Galapagos Wildlife Expedition Cruise hosted by BBC Presenter, Naturalist, Writer & Conservationist, Mike Dilger; and local expert naturalist trained by the Charles Darwin Research Station.
Many of the impressions we have our Natural World are guided by experts from TV and radio broadcasters like the BBC. This Wildlife Yacht Safari is your opportunity to join one of those experts to one of the most iconic wildlife destinations of all: the Galapagos Islands.
Your host will be BBC TV Presenter and Radio 4 broadcaster, Mike Dilger, whose presenting roles have included Nature's Top 40, the BBC One Show, Inside Out and Nature's Calendar. With degrees in both Ecology and Botany, Mike is also a frequent writer in the BBC Wildlife magazine and wildlife books. Mike's connection with Aqua-Firma goes back to the 1990s when he was stationed in an area of Andean cloud forest which was in the process of being saved by Rainforest Concern - a charity which Aqua-Firma Director, Ralph Pannell, also used to work.
Mike is not only highly knowledgeable, but great fun to be with. Supported by a local expert guide trained at the Charles Darwin Research Station, Mike will lead you on a packed yacht safari holiday, sure to provide close encounters with a wide range of the Galapagos' unique Wildlife and Marine, as well as experience habitats and dramatic landscapes ranging from parched lava fields, to verdant mangroves forest and rich coastal habitats. Guides to some of the islands we plan to visit can be selected by clicking on their respective buttons to the right (or if you are a mobile, below).
April is an excellent month to visit the Galapagos: a time when critically endangered Waved Albatrosses launch their massive annual arrival on Española and commence their courtship displays. This is also the turtle hatching season, for which Espumilla Beach, which you will visit, is an important turtle nesting site. Sea visibility is usually good in March and this yacht safari will take you snorkelling at up to nine snorkel sites.
Amongst the varied wildlife and birdwatching we anticipate opportunities to see will be Sealions, Galapagos Fur Seals, Blue Footed Boobies, land and marine iguanas, Galapagos penguins, Great & American Frigatebirds, American Flamingos and Galapagos Penguins.
Your floating hotel will be a comfortable and fuel-efficient catamaran, whose twin hulls make for a more stable ride around the islands. Her cabins are bright with windows looking out onto the ocean and islands, large open decks, as well as comfortable inside dining and relaxing if you prefer to enjoy some air-conditioned air. There will be a maximum of 15 passengers onboard.
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In case you want to see something of mainland South America on your visit, Mike will be leading a 3 days trip to cloud forest areas he helped to save when he was at Rainforest Concern; and a protected area which Aqua-Firma has helped to expand via our Ranforest4Climate programme; and through which all carbon emissions from your Galapagos voyage and flights will be offset.
Should you wish to stay longer in the Galapagos, or extend your travel to the Andes or Amazon in Ecuador or Peru, then we operate tailor-made journeys throughout the year.
Galapagos Islands with BBC Presenter Mike Dilger
All of our Galapagos trips follow an itinerary agreed with the Galapagos National Park and are accompanied by a natural history guide trained by the Charles Darwin Research Station. The precise itinerary is subject to change without notice according to National Park requirements, prevailing weather conditions and the decision of the captain.
Upon arrival at Baltra Airport, we will pass through an airport inspection point to make sure that no foreign plants or animals are introduced to the islands; and to pay the park entrance fee of $100. We will take care of your luggage and take you, by bus, on short drive to the harbour where we will board our yacht.
You will be able to step into your cabin and take lunch onboard.
In the afternoon, we will land at North Seymour Island which teems with birdlife. An easy circular path takes you through the archipelago's most extensive colonies of blue-footed boobies and frigate birds. At the beginning of the breeding season, adult frigate bird males blow up their vivid red pouches (gulas) to impressive football-sized balloons. This is one of the few spots where you can compare the magnificent and the great frigate bird breeding next to each other.
Back onboard you will be able to watch for birdlife and marine life from the decks of the yacht and admire the Galapagos coastal scenery as the sun sets. After dark, you will take dinner onboard and get to know your host, Mike Dilger, your local expert guide and like-minded fellow passengers. You guide and host will be giving a series of evening talks onboard and they will also be on hand to discuss all things Galapagos, Ecuador and beyond throughout your voyage.
