Galápagos Up Close

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The far-flung Galápagos Archipelago lies some 600 miles west of mainland Ecuador. Its six major islands and a broad scattering of smaller islets constitute what early sailors called Las Islas Encantadas—the Enchanted Islands. It is one of the premier nature photography locations in the world, and a must-see for anyone who enjoys experiencing wildlife at close range, warm weather, snorkeling with colorful fishes, and al fresco dining under the stars.  These islands provide a totally unique location for a nature photography vacation.
"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!"
- B. & R. Vernick
This compact 11-day tour includes seven nights aboard our luxurious yacht and explores 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.  Photogenic and famous for their remarkably unwary demeanor, the seabirds of the Galápagos Islands, though birds of the open ocean, allow human approach within a few yards during courtship and breeding.  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.

           We cruise aboard the aptly named M/V TipTop II—a safe, comfortable, and upscale catamaran that combines a casual barefoot cruising style with spacious cabins and common areas.  Like a floating safari lodge, TipTop II offers an excellent “platform” from which to base this exciting photo cruise.  Our roomy vessel provides plenty of outside deck space yet is small enough to reach secluded anchorages that only a smaller ship can provide.

Our flexible daily schedule is arranged for early morning and late afternoon photography—the best times for observing and photographing animals and shooting landscapes.  Whenever possible between morning and afternoon photo 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 water.

Boat traffic in the Galápagos is very choreographed—somewhat like air traffic control—to keep boats as far apart as possible to minimize the impact of tourism on the islands and wildlife as well as to create a more pristine atmosphere at the landing sites to enhance the nature experience.  We explore at least eight islands of the western and central archipelago, going ashore at multiple choice locations on some of them at their most diverse and photogenic landing sites.

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.

Join Mark Thomas in this wildlife wonderland, where subjects sit serenely for portraits, displaying their bright vermilion throat pouches or azure feet—and where midday is spent snorkeling with beautiful spotted eagle rays and the tiny and delightful Galápagos penguins




Check out Wayne Lynch's trip report from our latest Galápagos photo tour

For Trip questions or to enroll give us a call at (206) 463-5383

Tour Itinerary

Day 1 (May 4, 2022)

Depart home for Quito, Ecuador.  Arrive in late evening and transfer to our hotel.

Day 2
Following breakfast, meet in the hotel lobby at 9 AM.  A comprehensive 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.  (NOTE:  The tour begins with a walk in the Old City.) Those who would like to rest in lieu of the city tour can meet the group in the lobby at 7:30 PM for dinner at our hotel.  (B, L on city tour, D)

Day 3
Fly to Baltra Island in the Galápagos, complete national park formalities and embark our comfortable vessel.  Following lunch, we make our first photography landing in the archipelago.  (B at hotel, then all meals aboard ship)

Days 4–9

We have these 6 full days to photograph at the following productive sites:

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.

Urbina Bay is directly west of Isabela’s Volcano Alcedo.  We make an easy, wet landing onto a gently sloping beach.  In 1954, a Disney film crew caught sight of this gleaming white strip, and on further investigation found pools of stranded sea creatures!  To their astonishment, three miles of the marine reef had been uplifted by as much as 13 feet in moments.  Now visitors can walk amongst the dried coral heads, mollusks and other organisms that formed the ocean floor.  A highlight of this excursion is the giant land iguana with its vivid and gaudy yellow skin.

On one 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.

Fernandina Island
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 each other 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.

Española Island
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.

Santa Cruz Island
From the dock at Puerto Ayora we drive into the highlands to explore the lush scalesia forests, investigate volcanic craters and lava tubes and visit a tortoise reserve to photograph these charismatic animals in the wild.

We visit the Charles Darwin Research Station which plays a major role in the environmental monitoring of the archipelago.  Here we see rearing pens for giant tortoises from the different islands and have another 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.

North Seymour Island
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 here and are joined by marine iguanas.

Day 10
Return to Baltra via North Seymore. Fly to Quito. (B, L on plane, D)

Day 11 (May 14)
Depart for home  (B)

Our Ship – Tip Top II

The luxurious 104-foot Tip Top II offers the elegance and amenities to make your cruise a comfortable and unforgettable experience. Six cabins have twin or king beds, large windows with expansive ocean views, private baths, and air conditioning. There are two single cabins with large windows with expansive ocean views, private baths, and air conditioning. The yacht's spacious cabins are much more akin to cabins on a cruise ship rather than the small cabins with upper and lower berths featured on most vessels operating in the Galápagos.

There is a spacious air-conditioned dining room with an excellent dining experience, a well-appointed lounge area and bar, plus many decks—outstanding platforms for photography—with comfortable lounge chairs from which you can enjoy the relaxing sparkle of equatorial waters, discuss photography and natural history with our leaders and fellow travelers, as well as search for seabirds and whales.

