This land-based 5 / 6 days Wildlife & Marine Life Journey within the Galapagos will take you to rich habitats on small tropical islands, offshore rocks, lava tunnels, varied woodlands and some of the best snorkelling in the archipelago; all in the company of Marine Biologist, Photographer and Shark Expert, Dr Simon Pierce; and Aqua-Firma Director, Ralph Pannell who has more than 20 years' experience in conservation, research and exploration throughout Ecuador & the Galapagos. Whilst you will be able to see and learn a huge amount on this trip, our leaders will be on hand to help you hone your photographic skills above and below water, with assistance provided too in how to tweak your images using Lightroom and Photoshop.
Staying onboard a boat is not the best way to explore every part of the Galapagos. Southern parts of the largest island in the Galapagos, Isabela, are best explored when based comfortably on land. From here we can take you to the tiny Las Tintoreras islands where we find sharks in the clearwater of shallow lava channels; snorkelling with endemic marine iguanas, green turtles and tropical fish such as the Mexican Hogfish; and walking close to sealion harems, lava lizards, mangroves and rocks covered in bright red Sally Lightfoot Crabs. We often see Galapagos Penguins and Flightless Cormorants out on the lava rocks as well.
We will take you to two more excellent snorkelling sites on Isabela Island: Las Tuneles and La Concha y Perla. Las Tuneles can often be a great place to snorkel with small schools of white tip reef sharks; a Galapagos sub-species of green turtle; rays; Galapagos Penguins; seahorses; and on rocks out of the water we find Blue Footed and Nazca Boobies. Concha y Perla additionally provides us with chances to swim with playful Sealions.
For those on the 6 days version (not stepping onto our Shark Research Insights and Photography Dive Liveaboard), we include a fourth great marine life point: a channel that runs through a huge split in Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido) off San Cristobal Island. What we can always be sure of here is the drama of the scenery, enjoyed looking up from the water. Birdlife in the form of Blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies and Magnificent Frigatebirds are quite likely to fly overhead, whilst at the sea surface, turtles often pop up close by. If visibility allows, you will be able to see beneath you a huge amount of sealife. Leader, Ralph Pannell, has seen as many as 200 Galapagos Sharks here, holding their position in the current, as well as schools of as many as eight Hammerhead Sharks and beautiful Blue Spotted Rays gliding gently past. These marine species are nothing to be concerned about, but certainly sights you won't find in many places on our Blue Planet whilst snorkeling. It's no wonder that the record breaking freediver, Tanya Streeter, rated the Galapagos as the best place in the World to snorkel.
Far from the sea, but always in view of it, the Sierra Negra Volcano reaches 1,124 metres above sea level. It last erupted in 2005 when the BBC were filming a four-part series about the islands. The centre of the explosions was a parasitic cone called Volcan Chico - the target point for a trek we will make. Scratch the Earth's surface just a few inches below the lava surface here and the temperature is too hot to touch. The landscape is one of multicoloured igneous rock, oozing in places with sulphurous fumes. We have to stick strictly to tested pathways here: as with so much of the Galapagos, the lava has solidified above a Swiss cheese network of gas bubbles, Step in the wrong place and you'll break the rock surface and fall into a lava tube!
To reach Volcan Chico, we will trek along part of the second largest volcanic crater in the World, measuring 6 miles across. Only the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania is wider. Cloud cover is highly variable here, with the best conditions when skies are clear above clouds pushed up by the wind before cascading over cliffs into the huge crater. These clouds sustain a gnarly cloud forest of the slopes of Sierra Negra. Bushes include wild cotton, as well as a lot of invasive guava trees. These fruit year-round, so there's no reason to run short of organic fruit on your walk!
As we leave the edge of the crater, we find tall woodland where endemic Galapagos Hawks can be found. As we get closer to Volcan Chico, all but lone cacti struggle to take hold on the lava rock.
Something we don't often see in southern Isabela, is a wild Giant Tortoise less than two years old. Fire ants have landed on the island and baby tortoises struggle to survive their stings. We can, however, find the youngest tortoises at the Galapagos National Park Tortoise Breeding Center, where they are reared and release when old enough to fend for themselves.
This journey has been designed to link directly to our Shark Research Insights and Photography Dive Liveaboard hosted by Dr Simon Pierce; and our 6 days Wildlife & Marine Yacht Safari to the south eastern islands of the Galapagos, hosted by Ralph Pannell. It can also provide a comprehensive Wildlife & Marine Life exploration of the islands for people keen to avoid spending time out at sea.
Photographs by Dr Simon Pierce & Ralph Pannell