Arrive in Quito, Ecuador
Arrive in Quito, Ecuador for an overnight stay.
Sail on the most in-depth itinerary possible around this archipelago famous for charismatic wildlife unafraid of you or your camera. Explore the lush cloud forest of Ecuador before embarking on the Samba for a 15-day voyage around the Enchanted Isles. With our expert resident leaders, discover endemic reptiles, tropical land birds, breeding boobies, albatross, penguins, marine mammals, sharks, tropical fish, and much more. This special expedition caters to photographers and wildlife enthusiasts alike, with early and late landings, to take advantage of the best conditions. The evolutionary story of the Galápagos Islands has been told many times but only through immersing yourself in its splendor can you truly appreciate the impressive forces that shape nature here and around the globe.
• Navigate among 16 islands and experience the diversity of the archipelago.
• Snorkel with sea lions, penguins, tropical fish, sharks, rays and rare coral formations.
• View mating behavior of frigatebirds, blue-footed boobies, and waved albatross on Española Island – the only known waved albatross nesting site in the world.
• Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station and learn about conservation and restoration programs.
• Observe hummingbirds, Andean cock-of-the-rock, and special mammals in Ecuador’s cloud forest.
Itinerary Updated: December 2017
|May 11||Arrive in Quito, Ecuador.||El Relicario del Carmen, Quito|
|May 12||Explore the cloud forest for bird watching in Yanacocha and Old Nono-Mindo; night walk for mammals and amphibians.||Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge, Tandayapa||B, L, D|
|May 13||Observe Andean cock-of-the-rock lek and visit Refugio Paz de las Aves.||El Relicario del Carmen, Quito||B, L, D|
|May 14||Fly to Baltra and board the Samba. First landing on Mosquera Islet.||14 nights aboard Samba||B, L, D|
|May 15||Genovesa: Darwin Bay and Prince Philip’s Steps.||Aboard Samba||B, L, D|
|May 16||Marchena: Snorkel at Punta Mejía and Playa Negra.||Aboard Samba||B, L, D|
|May 17||Isabela: Punta Albemarle and Punta Vicente Roca.||Aboard Samba||B, L, D|
|May 18||Fernandina: Punta Espinoza. Isabela: Urbina Bay.||Aboard Samba||B, L, D|
|May 19||Isabela: Elizabeth Bay and Punta Moreno.||Aboard Samba||B, L, D|
|May 20||Floreana: Asilo de la Paz, Cerro Alieri and Devil’s Crown.||Aboard Samba||B, L, D|
|May 21||Santa Cruz: Highlands and Charles Darwin Research Station.||Aboard Samba||B, L, D|
|May 22||Floreana: Punta Cormorant and Post Office Bay.||Aboard Samba||B, L, D|
|May 23||Española: Punta Suárez with waved albatross and Gardner Bay.||Aboard Samba||B, L, D|
|May 24||San Cristóbal: Isla Losbos, Kicker Rock, and Punta Pitt.||Aboard Samba||B, L, D|
|May 25||Santa Fé: Barrington Bay. South Plaza.||Aboard Samba||B, L, D|
|May 26||Sombrero Chino Islet. Bartolomé: Pinnacle Rock.||Aboard Samba||B, L, D|
|May 27||Santiago: James Bay. Rábida.||Aboard Samba||B, L, D|
|May 28||Last landing at North Seymour, disembark at Baltra, and fly to Quito.||Wyndham Quito Airport Hotel||B, L|
|May 29||Depart Quito and arrive home.||B|
Juan grew up in the Galápagos Islands where he developed his passion for wildlife while sailing on his father's boat. He received a degree from the University of San Francisco, Quito after studying Applied Ecology, Biology and Geology. Juan also earned a skipper certificate after studying sailing and navigation in Los Angeles. Involvement in Environmental Education projects in the Galápagos Islands and on mainland Ecuador fills his spare time.
Arrive in Quito, Ecuador for an overnight stay.
