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Following Darwin's Trail

Overview

The elegant MY Grace will be your beautiful steed for eight days, sailing you away to the one of the natural world’s most stunning realms. Swap real life for the Galapagos archipelago where the ocean holds a plethora of marine life, the big skies are filled with birds and the land has you watching your step for lazy iguanas. This journey starts on the island of Baltra before visiting Santa Fe, Punta Espinoza, Isabela, Santiago Island and Santa Cruz. Activities include kayaking, snorkelling, swimming and walking amongst the prolific wildlife and other-worldly scenery by day and soaking up the luxury and fine dining of the MY Grace by night.

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Optional Activities :

Trip Code: ECQUFDT

Location: Ecuador

Ship: Grace

CRUISE ITINERARY

Take a morning flight from Quito or Guayaquil to Baltra. Arriving in the Galapagos, you will be met by our naturalist guides and are driven to the pier to board the M/Y Grace.

Daphne Minor, a tuff cone (giant pile of compressed volcanic ash shaped like a cone), sits off the north coast of Santa Cruz Island, west of Baltra Island and North Seymour Island. While off limits to all but limited scientistic parties going ashore, we've obtained permission from the National Park to navigate around the island, close by. You will have a front row seat to witness bustling colonies of blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, magnificent frigate birds and more. You'll also be able to observe short-eared owls and red-billed tropicbirds. As the sun sets on your first day in the Enchanted Archipelago, you'll toast to the voyage ahead with a welcome cocktail.

Saturday, Baltra Island & Daphne Mayor

Santa Fe offers one of the more beautiful and sheltered coves in the islands. Its turquoise lagoon is protected by a peninsula of tiny islets forming an ideal anchorage. The island lies southeast of Santa Cruz Island within sight of Puerto Ayora. Geologically it is one of the oldest islands in the archipelago and for many years was thought to be a product of an uplift event.

A wet landing on a sandy white beach brings us into contact with one of many sea lion colonies. Galapagos hawks are sometimes easily approached, perched atop salt bushes. An ascending trail leads toward the cliffs, where a dense thicket stands to the inland side of the island. The cliff side provides an expansive view of the ocean. You will be struck by the forest of giant prickly pear cactus found here that live up to their name, with tree-sized trunks! These are the largest of their kind in the Galapagos. At the top of the trail our goal is to spot one of the large species of land iguana endemic to Santa Fe. Beige to chocolate brown in color with dragon-like spines, these big iguanas truly resemble dinosaurs. An indigenous species of rice rat also inhabits the thicket, and lucky hikers may spot harmless Galapagos snakes. After the hike, there is nothing more inviting tan snorkeling in the calm waters of the bay where sea lions play, sea turtles swim and tropical fish hide amidst the islets that form the natural reef.

South Plaza is one of the smallest yet richest islands in the archipelago. Just over 400 feet wide, it was formed by lava upwelling from the bottom of the ocean. South Plaza is known for its lush and diverse flora. A grove of luminescent green prickly-pear cacti, a ground cover of red sesuvium, the turquoise waters of the channel and fiery sally lightfoot crabs combine to create a colorful palate. One of the big attractions here are the friendly yellow land iguanas waiting for lunch to drop from a cactus in the form of a prickly pear. Swallow-tailed gulls with red banded eyes nest atop the overlook where you may spot marine life such as manta rays. South Plaza has a very healthy population of sea lions including a colony of bachelors that sit atop the cliff. They unintentionally polish the surrounding rocks with the oil from their fur. We may see red-billed tropic birds, Nazca and blue-footed boobies catching rides on the wind currents.

Sunday, Santa Fe Island & South Plaza

Our first landing is Prince Phillip’s Steps, named for a visit by the British Monarch in 1964. The dry landing begins at the base of this 25-meter (81-foot) stairway leading up to a narrow stretch of land that opens out onto a small plateau. This is actually a small peninsula that forms the southeastern section of the island. Red-footed boobies wrap their webbed feet around branches to precariously perch in the bushes where they nest. In contrast their masked-booby cousins dot the surface of the scrublands beyond. Crossing through the sparse vegetation, you will come to a broad lava field that extends toward sea cliffs that form the island’s southern edge. The cavities and holes that have been eroded into the fragile lava are an ideal nesting ground for storm petrels. There are two species, the Galapagos petrel, which is active by day, and the wooden petrel, which feeds at night. Short-eared owls lay in camouflaged wait here and make their living feeding off the returning petrels.

Landing on the white coral sands of Darwin Bay and walking up the beach, you find yourself surrounded by the bustling activity of great frigate birds. Puffball chicks and their proud papas—who sport bulging scarlet throat-sacks—crowd the surrounding branches, while yellow-crowned herons and lava herons feed by the shore. Farther along you will discover a stunning series of sheltered pools set into a rocky outcrop. Watch your step for marine iguanas, lava lizards and Galapagos doves that blend with the trail. The trail beside the pools leads up to a Cliff overlooking the ocean filled caldera, where pairs of swallow-tailed gulls, the only nocturnal gulls in the world, can be seen nesting at the cliff’s edge. Lava gulls and pintail ducks ride the sea breezes nearby.

