During your 8-day Galapagos Discovery land tour, be treated to three full-day yacht explorations and two full-day land explorations (Santa Cruz).
The following activities may be on your itinerary, depending on the day of the week (your Adventure Specialist will present you with a detailed itinerary). Each day ends back at the Finch Bay Eco Hotel for dinner, relaxation or optional activities:
Full-Day Land Excursions
El Manzanillo & the Highlands
Leave Academy Bay by bus and travel nine miles to the lush highlands of Santa Cruz Island. From there, a short drive across the farming area leads to El Manzanillo, a visitor site at the northern edge of the Giant Tortoise Reserve. Manzanillo is on the natural path tortoises take every year as they either migrate to higher, moister locations during the garúa season or descend to the warmer lowlands during the wet season. Tortoises can be seen grazing on the surrounding vegetation, wallowing in muddy banks or in a small red pond that is colored by surface red pond weeds. The area is teeming with life: small-tree finches, large-tree finches, woodpecker finches, vegetarian finches, mockingbirds, flycatchers, ducks, herons and gallinules.
Tortuga Bay & Charles Darwin Research Station
Tortuga Bay is located to the southwest of Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island. Its name means “turtle” and the island received this moniker because sea turtles favor it as a place to lay their eggs. The stunning white sand beach is considered by many the most beautiful in the Galapagos archipelago. The beach, open from 6:00am to 6:30pm daily, is reached via a marked and cobbled 1.25-mile path that starts at the west end of Charles Binford Street; guests must sign in and out at the national park control point at the beginning of the path. There is excellent bird-watching along the path, with plenty of Darwin’s finches and other seabirds. And for active visitors, it is a great place to kayak, snorkel and surf!
The headquarters of the Galapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Research Station are located side by side on the outskirts of Puerto Ayora. There is an interpretation centre open to the public and also one may view the tortoise rearing program. For those who have already seen them in the wild, a visit to the Centre will expand their knowledge of this unique, iconic Galapagos animal.
This is the magic of Galapagos: a short distance away from Academy Bay and the bustle of Puerto Ayora, lies the quiet and wildlife-rich Divine Bay. Named after one of the island’s first settlers, this cove is protected from the swells by natural volcanic reefs on one side and by a gallery of mangrove trees on the other, as well as cliffs created eons ago by the uplift of the lava plateau. The whole bay provides a wonderful natural shelter for wildlife.
The morning’s visit includes snorkeling on a calm but active sector of the cove which is next to a wooden dock used to explore Punta Estrada. A dry landing and a short walk (0.3 miles) will lead us to the south shore of Santa Cruz Island, to a small beach called “Playa de los Perros” (Dog Beach). This is a great place to see intertidal organisms and learn about marine iguanas in their nesting sites. Also, there’s a nearby natural terrace from where young white tipped reef sharks can be observed from above as they swim about the lava crevices.
Cerro Mesa Trek
Leave Academy Bay by vehicle to climb into the highlands of Santa Cruz. Although 97% of Galápagos land surface is protected, on this island there is an approximately 3-mile belt of sustainable farms, which precede the National Park’s creation in 1959; they ring the peaks of the island and coexist with the surrounding protected land.
The first stop is Cerro Mesa. Bordering the National Park, this private preserve is a great combination of native and endemic forest, a splendid birding area, a natural path for migrating giant tortoises (seasonally they move from areas with better foraging conditions) and home to impressive volcanic formations.
Explore the natural surroundings from a large scoria mount, with a spectacular view over most of the Galápagos’ central islands and islets, and walk 0.8 miles on a gravel path to Santa Cruz’s largest sinkhole. Here encounter giant tortoises, herons, gallinules (in natural water holes) and some of the rarest Darwin finches (like the elusive vegetarian-, woodpecker- and tree finches). Stop for a rest and snacks at a local shelter before continuing down to the Finch Bay dock in Academy Bay, located just a short walk from the hotel.
Full-Day Yacht Excursions
*Note: some excursions operate directly from Puerto Ayora, while others begin or end with an overland drive.
North Seymour Island
North Seymour Island was lifted from the ocean floor by a seismic event; its origins as a seabed give the island its low, flat profile. Cliffs only a few feet high form the shoreline, where swallow-tailed gulls sit perched on ledges. A tiny forest of silver-grey palo santo trees stands just above the landing, usually without leaves, waiting for the rain to bring them into bloom. This island is teeming with life.
On today’s walking excursion along sometimes uneven, rocky terrain, search for passing sea lions, marine iguanas or blue-footed booby nests. Where the rocky shore is interspersed with white sand, large flocks of pelicans dive-bomb in a feeding frenzy. The trail turns inland to reveal the largest nesting site in the Galapagos of the magnificent frigatebird. In the afternoon, visit Las Bachas beach on Santa Cruz Island, an important nesting area for the east Pacific green sea turtle. Here, enjoy snorkeling and swimming from the glorious white sand and possible sightings of stilts, flamingos and other wading birds in the nearby lagoons.
Bartolome is famous for Pinnacle Rock, a towering spearheaded obelisk that rises from the ocean’s edge and is the best-known landmark in the islands. Galapagos penguins—the only species of penguin found north of the equator—walk precariously along narrow volcanic ledges at the base of the island. Sea lions snooze on rocky platforms, ready to slide into the water to play with passing snorkelers. A dry landing here leads to a 2,000-foot pathway complete with stairs and boardwalks leading to Bartolome’s summit. The route presents a real-life exhibit of volcanology: a site left untouched after its last eruption, where cones stand in various stages of erosion and lava tubes form bobsled-like runs from the summit. At the top be rewarded with spectacular views of Santiago Island and James Bay to the west, and far below, Pinnacle Rock and the landing beach.
Punta Carrion & South Plaza Island
Punta Carrion, at the north-eastern tip of Santa Cruz Island, boasts both shallow reefs, mangroves and exposure to rich upwellings to the east. As a result, it’s an ideal snorkeling site with plenty of reef fish as well as occasional sea lions and sharks. South Plaza is a small island full of fascinating wildlife, both along its shore and along its dramatic, wind-swept cliffs, including sea lions, land iguanas, swallow-tailed gulls, Opuntia cacti and vegetation that changes colors according to the season. South Plaza is one of Galapagos’ most impressive visiting sites, where a dry landing leads to snorkeling and walking options amongst turquoise waters, green seaweed, bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs, scarlet sesuvium succulents, luminescent green prickly-pear cactus, red-billed tropic birds, masked and blue-footed boobies and manta rays.
Santa Fe Island
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 to the southeast of Santa Cruz within sight of Puerto Ayora. Like North Seymour, Santa Fe has been uplifted seismically, revealing underwater lava formations. A wet landing on a sandy white beach reveals a sea lion harem and giant prickly pear cactus. Enjoy a hike over uneven, rocky terrain to seek out one of the large dinosaur-like species of land iguana native to Santa Fe Island. Afterward, go snorkeling with diverse marine life.