The Galapagos Islands, surely, need no introduction. Ancient seafarers called them the Enchanted Isles, recognising their unique landscape and extraordinary fauna, but it was Charles Darwin who drew them to the world’s attention. By observing the fascinating changes and adaptations made in the birds and reptiles through thousands of years of isolation on these predator-free islands, Darwin was able to formulate his theory of evolution.
The Galapagos Islands form a large archipelago straddling the equator some 960 kilometres off the coast of Ecuador. Of volcanic origin, they are beautiful islands with great variety and often bizarre form; each island with its own peculiar shape and charm. There are volcanic peaks, strange lava fields, beautiful sandy bays, and clear seas, perfect for snorkelling in the sheltered coves. Their natural history is outstanding — so much of it endemic. 28 bird species, from the Small Ground Finch to the magnificent Waved Albatross, occur nowhere else in the world. There are giant tortoises, prehistoric-looking Land and Marine Iguanas, colourful crabs such as the Sally Lightfoot, and even a Galapagos Snake. Most appealing of all is the tame and obliging nature of this extraordinary wildlife; it is a photographer’s paradise — a telephoto lens is usually unnecessary.
Our 2-week cruise is special. We avoid the routine, large and luxury motor vessels, and their noisy crowds, by chartering our own vessel, the elegant First Class motor yacht Beluga, which accommodates 16 passengers in 8 comfortable, air-conditioned cabins. This provides a freedom, flexibility and group independence essential to the specialist nature of our holiday. Moving at our own pace, we will have a greater chance to enjoy these islands to the full, and to benefit from the knowledge of our expert naturalist-guide.
We will aim to visit all the major islands and many smaller ones, starting and ending our cruise on Baltra Island. At Academy Bay, on Santa Cruz Island, we will visit the Charles Darwin Research Station and the giant tortoise breeding station, and make a trip up to the highlands to look for the reptiles in the wild. We will walk amongst spectacular volcanic scenery on Bartolome Island, and we will swim amongst fur seals and Sea Lions from the beaches on James Island. With a mixture of night-time voyages (for the longer navigations) and shorter day-time sailings, we will explore each island for its own peculiar wildlife specialities. On Espanola we should see the magnificent Waved Albatross in December and January (and, in August, its remarkable courtship display) together with thousands of nesting seabirds and colourful Marine Iguanas. Genovesa, way to the north, hosts huge colonies of frigatebirds and Red-footed and Masked Boobies, plus a population of storm-petrel hunting diurnal Short-eared Owls. Fernandina, geologically the newest of the islands and volcanically active as recently as 2009, offers wonderful scenery with spectacular isolation. Endemic Flightless Cormorants breed here and we must keep an eye to sea for the chance of a passing pod of Killer or Bryde’s Whales.
As we cruise between the islands, there is time to read, relax and keep a tour diary. There will be time to sea-watch, enjoying our quiet companions the petrels, shearwaters, gulls and boobies, and to keep an eye out for dolphins playfully swimming in the bow-wave of our boat.
In Ecuador, after our cruise, we offer a choice between spending a day visiting and birdwatching on Antisana, a magnificent volcano permanently adorned with snow, and a day at Otavalo, an Indian town to the north of Quito with one of the best indigenous markets in South America. We also offer an extension to Sacha Lodge in the Amazon Jungle, enjoying the rich birdlife of the area and the various trails and dug-out canoe excursions that enable a thorough exploration of this area of the great Amazon rainforest.