Join Naturalist Journeys for an exciting and adventurous Galápagos nature cruise. Chart a course through the stunning Galápagos Islands as you spend time in Ecuador’s incredible volcanic archipelago with its fascinating plants and animals. The wildlife here is simply breathtaking and shockingly docile (and many species cannot be found anywhere else on Earth)—it's not unusual to step carefully over a Blue-footed Booby or wait patiently as a young sea lion wakes from the comforts of your daypack that you left on the beach.
We cruise amongst some of the best islands in the chain, including Espanola, Santa Cruz, and Floreana. Expect a small group and a flexible journey, designed with natural history, birding, photography, and snorkeling in mind. Expert on-board naturalists teach you about the evolution, geology, natural history, geography, ichthyology, botany, entomology, and history of the Islands on your excursions.
Our Galápagos cruises are planned to leave a light footprint, and we support conservation throughout the voyage. There is simply no place like the Galápagos.
- Cruise on a well-appointed and stable yacht
- Discover and photograph myriad seabirds as they court, nest, feed, and care for young
- Take on the challenge of identifying Darwin’s finches—fascinating!
- See for the Galapagos form of Short-eared Owl, Galápagos Dove, and Galápagos Hawk
- Witness animals like Marine and Land Iguanas, Sally Lightfoot Crab, and the massive Galápagos Tortoise
- Swim and/or snorkel in quiet coves among colorful fish, and perhaps even dolphins and turtles
- Learn about the archipelego's volcanic geology—compare “new” and "old" islands and admire the stark beauty
- Explore mangrove lagoons by small boats for an even more intimate understanding
- Enjoy time at the Charles Darwin Research Station to learn about conservation efforts, like controlling introduced species
Sun., Jan. 15 : Flight to Galápagos | Arrival in San Cristóbal
Our flight of two hours from Quito takes us to one of the larger islands, San Cristóbal, situated on the eastern side of the archipelago. San Cristóbal is the fifth largest island and it is also the first island visited by Charles Darwin on his 1835 visit. We embark our ship at the harbor of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, capitol of the Galápagos Province. Our ship arrived this the morning and takes on water and supplies as we check out the National Park Visitor Center. We are soon in the company of Blue-footed Boobies and Galápagos Sea Lions, some of which may be sleeping in fisherman’s pangas in the bay.
After the welcome briefing, buffet lunch, and safety drill on the boat, we travel by bus into the interior of San Cristóbal to visit Cerro Tijeretas (Frigatebird Hill) situated on the edge a town. This is one of two sites where you can spot the huge red pouches of male frigatebirds (Great and Magnificent) as they sit on their nests. The trail leads to Punta Carola where there are beautiful views. We find lava lizards, one of seven species on the islands, the Medium Ground Finch, and Chatham Mockingbird. We then return to the yacht for our briefing, followed by our Captain’s welcome cocktail party and dinner prepared by our well-trained chefs.
Enjoy your first Galápagos sunset from the observation deck, and check out the night skies before retiring to your cabin, where the motion of the boat rocks you to sleep as we motor to Cerro Brujo.
Mon., Jan. 16 : Cerro Brujo | Punta Pitt | Leon Dormido
We arrive to Cerro Brujo, a breathtaking white coral sand beach, considered one of the most spectacular in the Galápagos and perfect for a peaceful walk with expansive views. We have an opportunity to snorkel or kayak from the beach or swim with Galápagos Sea Lions. A Zodiac ride takes us through a cave called “The Cathedral.”
During lunch, we cruise toward the northeastern tip of San Cristobal to Punta Pitt, a tuff formation that serves as a nesting site for many sea birds including all three types of boobies: Blue-footed, Nazca, and Red-footed, both frigatebird species, Swallow-tailed Gulls, storm petrels, shearwaters, Brown Pelicans, and a colony of sea lions. The Galápagos Sea Lion breeds only on the these islands, and is considered to be a smaller relative of the California Sea Lion. Punta Pitt is a first class site for sea birds. It has a similar mix of species as the northern island of Genovesa (Tower), both being located on the edges of the archipelago where upwellings create conditions for rich feeding areas.
