Galapagos Wildlife Marine Life & Photography

These land-based Galapagos Wildlife, Marine Life & Photography journey will be hosted by a Marine Biologist & Photographer from the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF); local guides trained by the Charles Darwin Research Station; and Aqua-Firma director & photographer, Ralph Pannell, who has been working in conservation and travel in Ecuador for more than 20 years. In 2022, our marine biologist will be Founder of MMF, Dr Simon Pierce; and in 2023-5 it will be MMF Principal Scientist, Dr Chris Rohner.

Volcanic Scenery

The most expansive volcanic scenery in the Galapagos is on the largest and perhaps most beautiful island of Isabela. This is where we find the Sierra Negra Volcano which reaches 1,124 metres above sea level. Lava flows as recent as 2018 can be seen here, whilst the most recent dramatic changes to the area occurred in 2005 when the BBC were filming a four-part series about the islands. The centre of the explosions was a parasitic cone called Cerro 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.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise Santa Cruz Highlands photo by Dr Simon Pierce

To reach Cerro 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 on the slopes of Sierra Negra, where we can sometimes find endemic Galapagos Hawks and Mockingbirds.

In 2022 we will also visit the Santa Cruz volcanic highlands; whilst in 2023, 2024 & 2025 we will operate the itinerary in reverse and instead incorporate the highlands of San Cristobal Island. Please refer to the Itinerary section for details.

Snorkelling with Green Turtle Galapagos Islands las Tintoreras Isabela Underwater Photography Dr Simon Pierce

Wildlife & Marine Life

For some of the best marine life in the Galapagos, we will head to the far south west of Isabela Island, amongst a series if tiny lava islets. There is some fantastic snorkeling here, where our underwater targets will include schools of Golden Cownose Rays, Green Turtles and White-tip Reef Sharks which swim amongst tree roots and pack into a tiny cave we can spy into. On top of these islets we can find nesting Blue-footed boobies and lava lizards; and offshore we find rocks where Nazca Boobies roost and waters where we can sometimes see a Hammerhead Shark, Mobula or Manta Ray close to the surface.

South Plaza is another particularly beautiful island we will visit, characterised by Opuntia, or prickly pear trees; and endemic sea purslane plants, which in August will be a lovely red colour. South Plaza also has some dramatic sea cliffs, filled with seabirds; whilst on its gentler slopes we can find plenty of land iguanas, swallow-tailed gulls and all grey lava gulls.

One of the other great marine highlights we visit on this trip, is a channel that runs through a huge split in Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido), which lies just 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 sea life. 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 is no wonder that the record breaking freediver, Tanya Streeter, rated the Galapagos as the best place in the World to freedive and snorkel.

Photography & Insights

We will have lots of opportunities for photography on this trip, with assistance on the go, evening workshops as requested; and any advice you need before you head to the islands. We will also provide some evening talks about wildlife, marine life and geology of these most special islands.

Seeing more of Ecuador & the Galapagos

If before this Galapagos trip you would like to see some of mainland Ecuador, Aqua-Firma director & photographer Ralph Pannell, formerly of the charity Rainforest Concern, will be leading a week-long journey combining the most biodiverse area of our planet: the Tropical Andes … with our biggest tropical wilderness: the Amazon. Visit or Tropical Andes to Amazon page for details.

To see more of the terrestrial wildlife, marine life, fantastic scenery and diverse habitats of the Galapagos, we can take you onboard a selection of Wildlife Yacht Safaris through the islands. Please Contact Us for options.

For those who scuba dive, immediately after this land-based Galapagos trip, you can join the same marine biologist host onto one of our Galapagos Shark Research Insights & Photography dive liveaboards.

Itinerary

8 Day Wildlife & Marine Life of the Galapagos itinerary (2022)

Itinerary shown here is for 2022 starting Baltra Island and ending San Cristobal.

In 2023 onwards, we will run the itinerary in reverse.

Day 1 - Baltra to Santa Cruz

Our journey begins at the airport on Baltra Island, which is also known as South Seymour. The airport here was built by the US military in 1941.