Travel from the high Andes to the cloud forest and observe the change in climate, vegetation, and geology while on the mainland. You’ll visit Yanacocha Reserve and drive through Old Nono-Mindo Ecoroute for vibrant bird life and then experience a night walk at Bellavista for mammals, amphibians, and insects.
Note: Cheesemans' are members of World Cetacean Alliance and abide by responsible whale watching practices.
You will depart before dawn to observe the Andean cock-of-the-rock lek for colorful displays by the males plus many other special bird species in this area. Visit Refugio Paz de las Aves for more bird watching and a traditional Ecuadorian brunch. Take in the wildlife around the lodge at Bellavista, including countless colorful hummingbirds that frequent feeders on the lodge grounds. Return to Quito for dinner and an overnight stay.
After an early breakfast, you will transfer to the airport for a morning flight to the Baltra Airport in the Galápagos Islands. Juan Manuel will assist the group throughout the process. You’ll take a small bus for the short transfer to the dock where the Samba, our home for this glorious adventure, awaits.
After introductions, lunch, and a safety briefing, you’ll make your first landing at nearby Mosquera Islet where the beach rises from the ocean floor with sand grains as soft as sugar. This volcanic uplift, dating back 100,000 years, is home to Galápagos sea lions, sally lightfoot crabs, and shorebirds. Once back on board, relax with a welcome cocktail and meet all the members of this friendly, professional crew. In the evening, you will travel to Genovesa in the outer archipelago. As the moonlight beams on the dark waters, look for phosphorescence from ctenophores (comb jellies) and other plankton on the surface. If you are lucky, you may see them appearing to encapsulate dolphins in a glowing shield as they bow-ride with the boat.
All routings and visitor sites on the Galápagos Islands are subject to change by the Galápagos National Park Service in an attempt to minimize traffic and impact.
You anchor in the huge flooded volcanic caldera that created Darwin Bay. As you approach, observe the walls of the caldera, which provide wonderful ledges for the very rare Galápagos fur seals and nesting sites of red-billed tropicbirds. You will hike up a stony stairway known as Prince Philip’s Steps for great views of red-footed and Nazca booby colonies on the way to the wedge-rumped (Galápagos) storm petrel colony. The island’s largest red-footed booby nesting site is located here too. Keep an eye out for the elusive short-eared owl that hunts for storm petrels during the day.
After your first snorkeling of the trip, you’ll end your day with excellent views of red-footed boobies and great frigatebirds nesting with unparalleled density. Following the cliff edge, photograph and observe incoming boobies and frigatebirds. Frigatebirds are ceaseless with aerial displays of kleptoparasitism as they “dog-fight” along the cliffs for scarce nesting material. Genovesa’s four species of Darwin’s finches – large ground finch, large cactus finch, small-beaked ground finch, and warbler finch – show huge variation in bill size, and you can find all four species here (one of the most outstanding sites that you will visit for Darwin’s finches along with the Highlands of Santa Cruz). Unlike boats with shorter itineraries, you’ll have the luxury of a night anchored in the calm waters of Darwin Bay.
The Samba is granted the rare opportunity to visit Marchena, making your experience truly unique to our voyage. Although landings are not permitted, it is one of the best places to snorkel with tropical fish, rays, sea turtles, sharks, and eels. You may also find hermatypic (reef building) coral formations here, an uncommon sight in the rest of the archipelago. During your navigation to and from Marchena, you sail through some of the most whale-rich waters in the region; so keep your eyes on the horizon and your binoculars ready!
Punta Albermarle is an uncommon visitor site, but home to one of the loveliest flightless cormorant colonies in the Galápagos. This landing is the first of your explorations of the great island of Isabela, by far the largest in the archipelago.
The northwest tip of Isabela, called Punta Vicente Roca, sits at the edge of a sharp drop into deep, nutrient-rich waters. You may see Galápagos penguins, brown noddies, sea turtles, marine iguanas, blue-footed and Nazca boobies, marine mammals, and the bizarre-looking sunfish (Mola mola).