Here we can snorkel at Pitt Rock with Sea Lions and colorful fish such as King Angel and Surgeon Fish. Back on board, we cruise around Leon Dormido (Kicker Rock), a vertical tuff cone formation that rises abruptly almost 500 feet out of the ocean. From the sun deck, we spot Blue-footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies, and Magnificent Frigatebirds.
We are very close to these animals, so bring plenty of memory space and ample battery with you today if you are a photographer!
Tonight we motor to Espanola (Hood) Island, one of the most spectacular places of the voyage.
Tues., Jan. 17 : Punta Suarez & Gardner Bay
This morning we disembark at Punta Suarez, Espanola (Hood), where we witness the highest rate of endemic species in Galápagos. Sea Lions noisily greet us as we land on their beach, while curious Hood Mockingbirds peck at our shoelaces.
There are other seabirds to admire here, too. Colonies of Blue-footed Boobies engage in “sky-pointing” to show off for potential mates. Nazca Boobies busily care for their young. Sublime Swallow-tailed Gulls are the only nocturnal gulls in the world and fish at night. Red-billed Tropicbirds take shelter under the cliffs. We also find three species of Darwin’s finches, Galápagos Dove, and Galápagos Hawk. Observe the most colorful sub-species of Marine Iguana, identified with traces of red and green colorings. Brilliant orange Sally Light-foot Crabs crawl along the dark shoreline near the famous "blow hole."
After lunch we have a wet landing on Gardner Bay, Espanola (Hood), and walk along a seemingly endless stretch of white sandy beach where you find large colonies of Sea Lions. There is no trail to follow so this is a chance to explore or take a long walk. You may find a Galápagos Hawk, the top natural predator on the islands, Darwin’s finches, or the Hood Mockingbird. Swim with Sea Lions right from the beach, explore the bay and islets by kayak, or just relax on the beach. There’s an excellent snorkeling site off Gardner Islet with a colorful diversity of sea life near Tortuga Rock. If you don’t wish to swim, there are other options, such as exploring by Zodiac near caves covered with invertebrates. We return to the yacht for a briefing followed by dinner.
Enjoy happy hour as you are serenaded by the sound of Sea Lions.
Wed., Jan. 18 : Floreana Beach Walk | Snorkeling | Historic Post Office Bay
Step ashore at Punta Cormorant, Floreana (Charles), one of the few populated islands in the Galápagos. Floreana presents a rich human history with mystery and intrigue.
Set foot on a green-sand beach alive with the sounds of Galápagos Sea Lions, Lava Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Blue-footed Booby, and Galápagos Penguin. Follow a trail to a brackish lagoon, home of the Bahama Duck, Common Stilts, Galápagos Flycatcher, Yellow Warblers, and Greater Flamingo, the pinkest in the world. Wind your way past a rich variety of plants including Morning Glory, Cut Leaf Daisies, Black, Red, and White Mangroves, Palo Verdes, and Scalesia. The trail leads to a beach with powder-soft sand where sea turtles lay their eggs in the dunes and rays swim in the shallow water. After the walk, we have an opportunity to snorkel at Devil’s Crown or Champion, a shallow sunken crater colonized by a brilliant array of colorful fish and coral.
Today, our lunch is served on the sundeck, weather permitting. After lunch, we visit Post Office Bay, not the most scenic, but one of the most famous sites in the Galápagos, where a post barrel was erected and put into use in the late 18th Century by English whaling vessels. There is a chance to swim from the beach with Sea Lions. You are invited to leave a post card and to pick up any mail from your home area.
In the late afternoon, we take a Zodiac ride at Baroness Point where we spot sea turtles and rays. We return to the yacht for a briefing, followed by dinner.
Thurs., Jan. 19 : Highlands Walk on Santa Cruz | Tortoises in the Wild | Darwin Research Station
Today we have the full day on Santa Cruz, accessed from the main port city of the islands. It is a lively atmosphere and you can see homes of the early residents, including the family featured in the wonderful novel, My Father’s Island.