By breakfast, you will be looking upon one of the most iconic scenes in the Galapagos: the beautiful volcanic islet of Bartolomé. In geological terms, this is among the youngest of the islands, with a landscape still visibly formed by its dramatic creation. The best view of this island is overlooking Pinnacle Bay and you will have the opportunity to look down over this if you join your guide to a viewpoint at the top of the island which is 114m above sea level. The trail to this point is ideal for observing how pioneer vegetation such as lava cactus, struggles to take root on the bare lava fields. You will also be able to see extinct spatter cones and solidified lava droplets.
PM: Espumilla Beach, Buccaneer Cove
Espumilla Beach is an important breeding site for turtles. It suffered for a period, from feral pigs which dugs up turtle nests; but the beaches natural state has been restored so the turtles return year after year to bury their eggs into the cinnamon-coloured sand dunes. 6 weeks later, during the months of February to August, the eggs hatch.
The beach ridge hides a mangle with two lagoons on the backside. A colony of American flamingos and aquatic birds used to be its main attraction, but after a previous El Niño, strong sedimentation altered the water environment, and now no longer provides their food. Vegetation zones are very close by, providing great scenic contrasts. During the climb up a hill, you will be rewarded with a beautiful view of the transitions from sea to beach and from mangrove to a dry palo santo forest.
At the nearby Buccaneers Cove, you will have your first opportunity to snorkel amongst Galapagos marine life.
AM: Santiago Island - Puerto Egas
Puerto Egas is a black beach located at the west side of Santiago Island. Volcanic tuff deposits formed this special black sand beach and made it the main attraction of the Island. This site is called Puerto Egas because Hector Egas attempted to exploit the salt, which failed because the price of salt on mainland South America was too low to make it a viable export.
PM: Rábida Island
Rábida Island is unique because of the red colour of the rocks and sand. The volcanic material on this island is very porous and external factors such as rain, saltwater and sea breeze have acted as an oxidising agent. A short walk along a trail leads us to a coastal lagoon behind the beach where we can see land birds including finches, doves, yellow warblers and mockingbirds; seabirds such as pelicans, masked and blue-footed boobies; and of non-feathered species you can hope to see marine iguanas and sealions. Our team will take you to a small brackish lagoon where you can anticipate a colony of flamingos.
AM: Santa Cruz Island - Charles Darwin Research Station
Although the great majority of Galapagos visitors come here to observe and appreciate natural wonders, it is also interesting to learn about the protection and conservation of the islands. The main attractions are the National Park information centre, the Van Staelen Exhibition Hall, the Breeding and Rearing Centre for young tortoises, and adult Galapagos tortoises in captivity. Aqua-Firma is a Corporate Donor to the Galapagos Conservation Trust - something we can be by your choosing to travel with us. Most of the donations we give to the Trust pay for work conduced by the Charles Darwin Research Station.
PM: Santa Cruz Highlands
In visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station, we will also visit the largest town in the Galapagos called Puerto Ayora. From here, we will drive you through farmlands on the south side of Santa Cruz until we enter the national park zone on the island where ferns and sedge dominate. A little higher and evergreen forests lies on the south facing side of extinct volcanic cones. Here we will take you to see the Twin Craters - a pair of pit craters surrounded in what feels like cloud forest; as well as a local ranch where giant tortoises are protected in restored habitat. Photographic opportunities for tortoises are very good here.
AM: Floreana Island - Cormorant Point
The peninsula of Cormorant Point marks the extreme north cape of Floreana - an area formed by a number of
small volcanic cones, covered in tropical dry forest (palo santo). At the landing beach, you will be welcomed by a small Galapagos sealion colony. The green sand on this beach contains a high percentage of glassy olivine crystals which derives from the surrounding tuff cones. The 'flour sand' beach on the southern side of the peninsula is formed of fine white coral sand which feels very smooth on your feet. Parrotfish have pulverised it, grinding the calcareous skeletons of living coral. You can spot schools of stingrays who take cover by burying themselves in sand on the shallow sea floor. During the early months of the year, Pacific green turtles come ashore to lay their eggs.
PM: Floreana - Baroness Lookout & Post Office Bay
Post Office Bay is one out of three nearby visitor's sites on Floreana's northern coast. Bring your postcards and post them in the peculiar barrel on this historic site. The barrel commemorates an improvised mail service that was set up for communication between British 16th century whalers and poachers.
