Thursday & Friday, July 14 & 15, 2016 - Depart USA / Guayaquíl, Ecuador / Baltra, Galápagos Islands / Santa Cruz / Embark Isabela II
Upon arrival in Ecuador, we gathered at the Hilton Colón Guayaquíl for the night. After breakfast the following morning, we transferred to the airport for our flight to Baltra Island, then transferred by ferry to nearby Santa Cruz Island for a short bus ride to a quaint restaurant at an elevation of about 1,500 feet. Following our delicious lunch, we continued to the Charles Darwin Research Station, in the bustling community of Puerto Ayora. We learned about conservation efforts and viewed the tortoises and land iguanas being raised for reintroduction, before embarking the Isabela II in the afternoon.
Saturday, July 16 - Floreana Island
This morning we visited Post Office Bay and viewed one of the oldest working sea-mail drops. We cruised by Zodiacs to nearby islets and observed rays, sea lions, and sea turtles, followed by a short walk to a lookout for panoramic views of Floreana. At Punta Cormorant we looked for American flamingos, black-necked stilts, and white-cheeked pintail ducks in a brackish lagoon. Our hike continued to a fine coral-sand beach where green sea turtles nest. A highlight today was definitely swimming and snorkeling with friendly and playful sea lions!
Sunday, July 17 - Española (Hood) Island
Today, we visited Punta Suárez to see the largest bird in the Galápagos Islands, the waved albatross. Virtually the entire population of 12,000 pairs of albatross nests here from April to December. We also saw red-billed tropicbirds, blue-footed and Nazca boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, and marine iguanas. Next, we strolled along the beautiful white-sand beach of Gardner Bay and searched for Hood Island mockingbirds and lava lizards, Galápagos hawks, and three species of Darwin’s finches.
Monday, July 18 - San Cristóbal Island
San Cristóbal was the first island Charles Darwin visited when he arrived in the Galápagos. First known as Chatham Island, it was later named in honor of Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón). Punta Pitt is the only place in the Galápagos where three species of boobies and two species of frigates can be found nesting in the same area—blue-footed, Nazca, and red-footed boobies as well as great and magnificent frigatebirds. We walked along the beautiful beach of Cerro Brujo and searched for species endemic to this island, including San Cristóbal mockingbirds and lava lizards.
Tuesday, July 19 - San Cristóbal Island
We disembarked on the southwest side of the island at the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and explored the Interpretive Center, which gave us a greater understanding of the Galápagos’ uniqueness. After lunch, we boarded coaches to Cerro Colorado and visited a Galápagos tortoise breeding center.
Wednesday, July 20 - Genovesa (Tower) Island
We crossed the Equator overnight, and arrived at Genovesa Island. Darwin Bay, formed by the caldera of a partially eroded volcano, was the scene for a short Zodiac tour along the coastline to Prince Philip’s Steps, where we found red-footed boobies nesting in palo santo trees. Nazca boobies nested on the ground, along with wedge-rumped storm petrels and short-eared owls. Afterward, we swam and snorkeled along the cliffs of this colossal harbor. Later, we landed on a sandy beach and passed swallow-tailed gulls as we walked by a forest of salt bush and mangrove where colonies of great frigatebirds and red-footed boobies were nesting.
Thursday, July 21 - Santiago (James) Island
We arrived at Buccaneer Cove located at the north end of the island. A short walk inland took us through a mangrove forest to a brackish lagoon where we observed flocks of pink flamingos and white-cheeked pintails. Back on the beach we had another chance to swim or snorkel. After a short lunch cruise, we arrived at Puerto Egas and hiked along a coastal trail to a nearby fur seal grotto. Along the shore we spotted great blue and striated herons, oystercatchers, and yellow-crowned night herons as they fed. At low tide, we even saw colorful Sally Lightfoot crabs and marine iguanas grazing on sea lettuce.
Friday, July 22 - Fernandina Island / Isabela Island
The cool waters of the Cromwell Current upwell around Isabela and Fernandina and these nutrient-rich waters provide great feeding sources for whales and dolphins. In the morning we explored Punta Espinoza on Fernandina, the youngest island of the Galápagos. We observed the largest colony of marine iguanas in the archipelago, flightless cormorants, and moonscape-like lava fields. This is one of the largest, most pristine islands in the world with no introduced species to date. On the western shore of Isabela, we stopped at secluded Tagus Cove, which was once a favorite anchorage for pirates and whalers. An uphill hike through the forest brought us to Darwin Lake, a crater filled with salt water, and the perfect end to our day.
Saturday, July 23 - Isabela Island
We came ashore on a gentle sloping beach on Urbina Bay. A short trail led us to a coral reef, evidence of uplift from the sea which occurred in 1954. We found land and marine iguanas, giant Galápagos tortoises, flightless cormorants, and Galápagos penguins. We cruised north along the Bolívar Channel, accompanied by impressive views of Isabela’s rugged coast, to Punta Vicente Roca, observing cormorants, penguins, blue-footed boobies, and turtles.
Sunday, July 24 - Rábida Island / Santa Cruz Island
Though small, Rábida contains a great variety of rock and lava types. Wildlife found here includes Galápagos hawks, pelicans, and sea lions. We stopped at Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill) on the northwest side of Santa Cruz Island. Aptly named, this site is one of the best places to see land iguanas. Our trail continued through palo santo trees and cacti forests and ended at a salt water lagoon, where we saw various species of birds.
Monday & Tuesday, July 25 & 26 - Baltra Island / Disembark / Guayaquíl / USA
We disembarked on the north side of Santa Cruz for a return to the highlands, where we visited the giant tortoise reserve. We observed Darwin finches, mockingbirds, and of course, the iconic tortoises in their muddy habitat. We also descended into a lava tube to experience the volcanic origins of the islands one last time. We transferred to the Hilton Colón Guayaquíl, and had time to relax before a farewell dinner and overnight. The following morning after breakfast, we transferred to the airport for our flights homeward.