We travel by bus to the highlands. We visit the highlands to experience a very different natural history excursion, one in lush forests. The scenery gradually changes as we wind our way through all seven vegetation zones found in the Galápagos, driving through an elevation range of 2,700 – 4,500 feet. Enjoy a walk near “Los Gemalos,” the Twin Craters, and Media Luna, where we may find Woodpecker Finch and Vermilion Flycatcher. At this elevation, the Miconia Zone, a seasonal mist called the “guara” cloaks the forest, producing lush vegetation. We then visit a private farm, “Las Primicias,” where Giant Tortoises can be seen in the wild, grazing on the lush pastures.
After lunch, we visit the Centro de Crianza Fausto Llerena (Charles Darwin Research Station), including stops at the Tortoise and Land Iguana corrals and the breeding center with new hatchlings and miniature tortoises not yet ready to be repatriated. Scientists from all over the globe work at the station and conduct biological research, from anatomy to zoology. We stop at Van Straelen Hall where there are exhibits and a presentation.
Puerto Ayora is the social heart of the islands with the largest population of 24,000. This evening you have the option to return to your yacht for a buffet dinner or to remain in town on your own account. Those who return to the yacht are offered a water-taxi ride to return to town to shop for souvenirs, enjoy some people watching, or to stop at an ATM or internet café. Return shuttle service by water-taxis is provided for your return to our yacht.
Fri., Jan. 20: Bartolome | Santiago
This morning, we disembark at Bartolome, where it seems like we are walking on the moon. This young Island is inhospitable to most plants and animals, but we do see several pioneer plants, such as the Brachycereus cacti. After a dry landing, we climb 30 minutes up stairs leading to the summit of a once active volcano. Along the way, we pause to marvel at lava bombs, spatter cones, and cinder cones. From the top of the wooden stairs, we can gaze out across the island for a panoramic view of the island and "Pinnacle Rock," an eroded tuff cone. Crystal clear water is an invitation to snorkel from the beach with schools of tropical fish and Galápagos Penguin or take a Zodiac ride.
After lunch, we visit Las Bachas, (Spanish for “barges”). There is a long stretch of a soft white sand beach and interior lagoons where we hope to find Greater Flamingo.
There is also a wonderful chance to snorkel here from the beach. Located off the Southern tip of Santiago is Sombrero Chino (Chinese Hat) that owes its name to its shape. After a wet beach landing with Sea Lion colonies, the trail gives way to a primeval landscape of volcanic rubble, including cracked lava formations and lava tubes. We find Marine Iguanas and pairs of Oystercatchers. You can choose to snorkel at a site that is frequented by Galápagos Penguin.
There is a briefing followed by dinner while we anchor in a calm protected area. After dinner, a sky full of stars beckons one to go out on deck and observe the galaxy.
Sat., Jan. 21 : South Plaza | North Seymour
This morning we start out at South Plaza, a small islet with tall cliffs and a trail with a variety of plants and animals. This island’s species of “Opuntia” or prickly pear cactus has been decimated by invasive species, so we see young plants surrounded by nets to protect them. Look for nests of a variety of birds, including Swallow-tailed Gulls, shearwater, small ground finches, and Red-billed Tropicbirds. This geological uplift is home to a colony of bachelor sea lions, with dominant bulls in various stages of recovery from battles over prime beach territory. We also have the opportunity to see Land Iguanas up close, and your guides describe what differentiates them from Marine Iguanas.
During lunch, we sail to North Seymour Island, where a spectacular sight awaits: frigatebirds! The Galapagos Islands are home to two different species of frigates, Great and Magnificent. We have a final opportunity to snorkel in deeper water this afternoon. Look for sharks, sea lions, and sea stars, along with a variety of tropical fish. Before dinner, the captain and crew join you for a champagne toast to celebrate a wonderful week during the captain’s farewell dinner. During dinner, we receive detailed instructions for disembarking the next morning. Cheers to a grand adventure!
Sun., Jan. 22 : Interpretation Center, San Cristóbal | Departures
This morning, we visit the Interpretation Center on San Cristóbal Island, opened in 1999. Here we gain a more complete understanding of the natural and human history of the islands. Afterwards, we spend some time in port before heading to the airport for our flight back to the mainland, departing noon time. Our voyage comes to an end, but Galápagos will remain in your thoughts forevermore!
