Wildlife Cruise Tour in the Galápagos Islands
This 10-day Galápagos Wildlife Cruise Tour will allow you to experience the exceptional wildlife of Galapagos up close on board an 8-day cruise on one of the very best yachts in Galapagos in its price category in the company of an expert naturalist with an extensive natural history knowledge and looked after by a friendly and professional crew.
A Galapagos cruise offers one of the most unforgettable and unique nature experiences on earth – truly a living laboratory of evolution where the animals and birds have never learned to have fear no of humans. The fearlessness and unique adaptations of animal life here are quite astounding.
We passionately believe that on board a small yacht is the best way to experience Galapagos at its most wild and pure. Being onboard a small yacht for up to a maximum of 16 guests, with comfortable cabins and private bathrooms, makes it a much more intimate and authentic experience with nature than the larger vessels.
Most of your travel is done at night, which means you wake up each morning in a different wildlife-rich visitor site and then have the best parts of the day to enjoy the resident fauna and unique natural features that each visitor site has. From breeding boobies to diving marine iguanas, from flightless cormorants to giant tortoises, each day brings something new.
Length of cruise
This Galápagos Wildlife Cruise, which is one of our most popular that we run, includes an eight-day cruise, which for most people is the optimum length. However, for those with less time, there are cruises available from as short as 5 days to as long as 15 days for truly the ultimate Galapagos experience if time and budget allow.
Each yacht has a 15-day program that is set by the Galapagos National Park and they are not allowed to visit the same visitor site twice in this cycle. This means that in an 8-day cruise you can either visit the Central and Western part of the archipelago or the Southern, Northern and Eastern part of the archipelago. All of the itineraries we work with have a great mix of Galapagos wildlife but depending on the particular wildlife interests you have, we will select the very best Galapagos cruise itinerary for you.
Looked after every step of the way…
This Galápagos Wildlife trip starts and ends in Guayaquil on the Pacific Coast of Ecuador from where you will take your flight out to the Galapagos Islands which takes around 2 hours. The crew from the yacht will meet you at the airport and take you to board the yacht.
Our friendly local team with bilingual guides will look after you from the moment you arrive in Guayaquil until the moment you depart for your flight home. For this program, we are using a family-owned hostel, which has wonderful personalised service and consistently ranks as one of the top hotels in the city on trip adviser. You will stay here for your night on arrival to Ecuador and the night prior to flying home after your Galapagos cruise ends.
Top 5 Highlights
- Encounter first-hand and up-close some of the most exceptional wildlife on the planet
- Experience what UNESCO describes as a unique living museum and showcase of evolution’
- Top local Galapagos National Park guides with extensive natural history knowledge
- Comprehensive 8-day cruise itinerary visiting some of the best and most remote islands in Galapagos
- Looked after every step of the way with a highly experienced local team
Like the look of this tour and keen to see what else is on offer? Have a look at the Birding Galápagos, Cloud Forest & Andes Wildlife Tour.
Alternative Tour Name: Galapagos Wildlife Cruise
Arrive to Ecuador's commercial capital city of Guayaquil on the Pacific Coast (*if you wish the program can be adapted to arrive in Quito, but we prefer Guayaquil for this program as it is a shorter flight to Galapagos and you avoid any issues of arriving to high altitude which some guests experience in Quito at 2800m). You will be met at the airport by one of our team of bilingual guides and taken to your hotel, the Macaw Hostel, a charming family run hotel with excellent personalised service. The rest of the day is free to relax.
This morning you will be picked up from your hotel by one of our team of bilingual guides and taken to the airport in Guayaquil for your 2 hour flight to Galapagos. Our guide will help you pass through the migration controls required to enter Galapagos and check in for your flight. Upon arrival to Galapagos, once you have paid your US$100 Galapagos National Park entrance fee and collected your luggage, as you exit the airport your guide and a crew member from the yacht will be there to greet you and you will set off on your Galapagos adventure.
Your first visit will be in the highlands of Santa Cruz island, which are home to fascinating geological features, like lava tubes and the twin sinkhole craters of Los Gemelos. This site is home to over 300 different fern species as well as a forest of Scalesias, a relative of the daisy. The highlands of Santa Cruz are one of the best places to see Giant Tortoises in the wild in one of the privately owned ranches here. The area is also excellent to look for some elusive endemics like the Woodpecker Finch (one of only a few bird species in the world to use tools), Small Tree Finch, Vegetarian Finch and Galapagos Rail if time allows.
