DAY-BY-DAY: ISLAND-2-ISLAND HOPPING
Day 1: (-/Lunch/Dinner)
We fly from the mainland of Ecuador to the Galapagos Islands. Nothing is more exciting than flying over 1,000 km (620 mi) of pure ocean and then gradually approaching the first islands of the Galapagos archipelago. Our first view will be of the attractive coast of San Cristobal Island and, just a few minutes later, we’ll be landing on Baltra Island – home to the islands’ most popular airport. After registering with the local authorities, we’ll collect our luggage and proceed to meet the staff of Scalesia Lodge for directions to board the local inter-island flight.
While other visitors await their airport shuttles and cruise transfers, we’ll get ready for a treat that very few people in Galapagos (less than 1,000 per year!) ever get to experience: a small aircraft flight from Baltra Island to the colossal Isabela Island. From the moment we take off, the volcanic beauty of Galapagos will quickly put on a show for us as, en route, our eyes get to check out the northern coast of Santa Cruz Island with its shoreline full of white-sand beaches, its arid zone with palo santo trees, and even some volcanic cones that already covered in vegetation due to just how old the island is. We then fly over the expanse of water that separates Santa Cruz Island from Isabela Island, checking out Pinzon Island and Nameless Islet along the way. The immenseness of Isabela Island will then begin to materialize slowly over the horizon, like a giant black antediluvian creature.
We then begin to fly over its dark shoreline, which is heavily dotted with mangroves, tidal pools and then an immediately lack of vegetation. The big black shadow that emerges in front of us will then reveal itself to be the massive Sierra Negra Volcano – the second largest volcanic crater in the world. Slowly, the airport runway appears, and in minutes we have arrived to the most untamed area of the islands: the Wild West. Scalesia Lodge expedition staff meet us here and quickly take us for a short drive just to get familiar with Puerto Villamil, the main island town, before our drive up to the highlands on a very well-paved road. In less than 20 minutes, we arrive at Scalesia Lodge. Check-in takes place right away, giving us time to explore our luxury tent, and lunch is then served while we enjoy the green vistas of the landscapes that surround this area.
By mid-afternoon, we are ready to explore and visit Sucre’s Cave, which is located not all that far from the lodge itself. The cave is a former lava tube which proves to be a great introduction to the geology of the islands. Here, we’ll also get to enjoy a short walk that gives us an excellent sense of what the typical island vegetation is like as well as the endemic plants it is home to. We now head for the lowlands and stop at the local rearing center for giant tortoises. The rearing center serves as an exciting place for us to see one of the most iconic reptiles of the islands as they’re taken care of in semi-captive conditions. Visitors can even spot young ones which will be repatriated soon. The giant tortoises here at endemic to the island of Isabela: it is the only tortoise in the entire archipelago that has a rather flat top carapace.
From here we’ll begin our walk to the brackish water ponds of Poza Baltazar, where we’ll have the chance to improve our understanding of this island’s desert vegetation and view some unique lagoon bird species, such as: stilts, ducks, and flamingos. As we get closer to town, we’ll gradually begin to hear the sound of ocean waves and suddenly be greeted by the stunning white beach of Puerto Villamil. It is as this wonderful beach that we’ll have a chance to kick off our shoes, and let the waters of Galapagos soothe our feet. Enjoy a drink over at one of the local beach bars and celebrate a glorious sunset before heading back to Scalesia Lodge for dinner. And this is all just the beginning! Overnight at Scalesia Lodge.
Day 2 (Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner)
Today, we’ll get an early start. The reason being? We are about to explore the Sierra Negra Volcano, the second largest caldera in the whole world and one of the most active volcanoes in Galapagos (its most recent eruption took place in 2005). The crater alone is considered one of the largest of any island volcano in the world, with a whopping diameter of 10 km (6 mi)! Volcan Chico is the youngest volcano sitting on the flanks of Sierra Negra, over towards its northern rim. The walk along the crater provides spectacular views of the barren volcanic floor, where the older and more recent volcanic flows contrast in different shades of black basalt.
