GRACE YACHT - FOLLOWING IN DARWIN'S TRAILS

8 DAYS

DAY 1 | TUESDAY
A.M. | ARRIVE TO BALTRA ISLAND AIRPORT
P.M. | SANTA CRUZ ISLAND: BACHAS BEACH 

You’ll need to rise early this morning to catch your flight to the Galapagos. All our flights to the Galapagos originate in Quito, and stop briefly in the port city of Guayaquil to take on passengers before heading on to the islands. For this itinerary you will be landing on the island of Baltra.
After passing through Galapagos National Park inspection your National Park Guide will be there to greet you, holding a sign with the name of your
yacht. Your guide will accompany you on the short bus ride to the waterfront.
During WWII the island of Baltra was a US Air Force base and one can still see the remnants of the old foundations left behind from that era. We transfer
via panga dinghy to the waiting Grace. The crew will see that your luggage is transferred to your cabin.
At the dock we board a dinghy (panga) to make the short crossing to Grace. 
You only need to bring your carry-on luggage on the panga as our crew will transfer your luggage to your cabin. You’ll have time to settle into your new
home for the week before assembling to review safety procedures and coming events with your Galapagos National Park Guide. While this is taking place the
Grace will start her engines and set off into the archipelago.
At the north end of Santa Cruz Island is Las Bachas, comprised of two sandy white-coral beaches that is are major egg-laying sites for sea turtles. The official
story of how Las Bachas got its name comes from the Galapagos National Park. During WWII the US military discarded two barges on the beaches. When the
first settlers to the area following the war arrived they mispronounced barges as bachas, resulting in the name. There are other explanations of how the
location got its name having to do with indentations left in the sand by both egg laying sea turtles and their departing hatchlings, but we will go with the
Park’s We go ashore the white sandy beach and are greeted by patrolling bluefooted boobies. A brief walk inland takes us to a lagoon where pink flamingos
are often found along with great blue herons, common stilts, brown noddys, white-cheek pintail ducks and migratory birds. Snorkeling today is from the
beach and you can also enjoy a swim in these waters, which are typically warmer than in other places in the Galapagos.

pintail ducks

DAY 2 - WEDNESDAY
A.M. | GENOVESA ISLAND: PRINCE PHILLIP’S STEPS
P.M. | GENOVESA ISLAND: DARWIN BAY 

Tower Island could serve as a film set for a remote secret submarine base. The southwestern part of the island is an ocean-filled caldera ringed by the
outer edges of a sizeable and mostly submerged volcano. The island sits to the northwest, slightly removed from the rest of the archipelago. It is also known as Bird Island, a name it lives up to in a spectacular way.
Our first landing is Prince Phillip’s Steps, named for a visit by the British Monarch in 1964. The dry landing begins at the base of this 25-meter (81-foot)
stairway leading up to a narrow stretch of land that opens out onto a small plateau. This is actually a small peninsula that forms the southeastern section
of the island. Red-footed boobies wrap their webbed feet around branches to precariously perch in the bushes where they nest. In contrast their maskedbooby cousins dot the surface of the scrublands beyond. Crossing through the sparse vegetation, you will come to a broad lava field that extends toward sea cliffs that form the island’s southern edge. The cavities and holes that have been eroded into the fragile lava are an ideal nesting ground for storm petrels.
There are two species, the Galapagos petrel, which is active by day, and the wooden petrel, which feeds at night. The petrels flutter out over the ocean in
swarms, then return to nest in the cracks and tunnels of the lava field but not without hazard. Short-eared owls lay in camouflaged wait here and make their living feeding off the returning petrels. After completing the two hour hike we return to the vessel to change into our wetsuits for some snorkeling at one of the best sites in the islands.
By Phillip’s Steps, along the cliffs that form the protected southern bay of the Tower’s caldera, we enter the water into another world. The first thing you
will notice when snorkeling here are very large tropical fish. These are warm water fish feeding off cold water nutrients. You’ll find the full assortment here
including oversize parrot, unicorn, angel and hogfish along with schools of perch, surgeon fish and various types of butterfly fish. Hiding in and around
the rocky shoreline that drops off into the caldera you will also see a rainbow assortment of wrasse, basslet, anthias and tang. This is the place to bring your underwater tropical fish identification chart. There are some special treats to be found here including occasional visits by fur sea lions. This area of the bay is also excellent for some kayaking in the calm waters close to the shore to observe nesting birds and you might like to go out for a spin after lunch, before our next landing across the bay to the north.
Landing on the white coral sands of Darwin Bay and walking up the beach, you find yourself surrounded by the bustling activity of great frigate birds.
Puffball chicks and their proud papas—who sport bulging scarlet throatsacks—crowd the surrounding branches, while yellow-crowned herons and 