AM: Española Island - Gardner Bay
The striking white beach at Gardner Bay is an important breeding site for Pacific green turtles. However, without doubt its main attraction is the Galapagos sea lion colony. Females stay year-round in this nursery, suckling their pups until they are three years old, although they start to fish at five months. During the breeding and mating season, the colony becomes even bigger.
PM: Española - Suarez Point
Huge ocean waves crash onto the southern basaltic cliffs of Suarez Point, forming a spectacular blowhole, where the water sprays metres high into the air (depending on the season, the tide and how strongly the sea breeze pushes the waves). We will take our time for a meditative break in silence on this emblematic viewpoint.
AM: San Cristóbal Island - Punta Pitt
Two wind sculptured tuff cones at Pitt Point make up the extreme eastern end of San Cristóbal, and thus, the whole Galapagos archipelago as well. These cliffs were the first sight of land when HMS Beagle and Charles Darwin arrived on the 15th of September, 1835. On the small green sand beach, you will be welcomed by a group of barking sealions. This is a batchelor colony, where males usually relax and prepare themselves for fighting and mating.
From the saltbush and spiny shrubs behind the beach, a trail leads up to an area of tropical dry forest vegetation. Most of the year you can find leafless palo santo trees, yellow cordia shrubs, tiny prickly pear cacti and carpetweed that turns red in the dry season. After the steep climb through a gully to the clifftop, you can wander around the only colony in Galapagos that has all three species of boobies: blue-footed, red-footed and Nazca booby; as well as both species of frigate bird (great and magnificent), famous because of their
scarlet balloon-sized pouches during mating season. Frigate birds attack returning boobies and conduct aerial battles, forcing the boobies to regurgitate their catch. The frigate birds can sometimes catch the droppings in mid-air, or swoop down to the water before another bird takes it.
PM: San Cristóbal - Witch Hill
The primary attraction of this site is the coral sand beach, which is an excellent place to swim and snorkel. Witch Hill is the remains of a tuff cone and one of the first sites visited by Charles Darwin. It has an impressive landscape, where it is often possible to see coastal and migratory birds, including pelicans, blue-footed boobies and swallow-tailed gulls; as well as sealions and marine iguanas. At times, the lagoon is completely dry and deposits of salt can be found at the bottom. The people of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno used to use the lagoon as a salt mine.
The San Cristóbal Interpretation Centre just outside the provincial capital of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, is a perfect complement to the field explanations and briefings of your naturalist guide and host. Information panels are in English and Spanish, with many photographs, models and true to life dioramas which tell the background story of the islands in different ways. They really capture what makes the Galapagos Islands so unique. The well-maintained botanical garden with native species from the arid zone (including the giant prickly pear and candelabra cacti) is worth your visit as well; and you will probably spot the Chatham Mockingbird which is endemic to this island - a bird which put Darwin on track to his theory of evolution. The attractive exhibition is quite complete and explains a series of natural circumstances that create the Galapagos' unique environment: such as the volcanic genesis of the islands, their remoteness from the continent, its ocean currents, its special climate, the arrival of different species, and their establishment, among others. It also recounts historic discovery and attempts of colonisation; and shows a diorama with ancient mail barrels from Post Office Bay.
Extensively it concludes how times have changed with current conservation and the many ways in which this is being achieved, as well as the environmental challenges that proceed.
From the Interpretation Centre, we will take you to airport for your flight back to the mainland; or if you have elected to stay on in the islands, we will help you to continue with your travels.
20 - 27 Apr 2020
8 days Wildlife Yacht Safari starting & ending Baltra airport in the Galapagos
Price per person sharing
Mainland Ecuador hotel & flight package: 3 nights hotel, transfers and Quito - Galapagos return flight package: add £1,150 pp sharing
If you are willing to share a cabin onboard then there is no single supplement for the liveaboard.
For a cabin to yourself add 85% to the liveaboard price.
Single supp for Quito / flights package = £335 to cover single hotel room occupancy & transfers
Cabin space onboard
Shore excursions and zodiac activities
All meals onboard
Coffee, tea and water
All guiding by local expert guide & international host
A year's membership of the Galapagos Conservation Trust
Carbon offset for fuel used on the voyage
Hotels before or after the voyage*
Galapagos National Park entrance fee - $100** per person to be paid in cash at the airport in Galápagos
INGALA Galapagos Immigration fee (US$20**)
*we can arrange these if you wish
**correct at time of writing