DAY BY DAY – ISLAND-2-ISLAND
Day 1: (-/L/D)
We fly from the mainland of Ecuador to the Galapagos Islands. Nothing can be more exciting than flying over 1,000 km of ocean vastness and gradually approaching the first islands of the Galapagos Archipelago. Our first view will be of attractive San Cristobal Island, and just a few minutes later, we land on Baltra Island, home to the islands’ most popular airport. After registering with the local authorities, we 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 ships and connections, we get ready for a treat very few will ever experience: a small aircraft flight from Baltra Island to Isabela Island. Only about 1,000 people a year get a chance to take this flight, and from the moment we take off, the volcanic majesty of Galapagos puts on a show for us. En route, we see the northern coast of Santa Cruz Island with its shoreline full of white beaches, the arid zone with palo santo trees, and some volcanic cones already covered by vegetation because of the island’s age. We then enter the channel separating us from Isabela Island and see Pinzon Island and Nameless Islet. The immenseness of Isabela Island materializes slowly over the horizon, like a giant black antediluvian creature.
We enter its dark shoreline heavily dotted with mangroves and tidal pools and immediately notice the lack of vegetation. The big black shadow that emerges in front of us turns out to be the massive Sierra Negra Volcano. 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 served while we enjoy the green vistas from this area.
By mid-afternoon, we are ready to explore and visit Sucre’s Cave, located not too far from the lodge. The cave is a former lava tube which proves to be a great introduction to the geology of the islands. Here we also enjoy a short walk that gives us a great idea of the typical island vegetation and some endemic plants. We now head for the lowlands and stop at the local rearing center for giant tortoises; how exciting to see the most iconic reptile of the islands in semi-captive conditions, as well as the young ones which will be repatriated soon. Take a look at one unique type of tortoise that is endemic to Isabela Island: it is the only one in the archipelago with a rather flat top carapace.
From here we walk to the brackish water ponds of Poza Baltazar where we improve our understanding of this island desert vegetation and view some unique lagoon bird species: stilts, ducks, and flamingos. As we get closer to town, we can now hear the ocean waves, and suddenly we have arrived to the stunning white beach of Puerto Villamil, where we have a chance to kick off our shoes, and let the waters of Galapagos soothe our feet. Enjoy a drink in one of the local beach bars and celebrate a glorious sunset before heading back to Scalesia Lodge for dinner. What a great way to start! Overnight at Scalesia Lodge.
Day 2 (B/L/D)
Today, we have an early start. The reason? We are about to explore Sierra Negra Volcano, the largest caldera in the Galapagos Islands and one of the most active volcanoes of the archipelago: its most recent eruption took place in 2005. Its crater is considered the largest of any island volcano in the world with a whopping 10 km diameter! Volcan Chico is the youngest flank of Sierra Negra, near its northern rim. The walk along the crater provides spectacular vistas of the barren volcanic floor, where the older and more recent volcanic flows contrast in different shades of black basalt.
A basic snack lunch is provided to guests and we will find a great view of the crater to enjoy it.
This is an approximately 6-7 hour hike, so the early start guarantees us cooler temperatures and a free afternoon for other great options on the islands. Once we walk along the rim of the volcano, there isn’t much uphill climbing. It is a rather flat walk with gradual ups and downs, and our Naturalist Guide will stop at a couple of locations for some interpretation, regrouping, and rest. This is the place to appreciate the splendour of the western volcanoes, and the endemic vegetation of this area is evidence of its evolutionary isolation. Back to the lodge for lunch, a good rest, and then an afternoon of open activities 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 can be sure a great sunset will reveal the grandeur of Isabela Island. Overnight at Scalesia Lodge.
Day 3 (B/L/D)
It’s hard to believe we have been here for over two days already! Today, it’s time to explore more of the shoreline habitat where plenty of surprises are about to happen. Tintoreras is a group of islets, located a short distance 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 framed by mangroves. Its wildlife ranges from giant basking marine iguanas, perched boobies and pelicans, stalking herons, Galapagos penguins, sea lions, turtles and white tipped reef sharks (locally known as tintoreras). Here we 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 (snorkeling gear provided, and remember, if you need a wet suit, they are available for a fee). Back to Scalesia Lodge for lunch and a well-deserved siesta.