ava herons feed by the shore. Farther along you will discover a stunning series of sheltered pools set into a rocky outcrop. Watch your step for marine iguanas, lava lizards and Galapagos doves that blend with the trail. The trail beside the pools leads up to a cliff overlooking the ocean filled caldera, where pairs of swallow-tailed gulls, the only nocturnal gulls in the world, can be seen nesting at the cliff’s edge. Lava gulls and pintail ducks ride the sea breezes nearby.
A brief panga ride brings us to the base of those same cliffs to reveal the full variety of bird species sheltering in the ledges and crevices created by
the weathered basalt. Among them, red–billed tropic birds enter and leave their nests trailing exotic kite-like tails. This is also an intriguing place to go
deep-water snorkeling. The center of the caldera is very deep and attracts hammerheads and large manta rays which sometimes patrol the western
edge of the caldera that is more open to the sea. You can snorkel here gazing down into the depths where you just may spot these large animals if you are
fortunate. But don’t worry, if you don’t really want to see them there is the equally amazing and far more sheltered snorkeling experience across the bay.
Right around sunset we will leave Tower to set out across the archipelago to the far western islands. Remember to watch the inner bay at sunset as you
might spot a giant manta ray.

sea eel

DAY 3 - THURSDAY
A.M. | SANTIAGO ISLAND: JAMES BAY
P.M. | SANTIAGO ISLAND: ESPUMILLA BEACH & BUCCANEER’S COVE

In the morning we make our way along the northwestern shore of Santiago Island to South James Bay (Puerto Egas), which offers access to three unique
sites. One landing is on a black beach with intriguing eroded rock formations inland. A trail crosses the dry interior eastward and rises to the rim of an extinct volcanic crater; cracks within it allow sea water to seep in, which then dries to form salt deposits that have been mined in the past. Darwin describes his visit to South James Bay in Voyage of the Beagle.
Another path leads south, where hikers are treated to a series of crystal-clear grottos formed of broken lava tubes. These are home to sea lions and tropical fish. This is the best place in the islands to see fur sea lions lazing on the rocks by the grottos. Further to the north, another landing and path lead to a series of inland lagoons, home to flamingos. Birders coming to James Bay will have
the opportunity to spot vermillion flycatchers, Galapagos hawks and the toolwielding woodpecker finch. Puerto Egas is a good spot for taking pictures—the light for photography is perfect at either dawn or sunset. The lava and the black sand seem to catch fire and the animals acquire a surreal and lovely
quality. The marine iguanas that inhabit the area resemble Samurai warriors and can easily be seen grazing on seaweed in the more shallow pools of the
grotto.
James Bay is a snorkeling site that is accessed from the shore instead of a dinghy. The sandy beach slopes off into a rocky bottom where a multitude of
sea turtles like to hide by blending in with the rocks. But these rocks move and will swim right up to you. At certain times of the year large schools of golden rays and spotted eagle rays also glide by. Both fur sea lions and California sea lions occasionally pass through as well 

In the afternoon visitors to Espumilla Beach come in search of birds rather than fresh water. The short walk up the beach leads inland to a mangrove
typically inhabited by the Common stilts. Beyond the mangroves is a brackish lagoon where flocks of pink flamingos and white cheeked pintails wade
in search of mollusks. The trail makes a passes over a tiny hilltop through a sparse Palo Santo forest before looping back to beach. Galapagos finches and
Vermilion fly catchers inhabit the area.
The tuff formations that form the cliffs that surround the cove have created a natural sculptor gallery rising from the sea with formations including the
Monk and Elephant Rock. An audience of hundreds of seabirds looks down upon the gallery from surrounding cliffs. Buccaneer Cove and Espumilla
Beach offers one of the more dramatic kayaking routes in the Galapagos for paddlers looking for a challenge.