From here you head down to the town of Puerto Ayora where you visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, which gives you a great chance to learn about some of the conservation work being done in the islands and makes the perfect introduction to your visit. After this a little time to explore on your own before meeting up with your guide at the main dock where you will be taken in a panga (dingy) to the yacht and the next stage of your Galapagos trip.
This little island is located just off the southeastern tip of James (Santiago) Island, and is named after its shape! A really beautiful island surrounded by crystal clear waters and a great location for sea lions and if you are lucky Galapagos Penguins. Perhaps more than any other site this gives you a sense of the Galapagos Islands volcanic origins as the beautiful white beach gives way to a landscape of volcanic rubble and lava.
This red sandy beach with sea lions and nesting pelicans which if we are lucky offers a rare glimpse of a chick feeding. This is the mosts geologically diverse of all the Galapagos islands, a chance to snorkel with sealions here and a great diversity of near-shore and pelagic fish.
Accouting for over half the land surface of Galapagos measuring over 1800 square miles, the seahorse shaped Isabela Island is by far the largest in the Galapagos. The island is formed from six separate volcanoes (Wolf, Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Sierra Negra and Ecuador). As the largest island, it has lots of different visitor sites, with a diversity of ecosystems ranging from barren lava flows to lush evergreen forests.
Our yacht will be docked today in Puerto Villamil a small town on the southeast coast of Isabela so we can explore some of the sites from here. Our first visit this morning is before breakfast to Las Tintoreras or Shark Reef Canal. With completely calm turquoise waters, Las Tintoreras is a great place to see Sea Lions, Sea Turtles and Marine Iguanas as well as other Galapagos wildlife however
the site gets its name thanks to a large lava crevice where White-tipped Reef Sharks are found resting or swimming at low tide. The area is also home to a small colony of Sea Lions and a nesting site for Marine Iguanas.
After breakfast we set off in a bus heading up to the highlands of Isabela for our visit to Sierra Negra Volcano. This volcano has one of the largest caldera’s in the world measuring over 6 miles across. You will walk for around 1 hour to get to the rim of the caldera, from where you can see the lava flow from the most recent eruption in 2005. Along the way you will be rewarded with incredible panoramic views of Sierra Negra and the chance to seeVermillion Flycatchers, Galapagos Martins, and Galapagos Hawk.
The final visit today will be to the Tortoise Breeding Centre. The Galapagos has 11 different species of Giant Tortoise of which five species are endemic to Isabela. This breeding facility, built just outside of town by the Galapagos National Park Service is helping to increase the populations of these populations of Tortoises, which were on a severe decline until the 80´s.
Today we walk, snorkel and have a dingy ride to allow us to explore this site in full with its dramatic seascapes and one of the best sunrise areas in the Galapagos. The visit begins with a dinghy ride along the beautiful rocky shores where shore birds, penguins, cormorants and herons can be spotted. The barren lava fields host a surprising amount of wildlife due to the presence of many sink holes which are home to Flamingos, Stilts and Pintail Ducks. After this a walk to explore further before those who want to can take to the water.
Located on the far west coast of the Isabela, no landings are permitted here, but it makes for a beautiful dinghy ride and is arguably the best place to see Glapagos Penguins. Other endemic species such as Flightless Cormorants and Marine Iguanas are common and often seen basking in the sun on rocks along the shore. As you then enter a narrow cove lined with large Red Mangrove trees, you will see Marine Turtles, Rays and shore birds.
Back in 1954, almost 4 miles of coastal seabed dramatically uplifted about 4.5 m (15 ft) exposing the sea floor. Since this time vegetation has largely taken over the the area but many signs of the uplift can still be observed. This area is now a nesting site for Land Iguanas and occasionally, giant tortoises coming from the moist uplands. The trail here also is a good place for seeing Darwin Finches and it isn't rare to see Galapagos Hawk here. To explore this area again we have a dingy ride, a short hike and the chance to snorkel for those wh want.
Spectacular views of the northern lava fields of Isabela are seen from the top of this walk which takes you up the slopes of the Darwin Volcano, along the edge of a salt water lagoon. Most of the wildlife in this visit is seen during a dinghy ride along the coast, with dramatic colours and beautiful tuff formations, Blue-footed Boobies, Penguins, Marine Iguanas, Pelicans and shorebirds. Another opportunity for some snorkelling also at this site and the option of kayaking for those who wish.
This is a truly spectacular visitor site and is a highlight for any visitor to the Galapagos. Compirsed of a narrow strip of land extending from the base of the Fernandina Volcano, the area has the largest colonies of Marine Iguanas in Galapagos. This is also the best chance to see Flightless Cormorants, along with sea lions, and Galapagos Hawks which often perch on the mangrove trees looking for prey. As you walk long the coast here, tidal pools provide a perfect environment for shorebirds, such as Whimbrels, Oystercatchers, Plovers and Turnstones.