En route to Fernandina, keep your eyes out for whales in this cold, deep water on the western side of the archipelago. These waters offer the chance to see orcas, pilot whales, and larger species such as sperm whales. A study by Hal Whitehead, with the help of World Wildlife Fund, found sperm whales particularly abundant west of Isabela where the subsurface Cromwell Current meets land and provides oxygen- and nutrient-rich upwellings that supports a high density of squid that they feed on.
Across the calm Canal Bolivar, separating Isabela from Fernandina, sits Punta Espinoza, one of the most wildlife-rich sites of the trip. Fernandina, the youngest of the Galápagos Islands, is one of the world’s most pristine islands because no known introduced animals have become established here. You’ll have the unique opportunity to observe and photograph marine iguanas sunbathing in piles by the hundreds. The famous flightless cormorant also inhabits this island along with Galápagos penguins, lava lizards, and pelicans. Take a walk along the relatively young basalt (lava rock) to find lava cactus (Brachycereus nesioticus), the only species in this genus, growing directly out of what still seems like fresh lava. Snorkeling is no longer allowed in order to protect the rich coastline covered with algae that marine iguanas depend on for food.
This afternoon, you head back to Isabela for a very interesting landing at Urbina Bay. In 1954, this portion of Isabela lifted out of the sea so suddenly that fish and a sea turtle were literally trapped high and dry on a freshly changed coastline. You will explore this unusual site to examine evidence of the geologic forces that continue to shape these islands. Along your walk, you will find rocks full of bleached shells and massive coral heads now far from the sea. Large iguanas, both land and marine, live here as well as a few giant tortoises, the species for which the Galápagos Islands were named. You will snorkel in some of the coldest water of the trip but, thankfully, your full-length wetsuit will insulate as you discover the underwater world.
Your morning begins with a visit to Elizabeth Bay, one of the most spectacular locations for panga (small boat) cruising. You cruise with the swimming sea turtles in this paradise, following channels through the verdant green mangrove forests. The endemic flightless cormorant and the Galápagos penguin are in their prime habitat in these cold, rich waters. Then you travel to the wildly stark landing site of Punta Moreno (Dark Point) where raw basalt coats the landscape and rises into the slopes of the shield volcanoes of Sierra Negra and Cerro Azul. Yet amid the stark, seemingly sterile landscape, rich lagoons full of life can be found. This evening, you’ll travel through more nutrient-rich waters excellent for whale watching.
After breakfast, you land at Puerto Velasco Ibarra for a ride up to the highlands in a chiva (a small open-sided bus). You’ll stop to climb Cerro Alieri where many steps will reward you with a breathtaking view and the chance to see the famous medium tree finch. The fantastic landscape of the highlands is decorated with lichens and epiphytes. Floreana also holds compelling human history that includes pirate caves, European settlers, the islands’ first citizen birth, and unexplained disappearances. Share a wonderful lunch in the highlands with Claudio Cruz and his family, providers of many of the organic foods that you’ve enjoyed on board. You’ll also have the opportunity to photograph a group of giant tortoises that are kept in a large enclosure. After returning to the Samba, you will sail to one of the best spots in the world for snorkeling – Devil´s Crown. You normally see rays, sea turtles, surgeonfish, parrotfish, jacks, wrasses and many other tropical fish. This afternoon, you’ll navigate to Santa Cruz Island for a quiet dinner in Academy Bay.
Upon reaching Santa Cruz, you’ll anchor in Academy Bay beside the bustling small town of Puerto Ayora, the islands’ primary population center. You’ll travel to the Santa Cruz highlands to seek out elusive island endemics in beautifully unique habitats. You will explore Los Gemelos, two incredible volcanic sinkholes surrounded by scalesia forest. The elegantly tall scalesia trees evolved from beach composites, making it essentially the world’s largest daisy. In the highlands you may see the shy Galápagos rail, short-eared owl, large and small tree finches, vegetarian finch, and the famous tool-using woodpecker finch. You will also walk through a lava tube left over from Santa Cruz’s active volcanic island-building days.
