Darwin’s Galapagos with Jo Ruxton: Ecuador
10 days for £7,495 23 May 2021
Join our special island yacht charter accompanied by marine conservationist Jo Ruxton.
Galapagos sea lions, marine iguanas lounging on the shores, blue footed boobies patrolling the skies, giant tortoises, sally lightfoot crabs and green sea turtles are just a few of the animals native to this fascinating archipelago.
A paradise for natural history and geology lovers, we have curated a distinctive trip which includes the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site of Quito followed by 8 days exploring at sea and exclusive behind the scenes access at the Galapagos Science Centre. The spacious and stylish yacht Natural Paradise is small enough to get into bays that larger expedition ships cannot go near, so you get to experience Galapagos as Darwin did.
June is by far the best time to visit due to the more hospitable temperature and with only a 15 guest capacity, this is the smallest group size available to explore these stunning islands.
DAY 1: ARRIVE QUITO
On arrival in Quito you will be met and transferred to your hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore the city at your own pace.
With Pichincha Volcano on one side and Machangara Gorge on the other with the equator passing directly through, few cities can rival Quito’s setting. Few also can match the splendour of its old town, with its colonial churches, mansions and plazas.
Quito was named as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978. This historical city sits at 2,850 metres and has the largest and best-preserved historic centre and colonial quarters in Latin America.
DAY 2: DISCOVER QUITO
Your city tour of Quito features a panoramic view of the modern city, as well as a visit to the colonial area which is home to buildings from the 16th century. Visit Independence Square, the President’s Palace, and San Francisco Church, the first Catholic church built by the Spaniards in Quito. Also included is a visit to La Compania church, known as the best example of baroque style architecture in the country. The tour ends with a visit to Itchimbia Hill, from where the views of downtown Quito and the surrounding mountains are spectacular.
DAY 3: QUITO TO THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
Transfer by flight to the Galapagos Islands. You will be met by a national park guide who will accompany you on the short bus ride to the waterfront. At the dock, board a panga (dinghy) to make the short crossing to motor yacht Natural Paradise. After settling into your cabin, there will be some time to relax before lunch and a welcome briefing. Today, you will visit Eden Islet off the western coast of Santa Cruz Island, the second largest island in the Galapagos. There is the chance to take a panga ride or get in the water and go snorkelling for your first glimpse of the underwater world. Wildlife highlights today include reef sharks, Nazca and blue-footed boobies.
There will be a naturalist guide leading the daily excursions and giving evening briefings. Jo Ruxton will give lectures on board during the voyage on her marine conservation work with the Platic Oceans Foundation, World Wildlife Fund and the BBC Natural History Unit, as well as accompanying the daily excursions and helping guests develop their photography skills.
DAY 4: ISABELA ISLAND AND FERNANDINA ISLANDS
In the morning, explore Vicente Roca Point. Comprised of two separate coves, this site is a large bay with spectacular sea life. Snorkelling and panga rides are possible this morning, so keep a look out for Galapagos penguins, seahorses, sea turtles, and the strange yet fascinating mola (sun fish). Other wildlife includes blue-footed and Nazca boobies, terns and sea lions. In the afternoon, sail across the Bolivar Channel that divides Isabela and Fernandina islands and land at Espinosa Point. After walking past a colony of marine iguanas and a group of sea lions, reach the island’s highlight: the flightless cormorant nesting site. This area also provides a great opportunity to see the Galapagos hawk.
DAY 5: ISABELA ISLAND; URBINA BAY AND MORENO POINT
In the morning, walk to Urbina Bay which is located at the base of Alcedo Volcano on the west coast between Tagus Cove and Elizabeth Bay. This area experienced a major uplift in 1954 causing the land to rise over five metres. The coast expanded almost a kilometre out, leaving marine life stranded on the new shore. Wildlife that can be seen includes land iguanas, hawks, giant tortoises and turtles. This area is also a great place for snorkelling. In the afternoon, visit Moreno Point located southwest of Elizabeth Bay. The once flowing lava left craters in its wake, which formed crystal tide pools. In the brackish pools of this area, it is possible to see pink flamingos, white-cheeked pintails, common gallinules, white-tip reef sharks and sea turtles. Snorkelling and panga rides are possible here.
