Galapagos – West, Central and Eastern Islands aboard the Monserrat
|Galapagos - West, Central and Eastern Islands aboard the Monserrat
|Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Latin America
The Galapagos Islands are an ecological paradise with wildlife you won’t find anywhere else. Spend seven nights on the Monserrat embarking on a Galapagos cruising adventure through the archipelago’s western, central and eastern islands. Join us as we snorkel with playful sea lions, discover the unusual endemic marine life in secluded bays, visit the tortoise breeding centre on Isabela Island and hike the Sierra Negra Volcano. Please note that this tour is operated in conjunction with a local specialist company and is not exclusive to Explore customers. Your fellow passengers may come from a number of different countries although all guiding is done in English, and may include families.
Galapagos Cruise -Seven nights exploring the Galapagos Islands aboard the comfortable Monserrat boat
Day 1 Join trip in Quito
Arrive in Quito, Ecuador’s mountain capital and the second highest capital city in Latin America. One of South America’s most beautiful cities, Quito lies in a narrow valley at the foot of the Pichincha Volcano, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and extinct volcanoes. On arrival at Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO), a representative will be waiting to meet you directly in front of the arrivals section, holding a sign with your name on it. They will show you where to go to catch your transfer to your hotel.
For those arriving on time, a group representative will meet you in the hotel reception at approximately 5pm for the welcome meeting. You will have the opportunity to meet other tour participants and receive information about the trip, as well as departure times for the following day. A welcome note will be left for you in the hotel so you have all the necessary information regarding the exact meeting time, though we do recommend that you arrive at the hotel by 4pm. If you arrive late, the representative will leave you a message detailing what time and where you should meet the following morning. There are no other activities planned today.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to explore the new and old parts of the city. The old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its rich blend of colonial architecture, imposing churches and bustling local markets. A climb to the top of Cerro Panecillo affords one of the best views across the city and the surrounding mountains, presenting you with an unparalleled vista of the encircling Andes from the viewing platform offered by the statue of the Virgen de Quito.
Day 2 Fly to Baltra Island, transfer to the Monserrat
Today we transfer to the airport early for our flight to the Galapagos Islands via Guayaquil (refueling stop only, you will not disembark the plane).
Lying on the Equator, 970km west of the Ecuadorean coast, the Galapagos National Park is a unique collection of islands, formed by volcanoes over hundreds of thousands of years and consists of six main islands, 12 smaller islands as well as over 40 small islets, supporting a distinct and unique flora and fauna, including prehistoric creatures found nowhere else on earth. This desolate and fantastic habitat was discovered in 1535 by Fray Tomas de Berlanga. One of the original designations by him was Las Islas Encantadas, the Enchanted Isles. Charles Darwin visited the islands on the Beagle exactly three hundred years later, in 1835. He observed the total isolation of the giant reptiles and other creatures, and this played a substantial part in his formulation of the theory of evolution.
The Galapagos have never been connected with the continent. Gradually, over many hundreds of thousands of years, animals and plants from over the sea somehow migrated there and as time went by they adapted themselves to Galapagos conditions and came to differ more and more from their continental ancestors. Thus many of them are unique: a quarter of the species of shore fish, half of the plants and almost all the reptiles are found nowhere else. In many cases different forms have evolved on the different islands.
Of the extraordinary animals to be found in the Galapagos many are reptiles, such as the great tortoise, large land iguanas, numerous lizards and three species of non-poisonous snakes. There are also several species of turtle, which come ashore to mate. Up to three quarters of a million seabirds flock to the islands, including a third of the world’s blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, pelicans, cormorants, albatross and petrels. Only 35cm tall, the Galapagos penguin can be seen swimming among tropical mangroves, whilst offshore it is common to see dolphins, sea lions and fur seals playing in the water. Fearless though not tame, the extraordinary wildlife can be easily approached and the opportunities for photography are superb.
The Galapagos National Park charges a visitor fee of $110 USD, payable on arrival, which funds park maintenance and supervision in the Galapagos, as well as ecological study, conservation and infrastructure development in Ecuador’s other national parks. Entry fees and the funds they generate for the national park system are among measures taken by the Ecuadorian government to protect its natural heritage.