Watch a group of white-tip reef sharks at tintoreras resting & swimming
Watch a galapagos penguin calling 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 for the Muro de las Lágrimas (Wall of Tears). Our driver will take us along the beach and detour into the arid zone for exploring this site that is full of bizarre stories after an Ecuadorian penal colony was established here between 1946 and 1959. There are a couple of overlook viewpoints that let you see the volcanic coast of Isabela Island. We get on our mountain bikes and we slowly make our way back on a gentle downhill descent. We stop several times 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.
Finish off at the beach and celebrate our Isabela adventure with cocktails before driving up to Scalesia Lodge for dinner and overnight.
NOTE: Bike rental has an extra charge (helmets provided).
Day 4 (B/L/-)
We are now ready to fly over beautiful Isabela Island in order to reach Baltra Island. Upon arrival, the Finch Bay’s Naturalist Guides meet guests and accompany them directly to the Sea Lion Yacht. A basic introduction to our on-board activities is provided and we are ready to explore. A dry landing welcomes us to North Seymour Island. This 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 form the shoreline, where swallow-tailed gulls sit among the ledges and rocks.
This island is teaming with life! You might have to give way to a passing sea lion or marine iguana. Blue-footed booby nests sit beside the trail where mating pairs perform their courtship dance. This is a walking excursion and involves uneven rocky terrain. Lunch is served on board the Sea Lion Yacht.
After the visit, the yacht sails to Itabaca channel, from where we gain time by crossing Santa Cruz Island by bus to reach the south shore, where the Finch Bay Eco Hotel is located. Check in and we are now ready to enjoy this beach-front property (the only one on Santa Cruz Island).
Dinner and overnight at Finch Bay Eco Hotel.
Day 5 (B/L/-)
After breakfast, our guests will leave Academy Bay for the lush highlands of Santa Cruz Island. From there, a short drive across the farming area will lead us to El Manzanillo.
Manzanillo is on the natural path tortoises take every year as they migrate to higher moist locations 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 on the surrounding vegetation or wallowing in muddy banks or in a small red-coloured pond (impressively tinted by surface red 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 grown, harvested and prepared – all organic and sustainable. We have the chance to taste the products while learning about the artisanal way to distill island spirits! We then return to the hotel to enjoy its pool or beach, or pursue other suggested activities.
Overnight at Finch Bay Hotel.
Day 6 (B/L/-)
Santa Fe offers one of the more beautiful and sheltered coves in the archipelago. Its turquoise lagoon is protected by a peninsula of tiny islets forming an ideal anchorage. A wet landing on a sandy white beach brings us into contact with one of the many sea lion harems. Bulls vie for the right to be Beach Master, while smaller males masquerade as females and make stealthy mating moves. Galapagos hawks are often easily approached, perched atop saltbushes.
The giant prickly pear cactus found here live up to their name, with tree-sized trunks! Our goal is to spot one of the large species of land iguana, native to Santa Fe. Beige to chocolate brown in colour with dragon-like spines, these huge iguanas truly resemble dinosaurs.
An indigenous species of rice rat also inhabits the thickets, and lucky hikers can spot harmless Galapagos snakes. After the hike, there is nothing more inviting than a swim in the calm waters of the bay, a great snorkelling opportunity with diverse marine life. Lunch on board the Sea Lion Yacht. Sail back to Puerto Ayora.
Overnight at Finch Bay Hotel.
Day 7 (B/-/-)
This is the magic of Galapagos: a short distance away from Academy Bay and the bustle of Puerto Ayora lies the quiet and wildlife-rich Divine Bay. Named after one of the islands’ 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, on the third side, by cliffs created eons ago by the uplift of the lava plateau. The whole provides a wonderful natural shelter for wildlife. Explore this lovely cove by boat or, if you are feeling more adventurous, take the tandem, sit-on-top kayaks straight from the hotel’s beachfront. The morning’s visit includes snorkelling on a calm, but active, sector 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) 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 white-tipped reef sharks can be observed from above as they swim about the lava crevices.
After this morning’s visit, we return to the Finch Bay Hotel. Afternoon visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station and the giant tortoise-breeding programme, with time to enjoy the town, or the hotel’s facilities.
Overnight at Finch Bay Hotel.
Day 8 (B/-/-)
After breakfast, we leave the Finch Bay Hotel and, on the way to Baltra, stop at the Twin Pit Craters, great geological depressions of volcanic material, formed by a long process of slow sinking of the ground, where exceptional Scalesia trees, ferns, mosses and orchids can be seen in the surroundings, then, overland transfer to the airport in Baltra to take the flight back to the continent.