Ecuador - Quito and Galapagos Islands

Quito and Guayaquil in Ecuador are the gateways to the Galapagos Islands, with scheduled flights to Baltra (Santa Cruz) and San Cristóbal Islands. Furthermore, Quito is a good option for a stopover and day trips before and after visiting the islands.

The Galápagos archipelago is part of the Republic of Ecuador in South America and straddles the eastern Pacific’s equator. Moreover, they are around one thousand kilometres from the Ecuadorian coast. It is one of the ultimate destinations for naturalists and nature photographers. They are known for many endemic species (Ref 1) made famous by Charles Darwin and his scientific paper On the Origin of Species. And for their geology, Darwin was also the first geologist to explore them (Ref 2).

Plaza San Francisco in Historic Centre of Quito, Ecuador

Quito City Tour and Botanical Gardens

We spent two nights in Quito, a precaution in case of flight delays. Further, our package included a half-day in Quito city. With the afternoon free, we visited the Botanical Gardens with a few fellow travellers. Then we flew to the Galápagos Islands for our 15-day cruise.

Santa Cruz Highlands and Puerto Ayora

On the first day in the Galápagos, we visited Santa Cruz Highlands and Puerto Ayora before joining our boat. Moreover, highlights include giant tortoises and Darwin’s finches at Rancho El Manzanillo, a tour of Charles Darwin Station and the Fish Market and the seafront in Puerto Ayora.

Santiago – Sombrero Chino and Rabida Island

Our day-two morning excursion was a walk on Sombrero Chino via a panga ride along Santiago’s southeast coast to view wildlife. Next, a cruise to Rábida Island, south of Santiago, where we anchored mid-afternoon. Then a panga ride and a hike along the red cliffs and beach.

Isabela – Sierra Negra and Puerto Villamil

Over the next four days, we visited sites on the two western islands: seven on Isabella and one on Fernandina. Being the youngest islands in the Galápagos, both have active volcanoes. On day three, we visited Puerto Villamil, the only inhabited part of Isabela, and Sierra Negra Caldera.

Isabela – Punta Moreno and Elizabeth Bay

On our fourth day, we visited two contrasting sites. Punta Moreno’s has vast lava fields, lagoons, cacti with Cero Azul volcano as a backdrop. Then in the afternoon to Elizabeth Bay for a panga ride through clear lagoons and mangrove forests. Both with abundant marine wildlife.

Isabela – Urbina Bay and Tagus Cove

Day five: A morning excursion at Urbina Bay; we followed a trail through the arid region to see Volcán Alcedo giant tortoises and the largest land iguana in the Galápagos. We spent the afternoon at Tagus Cove on board. It was too dangerous to make the dry landing ashore.

Fernandina – Punta Espinosa

Before breakfast, on day six, we made a dry landing for a walk around the Punta Espinosa’s peninsula. It has dramatic seascapes and a plethora of marine iguanas. Also, it was my first encounter with a Galápagos Hawk, no doubt there to feed on the iguanas.

Isabela – Punta Vicente Roca

On the morning of day six, we cruised to Punta Vicente Roca, an ideal opportunity for whale spotting. Since there are no landings allowed, it was a coastal panga tour to see the marine wildlife. Late afternoon we left for our next destination crossing the equator opposite the Ecuador Volcano.

Santiago – Puerto Egas and Bartolome

On day seven, we visited Puerto Egas to explore the Fur Seal Grotto trail. Then a voyage around Santiago’s north coast to Isa Bartolomé, spotting marine wildlife along the way. Then in the afternoon, a shoreline panga wildlife excursion and then ashore for an iconic Galápagos panorama.

Santa Cruz – Bachas Beach and Highlands

On the morning of day eight, we visited Bachas Beach in Santa Cruz. Then we cruised to Baltra Ferry Terminal and disembarked for a minibus tour of the Highlands and Puerto Ayora. While ashore, our boat was reprovisioned, ready for the second week of cruising.

Galapagos – South Plaza and Santa Fe

After breakfast on day nine, we visited South Plaza, a wildlife-rich island just off Santa Cruz’s east coast. Then a voyage south to Santa Fé for a panga ride around Barrington Bay. Then a wet landing on the north beach to photograph several of Santa Fé’s endemic species and subspecies.

San Cristobal – Kicker Rock and Cerro Brujo

Before breakfast on the tenth day, we cruised from Cerro Brujo, San Cristóbal to Kicker Rock, then returned to Cerro Brujo for a beach walk. At lunchtime, we moved along the coast to anchor at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Then, an afternoon, to Galapaguera in the highlands.

Espanola – Gardner Bay and Punta Suarez

We visited Española’s Gardner Bay for a morning beach walk and panga ride to Gardner Island on day eleven. Then, we cruised west to Punta Suárez for an afternoon visit. I photographed Española endemic species such as marine iguanas, lava lizards and mockingbirds.

Floreana – Punta Cormorant and Post Office Bay

Day twelve itinerary included two sites on Floreana. First Cormorant Point to visit the Flamingo Lagoon and green turtles coming ashore on White Sand Beach. Then a cruise to Post Office Bay for an afternoon panga ride to Devils Crown and a beach walk after ‘mail barrel’ postcard sorting.

Dragon Hill and Sullivan Bay

On day thirteen, we visited Santa Cruz’s Dragon Hill for a walk to see the Galápagos land iguana colony. Then a cruise to Sullivan Bay at Santiago for a panga ride to Bartolomé’s southern beach, before landing on Bahia Sullivan for a walk to see pahoehoe lava and pyroclastic tuff cones.

Genovesa – Darwin Bay, Prince Philip’s Steps

We visited Genovesa’s Darwin Bay Beach and Prince Philip’s Steps on day fourteen. A remote island where many land species are absent, sea birds dominate. A morning walk at Darwin Bay and an afternoon walk at Prince Philip’s Steps. Three booby species nest here, along with a few landbirds. 

Puembo and Antisana Ecological Reserve

On returning from the Galápagos Islands, we spent two nights in Puembo San Jose Hotel near the airport. Our package included a full-day high altitude birding tour to the Antisana Ecological Reserve. Including several birding hot spots along the Pintag to Laguna de Mica Road.

Birds and Animals

Some bird images displayed in the Nature Travel photo albums also feature in the Birds Webpages. Similarly, animal images feature in the Animals Webpages.

Galapagos Islands References and Bibliography

Online Resources

1. A Brief Introduction to the Geology of the Galapagos 2021. [Online] Available from Galapagos Geology on the Web [Accessed 22-Sep-21].
2. Galapagos Wildlife 2021. [Online] Available from Galapagos Conservation Trust [Accessed 23-Aug-21].
3. Visitor Sites Map 1998-2021. [Online] Available from Galapagos Islands.com [Accessed 23-Aug-21].
4. The Galapagos Islands 2021. [Online] Available from Galapagos Conservancy [Accessed 23-Aug-21].
5. Charles Darwin Foundation Data Zone Checklist 2020. [Online] Available from Charles Darwin Foundation [Accessed 53-Oct-21].

Printed Resources (Books)

1. Fitter, J., Fitter, D., Hosking, D., Withers, M. and O’Dwyer, S. (2015). Wildlife of the Galapagos. 2nd ed. London: William Collins.
2. Swash, A. and Still, R. (2005). Birds, Mammals, & Reptiles of the Galápagos Islands. 2nd ed. London: Christopher Helm.