A snack lunch is provided on this excursion and we will find the perfect spot (with an excellent view of the crater!) to sit down and enjoy our meals.
The hike, in total, lasts around 6-7 hours, meaning the early start guarantees that we’ll have cooler temperatures to walk around in. It also has the added benefit of opening up the entire afternoon to experience other great options and excursions on the island. Walking along the rim of the volcano involves very little uphill climbing. In fact, the entirety of the hike is rather flat, with the exception of some gradual ups and downs. Our Naturalist Guide will be sure to stop at a couple of locations for some interpretation, regrouping, and rest. Sierra Negra Volcano is the place to appreciate the splendor of the western volcanoes as well as the endemic vegetation of this area (which serves as evidence of its evolutionary isolation). Afterward, we’ll head back to the lodge for lunch, a good rest, and then have an afternoon of open-ended activities over at Puerto Villamil.
This is the moment to hang out at the beach by yourself or replenish your energy amidst the cooler highlands at Scalesia Lodge. If you opt for the beach outing, you’ll can rest assured that you’ll catch a great sunset that will reveal the grandeur of Isabela Island. Overnight at Scalesia Lodge.
Day 3 (Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner)
It’s hard to believe we have been here for over two days already! On our third day, it’s time to explore more of the shoreline habitat where plenty of surprises await over at Las Tintoreras – a group of islets, located a short distance away from Puerto Villamil. Reachable only by boat, the site includes a short walk alongside a maze of narrow lava crevices, broken “AA” lava flows, tiny sandy beaches and stunning coves that are framed by mangroves. Its wildlife ranges from giant marine iguanas basking under the sun, perched boobies and pelicans, stalking herons, Galapagos penguins, sea lions, turtles and whitetip reef sharks (locally known as tintoreras). It is here that we’ll get our chance to snorkel along one of the islets and rocks nearby in order to understand the beauty of the underwater realm of the islands. Note: Snorkeling gear is provided; wetsuits are available for rent. After this excursion, we’ll head back to Scalesia Lodge for lunch and a well-deserved siesta.
Watch a group of white-tip reef sharks at tintoreras as they rest and swim
Check out this Galapagos penguin calling out for its mate!
The afternoon calls for something fun, and while you are more than welcome to hang out on your own at the beach, we certainly recommend you take the outing that explores El Muro de las Lágrimas (The Wall of Tears). Our driver will take us along the beach and take a detour into the arid zone that offers an exploration of this site that’s saturated with melancholic history. It just so happens that an Ecuadorian penal colony existed on Isabela Island between 1946 and 1959, and manually building this wall out of volcanic rock was one of the punishments that prisoners received. There are a couple of viewpoints nearby that let you see the volcanic coast of Isabela Island. Once here, we’ll get on our mountain bikes and slowly make our way back a gradual downhill descent. We’ll make several stops to look at interesting hidden beaches, wetlands, coastlines, and mini lava tubes. Consider yourself lucky if a wild giant tortoise appears next to the road!
We’ll finish at the beach and celebrate our Isabela adventure with cocktails before driving back up to Scalesia Lodge for dinner and overnight.
NOTE: Bike rentals have an extra charge (helmets are included).
Day 4 (Breakfast/Lunch/-)
We are now ready to fly over beautiful Isabela Island in order to reach Baltra Island. Upon arrival, the Finch Bay’s Naturalist Guides will meet guests and accompany them directly to the Sea Lion Yacht. A basic introduction to our onboard activities is provided and we are then ready to explore! A dry landing welcomes us to North Seymour Island. This particular island was uplifted from the ocean floor by past volcanic events, and its origins as a seabed provide its characteristic low, flat profile. Cliffs only a few meters high are what form the shoreline, where swallow-tailed gulls sit among the ledges and rocks.
This island is teeming with life! So much that you might have to move out of the way for a passing sea lion or marine iguana! You’ll find blue-footed booby nests sitting right beside the trail, where mating pairs perform their courtship dance. This is a walking excursion and involves uneven and rocky terrain. Lunch is served onboard the Sea Lion Yacht.
