Elite Itinerary A
Sunday – Sunday
Day by day itinerary description
Arrival to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno in San Cristobal Island. Reception and Assistance at the airport by our members and transportation to the Elite.
Saturday PM: El Junco Lagoon, San Cristobal
Your afternoon begins in the lush highlands of San Cristobal Island. When settlers first colonized the Galapagos Islands, they needed to establish their homes near a reliable source of fresh water. The El Junco lagoon – the size of a large pond or small lake – is one of very few freshwater bodies of water in the Galapagos. Fed by cool, misty rains, the lagoon fills the crater of a long-extinct volcano.
El Junco lagoon boasts a unique ecosystem of water birds, and it’s possible to see ducks and herons that are rare elsewhere. The walk from the port to the lagoon takes visitors through small highland villages, offering a glimpse into the life of the locals, most of whom have lived here for generations.
Sunday AM: North Seymour Island
North Seymour is a visitor favorite, packed full of the sorts of animals that people have come from around the world to see. After a brief scramble up a rocky bluff from the landing site, the trail is more or less flat, although quite rocky in places. The trail wends though some scrubby vegetation before looping around and returning to the landing site via a picturesque beach.
The star animal here is the land iguana, which is seen at only a handful of visitor sites. There is a species of cactus here that the iguanas like to eat, so look for them near cacti, munching on the pads. Look for nesting Frigate Birds in the trees along the trail. Mating season for the North Seymour Frigate Birds is between March and June, and those are the best months for seeing the bright red neck pouches for which the birds are famous, but there always seems to be one or two rogue frigates who inflate theirs at other times of the year. On the ground, Blue-footed Boobys abound, quorking at visitors from their dusty nests on and near the trail. There is a healthy colony of sea lions near the landing site and along the beach, and you’ll also see marine iguanas and the ubiquitous Sally Lightfoot crabs there.
After the visit, your guides may take you snorkeling nearby: lucky visitors may see sharks, eels or rays in addition to the usual colorful reef fish.
Sunday PM: Dragon Hill, Santa Cruz
Depending on who you ask, Dragon Hill (“Cerro Dragon” in Spanish) gets its name either from the fact that it is shaped roughly like a sleeping dragon or from the fact that it is home to many land iguanas. Both explanations work: from afar, if you squint just right and have a good imagination, it can look like a dragon, and the iguanas here make the site a visitor favorite.
Dragon Hill is one of the longer hikes in Galapagos. It winds through a maze of Palo Santo trees and prickly cacti before ascending the hill itself. The hike is desert-like, especially during the drier months of the year. Look for the little dragons – the land iguanas – near the trail, munching on cactus pads. Part of the hike will take you past a salty lagoon, where sometimes flamingoes can be seen. Look for Pintail Ducks and stilts there, too. Darwin Finches and mocking birds flit through the trees, and you may see a Galapagos Dove or two waddling along the trail, pecking away at nearly-invisible seeds on the dusty ground.
The trail eventually reaches the top of Dragon Hill, from where there is a fantastic view and the opportunity to do snorkeling.
Monday AM: Tintoreras/Sierra Negra
Tintorera is the local name for the White-tipped Reef Shark, but can also refer to an area off of Isabela Island where there are many very small islands and semi-submerged rocks in a small area. This area is well-known for abundant wildlife: in addition to the sharks, there are countless marine iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks. Penguins live here, too, Blue Footed Boobys nest on the larger rocks and islets and brown Pelicans splash into the sea to devour a billful of fish. There is a certain shallow channel that the sharks seem to like: at times it is possible to see dozens of them there.
Alternatively, Sierra Negra is an interesting hike. Sierra Negra, on Isabela Island, is the only volcano currently open to hikers. A group of fit hikers with guide can do the trail in about five to six hours. The trail itself if not dangerous or particularly steep, but the sun can be strong and groups should be well provisioned with water, sunscreen and other protection against the elements.
The trail to the top is a memorable one, because it passes through different zones. Near the base, the vegetation is lush and green, and small birds are common, but later it gets rockier as it passes through some areas of dried lava. The view from the top of the volcano is stunning: visitors get to see the volcano caldera as well as an unforgettable seascape.
