This land-based Galapagos Wildlife, Marine Life & Photography journey will be hosted by Aqua-Firma director Ralph Pannell, who has been working in conservation and travel in Ecuador for more than 20 years; local guides trained by the Charles Darwin Research Station; and a Marine Biologist & Photographer from the Marine Megafauna Foundation, active in ongoing research and conservation of sharks in the Galapagos. In 2021 this will be Dr Simon Pierce and in 2022 it will be Dr Chris Rohner.
After landing into the Galapagos, we will take you first into the Highlands of Santa Cruz Island where amongst endemic cloud forest, we will soon be amongst Galapagos Giant Tortoises. We will also be on the lookout for Vermillion Flycatchers, Darwin's Finches and explore forests of Scalesia trees, which are actually 20 metre endemic daisy plants.
From Santa Cruz we will head by boat to the Galapagos's 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. 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 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.
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.
Wildlife & Marine Life
From Isabela, we will head far to the west of the archipelago and a series if islets where we can find best snorkeling in all of the islands. 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 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 is no wonder that the record breaking freediver, Tanya Streeter, rated the Galapagos as the best place in the World to 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.