After the visit, the yacht sails to the Itabaca channel, allowing us to catch a faster bus that will allow us to reach the southern shore of Santa Cruz Island where the Finch Bay Eco Hotel is located. Once there, you’ll check in and we are now ready to enjoy this beachfront property (the only one on Santa Cruz Island!).
Dinner and overnight at Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel.
Day 5 (Breakfast/Lunch/-)
After breakfast, our guests will depart from the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel and begin their journey up into the lush highlands of Santa Cruz Island. From there, a short drive across the farming area will lead us to El Manzanillo – an area that sits right along the natural path that tortoises take every year as they migrate up to higher, more humid regions of the island, particular during the garúa season (June-September); or when they descend to the warmer lowlands during the wet season. Year-round, tortoises can be seen grazing throughout the surrounding vegetation or wallowing in muddy banks or in a small red-colored pond (impressively tinted by red-tinted, surface pondweeds).
Lunch will be served in the cooler highlands, with stunning views of Santa Cruz Island.
After lunch, we visit a small farm where coffee, sugar cane and cocoa beans are organically and sustainably grown, harvested and prepared. While here, we’ll get the chance to taste these products and learn about the artisanal in which these island spirits are distilled and produced! We then return to the hotel to enjoy its pool or beach, or pursue other suggested activities.
Overnight at the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel.
Day 6 (Breakfast/Lunch/-)
Santa Fe Island offers one of the more beautiful and sheltered coves in the archipelago. Its turquoise lagoon is protected by a peninsula of tiny islets that form an ideal place to drop anchor. A wet landing on a white-sand beach brings us into contact with one of the many sea lion harems. Bulls vie for the right to be the “Beach Master,” while smaller males masquerade as females and make stealthy mating moves. Galapagos hawks are often easily approached and found perched atop saltbushes.
The giant prickly pear cactus found here live up to their name with their tree-sized trunks! Our goal here is to spot one of the largest species of land iguana, which is native and exclusive to the island of Santa Fe. Their colors range from beige to chocolate-brown with dragon-like spines. In many ways, these iguanas truly resemble dinosaurs.
An indigenous species of rice rat also inhabits the thickets here, and lucky hikers might even manage to spot harmless Galapagos snakes. After the hike, there is nothing more inviting than a swim in the calm waters of the bay, which are a great time to go snorkeling with the diverse marine life. Afterward, lunch will be served aboard the Sea Lion Yacht. Sail back to Puerto Ayora.
Overnight at the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel.
Day 7 (Breakfast/-/-)
Divine Bay: this is where the magic of Galapagos resides, and it’s found just a short distance away from bustling Academy Bay and the Puerto Ayora! Named after one of the archipelago’s first settlers, this cove is protected from the swells by natural volcanic reefs on one side, by a gallery of mangrove trees on the other and, over on the third side, by cliffs created eons ago by the uplift of the lava plateau. The whole place provides a wonderful natural shelter for wildlife. Guests can choose to explore this lovely cove by boat or, if you are feeling more adventurous, hop on top of one of our tandem kayaks and paddle there directly from the hotel’s beachfront. This morning’s visit will include snorkeling along a calm, but active, area of the cove. This is next to a wooden dock we use to explore Punta Estrada. A dry landing and a short walk (0.5 km / 0.31 mi) will lead us to the south shore of the island, to a small beach called Playa de los Perros (“Dog Beach”). This is a great place to see intertidal organisms and learn about marine iguanas in their nesting sites. Also, there’s a nearby natural terrace from where young whitetip reef sharks can be observed from above as they swim about the lava crevices.
After this morning’s visit, we’ll return to the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel. The afternoon activity on this day includes a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station and the giant-tortoise breeding program, with time to enjoy the town, or the hotel’s facilities.
Overnight at the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel.
Day 8 (Breakfast/-/-)
After breakfast, we’ll leave the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel and, on the way to Baltra, stop at the Twin Pit Craters that are tremendous geological depressions of volcanic material that have slowly been sinking deeper into the Earth, where exceptional Scalesia trees, ferns, mosses and orchids can be seen along the surroundings. After this, we’ll transfer to the airport in Baltra to catch the flight back to the continent.