From the airport, we will travel across the flat and dry Baltra Island to the Itabaca Channel. We can usually see Magnificent Frigate Birds amongst mangroves on this coast.

Once across the Channel we will drive across the similarly barren north of Santa Cruz until we start to rise through Scalesia Forest and eventually the forest covered tropical volcanic peaks of the island. Here we will go in search of Giant Tortoises, Darwin's Finches and Vermillion Flycatchers inside forests of Scalesia trees - which are actually 20 metre tall endemic daisy plants.

From the Highlands we will descend through farmlands within the most populous area of the Galapagos. We will eventually reach Puerto Ayora, which is the largest town in the Galapagos. The town is worth exploring and your guides can provide some first introductions to Galapagos sealions, Sally lightfoot crabs, brown pelicans, marine iguanas and possibly some reef sharks observed from a jetty.

A visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station will also take place.

We will spend the night in a hotel in Puerto Ayora.

Day 2 - Santa Cruz to Isabela

This morning we will travel from Santa Cruz Island to the south of Isabela Island. This open sea crossing will take about two hours.

We will check into a hotel on the coast before exploring mangroves and lagoons in search of Flamingos, marine iguanas, Yellow legs and different types of Darwin's finches.

Day 3 - Isabela

Early morning, we will take a speed boat to the far southwestern tip of Isabela Island. Along the way we will pass by rocks where Nazca Boobies roost. We will eventually ride the surf into a series of tiny lava islets - a unique and beautiful coastal scenery where we can come across Blue-footed Booby nests with fledglings, lava lizards and Opuntia cacti.

For one of the best marine life snorkelling opportunities in the whole archipelago, we will move to a mangrove-fringed bay where we have great chances of swimming with White-tip Reef Sharks, schools of Golden Cownose Rays and Green Turtles.

We will head back to Puerto Villamil later on where you can relax, or join your hosts for a gentle bike ride along the south coast to areas where we can usually find hundreds of Marine Iguanas warming themselves on black volcanic rocks; and Lava Herons pursuing Sally Lightfoot crabs. This is a highly varied area, with vast golden sand beaches, rocks pools, pockets of mangrove forest, Opuntia cactus trees and views out over vast inland areas of sparsely vegetated lava fields.

Day 4 - Volcan Sierra Negra, Isabela to Santa Cruz

This morning, we will head inland to the Sierra Negra Volcano in search of dramatic vistas and terrestrial wildlife.

In the afternoon, we will take a speed boat back to Santa Cruz Island.

Day 5 - South Plaza Island

Today we will head out by small boat to South Plaza Island.

South Plaza is a beautiful island formed out of lava which bubbled up to the sea surface. It is relatively small but very diverse in its botany, full of birdlife and very good for spotting Land Iguanas. There are approximately 1,000 Galapagos Sealions on the island and birdlife is plentiful. Cliffs on the western side are nesting sites for Blue-footed and Nazca Boobies, whilst we can find Darwin's Finches amongst the rocks of the eastern side, Lava Gulls and lovely Swallow-tail Gulls.

Overnight in Puerto Ayora.

Day 6 - Santa Cruz to San Cristobal

This morning we will take you by speed boat to San Cristobal Island. Here we will check into a hotel and then pay a visit to the Galapagos Interpretation Center and a beach where we can find rock pools and beaches littered with resting Galapagos sealions. Photo opportunities are wonderful.

Day 7 - Kicker Rock

This morning we will head out to Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido) in search of spectacular coastal scenery, birdlife and snorkelling with abundant marine life.

Day 8 - San Cristobal

This morning you will have the chance to top up on rock pool and sealion photographs if you wish.

In the afternoon, you will be taken to San Cristobal airport for your flight back to the mainland .... or continue your exploration of the Galapagos, such as our Galapagos Shark Insights & Photography Dive Liveaboard which this trip is designed to link straight into.

8 Day Wildlife & Marine Life of the Galapagos itinerary
(2023 / 2024 / 2025)

Day 1 – San Cristobal

Our journey begins at San Cristobal airport, from where you will be transferred to your hotel in the small seaside town of Puerto Baquerizo.