DAY 6: ISABELA ISLAND; SIERRA NEGRA VOLCANO AND THE WALL OF TEARS
This morning, land on Isabela Island to explore the Sierra Negra volcano which is the largest basaltic caldera in the Galapagos with a diameter of 10 kilometres. The site offers impressive views and the opportunity to observe up to seven species of finches and a rich display of vegetation. The north side of the caldera provides evidence of its most recent volcanic activity in 2005. This afternoon visit The Wall of Tears which is a 25 metre-high wall built by prisoners incarcerated on the island back in the 1950s. Afterwards, head to the wetlands of Isabela island which are located just outside of Puerto Villamil. The wetlands consist of lagoons, swamps and mangroves and are home to a variety of unique bird species such as common stilts, whimbrels, white cheeked pintails and gallinules. The wetlands can be visited on foot via a path through the swamps. Later today, there will also be the chance to visit the Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Centre were there are 330 juvenile and adult tortoises.
DAY 7: CHINESE HAT AND MOSQUERA ISLETS
This morning visit Chinese Hat Islet, located near the southeast coast of Santiago Island. Its name comes from the distinct shape of the islet’s summit. This is a great location to view many geological formations such as lava tubes and lava flows. Some of the lava flows were formed underwater and subsequently raised above sea level. The presence of coral heads on the lava flow indicates this phenomenon. This is also a great site for snorkelling with an abundance of marine species such as marine iguanas and sea lions. After lunch visit Mosquera Islet, located between the islands of Baltra and North Seymour in the central part of the archipelago. This reef of rocks and coral (the result of an uprising) is only 160 metres across at its narrowest width. This island has one of the largest populations of sea lions and is home to many shorebirds.
DAY 8: FLOREANA ISLAND FLOREANA ISLAND
Visit the famous Post Office Bay, the spot where 18th century whalers placed a wooden barrel that was used as an unofficial post box. The tradition continues today, with visitors leaving addressed postcards in the barrel and sorting through left mail to deliver at home. In the afternoon head to Cormorant Point and hike to a salt-water lagoon which is home to flamingos. There is the opportunity to swim in the crystal-clear waters of the Devil’s Crown, an extinct volcano that peaks out of the waters just off Floreana’s coast and offers a magnificent snorkelling experience. Look out for sharks, rays and lots of tropical fish. Afterwards, visit Champion Islet, a small island located close to Floreana Island in the southern part of the archipelago where sea lions and Nazca boobies can be seen.
DAY 9: ESPANOLA ISLAND ESPANOLA ISLAND
In the morning visit Suarez Point where it is likely you will see blue-footed and Nazca boobies, red billed tropic birds, Galapagos hawks and the curious Hood mockingbirds. Between April and December each year the island is the breeding site of nearly all the world’s 12,000 pairs of waved albatrosses. Suarez Point is home to a famous blowhole that spurts water into the air, a fantastic landscape for photography. In the afternoon, explore the spectacular Gardner Bay.
DAY 10: SAN CRISTOBAL, DISEMBARKATION THEN FLY TO GUAYAQUIL
There will be an early start today to make one last visit before going to the airport. If time allows, visit Lobos Island, home to a noisy, playful sea lion colony. This island also offers great snorkelling opportunities as well as the chance to see frigate birds, blue-footed and Nazca boobies.
After this final visit, you will be transferred to San Cristobal’s airport in time for your flight back to the mainland and overnight in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and its chief seaport. Although it was founded in 1535, pirates and fires took their toll, leaving the city devoid of any real colonial feel. However, it is a city amid a major urban revival and the most forward thinking and modern rival to Quito.
DAY 11: DEPART ECUADOR