You return to Puerto Ayora in the afternoon for a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station, the center of evolutionary science and conservation in the Galápagos. Your visit to the station includes the opportunity to see the resident tortoises and enjoy an intimate look at the captive breeding programs that are designed to return the Galápagos to a more pristine, pre-colonization state. This will be one of your best opportunities to photograph tortoises up close.
You will land behind Punta Cormorant for a walk to the flamingo lagoon in search of shorebirds alongside a few flamingoes. The plant life here is unique and includes another species of the endemic composite scalesia. The waters around Floreana are great for dolphins so keep your eyes open! These waters are also rich with seabirds, such as waved albatross, three species of storm petrel, Galápagos shearwaters, and large flocks of diving boobies. After lunch you’ll stop briefly at Post Office Bay, where you can continue the whalers’ tradition of dropping a letter or postcard in the box and taking one to hand deliver to someone else.
Punta Suárez is unique beyond description and as rich as any spot in the Galápagos Islands. Breeding birds and iguanas are present in huge numbers and, most significantly, the majority of the world’s waved albatross nest here. Young adults and birds that recently pair will court each other, a most enticing expression of the lifelong bond that breeding and survival depend upon – an unforgettable site to observe! You will also find the fearless Española mockingbird, blue-footed and Nazca boobies, swallow-tailed gull, Galápagos hawk, marine iguana, lava lizard, and Galápagos sea lions. The seascapes are spectacular, particularly where the waves force water through a blowhole spouting up to 75 feet high.
For the afternoon, you’ll sail to Gardner Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches in all of the Galápagos. A nearby snorkel is likely to find you in the water with playful sea lions, a great diversion before time on the beach. Galápagos sea lions populate the surf while the remarkably brave Española mockingbird has been known to peck at shoelaces. Enjoy photographing shorebirds and sea lions, looking for the large cactus finch, or walking along the beautiful beach.
One of the oldest islands is home to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital and second largest population in the Galápagos Province. You will travel along the north coast for some excellent wildlife and snorkeling, visiting Isla Lobos and León Dormido (also known as Kicker Rock). Kicker Rock is a volcanic tuff cone that dramatically rises out of the water to the height of about 500 feet. Here you will look for frigatebirds, sea lions, sea turtles, blue and red-footed boobies, tropicbirds, marine iguanas, swallow-tailed gulls, and dolphins. The afternoon brings an opportunity to stretch your legs at the geologically striking Punta Pitt and examine some of the island’s vegetation, which includes flowering plants such as Calandrinia galapagosa and Lecocarpus darwinii.
This morning, you’ll land on the island of Santa Fé. The short hike from the beach to a low plateau rewards you with great views and scalesia that thrives near a large forest of the amazing giant prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.). You will search among the cacti for Santa Fé land iguanas, which are a separate species from the others in the Galápagos and can grow up to five feet in length!
The small yet incredible island of South Plaza is your afternoon destination. This beautiful island is home to many land and marine iguanas. The colorful landscape is covered with reds and greens of Portulaca that may have yellow flowers that the iguanas enjoy eating. In the giant prickly pear cactus you can compare the cactus finch alongside small and medium ground finches. At the top of the island bachelor sea lions escape from the competition of stronger males as red-billed tropicbirds fly gracefully by.
If the light is good in the early morning, you’ll visit the surreal landscape of Sombrero Chino (Chinese Hat), a symmetrical cinder cone. Lava tubes run like petrified rivers and white sand from eroded coral surrounds the black rock. This afternoon, you will land at Bartolomé and climb to the 360-foot-high summit for a gorgeous, iconic view of Pinnacle Rock and the surrounding bays. Then a wet landing puts us on a beach for a short walk through mangroves and dune vegetation. Galápagos penguins are often present in small numbers near Pinnacle Rock so you will have a decent chance to snorkel with or near the penguins, and maybe even whitetip reef sharks (harmless but exciting)! Also enjoy colorful starfish, tropical fish, and amazing underwater lava formations.