Antisana Pre-Tour Extension
Fri., Jan. 13: Arrival in Quito
You are met on arrival in Quito for a short drive to a cozy B&B. Many have dinner on the plane tonight, but if you arrive earlier in the day, we can put in a dinner reservation for you for a small additional fee.
Accommodations at the San Jose Garden Hotel or similar
Sat., Jan. 14 : Andean Condor at Antisana National Park & Reserve
Today we explore the high paramo, a tundra-like terrain with the stunning and snow-capped Antisana Volcano in view. Vistas here are on a grand scale, and several large lakes and ponds attract a variety of species. Our eyes are peeled for Andean Condor, very much at home here. We also look for Black-faced Ibis, Andean Lapwing, and a high-elevation hummingbird, the Andean Hillstar. Black-chested Buzzard Eagle and Carunculated Caracara are two birds of prey we can study, and we also note plant life that exhibits adaptations required to survive in these high elevation grasslands. With luck, we have splendid views of one of the most beautiful peaks in the Andes.
We return to our lodge where hospitality and a nice dinner await.
Accommodations at San Jose Garden Hotel or similar (B,L,D)
Sun., Jan. 15: Flight to Galápagos | Galápagos Cruise Begins!
Plan on an early morning as we transfer to the airport for flights to the Galápagos Islands.
Mindo-Area Post-Tour Extension
Sun., Jan. 22 : Overnight in Quito
Your amazing Galápagos voyage has come to an end, and tonight those continuing on the extension return to Quito to rest ahead of the morning departure for Mindo.
Mon., Jan. 23 : Transfer to the Mindo Area
We start early this morning from Quito, birding our way to the western branch of the Andes, west of the city.
Mindo is one of the most popular areas in all of Ecuador for nature enthusiasts. It is a mountain town, and our lodge offers great bird and butterfly watching, as well as wonderful meals, and a cozy fireplace to gather around in the evenings. It is nestled in the valley of the Rio Mindo, a remarkable locale, home to over 360 species of birds. The ridges, slopes, and steep ravines to the north, west, and east of the village are cloaked in pre-montane cloud forest with a dense understory that includes Guadua bamboo. Much of the land around the village has been cleared for pasture, but small patches of secondary growth remain.
We arrive in time to settle in and look for Violet-tailed Sylph, Empress Brilliant, Tawny-bellied Hermit, Green-fronted Lancebill, Purple-throated Woodstar, White-bellied Woodstar, Green-crowned Woodnymph, Brown and White-collared Inca, Western Emerald, and more at feeders surrounding the dining area.
A hint to be most comfortable here: Bring easy-to-slip-off shoes, as you go in and out of the lodge in search of birds. (Ecuadorian custom is to remove shoes to protect their beautiful wooden floors!)
Accommodations at Sachatamia Lodge (B,L,D)
Tues., Jan. 24 : Birding at the Farm of Angel Paz | Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve
Early this morning we visit the farm of Angel Paz, famous for great views of two often difficult to see species: Giant Antpitta and Andean Cock-of-the-rock. Meet the family, walk the trails, and learn the story of how they came to conserve and make close acquaintances with these species ? a highlight of the tour.
After an amazing morning and breakfast, we leave the farm and drive up to Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve, a private 1,000-acre nature reserve that encompasses a mix of primary and secondary forest. The botanical wonder here is something to behold! One of the top birding locations in Ecuador, the reserve is known for its diverse hummingbird species (at feeders for close-ups), as well as a colorful array of toucans and tanagers. At 5,000 – 7,000 feet we encounter spectacular cloud forest on the steep slopes above us. Here we may find a number of bird species with limited range, including the Tanager Finch.
The forest and gardens are draped with orchids and bromeliads, and butterflies abound. Some of the most beautiful birds of the forest include the Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, Toucan Barbet, Golden Tanager, and Flame-faced Tanager. Lunch and the choice of hiking or birding fill our afternoon at Bella Vista.