Once you have settled in, your trip host will then walk you to the Galapagos Interpretation Center and a beach where we can find rock pools and beaches littered with resting Galapagos sealions. Photo opportunities are wonderful.

Day 2 – Kicker Rock

This morning we will head out to Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido) in search of spectacular coastal scenery, birdlife and snorkeling amongst abundant marine life.

This afternoon, you will have the chance to top up on rock pool and sealion photographs if you wish.

Day 3 – San Cristobal Highlands & Santa Cruz

Beyond the magnificent seascapes, some islands in the archipelago have stunning highlands; San Cristobal is one of them. The altitude creates a special environment for animals and plants. El Junco Lagoon, The Breeding Center and Puerto Chino Beach are the places we will visit today.

El Junco lagoon, 700m above sea level, is one of the few permanent freshwater bodies in the Galapagos. Frigatebirds are often seen here washing the salt from their feathers, as well as White-cheeked Pintails and Common Gallinules. The lagoon's name comes from a type of plant common in this area, the "junco".
In the breeding centre, we can see the giant tortoises in their natural habitat and learn more about their origin and evolution.

Puerto Chino is a small white sand beach surrounded by dry lava, rocks and mangroves. During high tide the entire beach is covered by the sea. Upon arrival one is greeted by the sounds of many sea birds including blue footed boobies and brown pelicans resting after diving for fish. Lava lizards and sally lightfoot crabs run around the lava.

In the afternoon, we will take a speed boat across to Santa Cruz Island, spending the night in Puerto Ayora.

Day 4 – South Plaza Island

Today we will head out by small boat to South Plaza Island.

South Plaza is a beautiful island formed out of lava which bubbled up to the sea surface. It is relatively small but very diverse in its botany, full of birdlife and very good for spotting Land Iguanas. There are approximately 1,000 Galapagos Sealions on the island and birdlife is plentiful. Cliffs on the western side are nesting sites for Blue-footed and Nazca Boobies, whilst we can find Darwin's Finches amongst the rocks of the eastern side, Lava Gulls and lovely Swallow-tail Gulls.

Overnight in Puerto Ayora.

Day 5 – Charles Darwin Research Station & Isabela Island

This morning, you can join your hosts on a walk to and around the famous Charles Darwin Research Station.

Early afternoon, we will take you by speed boat about 2 hours from Santa Cruz to Isabela Island.

We will check into a hotel on the coast before exploring mangroves and lagoons in search of Flamingos, marine iguanas, Yellow-legs and different types of Darwin's finches.

Day 6 – Isabela

Early morning we will take a speed boat to the far south western tip of Isabela Island. Along the way we will pass by rocks where Nazca Boobies roost. We will eventually ride the surf into a series of tiny lava islets - a unique and beautiful coastal scenery where we can come across Blue-footed Booby nests with fledglings, lava lizards and Opuntia cacti.

For one of the best marine life snorkelling opportunities in the whole archipelago, we will move to a mangrove-fringed bay where we have great chances of swimming with White-tip Reef Sharks, schools of Golden Cownose Rays and Green Turtles.

We will head back to Puerto Villamil later on where you can relax, or join your hosts for a gentle bike ride along the south coast to areas where we can usually find hundreds of Marine Iguanas warming themselves on black volcanic rocks; and Lava Herons pursuing Sally Lightfoot crabs. This is a highly varied area, with vast golden sand beaches, rocks pools, pockets of mangrove forest, Opuntia cactus trees and views out over vast inland areas of sparsely vegetated lava fields.

Day 7 - Volcan Sierra Negra & Las Tintoreras, Isabela

This morning, we will head inland to the Sierra Negra Volcano in search of dramatic vistas and terrestrial wildlife.