eagles isla espanola

DAY 4 - FRIDAY
A.M. | ISABELA ISLAND: PUNTA VICENTE ROCA
P.M. | ISABELA ISLAND: TAGUS COVE 

Located at the ‘mouth’ of the head of the sea horse, which forms the northern part of the Isabela is Punta Vicente Roca. Here the remnants of an
ancient volcano forms two turquoise coves with a bay well protected from the ocean swells. The spot is a popular anchorage from which to take panga
rides along the cliff where a partially sunken cave beckons explorers. Masked and blue-footed boobies sit perched along the point and the sheer cliffs,
while flightless cormorants inhabit the shoreline. The upwelling of coldwater currents in combination with the protection of the coves make Punta Vicente
Roca one of the archipelago’s most sought after dive spots. 
One cove is only accessible from the sea by way of an underwater passage. The passage opens to calm waters of the hidden cove where sea lions laze
on the beach having traveled along the underwater route. The entire area of Punta Vicente Roca lies on the flank of 2,600 foot Volcano Ecuador. This is
the island’s sixth largest volcano. Half of Volcano Ecuador slid into the ocean leaving a spectacular cutaway view of its caldera. The site offers deep water
snorkeling where sea lions turtles, spotted eagle rays and even manta rays are the attraction. After our visit here we set off south and west across the Bolivar channel. Keep your eyes open in this best place in the islands for spotting whales.
Isabela is the largest island in the archipelago, accounting for half of the total landmass of the Galapagos at 4,588 square kilometers. Though narrow
in places, the island runs 132 km from north to south, or 82 miles. Isabella is formed from six shield volcanoes that merged into a single landmass. It is also
home to the highest point in the Galápagos, Wolf Volcano at 1,707 meters (5,547 feet), and calderas of up to 20 kilometers (12½ miles) across.
We head north along the western coast of Isabela Island, to Tagus Cove, named for a British warship that moored here in 1814. Historically the cove was
used as an anchorage for pirates and whalers. One can still find the names of their ships carved into the rock above our landing, a practice now prohibited.
The cove’s quiet waters make for an ideal panga ride beneath its sheltered cliffs, where blue-footed boobies, brown noddies, pelicans and noddy terns
make their nests, and flightless cormorants and penguins inhabit the lava ledges.
From our landing, a wooden stairway rises to the trail entrance for a view of Darwin Lake; a perfectly round saltwater crater, barely separated from the
ocean but above sea level! From the air one can see that both Tagus Cove and Darwin Lake are formed from one, partially flooded, tuff cone on the eastern edge of giant Darwin volcano.

The cove is formed by a breached and flooded section of the crater with Darwin Lake forming the very center of the same cone. The trail continues
around the lake through a dry vegetation zone, and then climbs inland to a promontory formed by spatter cones. The site provides spectacular views back
toward our anchorage, as well as to Darwin Volcano and Wolf Volcano to the north.
While one does not normally think of greener pastures when planning to go snorkeling, that is exactly what you will find at Tagus Cove. The carpet of green algae that covers the floor of the cove gives the impression of a submerged pasture, and really that is just what it is. You can find marine iguanas grazing the algae along with numerous sea turtles gliding and munching their way along. Because the cove opens to the rich waters of the Bolivar Channel this is one of the best snorkeling sites in the island. You also have a good chance of snorkeling with underwater feathered friends including Galapagos penguins and rare flightless cormorants. For those who want to dive deeper there are special rewards waiting for you at 3 meters where camouflaged creatures await, including scorpion fish nestled against the outcrops and sea horses masquerading as twigs of the seaweed waving in the currents. The rare Port Jackson shark can also be found here. Kayakers can enjoy a paddle around the cove, offering excellent views of nesting birds on the cliff walls above.flightless cormorant punta vicente roca galapagos