Monday, Prince Phillip´s Steps

Fernandina is the youngest and westernmost island in the Galapagos. It sits across the Bolivar Channel opposite Isabela. Our destination is Punta Espinosa, a narrow spit of land in the northeast corner of the island, where several unique Galapagos species can be seen near. Red and turquoise-blue zayapas crabs disperse across the lava shoreline, while great blue and lava herons forage through the mangrove roots. The landing is a dry one, set in a quiet inlet beneath the branches of a small mangrove forest. A short walk through the vegetation leads to a large colony of marine iguanas. Dominating this landscape from high overhead looms the summit of La Cumbre, 1,495 meters (4,858 feet), one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Farther down this stretch of shore, the world’s only species of flightless cormorants have established a colony near an inviting inlet frequented by sea turtles.

The snorkelling off Punta Espinoza offers some real treats. Galapagos penguins and sea lions await you in the waters off the point. A key feature of the ocean bottom here are the troughs formed by volcanic rock and ocean currents. Sea turtles like to hang out in the warm water of the troughs. You’ll also see marine iguanas ferrying back and forth between underwater grazing areas and their colonies on shore. If you are fortunate you may catch a glimpse of a flightless cormorant demonstrating their swimming abilities or watch a Galapagos penguin zip by. The Bolivar Channel is the very best place in the Galapagos to see dolphins and whales. On rare occasion our groups have been able to swim with dolphins, kayak with melon headed whales and even spot the elusive sperm whale.

Urbina Bay is directly west of Isabela’s Volcano Alcedo, where we will make an easy, wet landing (a hop into a few inches of water) onto a gently sloping beach. In 1954, a Disney film crew caught sight of this gleaming white strip, and went to investigate. To their astonishment, three miles (5 km) of the marine reef had been uplifted by as much as 13 feet (4 meters) prior to their arrival.

Tuesday, Punta Espinoza & Urbina Bay

We head north along the western coast of Isabela Island, to Tagus Cove, named for a British warship that moored here in 1814. Historically the cove was used as an anchorage for pirates and whalers. One can still find the names of their ships carved into the rock above our landing, a practice now prohibited. The cove’s quiet waters make for an ideal panga ride beneath its sheltered cliffs, where blue-footed boobies, brown noddies, pelicans and noddy terns make their nests, and flightless cormorants and penguins inhabit the lava ledges.

From our landing, a wooden stairway rises to the trail entrance for a view of Darwin Lake; a perfectly round saltwater crater. From the air one can see that both Tagus Cove and Darwin Lake are formed from one, partially flooded, tuff cone on the eastern edge of giant Darwin volcano. The cove is formed by a breached and flooded section of the crater with Darwin Lake forming the very centre of the same cone.

Located at the ‘mouth’ of the head of the sea horse, which forms the northern part of the Isabela is Punta Vicente Roca. Here the remnants of an ancient volcano form two turquoise coves with a bay well protected from the ocean swells. The spot is a popular anchorage from which to take panga rides along the cliff where a partially sunken cave beckons explorers. Masked and blue-footed boobies sit perched along the point and the sheer cliffs, while flightless cormorants inhabit the shoreline. The upwelling of coldwater currents in combination with the protection of the coves make Punta Vicente Roca one of the archipelagos' most sought after dive spots. One cove is only accessible from the sea by way of an underwater passage.

Wednesday, Tagus Cove & Punta Vicente Roca

In the morning you will arrive at Buccaneer Cove. As you prepare to go ashore, imagine a young Charles Darwin in 1835 eager to make his landing. Lack of fresh water played an important role in keeping the Galapagos uninhabited by humans until more modern times, but Buccaneer Cove on the northwest shore of Santiago was one of the few exceptions to this rule. Pirates and whalers favoured the cove because it offered both fresh water and fresh meat in the form of prized giant tortoises that could be kept alive in ship holds for months without food or water.

Today visitors to Espumilla Beach come in search of birds rather than fresh water. The short walk up the beach leads to a brackish lagoon where flocks of pink flamingos and white cheeked pintails wade in search of mollusks. The tuff formations that form the cliffs that surround the cove have created a natural sculptor gallery rising from the sea with formations including the Monk and Elephant Rock. An audience of hundreds of seabirds looks down upon the gallery from surrounding cliffs.

In the afternoon we make our way along the north western shore of Santiago Island to South James Bay (Puerto Egas), which offers access to three unique sites. One landing is on a black beach with intriguing eroded rock formations inland. A trail crosses the dry interior eastward and rises to the rim of an extinct volcanic crater; cracks within it allow sea water to seep in, which then dries to form salt deposits that have been mined in the past. Another path leads south, where hikers are treated to a series of crystal-clear grottos formed of broken lava tubes. These are home to sea lions and tropical fish. Further to the north, another landing and path lead to a series of inland lagoons, home to flamingos. James Bay is a snorkeling site that is accessed from the shore instead of a dinghy. The sandy beach slopes off into a rocky bottom where a multitude of sea turtles like to hide by blending in with the rocks. But these rocks move and will swim right up to you. At certain times of the year large schools of Golden rays and spotted eagle rays also glide by.