This morning you’ll land at James Bay on the western side of Santiago. During low tide, explore the tidal pools that lead you to Fur Seal Grotto, where you are likely to find Galápagos fur seals swimming in emerald pools of the collapsed lava tubes.
In the afternoon you’ll head to the islet of Rábida, with deep ochre red beaches creating a striking landscape. Sea lions playing in the surf make for splendid photo subjects against the red sand in the late afternoon light. Tonight you head back east to North Seymour, just off the northern tip of Baltra. Sadly, this will be your final evening aboard the Samba.
You’ll enjoy the last landing site teeming with wildlife and wander past many breeding blue-footed boobies and a large colony of magnificent frigatebirds. Hopefully you’ll find males of both species in full display, the boobies sky-pointing and showing off their bright blue feet as they dance and the frigates calling for females with their wings spread wide and their dramatic red throat pouches inflated – an unforgettable sight! You also have the chance to see Galápagos sea lions, marine iguanas, striated herons, brown noddies, swallow-tailed gulls, and lava gulls. The endemic palo santo and low, bushy prickly pear cacti add great scenery to the amazing abundance of Galápagos wildlife. You’ll reluctantly depart for Baltra and bid farewell to the Samba and its crew. Juan Manuel will escort you to the airport for your return flight and overnight stay in Quito.
Depending on your flights, depart for home or extend your stay.
Sail on the most in-depth itinerary possible around this archipelago famous for charismatic wildlife unafraid of you or your camera.
The Samba is a 78-foot, steel-hulled motor yacht with a stabilizing sail making her the perfect choice to experience the Galápagos Islands to their fullest. This sturdy, stately, and very comfortable ocean-going vessel is a European Dutch classic and best in her class with a specially designed high bow.
|Type||Description||Cost Per Person|
|Standard Cabin||Double occupancy, one upper and one lower berth, private bath, and drawers for storage. Lower deck.||$9,190|
|Upper Deck Cabin||Double occupancy, one double bed, private bath, windows that open, closet, and drawers for storage. Upper deck.||$9,990|
We reserve the right to charge for cost increases that occur between when we set tour prices and the date of travel, for example, changes due to the cost of lodging and transportation. If you are a single traveler and you desire, we will find a roommate for you. If we cannot find you a roommate, we will not charge you a single supplement. If space is available, cabins can be booked for a single occupant by adding 90% over the listed cabin cost. Single rooms are subject to availability.
Please note that we cannot guarantee a specific cabin number. If changes occur, we will do everything in our power to assign a cabin of equal or greater value as the cabin type specified in your reservation. Deck plan, cabin arrangements, and cabin amenities are subject to change by ship operator.
|Payment||Due Date||Amount Per Person|
|Deposit||Due now to reserve your space||$500|
|Second||June 1, 2018||$1,500|
|Third||September 1, 2018||$1,500|
|Final||December 1, 2018||Remaining balance|
Payments will be due based on the schedule above. All reservations require a deposit to confirm reservation of your space. For reservations made after a due date, all past payments will be due with registration. By sending your initial deposit, you agree to accept our payment schedule and cancellation policy as a contract. If payments are still outstanding two weeks after the due date, your space may be forfeited.
Refunds are given depending on the time left before departure according to the following table. The cancellation fee of $300 per person can be applied toward another tour if reserved within six months of the cancelled trip’s departure date. Cancellations are non-transferrable. Consider purchasing trip cancellation insurance that could reimburse your trip costs in the event of your cancellation.
|Dates||Forfeited Amount per Person|
|On or before September 30, 2018||$300|
|October 1 to October 31, 2018||10% of tour cost|
|November 1 to November 30, 2018||40% of tour cost|
|On or after December 1, 2018||100% of tour cost|
Average temperatures range from the low to mid-60’s °F at night up to the 80’s °F during the day. The water temperature averages 70–74°F. Average temperatures during your mainland excursion range from nighttime lows in the 50’s °F to mid 60’s °F to daytime highs from mid 60’s °F to low 80’s °F.