On arrival in Baltra, we will meet our naturalist guide and transfer to our home for the next seven nights, the Monserrat. After lunch, we will sail to Mosquera Island and walk along the beach to observe the vast sea lion colonies. Wander along the beach and keep a look out for wildlife on land, in the air, and at sea. Relax on the sand or search for aquatic life in the tidal pools that dot the coastline.
Day 3 Hike the Sierra Negra Volcano and visit the tortoise breeding centre at Puerto Villamil
Arrive at Puerto Villamil, home to the small community that lives on Isabela Island. In the morning, we will hike the Sierra Negra Volcano, considered to be the oldest volcano in the Galapagos. The volcano boasts the largest basaltic caldera in the Galapagos at an impressive 12km and dominates the southern half of the island, presenting us with some spectacular views from the top across the island and towards Santiago to the northeast. The volcano last erupted in October 2005, making it the most recent eruption of the Galapagos.
In the afternoon, we will visit the Tintoreras Islands. These islands were formed from the lava flows from volcanoes and are fantastic for viewing wildlife. The bay in front of the islands is home to a colony of white tip sharks, take a panga across the bay to “Tintoreras” Shark Alley to observe the whitetip reef sharks found swimming in the channels between the rocks. Get a close-up view of pelicans, frigatebirds, and diving blue-footed boobies. Watch for manta rays and rare Galpagos penguins.
Day 4 Snorkel at Chinese Hat, afternoon trip to Rabida to see a sea lion colony
In the morning the boat arrives to a small little island off the southern tip of Santiago Island called Sombrero Chino or ‘Chinese Hat’, named for its unique shape. Chinese Hat comprises of a tilted cone and lava flows that run down to the coast. Here it is often possible to see Galapagos penguins and the abundant marine life, including rays, turtles and sea lions, make for great snorkelling possibilities. Snorkel right from the white-coral sand beach and come face to face with playful sea lions and large schools of tropical fish. There is also a large sea lion colony here as well as many marine iguanas that can be seen on our guided walk among the volcanic scenery which offers good views to the cone of the island’s volcano.
In the afternoon we will take an excursion to Rabida Island, where we will land on a red sand beach. From here a short trail leads to a salt water lagoon, often home to wading flamingos. Another trail goes past the lagoon to the interior, where the revered Palo Santo trees grow. When burned, the branches of this tree give off a pleasing aroma and ward off mosquitoes. Back on the beach among low-lying bushes nest the prehistoric-looking pelicans. This is the best area for close viewing of these nesting birds, and it’s a rare treat to watch parent pelicans return with gullets full of fish for the squawking youngsters. More snorkelling opportunities await – take a panga ride from the beach to a cliff wall that drops off into the water to find one of the best deep-water snorkelling spots in the islands.
Day 5 Explore Puerto Egas, continue to Playa Espumilla and Buccaneer Cove
Today is spent on Santiago Island. This island has seen its share of human activity from whalers and pirates over the years, and despite the introduction of goats to the island many years ago, the wildlife of Santiago has flourished and provides outstanding viewing opportunities. The island boasts marine iguanas, sea lions, fur seals, land and sea turtles among others, which provide great wildlife viewing both on land and in the water. In the morning we will visit Puerto Egas to see the salt crater as well as a dark sand beach and tidal pools and the ever friendly fur seals. Grab a snorkel and jump into the water right off the beach to explore Puerto Egas’ interesting underwater world. Keep your eyes peeled for rays, turtles, and reefsharks while snorkelling. After, visit the large tidal pool area – marine iguanas and Sally Lightfoot crabs are everywhere.
Next, we will travel to Playa Espumilla, one of the most idyllic beaches in the Galapagos Islands, boasting thick mangroves along with flamingo and sea turtle nesting sites. Then we continue to Buccaneer Cove to witness its towering cliff wall rock formations. Spot sea lions relaxing on the beach and sea birds nesting in the cove – there’s lots to see at this site.