Accommodations at Sachatamia Lodge (B,L,D)
Wed., Jan. 25 : Milpe & Silanche Reserve—A Taste of the Chocó Bioregion
We depart early to visit the lower elevation reserves at Milpe and Silanche Reserves, where we hope to find a number of Chocó Region endemic birds. Some of these display fascinating social behavior. We hope to see White-bearded and Club-winged Manakins on their leks, while other species include Maroon-tailed Parakeet, Tri-colored Brush Finch, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, and others.
On past trips we’ve had great luck finding mixed flocks of tanagers that include Glistening-green, Rufous-throated, Golden-hooded, Moss-backed, and Ochre-breasted members of this colorful clan. The organization and behavior of members of the mixed flock has attracted a great deal of research in the Neotropics, which we discuss.
Accommodations at Sachatamia Lodge (B,L,D)
Thurs., Jan. 26 : Yanacocha Reserve: Cloud Forest & Hummingbirds | Evening Departures
If you wish, rise early this morning to bird close to the lodge, where a light brings in a great variety of species, eager to feed on large insects that have gathered during the night.
Then it is back to Quito, again birding en route, with a visit to Yanacocha, known for its remarkable hummingbirds.
Yanacocha Reserve is located on the Pichincha Volcano west of Quito. Here we walk a trail through lush Polylepis forest to experience this Andean habitat and its unique plant life. We search for species like the colorful Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager, Glossy Flowerpiercer, and Rufous-naped Brush Finch. Hummingbirds are the star attraction, with opportunities to see some high-elevation birds, including the amazing Sword-billed Hummingbird, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Great Sapphirewing, Sapphire-vented Puffleg, Tyrian Metaltail, and others. Feeding stations along the trail make for easy viewing. This is an important conservation reserve, managed for several rare species that find breeding range here. It is located on the old Nono-Mindo Road, a famous birding route.
We also plan a stop at Mitad del Mundo, a tourist facility on the Equator that has a good small museum on native culture, interpretation of measurements of the Equator, and yes, a photo opportunity. There is a good handicrafts market here, too.
Our three-night Mindo extension ends back at the airport in time for a number of flights that go out right around midnight. You can plan for flights out after 8:00 PM (several are available on major airlines), or if needed, book an extra night hotel (not included in extension price, but reasonably priced) for departures the following day. (B,L)
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the Cruise
The cost of the main cruise ranges from $5600 - $6550, based on cabin category. A limited number of single cabins are available, please inquire if this is of interest. The price is based on double occupancy, from Quito or Guayaquil. It includes 7 nights aboard the M/Y Letty, all meals during the voyage including wine with dinner, airport assistance in Quito or Guayaquil, all excursions with professional Galápagos guides, and miscellaneous program expenses. Please note: The pricing above is for the cruise portion of your journey only.
Not included in the cost of the cruise is the round-trip flight to the Galápagos, the park fee ($100), and tourist card fee ($10 – $20), however all of these will be taken care of and added to your invoice, to smooth the arrival procedure. The flight from Quito to the Galápagos (approximately $500) is required to be booked by the cruise operator who will block space for all in our group.
The tour cost also does not include items of a personal nature such as: laundry, telephone charges, optional activities, or beverages from the bar other than wine with dinner. It also does not include your international flight to Ecuador, or departure tax from Ecuador though for most this is now built into your international air ticket.
We recommend a gratuity for local guides and the ship crew, which is left to the discretion of each participant and guidelines will be provided.
Cost of the Extensions
Cost of the Antisana National Park pre-tour extension is $695 DBL / $815 SGL per person.
Cost of the Mindo area post-tour extension is $1690 DBL / $2190 SGL per person, double occupancy. If you need to overnight on January 26 to depart the next day, the additional night is approximately $150.
You may arrive just one night ahead, but this is risky with winter travel delays—you don’t want to miss the boat! If you plan only an overnight before or after the cruise, you may fly into Quito or Guayaquil. A staff person from our cruise operator will be present to help check-in for the flights at both airports.