The southeast of Isabela Island has yet more islets we will snorkel and walk amongst this afternoon. Photographic opportunities here are excellent, both above and below the water. Above water, we can walk amongst large groups of marine iguanas at various stages of development; watch Lava Herons stalk the bright red and yellow Sally Lightfoot Crabs; and gaze a two dozen or more White-tip Reef Sharks basking in foot-deep sea-filled lava channels. Blue footed boobies, Nazca boobies and sometimes Galapagos Penguins can be seen here. Below the water, we can enjoy some of the best opportunities for shallow-water snorkeling with green turtles, Mexican hogfish and marine iguanas as they swim across the lagoons. Lava lizards and sealions are likely to lie about our trails, so never put your camera away!

Day 8 – Isabela to Baltra

We will take a speed boat this morning, back to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island; and then tranfer overland and by boat to Baltra Island airport ready to fly back to mainland Ecuador .... or continue your exploration of the Galapagos, such as our Galapagos Shark Insights & Photography Dive Liveaboard which this trip is designed to link straight into. 

Dates

Enquire / Book 01 - 08 Aug 2022 - £ 2,690
US$ 3,690

8 days hosted by marine biologist & photographer Dr Simon Pierce, Founder of Marine Megafauna Foundation; Aqua-Firma director Ralph Pannell; and local guides trained by the Charles Darwin Research Station.
Itinerary starts Baltra / Santa Cruz and ends San Cristobal

Enquire / Book 20 - 27 Jun 2023 - £ 2,890
US$ 3,890

8 days hosted by marine biologist & filmer Dr Chris Rohner, Principal Scientist of Marine Megafauna Foundation; Aqua-Firma director Ralph Pannell; and local guides trained by the Charles Darwin Research Station.
Itinerary starts San Cristobal and ends Sta Cruz / Baltra

Enquire / Book 18 - 25 Jun 2024 - £ 2,890
US$ 3,890

8 days hosted by marine biologist & filmer Dr Chris Rohner, Principal Scientist of Marine Megafauna Foundation; Aqua-Firma director Ralph Pannell; and local guides trained by the Charles Darwin Research Station.
Itinerary starts San Cristobal and ends Sta Cruz / Baltra

Enquire / Book 17 - 24 Jun 2025 - £ 2,890
US$ 3,890

8 days hosted by marine biologist & filmer Dr Chris Rohner, Principal Scientist of Marine Megafauna Foundation; Aqua-Firma director Ralph Pannell; and local guides trained by the Charles Darwin Research Station.
Itinerary starts San Cristobal and ends Sta Cruz / Baltra

Single room occupancy supplement £560 / US$720
+ £40 / $50 in 2024
+ £65 / $80 in 2025

Prices include
All transfers by land and sea
Accommodation
Expert guided exploration as per itinerary
Evening talks
Breakfasts & lunches
Snorkelling equipment if needed

Not included
Flights to / from the Galapagos
Galapagos National Park fee (US$100*)
INGALA immigration fee ($20*)
Dinners
Tips
Excess baggage fees

(*correct at the time of writing - payable locally - may be subject to change without notice)

  • Snorkelling with a Sealion in the Galapagos - Dr Simon Pierce
  • Marine Iguana - Dr Simon Pierce
  • Blue-Footed Booby - Galapagos Islands - Dr Simon Pierce
  • Underwater with a Marine Iguana feeding on green algae - Dr Simon Pierce
  • Pink Flamingo on Isabela Island - Ralph Pannell Aqua-Firma
  • Sunset in southern Isabela Island in the Galapagos - Ralph Pannell
  • Sealion Sleeping 'standing up' - San Cristobal, Galapagos - Ralph Pannell Aqua-Firma
  • Sally Lightfoot Crab on Isabela Island, Galapagos - Ralph Pannell Aqua-Firma

Trip Reviews from the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos

Galapagos Island Guide

  • Snorkelling with a Sealion is one of the highlights of the Galapagos - Dr Simon Pierce
  • Galapagos Hawk - Dr Simon Pierce
  • Trekking along the Crater Rim of the Sierra Negra Volcano - Ralph Pannell Aqua-Firma
  • Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido) off the coast of San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos
  • Lava Fields on Sierra Negra parasitic cone of Cerro Chico - Ralph Pannell Aqua-Firma
  • Fledgling Frigatebirds - North Seymour Island - Ralph Pannell Aqua-Firma
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