Isabela Island - Vicente Roca Point
Returing once more to Isabela Island this afternoon, this is a site of really beautiful volcanic scenery with amazing lava intrusions and huge sea cliff. No landing is permitted here, but the visit will be in a dingy as you see Nazca and Blue-footed Boobies sit along the cliffs whilst Flightless Cormorants stay along the shoreline and if you are lucky you will see Penguins in the water. The visit here provides excellent snorkelling too as the upwelling of cold water currents creates an abundance of marine life.
James Bay (Puerto Egas)
James Island, also known as Santiago Island was the place where Charles Darwin spent the majority of his land visits in Galapagos. The visit this morning to the Fur Seal Grottos provide great chances to get close views of both Fur Seals and Galapagos Sea Lions in a series of rocky pools. This mornign also gives us some of the best tide-pooling in the Galapagos with chances to see shore birds such as Plovers, Sandpipers, Herons and Oystercatchers. For those who don't like deep water snorkelling and prefer it from the beach, this is arguably the best site for a beach snorkel with the chance to see Reef Sharks, Turtles, Rays, nice underwater formations.
Home to the most iconic scenery shot of Galapagos, Bartolome island is just off the eastern shore of Santiago Island. The landscape here looks almost lunar which gives a real sense of the volcanic origins of the island. As well as the striking scenery and famous view from the top on the way up you will observe good examples of pioneering plants, including some beautiful strands of lava cactus. More good snorkelling here from the beach and if you are lucky with Galapagos Penguins.
A very early start this morning as the yacht must then return to Baltra where the cruise will end in time for guests to take their connecting flight back to Guayaquil (or Quito).
The last visit though is a great one, this island has a great variety of Galapagos wildlife in a relatively small loop trail. The highlight here is undoubtably the largest colony of Magnificent and Great Frigatebirds in the Galapagos as well as a colony of Blue-footed Boobies. In addition, there are Sea lions, Marine Iguanas, Lava Lizards, Swallow-tailed Gulls, and a few secretive, but very large Land Iguanas.
After this visit, you will head to the airport in Baltra and take your flight back to Guayaqul. Upon arrival there you will be met by one of our team of bilingual guides and taken to your hotel for the night.
Your last day of the trip today. Chance for a leisurely breakfast, before our guide comes to pick you up and take you to the airport where you can take your international flight back home.
Wildlife species expected to see:
Galapagos Giant Tortoise (geochelone spp), Galapagos Land Iguana (Chonolopus subcristatus), Flightless Cormorant, Marine Iguana (Amblyrynchus cristatus), Galapagos Lava Lizard (Microlophus spp.), Galapagos Snake (Aslophis dorsalis), Green Sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), Galapagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus), Waved Albratoss (Phoebatria irrorata), Galapagos Petrel (Petrodroma phaeopygia), Galapagos Shearwater (Puffinus subalaris), Red Billed Tropic Bird (Phaethon aethereus), Blue footed Booby (Sula nebouxi), Nazca Booby (Sula granti), Red Footed Booby (Sula sula), Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor), Galapagos Hawk (Buteo galapagoensis), Galapagos Rail (Laterllus spilonotus), Lava Gull (leucophaeus fuliginosus), Swallow Tailed Gull (Creagrus furcatus), Galapagos Mockingbird (Mimus parvulus), Espanola Mockingbird (Mimus macdonaldi),Warbler Finch (Certhidea olivacea), Woodpecker finch (Camarhynchus pallidus), Cactus Finch (Geospiza scandens), Large ground Finch (Geospiza magnirostris), Small ground Finch (Geospiza fuliginosa), Galapagos Sea Lion ( Zalophus wollebacki), Galapagos Fur Seal (Arctocephalus galapageonsis) and if we are lucky we may see Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), Minke whale (Baleonoptera acutororostrata )
What is included?
- 2 nights B&B at Macaw Hostel in Guayaquil in a double/twin room (or similar hotel in Quito)
- 3 Private airport transfers swith bilingual guide
- 1 Private airport transfer with assistance for Galapagos migration procedures
- 8 days/7 nights on board the Cachalote yacht in a double cabin
- All meals and unlimited tea, coffee and water during cruise
- Domestic Flights Guayaquil - Baltra and Baltra - Guayaquil (* or Quito if you prefer to start and end in Quito)
- Services of bilingual Galapagos National Park guide during the cruise
- All activities as described during the cruise
- Snorkel gear (mask, tube and fins)
- US$20 Galapagos Migration Card
What is not included?