Thursday, Espumilla Beach & Buccaneers’ Cove

In the morning we visit Puerto Ayora, home to both the Galapagos National Park Service Headquarters and Charles Darwin Research Station, the center of the great restorative efforts taking place in the park, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here we visit the Giant Tortoise Breeding & Rearing Program, which began by rescuing the remaining 14 tortoises on the island of Española in 1970. This program has restored the population of animals there to over 1,000 today.

A highlight of any trip to the archipelago is a visit to the Santa Cruz Highlands, where the sparse, dry coastal vegetation transitions to lush wet fields and forests overgrown with moss and lichens. Beneath the highlands, lava tubes are formed when the outer surface of a lava flow cools, insulating the interior lava, which continues to flow on leaving a hollow tube as the result. The tubes become covered with earth over time and the result is a perfectly formed underground tunnel courtesy of Mother Nature. The terrestrial world of the tortoise and underworld of the lava tubes meet at Los Gemelos (the twins). These two large sinkholes craters were formed by collapsed lava tubes. The contrast between the marine desert coast and verdant Lost World look of the highlands is most striking here and you can easily encounter rain even when sun is shining a half an hour away at the coast. Los Gemelos are surrounded by a Scalesia forest. Scalesia is endemic to Galapagos and many endemic and native species call the forest home.

We return to Puerto Ayora with time for shopping, visiting an internet café or simply enjoying this little port town near the edge of the world.

Friday, Darwin Station & Highlands

Darwin reported encountering a pair of giant tortoises feeding on cactus during his first landing here in 1835. Unlike Darwin who first made landing on San Cristobal our voyage winds to a close here as we head back to port before flying back to the mainland. The administrative capital for the province is island’s only town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on the southwestern shore. As we head down the southwestern coast toward Wreck Bay and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno you will want to rise early to view Leon Dormido at a distance, also known as Kicker Rock, a spectacular formation that rises 152 meters (500 feet) out of the Pacific. It takes the form of a sleeping lion, but from another angle you can see that the rock is split, forming a colossal tablet and, piercing the sea, a great chisel ready for etching. Small vessels can navigate through the narrow channel between the rocks.

We continue to Wreck Bay. In recent years a great deal of effort has gone into sprucing up the waterfront including the building of a new municipal dock. Your guide will give you clear instructions on the rest of the day’s events before we go ashore. You only need to bring your day pack as the crew will pick up your luggage at your cabin and insure that it gets to the airport, which is less than a 5-minute drive from the waterfront. Along with your tour of the visitor center museum there will be time to stroll the quaint tiny port town, with time to shop for last minute souvenirs before taking the bus to the airport.

Saturday, Interpretation Center
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Important Information

  • Shipboard accommodation 
    All meals whilst on board including snacks 
    All shore excursions
    Guiding and lectures by Galapagos Naturalist Guide 
    English-speaking Expedition team
    Use of snorkelling equipment and wetsuits
    Soft drinks, juice, coffee and tea throughout the cruise 

    Exclusions

    Return airfares from mainland Ecuador 
    Galapagos National Park Entrance Fee (US$100 per person subject to change) 
    Galapagos Transit Control Card (US$20 per person subject to change) 
    Visa Fees (if applicable)
    Travel insurance
    Gratuities for the crew
    Optional activities whilst on board 
    Personal Expenses 
    Bar consumption on board (All-inclusive packages available)

  • 2 (light adventure)
  • Available upon request

  • Contact us for more details

  • Season and availability

SPEAK TO A SPECIALIST

Sustainability

Chimu Adventures undertakes a number of sustainability measures within its operations including:

1) Only using local guides and office staff to both maximise local employment opportunities and minimise carbon footprints. Local guides also ensure you benefit from the intimate knowledge, passion and culture of the country you’re visiting.

2) Where possible, using locally owned and operated boutique hotels to maximise the return to the local community.

3) Chimu’s “Pass it on” programme has provided funding to hundreds of local community projects in Latin America. Our aim is to empower local communities, helping them to develop their own infrastructure for the future. Since 2006, we have been working with Kiva (a well-known Non-Governmental Organisation), providing hundreds of loans to local businesses all over South America.

4) In our pre tour information we provide a range of tips and advice on how to minimise your impact on both local environments and communities.

5) Chimu Adventures’ offices also take a number of sustainability measures including carbon offsets for company vehicles and most staff travel. Chimu Adventure’s internal processes are also structures to create a paperless office and to reduce waste. There are also internal programmes to help staff minimise their carbon footprint such as our staff bike purchase assistance plan which encourages office staff to commute to work via bicycle. Currently almost half of our office based staff commute to work via bicycle.