Monday PM: Isabela Wetlands/Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Center
A short walk from Puerto Villamil, the only town on Isabela Island, the Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Center is a visitor favorite. The center specializes in the five subspecies of giant tortoise native to the island of Isabela, the largest in Galapagos. Adult tortoises were brought to the center to reproduce in a safe environment where eggs and young tortoises could develop away from predators. The center has been very successful, and even the Cerro Paloma tortoise subspecies, once on the brink of extinction, is now healthy once more.
The center itself is shady and airy, and has a garden-like feel to it. Visitors stroll around at their leisure, snapping photos of the tortoises and asking questions of their guides. There are interesting species of trees here, too: look for signs or ask your guide about them.
The trail from the town to the breeding center is part of the fun: it goes through a marshy lowland and parts of it are on raised boardwalks so that visitors will not disturb the fragile ecosystem. Look for wading and swimming birds like Pintail Ducks and egrets.
Tuesday AM: Moreno Point
Punta Moreno is an excellent site for fans of geology and bird lovers. The ground is covered in rough lava, dried out after an eruption decades ago. The formations of the lava rock indicate how it flowed and dried and are very interesting for geologists. The lava flow cooled unevenly, and in places there are little ponds of brackish water popular with wading birds like flamingoes, herons and stilts. You may even get to see the occasional Pintail Duck in one of the pools!
There is little in the way of vegetation, but some hardy pioneer plant species and cacti have begun the process of breaking the lava rocks down into something friendlier for plants and animals. There are small lizards and snakes to be found in and among the rocks. Along the coastline, tidal pools may trap some interesting sea life, and you may get to see some marine iguanas swimming and diving down to feed on underwater algae. Also snorkeling along the shoreline, lucky guests may spot some Galapagos Penguins.
Tuesday PM: Urbina Bay, Isabela
Isabela Island is still acutely active, geologically speaking, and lucky guests may even get to witness an eruption: these happen every five years or so. One day, about fifty years ago, volcanic activity deep under the earth rocked Isabela island, reshaping the contours of Urbina Bay. Large areas that had been underwater were thrust upwards and into the sunlight, so quickly that trapped fish and turtles died on the muddy land: passing sea captains reported that the new coast of the bay stunk of dead fish for weeks.
Today, one of the more fascinating trails in the islands wends its way through the rocks and trees of Urbina Bay. Massive chunks of coral still stand where they were when the land rose out of the sea. In and around the trail, it is possible to see land iguanas and smaller birds like finches, and the occasional giant tortoise lumbers across the trail in front of astonished visitors.
Wednesday AM: Espinosa Point, Fernandina
Years after your trip, many of your favorite photos will have been taken here on Espinosa Point. Hundreds of marine iguanas bask in the sun near the landing point: sharp-eyed guests may even spot some swimming in the surf, ready to dive down and gnaw some algae off of the rocks offshore. Galapagos hawks soar overhead, looking for a meal, or stare, stony-eyed, at visitors from their perch in a tree. At the end of one of the trails, flightless cormorants – a species unique to the islands – make their nests and clumsily waddle around. In the gentle surf off the point, monstrously large sea turtles surface, gulp a mouthful of air, and sink again. Some visitors will spot the shy Galapagos snakes slithering between the cracked lava rocks. Tidal pools have been known to capture large stingrays, which then must await the next tide to escape to the sea again. Geology buffs will marvel at the lava formations which make up the rugged ground here. Unforgettable!
Wednesday PM: Vicente Roca Point, Isabela
Vicente Roca Point, on the rocky coast of Isabela Island, is not a walking tour. The visitor site is the coastline itself: rocky and pounded by the surf. Pangas keep a safe distance from the treacherous waves, making their way along the coastline. Visitors can expect to see both varieties of sea lions native to the Galapagos: the Galapagos Sea Lion and the Fur Sea Lion. Also, lucky guests may see penguins along the rocky shore and any number of sea birds nesting along the cliffs and soaring overhead. The snorkeling is excellent here: the guides will pick the best spot depending on the conditions, and guests have the possibility of seeing sea lions, penguins and turtles in addition the usual parrot fish, surgeon fish, sergeant-majors and other stars of the pacific reefs.
Thursday AM: Rabida Island
This morning’s visit has something for everyone! Rabida is a smallish island with an unforgettable trail. Visitors disembark on a beach where the sand is a startling shade of crimson. This is due to the high iron content of the soil and sand. If you walk along the red, sandy beach, you may observe Brown Pelicans nesting in the mangroves and trees. Behind a wall of mangroves is a shallow, salty lagoon where flamingoes occasionally feed.