Walks on shore vary from short strolls on the beach to a few miles over broken and uneven terrain. Those who are not accustomed to walking long distances will still enjoy most activities as you travel at a pace that allows you to see, appreciate, and photograph the unique nature of the Galápagos. If you anticipate struggling with the walks, plan to do some hiking beforehand to get in good condition for the trip. You must be comfortable going up and down stairs on board and getting in and out of the panga (small boat). The more fit you are, the more you will enjoy your time in nature!
Snorkeling is not mandatory but is a significant part of the voyage as you are in the water everyday, sometimes twice a day. Experience is not required but proficient swimming abilities will allow you to fully enjoy this activity. Most snorkeling will be panga-based, sometimes over deep water so it is not an ideal place to learn to snorkel, especially if you are not comfortable or are intimidated by these conditions. Getting some experience in advance will be beneficial, however, the Samba crew will always assist you. Please contact us if you have any health concerns that may make this trip challenging.
Airfare is not included in trip costs. Detailed logistical information and the contact information for our recommended flight-ticketing agent are included in the Trip Materials we will send you. Please let us know if you are arriving earlier or staying later as we are happy to assist you with any extra overnights that you might want to arrange.
Flights you (or a travel agent) book: Arrive in Quito, Ecuador (UIO) no later than the night of May 11. Depart from Quito (UIO) anytime on or after May 29.
Flights we book for you: Round-trip flights between Quito (UIO) and Baltra (GPS). The cost of this round-trip booking will be added to your final trip balance.
May and June are the best months to see breeding activity, especially bird courtship. Waved albatross perform their exquisite courtship dance, and some may already have eggs. Frigatebirds will court females by inflating their blood red throat sacs while clattering their bills, quivering their wings, and waving their heads back and forth; great frigatebirds courtship will wind down on Genovesa, while magnificent frigatebirds courtship will be active on North Seymour. Because the well-known blue-footed booby is an opportunistic breeder, so it’s very hard to predict its activity, we may or may not see them courting, but we have reliably seen courtship in previous years during these months. You may even see a few chicks!
In June, as the garua (cool/dry) season becomes more prominent and the water temperatures cool, marine life becomes more plentiful. You may have a better chance to encounter more Galápagos penguins, whales, and dolphins feeding in the nutrient rich, cool waters.
Year after year, many of our travelers comment that the beautiful underwater environment was their favorite part of the safari. We strongly encourage you to snorkel even if you are not a strong swimmer. The Samba crew will always assist you if you are uncomfortable! If you elect not to snorkel, you can relax aboard the Samba.
Yes, you will see other boats but landings and snorkel locations have a daily visitation limit. We will often have landings and snorkels to ourselves. You’ll never feel as if you’re in a swarm of boats and people!
Don’t let a fear of seasickness keep you away! For all but the most sensitive, seasickness is rarely a problem in the Galápagos. Because we are close to the islands most of the time, the seas tend to be gentle and the few open-ocean passages will be overnight. It’s a good idea to bring medication if you get seasick or are unsure, but you may find that you do not need it after a couple days once you have your “sea legs.” Even those who have experienced seasickness reported that the charm and beauty of the islands and their incredible wildlife were well worth the temporary discomfort. Read our suggestions for coping with seasickness and contact us if you have any concerns.
"Everything about the trip - preparations, execution and the overall experience - far exceeded my expectations and made this the trip of a lifetime. On a scale of 1-10, I rate both the tour and your company a 15."
"The boat was excellent - clean and ship-shape. Very stable for conditions. We expected some discomfort because we are both susceptible to motion sickness but we had no symptoms whatsoever. "
"I have to say that I think Juan was born to do this job. His breadth of knowledge was astounding. And his pure joy at doing something he loved was obvious and infectious."