- International flights
- Meals in mainland Ecuador except for breakfast
- US$100 Galapagos National Park Entrance fee
- Alcoholic and bottled soft drinks onboard the cruise
- Personal expenses
- Services not detailed
- Wet suit rental (approx $40 for 8 days)
- Anything not mentioned in "What is included"
We have an unrivaled network of local contacts that have been developed over two decades of creating exceptional wildlife trips to Ecuador and the Galapagos. Our aim is simple, to offer each of our guests an extraordinary trip with memories that will last a lifetime. For most of our guests, this is the trip of a lifetime. It is a responsibility that we take personally. Personal service is at the heart of everything that we do and we like to get to know each of our guests individually before each trip to ensure you really get the most out of your experience.
The accomodation in mainland Ecuador that we have used for this example tour is Macaw Hotel in Guayaquil, which is a charming family run hotel that consistently ranks in the top accomodation in Guayaquil however we work with a range of hotels both in Guayaquil and Quito, from deluxe boutique hotels to charming family run hotels like the Macaw hostel. For Galapagos we very carefully handpick the yachts we work with for our guests. In this example tour, we have used Cachalote Explorer, which is a great yacht with very good local owners, a great crew, comfortable cabins, air conditioning, private bathrooms, plenty of deck space, superb itineraries and perhaps most important of all they work with consistently excellent naturalist guides.
We can organise this tour for single guests up to groups of 16 and everything in between. Usually for larger groups we are able to negotiate discounts on the yacht depending on spaces on the yacht and the time of year. But certainly we always try!
Yes, we can certainly offer spaces for single guests, however usually the supplements in Galapagos are high, typically of around 50%. However there are ways we know to try and avoid this. Some yachts we work with regularly offer cabins with no single supplement, so these yachts are always our first port of call for any single guests or sometimes we can negotiate a lower rate for guests on yachts we have a strong working relationship with.
We include as part of the trip price your internal flight from Quito to Galapagos and then returning to Guayaquil on the coast of Ecuador after Galapagos (or you could return to Quito if that works better for your international flight connections). We don't include your international flights. We have found over the years that international flights really is a specialist area and we can't compete on price or on industry contacts as we don't have the volume of business. For guests who would like our help with international flights we work with a flight specialist that we have worked with for over a decade and we can help co-ordinate the best international flight options or many guests are happy to organise their flights completely independently. We can help as much or as little as you would like for this.
Absolutely! We would be delighted to help you with this. There are lots of ways you can extend this trip, with a day on arrival exploring Guayaquil, or a day on the island of Santa Cruz in Galapagos staying in one of the hotels we work with to give you extra time to explore. You may wish to explore mainland Ecuador some more. If this is the case you are better off flying to Quito. Just two hours from here there are beautiful pristine tropical cloud forests literally buzzing with hummingbirds, or the high Andes with haciendas where you are virtually guaranteed to see wild Andean Condor to name but a few.
No. We request that guests purchase this independently on booking the trip and send us over the details of their policy so we have a record of this. Galapagos now requires that any guests travelling have medical insurance.
The first stage for us in organising this tour will be to check spaces on the yacht and agree the dates and program with you to ensure it matches your wildlife interests and the best time for you to travel. Then once we have agreed a final version of the program we will send you over the booking paperwork To make a booking, you must complete one of our online booking forms (we will send you a link). We also require a 20% deposit per person on booking with the balance payable 90 days prior to travel. Payment of the deposit is either to our account based in the USA or our account in the UK depending which is easiest for you. Should you need to cancel your holiday once it has been confirmed, you must immediately advise us in writing. Your notice of cancellation will only be effective when it is received in writing by us at our offices. As we incur costs from the time we confirm your booking, the following cancellation charges will be payable. If you cancel 70 days or longer the cancellation charge is your deposit, 35-69 days 50% of the tour cost and 35 days or less 100%.
Absolutely. Over the years we have had many and varied requests. The chefs at the lodges and on board the yachts we work with hare very experienced and used to dealing with special dietary requirements.
