcanic craters and lava tubes, and visit a tortoise reserve to photograph these charismatic animals in the wild.
In the small city of Puerto Ayora, we spend time at the Charles Darwin Research Station, which plays a major role in the environmental monitoring of the archipelago. We see rearing pens for several species of giant tortoises from the different islands and have a chance to photograph the large reptiles at close range. We usually end the day on Santa Cruz in town with time to shop before returning to our vessel for dinner.
South Plaza and North Seymour Islands
The Plaza Islands are flat, gently-tilted, lava fault blocks uplifted from beneath the sea. Our visit is particularly interesting because of several hundred land iguanas that live there among the island's giant cacti. Our landing beach is a whelping area for sea lions, and the steep wind-blown cliffs along the southern coast are one of the best locations in the islands to photograph flying red-billed tropicbirds with their elegant streaming tail feathers.
North Seymour is another uplifted island that is quite flat. The island is home to a large population of magnificent frigatebirds. We should see the frenzied displays of courting males, and the nest-building antics and thievery of their neighbors. In the open areas, blue-footed boobies perform their slow-motion courtship dance, and on the cliff edges elegant swallow-tailed gulls roost and loaf. Despite tremendous crashing surf on the outer shore, sea lions haul out onto the beach and are joined by marine iguanas.
Genovesa Island is the summit of a partially submerged volcano and circular caldera which has been breached by the sea. Gentle slopes covered with sprawling Opuntia cacti and silvery palo santo trees rise 200 feet above the rugged shoreline. We go ashore at dawn to explore a coral-covered beach and tidal lagoons. This is the best spot in the islands to photograph great frigatebirds, yellow-crowned night herons and swallow-tailed gulls, as well as lava gulls. With a total population of just 400 pairs, the sooty-plumaged lava gull is the rarest gull in the world. In the afternoon we climb the spectacular cliffs of the caldera and hike through a palo santo forest, photographing Nazca and red-footed boobies, Galápagos doves and mockingbirds. There are at least four kinds of Darwin's finches and there is the possibility of finding the endemic race of the elusive short-eared owl.
Bartolomé Island, Sullivan Bay
Bartolomé is a small island with beautiful white sand beaches skirting rugged volcanic slopes. Activities here include swimming, snorkeling, and a climb to the summit of the island for one of the most breathtaking views in all the Galápagos. If the day is sunny, there are backlit views of extraordinary volcanic cones on nearby Santiago Island in the distance. Green sea turtles nest on the sandy beaches of the island and, if we are very lucky, we may see a female turtle dragging herself back into the sea after a night of egg-laying.
Close by is the the stark volcanic terrain of Sullivan Bay. Two hundred years ago an eruption covered the area with molten rock leaving behind dramatic examples of ropy lava and spatter cones, all of which are a graphic photographer's delight. We also expect to find Galápagos penguins.
Rábida and Santiago Islands
Rábida Island lies at the center of the Galápagos Archipelago. The reddish sand beach always has clusters of sea lions lounging and loafing in the surf and brown pelicans commonly nest at shoulder height in saltbushes close by. The island is a good location to search for Galápagos hawks, some of which may perch right over our heads.
A stroll along the intertidal rocks of Puerto Egas on Santiago Island reveals black sand beaches which were the site of a small salt mining industry in the 1960s. A hike in the area should provide an excellent opportunity to see finches, doves and hawks. Along the coast, basking marine iguanas, gaudy orange Sally Lightfoot crabs and feeding American oystercatchers keep us busy until we reach a colony of Galápagos fur seals resting on the black lava rock at the end of our walk. Snorkeling is good in the waters near our landing beach.
Isabela Island We cruise the northern coast of Isabela Island searching for whales. Tagus Cove, a former refuge of pirates and whalers on the volcanic western shoreline of the island is a favorite destination. We can hike inland to a scenic viewpoint overlooking Darwin Lake. We may also take a panga ride along the cliffs of the cove to search for penguins, brown noddies and marine iguanas soaking up the sun.
At Urbina Bay, we search for land iguanas and possibly more giant tortoises. In the afternoon we explore the beautiful mangrove channels of Elizabeth Bay where we again encounter flightless cormorants. The sheltered waters are an important mating area for green sea turtles, and snorkeling among the mangroves can be an exciting and novel experience. At sunset we board pangas to explore three small islets known as Las Marielas, home to one of the largest concentrations of Galápagos penguins in the islands.
Punta Moreno is perfect for an afternoon outing. The stark barren beauty of the lava landscape is dotted with brackish ponds where we search for "shocking pink" American flamingos, as well as ducks and a variety of shorebirds.
Fernandina, the youngest of the volcanic islands, lies on the westernmost edge of the archipelago and is bathed by the cool waters of the Cromwell Current. Our landing site at Punta Espinosa is our best chance to photograph nesting flightless cormorants, as well as great numbers of marine iguanas piled atop one another in animated heaps. The nearby waters offer a unique opportunity to snorkel with foraging marine iguanas as they scrape algae from the gin-clear waters along the shoreline.
Floreana rises to a height of 2,100 feet and is studded with volcanic cinder cones. "Post Office Bay" is one of the key historic sites on the islands. In the early 1800s, whalers in the area were the first to use an old barrel as a post box to send their mail home to family and friends. The tradition continues today. Search the barrel for mail directed to an address near your home, then deliver it when you return. You can also drop off a postcard to see how long it takes to be delivered to you! Of course, as everywhere in the Galápagos, there is plentiful wildlife here as well. Darwin's finches abound and, in a small lagoon behind the beach, herons and shorebirds frequently rest in the vegetation.
An old, eroded volcanic cone offshore called the Devil's Crown is a roosting site for boobies, pelicans and frigatebirds. The center of the "crown" provides some of the best snorkeling in the Galápagos.
At Punta Cormorant there are forests of palo santo and scalesia that harbor the endemic medium tree finch. The pale green sand beaches and shallow lagoons are home to flamingos, as well as ducks.
Española Island is one of our favorite landing sites. The island is virtually the world's sole nesting grounds of 12,000 endemic waved albatrosses. When we arrive the birds are in the peak of their courtship period. As if that were not enough, the island is also home to blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, red-billed tropicbirds, Hood mockingbirds, sea lions, lava lizards and unusual (red) marine iguanas. Punta Suarez is an outstanding site for wildlife, but also has a spectacular oceanside blowhole. When heavy swells are running, the spray shoots 30 yards into the air.
It is hard to resist the antics of the lounging sea lion pups as they frolic in the shoreline surf, wrestle and play with each other, and pester their mothers at Gardner Bay. All of this is set against a backdrop of turquoise water and azure sky.
We return to San Cristóbal Island and have time for shopping, an ice cream cone or a walk along the harbor. Our late afternoon flight takes us to Quito, where we gather for dinner at our hotel. (B,L on the plane, D)
Day 18 (June 23)
We depart for home. (B)
Please Note: The above itinerary is intended as an example only. Final determinations are made according to weather conditions and are subject to permits issued by the Galápagos National Park Service.