Explore the Galapagos Islands
Although exact routing depends on the Galapagos National Park, the following islands may be on the itinerary:
On this wildlife-rich small island, follow trails past coastal groups of Galápagos sea lions and marine iguanas inland through a silvery forest of Palo Santo to colonies of magnificent and great frigatebirds, blue-footed boobies and other seabirds. See land iguanas clambering over rocks in search of cactus and other flowers. Look for swallow-tailed gulls, noddy terns, red-billed tropic birds and Galápagos fur seals on the rocky walls of this small island (like neighboring Baltra).
This is an enchanting landscape where lava, mangroves and golden sand converge. Climb to the summit of this 360-foot-high volcanic wonderland of spatter and scoria cones and tuff formations, well worth the effort for the stunning view. Later, stroll the golden sand beach below, backed by a tangle of mangroves under famous Pinnacle Rock. Here lucky swimmers and snorkelers might encounter Galápagos penguins, one of the world’s rarest and the only tropical penguin species.
Follow in the wake of Darwin and the HMS Beagle on the rugged Santiago, where we explore tide pools and look for fur seals and sea lions sheltered in quiet grottos of black basalt at Puerto Egas. Swim, snorkel, kayak and paddleboard along the spectacular coast of Buccaneers Cove, a secluded atelier where pirates once careened their ships. Explore a dense coastal forest, home to Galápagos hawks and other land birds, at Playa Espumilla. Look for marine iguanas, brilliant Sally Lightfoot crabs and many shore birds while ambling about on this unique island.
See Darwin’s finch species foraging and wild tortoises roaming free in the moss-draped highlands of this central island. Be greeted as a friend in Puerto Ayora, headquarters of both the Galápagos National Park and Charles Darwin Research Station. Tour the giant tortoise breeding corrals, a pioneering effort that has resulted in repopulation of Española and other islands. See Lonesome George, the last tortoise from Isla Pinta and a conservation icon, is at the center of the new Route of the Tortoises. The town of Puerto Ayora, lined with shops, hotels and restaurants, is connected by road across the island and a short canal-crossing to Baltra, the island on the north coast, home to a WWII-era U.S. Army air force base and still the primary airport.
Land on a small, sparkling beach at Punta Pitt for a hike up to a plateau where blue- and red-footed boobies nest and possible sights of endemic Cristóbal mockingbirds and lava lizards. On this easternmost island, also explore the celebrated expanse of powdery white sand at Cerro Brujo. One of four populated islands and the capital of the province, San Cristóbal has a rich agricultural zone in the highlands and a healthy tortoise population. Explore Baquerizo Moreno, where sea lions thrive in the middle of town.
Toast crossing the Equator at Volcán Ecuador on Isabela, a towering island formed of six great shield volcanoes that make up 2/3 of the land area in Galápagos. Cruise, kayak and snorkel along wildly eroded formations of volcanic ash, hike along the uplifted coastline and search for flightless cormorants, endemic land iguanas and Galapagos penguins. Land on the black sandy beach in the footsteps of Darwin and Melville. Fed by the upwelling of cool, nutrient-rich currents, this is a rich oceanic realm, once the haunt of whalers and pirates, and a good place to see whales, dolphins and other marine life.
In the remote western archipelago, walk among brightly colored Sally Lightfoot crabs and the most numerous population of marine iguanas anywhere in the haven of Punta Espinoza. Hike over impressive young lava flows past tide pools where young sea lions play and the strange flightless cormorant nests. One of the most active oceanic volcanoes in the world, Fernandina is a privilege to visit. Galápagos hawks, sea lion nurseries and many sea birds are found on this youngest and most pristine island in Galápagos.
This is an island of rolling hills and fresh water springs and a favorite of pirates, whalers, scientists and settlers. Follow a trail along a rose-pink lagoon across Punta Cormorant. Hike to a pristine white-sand beach, a favorite nesting site for sea turtles. At Champion Islet, snorkel among sea lions in the clear waters or cruise along the shore by Zodiac looking for flamingos, pintail ducks and various shorebirds. Visit Post Office Bay and consider participating in the 19th-century tradition of leaving and taking letters from the barrel for hand delivery. Stand-up paddleboard and kayak along the coast at Baroness Lookout, named after the early settler and eccentric Eloise Bosquet de Wagner. Floreana is an island rich in mystery.
See swallow-tailed gulls, Española mockingbirds, Nazca boobies and, in April-December, the world’s only population of waved albatross at Punta Suarez, where one can walk among vividly colored marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies and breeding colonies of sea lions. Española is also a paradise for Darwin’s finches. Optional trails lead inland across iron-laden pillow basalt to the blowhole and seabird cliffs. At Gardner Bay, explore the expanse of bright white sand and snorkel offshore islets.
Sail across the Equator to the remote northern realm of the Galápagos, surrounded by warmer tropical waters.
National Geographic Islander
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