We provide a detailed pre-trip information document for each of our guests booking with us - but hopefully this gives you an idea: Clothing Ecuador is divided into 3 distinct regions, Andes, Amazon and Coast (including Galapagos) each of which has its own climate, and so requires slightly different clothing. • For all 3 regions a sunhat and sun cream of at least SPF 50 are recommended as the equatorial sun can be very strong. • A protective sun hat/ cap is also good to have for all regions, in particular in Galapagos as the equatorial sun can be very strong. Also for Galapagos it is good to have a hat with straps as guests have been known to lose them with the hats blowing off whilst on the motorised dingy rides that take you from the yacht to the island! • Towels will be provided in all the hotels, lodges and on the yacht so you don’t need to bring any. Galapagos Daytime temperatures range between 27° and 22°C. Rain during your stay is very unlikely though there is often light wind in the evenings. Clothing T-shirts and shorts or light trousers are the best clothing for the Galapagos. For those with very fair skin, it is probably best to wear long-sleeved shirts in Galapagos as the sun can be very strong. It’s nice to have something to get changed into for an evening, but everything is very casual in Galapagos. We would also recommend a lightweight wind break jacket and a sweater as it can often be cool and breezy in the evenings. It’s also useful to bring along a couple of swim suits so you can alternate whilst one is drying. For those who will be snorkelling we DEFINITELY recommend a ‘shorty’ wetsuit. They can be hired for the week on the yacht for around $40 for the week, but if you have your own you should bring it along. As well as keeping you a bit warmer they give you protection from the sun and some buoyancy. We also recommend that people have their own personal snorkel mask and tube – though these will be provided either free on the yacht and they are fine, if you can we think it is better to have your own that you are used to and it is comfortable for you.
Sturdy, properly fitting footwear can make your trip much more pleasurable and this is the area we get asked most questions on. If you’re buying new boots for this trip, please break them in by wearing them as often as possible before the trip. Comfortable rubber-soled walking shoes with good traction or lightweight hiking boots with good ankle support are good for when you are walking on lava or uneven terrain. The best footwear for the Galapagos to use on most days are sports type sandals (with a trainer like base) that can be purchased in most outdoor shops, good brands are Merrell, Teva (shown above), though most shops have a good selection. These sandals are very comfortable, have a very good grip and you can get them wet without any problems. We prefer those with open toes, but some guests prefer those with a toecap to avoid stubbing their toes on lava. It is also good to have to have a comfortable pair of shoes to wear whilst in the yacht as you can’t wear any of your shoes that you use for visiting the islands inside (or barefoot is a good option too!)
Ensure you bring enough digital memory for your cameras. You invariably will take more photographs than you expect. For video, bring extra batteries just in case. It is useful to have a waterproof bag that you keep your equipment just in case. These are available in all outdoor shops. Electricity for recharging batteries available on the yacht, and at your hotel in mainland Ecuador. It is 110V (American style – adaptors are the same as those you need for the US). For keen photographers, our advice on lenses is that a range of a wide-angle zoom (16-70 mm) and an 80-200mm zoom lens will be enough. (Some 70-300mm are now available in the market which would completely cover any needs you have in terms of a zoom lens).
Ecuador’s own currency the Sucre was suspended in 1999 following rampant inflation. Today US dollars are the only accepted currency in the country. Whilst you will need to have US$ in cash with you on arrival, you can draw money from ATM’s at any major bank in Quito or Guayaquil (BUT please ask your guide to accompany you to do this for security). You must pay US$100 in CASH when you enter Galapagos to the Galapagos National Park authorities as you pass through the migration control process. They don’t take any card payments – and although there is the option to pre-pay this service is very erratic with people who have pre-paid not appearing on lists etc – so best is to pay in cash on arrival. How much do I need to take? Costs per person not covered on your trip include: alcoholic drinks, $100 Galapagos National Park entrance fee, tips for your crew and guides, plus wet suit rental and your meals in mainland Ecuador. Although they can in theory take cards on the yacht, this is erratic and sometimes doesn't work due to issues with the signal so we always recommend guests have enough cash for what they need during their Galapagos cruise.
You’ll enjoy your trip so much more if you are well informed about the places you’ll visit and the wildlife you’ll see. General introduction to the Natural History • Galapagos: a Natural History by John C.Kricher • Galapagos: the Islands that Changed the World by Paul D.Steward • Evolutions Workshop by Edward J. Larsson • The Galapagos: a Natural History by Henry Nicholls • Lonesome George by Henry Nicholls • Michael Jackson’s Galapagos, A Natural History Background reading • Jonathan Wiener’s The Beak of the Finch, A Story of Evolution in Our Time • Johanna Angermeyer’s My Father’s Island for background reading. Field Guides Your naturalist guide will have a selection of field guides but you may want to bring your own. We especially recommend • Collins Safari Guide to The Wildlife of the Galapagos by Julian & Daniel Fitter & David Hosking (available in Ecuador) • A Guide to the Birds of the Galapagos Islands by Isabel Castro • Reef Fish Identification Galapagos by Paul Humann. For a great historical novel giving an account of Darwin’s journey to Galapagos – This Thing of Darkness – Harry Thompson (it was long listed for the Man Booker Prize)