Day 6 Visit North Seymour for guided walks, afternoon visit the Santa Cruz highlands
Today we set sail for North Seymour Island, just north of Baltra Island, which is home to sea lions, marine iguanas, swallow-tailed gulls, Magnificent frigatebirds and blue-footed boobies. North Seymour Island is probably the most exciting island photographically. Birdlife abounds, and close to the trail you will find many nesting pairs and young chicks. North Seymour is also home to the Galapagos’ largest colony of Magnificent frigatebirds. Their mating ritual is an ostentatious display; males expand the red sack at the base of their throat and perch atop a bush with wings fully extended, flapping furiously. Interested females circle overhead, and if so inclined, may join the male on terra firma. Further along the trail we can observe a colony of sea lions.
In the afternoon we arrive in Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island. Santa Cruz is the second largest island in the Galapagos and has the largest population, with Puerto Ayora as its main town. It also boasts the most varied of the islands’ vegetation zones: coastal, transition, scalesia, miconia and pampa. Explore the area and its incredible underground lava tunnels. Wander along the volcanic tubes and keep an eye out for the (mainly) nocturnal barn owls that sometimes roost here. In the afternoon we visit the highlands to look for giant land tortoises in the wild.
Day 7 Guided walk on Santa Fe to observe iguanas
After breakfast this morning we visit South Plaza Island. One of the smallest islands in the Galapagos, South Plaza has one of the largest populations of land iguanas. A large colony of noisy sea lions, numbering about 1000 bulls, cows and pups, has its prime habitat on the smooth rocks. We will walk along a path through a cactus forest and view a combination of dry and coastal vegetation. The small cactus forest is populated by land iguanas, which can be seen sunning themselves or feeding on opuntia pads and fruits. Swallow-tailed gulls, which nest on the rugged southern cliffs, are usually seen, along with tropicbirds and Audubon’s shearwaters. During the rainy season you can see the red sesuvium turn bright green and the leafless evening-blooming portulaca burst into large yellow flowers, which are loved by the iguanas.
After lunch back on board the Monserrat we will continue to Santa Fe Island. Santa Fe was formed from an uplift (rather than a volcano) giving the island a relatively flat surface rather than the typical conical shape of the other islands. Along the island’s northern shore, enjoy trekking through the forest of giant prickly pear cactus (Opuntia). A member of the cactus family their name comes from the pear shaped fruit the plant produces. Santa Fe is also home to a number of endemic species which have bounced back from various threats to their survival. You may get a chance to see the Galapagos hawk, Galapagos snake, a variety of finches and the Galapagos mockingbird. Once back at the beach there is normally plenty of free time to take a panga ride in the lagoon to see playful sea lions and search for sea turtles, rays, and reef sharks while catching a glimpse of large schools of brightly coloured tropical fish.
Day 8 Explore Punta Pitt on San Cristobal then visit La Galapaguera
We land this morning at Punta Pitt, on the eastern tip of San Cristobal Island. Here we will find unique volcanic formations as well as nesting sites for all three species of the Galapagos boobies: blue footed, red footed and Nazca. Punta Pitt is also home to the endemic lava lizard. We will be able to observe a mixture of different types of lava flows as well as colourful vegetation. It is possible to see the three species of boobies as well as frigatebirds, all nesting in the same area – unique to this spot in the entire archipelago. Snorkel around Punta Pitt Island and spot schools of fish swimming below. On the shore admire the nesting birds and sun bathing sea lions.
After lunch we will head to La Galapaguera, where we will have the opportunity to see giant tortoises and to enjoy a snorkelling excursion off the south-eastern coast of San Cristobal.
Day 9 Visit the interpretation centre on San Cristobal then fly back to Quito
We arrive at San Cristobal in the morning. San Cristobal is the easternmost island of the Galapagos archipelago and one of the oldest. Its principal town is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galapagos. We disembark the boat after breakfast and visit the interpretation centre where we can learn more about the Galapagos’ history, geology, turbulent past and challenging future.
Then we transfer to the airport for our flight to Quito via Guayaquil (refueling stop only, you will not disembark the plane). On arrival back on the mainland (between 2:30pm and 5:30pm), we transfer to the hotel for our final night in Ecuador.
Day 10 Trip ends in Quito
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Quito.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart at any time. We recommend spending extra time in Quito, particularly if you wish to go on some of the optional day trips that are bookable locally, or if you are looking to book on our Amazon extension package (trip code: AE). Pick-up times for your airport transfer to Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) will be re-confirmed locally in your welcome pack. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at the hotel.