DAY 5 - SATURDAY
A.M. | FERNANDINA ISLAND: PUNTA ESPINOSA
P.M. | ISABELA ISLAND: URBINA BAY 

Fernandina is the youngest and westernmost island in the Galapagos. It sits across the Bolivar Channel opposite Isabela. Our destination is Punta Espinosa,
a narrow spit of land in the northeast corner of the island, where a number of unique Galapagos species can be seen in close proximity. As our panga
driver skillfully navigates the reef, penguins show off by throwing themselves from the rocks into the water. Red and turquoise-blue zayapas crabs disperse
across the lava shoreline, while great blue and lava herons forage through the mangrove roots. The landing is a dry one, set in a quiet inlet beneath the
branches of a small mangrove forest. A short walk through the vegetation leads to a large colony of marine iguanas—a schoolyard of Godzilla’s children—
resting atop one another in friendly heaps along the rocky shoreline, spitting water to clear their bodies of salt. Nearby, sea lions frolic in a sheltered lagoon.
Dominating this landscape from high overhead looms the summit of La Cumbre, 1,495 meters (4,858 feet), one of the most active volcanoes in the
world. Farther down this stretch of shore, the world’s only species of flightless cormorants have established a colony near an inviting inlet frequented by sea turtles. Because these birds evolved without land predators—it was easier to feed on the squid, octopus, eel and fish found in the ocean—the cormorants progressively took to the sea. They developed heavier, more powerful legs and feet for kicking, serpent-like necks and fur-like plumage. Their wings are now mere vestiges. Back toward the landing and farther inland, the island’s black lava flows become more evident, forming a quiet, inner mangrove lagoon where you will spot rays and sea turtles gliding just below the surface.
Galapagos hawks survey the entire scene from overhead.
The snorkeling off Punta Espinoza offers some real treats, as many of the creatures you just saw on land, including the Godzilla-like marine iguanas,
flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins and sea lions await you in the waters off the point (which incidentally was used as a set during the making
of Master & Commander). A key feature of the ocean bottom here are the troughs formed by volcanic rock and ocean currents. Because these waters
reach out into the Bolivar Channel they can be quite cold. Sea turtles like to hang out in the warm water of the troughs. You’ll also see marine iguanas
ferrying back and forth between underwater grazing areas and their colonies on shore. This is an excellent place to see underwater iguanas munching on
algae. If you are fortunate you may catch a glimpse of a flightless cormorant demonstrating their swimming abilities or watch a Galapagos penguin zip by.
You will feel the difference in ocean temperature and watch the water get clearer as you move from the more protected shallow areas out into the cold
rich waters of the channel. The Bolivar Channel is the very best place in the Galapagos to see dolphins and whales. On rare occasion our groups have been
able to swim with dolphins, kayak with melon headed whales and even spot the elusive sperm whale Urbina Bay is directly west of Isabela’s Volcano Alcedo, where we will make an easy, wet landing (a hop into a few inches of water) onto a gently sloping beach. In 1954, a Disney film crew caught sight of this gleaming white strip, and went to investigate. To their astonishment, three miles (5 km) of the marine reef had been uplifted by as much as 13 feet (4 meters) prior to their arrival.
They discovered schools of stranded fish and other creatures in newly formed tidal pools along with the skeletons of sea turtles and sharks unable to make
it to the ocean as a result of the uplift event. Alcedo erupted a few weeks later.
Now visitors can walk amongst the boulder sized dried coral heads, mollusks and other organisms that once formed the ocean floor. A highlight of this
excursion is the giant land iguanas, whose vivid and gaudy yellow skin suggests that dinosaurs may have been very colorful indeed. Giant tortoises inhabit this coastal plain during the wet season, before migrating to the highlands when it turns dry. Our landing beach provides a nesting site for sea turtles and will also provide you with opportunities to snorkel amongst marine creatures, or just relax on shore. Here we must take care not to step on the sea turtle nests dug carefully into the sand. For those looking for snorkeling from a beach this is the place, with tropical fish hiding amongst the rocks to the north side of the bay. This evening you have a real treat as the Grace sits at anchor in the Bolivar Channel where you will be spectacularly surrounded by the towering shield volcanoes that form Fernandina and Isabela. Sunset in the channel is also an excellent time to spot whales and dolphins that feed in these productive  waters created by the upwelling of the Cromwell Current, while you enjoy a happy hour at the Sky lounge on the upper rear deck.

dolphin animals

DAY 6 - SUNDAY
A.M. | ISABELA ISLAND: ELIZABETH BAY
P.M. | ISABELA ISLAND: PUNTA MORENO 

Continuing our voyage south along the west coast of Isabela we enter the outer part of Elizabeth Bay where we come upon a tall rocky islet that is home
to a colony of Galapagos Penguins. Looming to the south is Sierra Negra volcano that forms the southern part of Isabela Island. In 2018 glowing rivers
of lava lit up the night as they flowed down the flank of Sierra Negra toward Elizabeth Bay, where some of our lucky passengers had a front row seat on one of the archipelagos most spectacular performances.
In contrast to the rugged lava fields of Sierra Negra, Elizabeth Bay is one of the most sensitive habitats in the Galapagos. This outing is entirely aboard
our pangas. The tangle of mangroves roots that line the Bay, as it narrows to a channel before widening out to the back bay, tend to still the waters making it seem like a giant aquarium, while giving the area a green forested look.
Spotted eagle rays, golden rays and sea turtle glide just below the surface with the latter coming up occasionally to breath. You may see a Galapagos hawk
circling high overhead as we drift the calm waters. Approaching the back of the Bay, we bring our panga closer into a cluster of mangroves for a surprise.
Sealions use the horizontal trunks of the mangroves as resting areas earning them the nickname tree lions.
We return to the Grace for lunch as she makes her way a bit farther along the coast of Isabela to our next visitors’ site, Punta Moreno. You’ll likely be surprised at just how much life you can find in and around a pahoehoe lava field. In 2018 Sierra Negra Volcano, which looms over the entire southern part of the island (and really is the southern part of the island) gave the area a fresh coat of glowing lava that reached within 3 miles of our landing site. This is one of the least visited sites in the Galapagos