Click to Enlarge Photos:

Tip Top IIDeckDining RoomPrivate Balcony Upper Deck CabinsCabins 1 & 2, Main DeckCabins 3–6, Main DeckCabins 9 & 10, Upper DeckDeck Plan Tip Top II
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Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

Galápagos Up Close

May 04, 2022 - May 14, 2022


A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place for you on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposits only, we accept Visa, MasterCard or American Express. Trip deposits are non-refundable. Subsequent payments of the trip fee must be paid by check or bank transfer.

A deposit of 25% of the trip fee is required. Full payment of the trip fee is due 150 days prior to departure date. We must receive written notice of your cancellation, at which time cancellation fees in the following amounts apply:
If Written Cancellation is Received:             Cancellation Fee:
122 days or prior:                                            100% of deposit
121 to 91 days prior:                                         50% of entire trip fee
90 or fewer days:                                             100% of entire trip fee

Emergency evacuation insurance is REQUIRED for this tour. As noted in Section 3 below, we send a brochure for trip insurance to US and Canadian residents. The policy offered includes the emergency evacuation coverage required for this trip. Participants purchasing trip insurance on their own—that is, not through our office—should confirm that a minimum of $500,000 of emergency evacuation insurance is included in their policy.

No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason whatsoever. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

Protect your travel investment and purchase a trip insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. A trip insurance brochure will be sent with your enrollment confirmation. A CANCEL FOR ANY REASON policy is available.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. “Meatless” meals are normally available at most locations. Due to the remote nature of many photo locations, and the growing diversity of today’s dietary trends, participants requiring special food items are encouraged to bring their own.

Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, applicable health advisories and reading list. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or e-mail address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or e-mail messages to

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific costs that are included in your trip fee. Generally these costs include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides abroad, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Single accommodations are available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodations or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises, if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations, but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea are included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two persons traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger (trip participant) in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motorcar, motor coach, boat, ship or aircraft or other conveyance, and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned either by reason of defect in any vehicle or for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts, bankruptcy or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay, cancellations or changes in flights or other tour services, and by force majeure including sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine, epidemics and outbreaks, or other causes.  All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in flight schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure due to low enrollment, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 3) At the company’s sole discretion, suspend or postpone any trip due to force majeure in which case the trip may be rescheduled, or a refund issued less any non-refundable deposits paid to tour component providers on behalf of the passenger, or a travel credit given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 4) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 5) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A Registration Form including the Enrollment Conditions and Release and Assumption of Risk sections must be signed by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington. Certain ship owners require the use of pre-printed ticket forms that limit the ship owner's and operator's liability. When such tickets are used, the passenger is bound by the terms of these tickets with respect to the passenger's legal relationship to the owners and operators of the ship, their agents (Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc.), and the ship's crew.

Galápagos Up Close: Moderate Activity Level

Luxury yacht and commercial aircraft transportation.  Hiking on sandy beaches, rough lava and rocky trails.  Generally short slow walks infrequently for up to two miles round-trip during a few landings.    Transfer from boat to shore in "Zodiac-style" pangas.  Occasional wildlife and landscape photography from the pangas.  Galapagos regulations require the entire group must stay together, not leaving designated trails, and in sight of our local Galapagos guide.  Snorkeling from the boat and beaches in chilly water usually requiring thin wet suits.

Trip Details
May 04 - May 14, 2022
Fee: $9,995–$10,995 double occupancy from Quito, Ecuador*
Deposit: 25% of Tour Price
Limit: 14 participants
Activity Level: ModerateModerate

* Includes round-trip airfare Quito-Galápagos-Quito, plus all national park entrance fees.

CABIN FEES   per person

Upper Deck Twin, Private Outside Balcony: $10,995

Main Deck Twin, Window: $9,995

Main Deck Single, Window: $10,995
  • Eight days on board a luxurious private yacht to explore the spectacular and less-visited western side of the archipelago
  • Very small tour group size—limited to 14 participants—and two outstanding leaders
  • Catamaran provides plenty of outside deck space for photography
  • Colorful boobies, albatrosses, gulls and frigatebirds in courtship display within a few feet of your camera
  • An exceptional small boat cruise a non-photographing spouse will thoroughly enjoy
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Tour Leaders
Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas

And local Galápagos photo guide

Rarely does one take a trip in which the details are so totally handled that there is an environment provided for really creative photography.
—E. J. Wu

The Galápagos Islands are a must-see for any nature photographer. The trip with Van Os was outstanding in every way and provided incredible photo opportunities.
—P. Bick