The main trail meanders up a small hill, through rocks, fragrant palo santo trees and cacti, eventually reaching a scenic rocky cliff. In addition to the pelicans, flamingoes and the occasional booby, Rabida is known for smaller birds: visitors should look for Finches, Galapagos Doves, Yellow Warblers and Mockingbirds.
Following the walk, guests will have the opportunity to snorkel at a spot not far from the beach. Rabida is a favorite snorkeling spot: guests are dropped off where a steep cliff goes into the water. As you swim along the coastline, on the one side there are rocks where colorful reef fish dart about, and on the other side is deepish water where the occasional shark or ray can be seen. Sometimes, playful sea lions will approach snorkelers for a closer look! The snorkeling site is mostly sheltered from the wind and currents which can make snorkeling in other places in the islands challenging.
Thursday PM: Bartholomew Island
Bartholomew (Bartolomé in Spanish) Island is one of the more picturesque visits on the itinerary. Bartholomew is a smallish island, located a short distance from the larger Santiago (James) island nearby. The island was once a volcanic cone, but much of it has eroded away. Near the landing site, look for marine iguanas, Sally Lightfoot Crabs, herons and Galapagos Penguins. There is a trail to the top of the cone, from which there is a fantastic panoramic view of the azure waters and misty hills of Santiago Island. The trail consists of a boardwalk with many stairs. The boardwalk is there to protect the fragile ecosystem of the island. There is little wildlife along the trail: look for lava lizards and insects scurrying about.
At the western end of the island, Pinnacle Rock looms over the placid waters of Santiago Bay. Pinnacle rock, which looks like a massive chipped Stone Age spear point, stands out from the rounded hills of Bartolome and Santiago: legend has it that the distinctive formation was created during World War Two, when the United States Navy used the island for bombing practice.
Following the steamy hike to the top and back down again, what better than a refreshing swim? Bartholomew is one of the premier snorkeling spots in the islands. Visitors may see any combination of penguins, sharks, rays and sea turtles in addition to the usual colorful kaleidoscope of reef fish.
Friday AM: Witch Hill, San Cristobal
Witch Hill gets its name from the Vermilion Flycatcher, a small bird with dazzling red plumage. In Spanish, it is called “pájaro brujo,” or “witch bird,” and the rugged hill at this site was once known for the population of Vermilion Flycatchers that lived there. The birds are not as common here as they once were, although they are still plentiful elsewhere in the islands.
The Witch Hill visitor site features one of the best beaches in Galapagos, a small lagoon where visitors may see egrets and herons, and some excellent light snorkeling. Generally, part of the visit includes a panga ride around the unique rock formations of Witch Hill itself.
Sea lions snooze on the beach, and nesting boobies quork and whistle at visitors from the rocks.
The waters here are particularly lively: look for shore birds darting along the water line and poking around in tidal pools, boobies fishing offshore and pelicans splashing noisily in search of a billful of fresh fish. There is a spectacular view of picturesque Kicker Rock from the beach.
Friday PM: Lobos Island, off San Cristobal
Isla Lobos, or “Sea Lion Island,” is a long, thin island not far off the coast of San Cristobal Island. As the name implies, it is home to a healthy colony of sea lions. There is a trail on the island, and visitors can see different species of birds, including Boobys of both the Blue-footed and Nazca varieties.
There are marina iguanas and lava lizards on the island as well. In addition to the hike on the islet, the calm channel between Lobos Island and San Cristobal is one of the better snorkeling spots in the islands, as it is usually calm and the sea lions often frolic with visitors.
Saturday AM: San Cristobal Interpretation Center
Built in 1998 with the support of the government of Spain and the Charles Darwin Research Station, the San Cristobal Interpretation Center features exhibits on the natural and human history of the Galapagos Islands. There are displays and photographs, with descriptions in English and Spanish.
The exhibits document the different phenomena that make the islands so unique: one example is an excellent description of the different ocean currents that seasonally affect all life on the islands.
After the visit to the Center, passengers will be then taken San Cristobal airport. Our airport personnel will assist passengers with the check in process. Farwell and boarding the flight back to mainland Ecuador.