Along the shore you’ll have chances to see Galapagos penguins, flightless cormorants and a colony of marine iguanas with a reddish tinge that sport
the usual mohawk from head to tail. Sally light-footed crabs dot the coast reminding us of the color of molten lava.
This is one of those landing sites where you are best off with sneakers or hiking shoes due to time spent hiking over fields of broken lava (not because
of hot lava) and there’s more here than lava lizards and cactus. As we cross the broken fields that sometimes sound like clinking glass, you’ll come upon
little oasis formed by natural pools surrounded by green grasses. These have become home and resting place for a variety of birds including gallinules, pink flamingos, pintail ducks and more.
As we continue along, the trail brings us to series of coastal lagoons, that again provide a surprising oasis of green including mangrove forests where
pelicans nest. Look toward the bottom of the lagoons for resting white-tipped reef sharks, while green sea turtles ply the surface and great blue herons wade the shoreline.
The snorkeling off Punta Moreno above a rocky bottom offers a similar assortment including sea turtles, sting ray and sea lions mixed in with bumped
head parrot fish, king angel fish and schools of yellow tailed and surgeon Pacific creole fish and much more.

iguana marina puerto egas

DAY 7 - MONDAY
A.M. | ISABELA ISLAND: LAS TINTORERAS, SUCRE’S CAVE OR SIERRA NEGRA
VOLCANO
P.M. | WETLANDS AND LEISURE 

Puerto Villamil has a feeling of standing on the edge of the earth. The tiny fishing village, founded in 1897 by Don Antonio Gíl, is something of a forgotten
gem in the islands. It has a population of roughly 2,000 people and is set amidst miles of white sandy beaches that rest at the outer edge of Sierra
Negra Volcano. Buried pirates’ treasures has been unearthed here some years ago in the shadow of a tall coconut palm, thereby giving credence to all the
legends of hidden treasure buried beneath palm trees.
Early in the morning, we visit Las Tintoreras which showcase colonies of sea lions, Galapagos turtles and iguanas; skates, sharks, penguins, sea cucumbers,
urchins and a myriad members of the native flora and fauna whose peaceful interactions make you question exactly who’s really watching who. For our
next activity, you can choose between visiting Cuevas del Sucre, which are fascinating lava formations, caves and tunnels located at an endemic forest, or
Sierra Negra Volcano.
For those that want to visit Sierra Negra Volcano, we will travel by car to the highlands of Isabela. From there, we will begin a hike to a new geological
world. During the hike we will have the opportunity to admire the beautiful views and incredible contrast between the volcanoes and the sea, to finally
arrive to the edge of the Sierra Negra volcanic crater, the second largest active volcanic crater in the world. From there we may walk around this enormous
30 square mile crater, and, if desired, we can continue walking top the Chico Volcano, a place with very unique scenery where there is a fusion of shades
of red, oranges, yellows and blacks. Here, we can observe fumaroles and spectacular lava formations.
In the early afternoon, we will walk to the wetlands that are home a hypersaline lagoon frequented by flamingos and other waders and shore birds and
have some leisure time while we enjoy the beautiful beaches of Puerto Villamil. 

flemish animals

DAY 8 - TUESDAY
A.M. | SANTA CRUZ ISLAND: LOS GEMELOS / FLIGHT HOME 

We say goodbye to the Grace to take a 40 min. bus ride early in the morning to visit Los Gemelos. The terrestrial world of the tortoise and underworld of the lava tubes meet at Los Gemelos (the twins). These two large sinkholes craters were formed by collapsed lava tubes. The contrast between the marine desert coast and verdant Lost World look of the highlands is most striking here and you can easily encounter rain even when sun is shining a half an hour away at the coast. 
Los Gemelos are surrounded by a Scalesia forest. Scalesia is endemic to Galapagos and many endemic and native species call the forest home. This
is an excellent place to view some of Darwin’s famous finches along with the elusive and dazzling vermillion flycatcher.
After visiting Los Gemelos, we continue our bus ride for another 20 mins to the Itabaca channel. We will cross the channel and take a short bus ride to
Baltra’s airport.

finch animals

 

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