Please plan to arrive in Quito or Guayaquil NO LATER than Saturday, January 14. If you plan to join us for the Antisana National Park pre-tour extension, please plan to arrive at your leisure on Friday, January 13. If you plan to depart directly after the Galápagos cruise, you may plan your departure from Quito or Guayaquil after 8:00 PM on Sunday, January 22. If you plan to join us for the Mindo area post-tour extension, please plan your departing flights after 8:00 PM on Thursday, January 26. Please note that many flights arrive or depart near midnight, so do watch your times and dates carefully!
Browse below for trip reports and species lists from past versions of this and other tours from this destination.
- January 2012
- May 2016
- January 2017
- November 2017
- February 2018
- November 2018
- February 2019
- November 2019
- February 2020
- November 2021
- February 2022
Dan Donaldson is an accomplished naturalist-birder based in Northeastern Ohio and has been guiding for Naturalist Journeys for nearly 20 years. Dan has developed his skills while working as a naturalist for a local park district for 25 years as well as with his full-time job as director of the local soil and water conservation district. Acustomed to varied audiences from novices to experts, Dan incorporates much more than just identification in his tours and programs. Dan has led tours for The Nature Conservancy, National Parks Conservation, and other tour companies. While now an international guide, his specialization in birding locales ranges from the Great Lakes to coastal destinations ranging from the Maritime Provinces of Canada and Maine, to the Florida Keys.
Other trips with Dan Donaldson
Photo credits: Banner: Galapagos Tortoise by by Bud Ferguson; Snorkeling the Galapagos by Pat Lueders, Galapagos Penguins by Dodie Logue; Summit Trail Hike by Pat Lueders, Marine Iguana and Sally Lightfoot Crabs by Greg Smith; Great Frigatebird, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Group on Bartolome Island, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Marine Iguana by Greg Smith; Short-eared Owl, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Galapagos Flamingo by Bud Ferguson; Galapagos Scenic by Greg Smith; Blue-footed Boobies by Bud Ferguson; Sally Lightfoot Crab by Bud Ferguson; The M/Y Letty, courtesy of Ecoventura; Galapagos Penguins, Stanley Hillyard; Marine Iguanas, Greg Smith; Blue-footed Booby, Peg Abbott; Exploring by Dinghy, Stanley Hillyard; Beach Walk, Greg Smith; Snorkeling, Stanley Hillyard; Marine Iguana and Sally Lightfoot Crabs, Greg Smith; Red-billed Tropicbird, Sandy Sorkin; Forest Birding, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Woodpecker Finch, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Galapagos Tortoise, Woody Wheeler; Naturalist Journeys Group at Darwin Research Station, Woody Wheeler; Vermilion Flycatcher, Sandy Sorkin; Fur Sea Lions, Peg Abbott; Galapagos Sunset, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Swallow-tailed Gull, Bud Ferguson; Nazca Boobies, Stanley Hillyard; Kicker Rock, Greg Smith; Eared Doves, Ed Madej; Antisana, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Andean Condor, Howard Topoff; Black-faced Ibis, Greg Smith; Andean Lapwing, Peg Abbott; Naturalist Journeys Groups, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Wet Landing, Greg Smith; Lava Lizard, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Hiking in the Galapagos, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Panoramic, Greg Smith; White-bearded Manakin, Hugh Simmons Photography; Golden-hooded Tanager, Peg Abbott; Giant Antpitta, Peg Abbott; Andean Cock-of-the-rock, Greg Smith; Choco Toucan, Peg Abbott; Violet-tailed Sylph, Peg Abbott; Plate-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Peg Abbott; Iguana, courtesy of Ecuador awaits you!; Antisana Group, Dan Donaldson; Antisana National Park, Dan Donaldson; Blue-footed Booby, courtesy of Ecuador awaits you!; Galapagos Tortoise, courtesy of Ecuador awaits you!; Lava Heron, Greg Smith; Magnificent Frigatebird, Howard Topoff; Boat cruise, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Post Office Bay, Pat Lueders; Sea Lion, courtesy of Ecuador awaits you!; Short-eared Owl, Naturalist Journeys Stock.