Wildlife, Marine Life & Volcanoes of South Galapagos

Giant tortoises, manta rays, volcanoes, sealions and penguins - these fully guided hotel based 4, 5 & 6 day trips feature some of the best of the Galapagos islands' wildlife, marine life, and scenery. These trips are particularly good for topping up species and areas you may not have come across on a boat based or diving trip. For those with only a short time to spare, they are also highly rewarding trips in their own right.

Southern Isabela, the Sierra Negra Volcano and the islets of Las Tintoreras are the common factor in all of these trips. With an extra day we can take you to one of the best marine life sites in all of the Galapagos; whilst our longer trips incorporate some of the best that San Cristobal and Santa Cruz Islands also have to offer, along with its small offshore islands of Los Lobos and Kicker Rock.

These trips provide some excellent opportunities to see land based wildlife and birdlife including giant tortioises, flamingos, yellow legs, Darwin's finches, blue footed and Nazca boobies and more. If you trek beyond the crater rim of the Sierra Negra Volcano then there is a reasonable chance you may see a Galapagos Hawk, preying on smaller birds. We are also seeing a local sub species of barn owl at the moment, where it roosts in the hollow of a tree.

We visit the most important breeding centre for giant tortoises on this trip. With the invasion of fire ants onto many of the islands, the breeding centre is essential for helping many young tortoises develop ready for introduction into the wild. We often find these reintroduced tortoises in parts of southern Isabela, close to a raised viewpoint and the Wall of Tears built by convicts when the island housed a penal colony.

Of marine life, the snorkelling off these islands and islets can be fantastic and difficult to match anywhere in the world. Once of the most inspiring experiences in the Galapagos is to snorkel with sealions. It is the younger sealions which can be the most playful, darting around you at incredible speeds, tugging at your fins and even racing up to your mask to blow bubbles. Whilst larger sealions can look formidable underwater, they tend to swim more slowly and keep a little more distance.

It is difficult enough to find locations on earth where you can snorkel with sharks, but on these trips we have been with as many as 100 Galapagos sharks, joined by a small school of hammerheads, Pacific green turtles and eagle rays! White tip sharks and large manta rays are also often on the cards, as well as sting rays, parrotfish, huge schools of fish and marble stingrays. Visibility can vary considerably day by day, so do be aware that luck can vary considerably.

Coastal walking and snorkelling can provide some wonderful encounters with marine iguanas, both swimming and on land spitting out salt through glands on their noses. Galapagos penguins are usually seen as well as hundreds bright orange crabs. At low tide, there are often chances to swim very close indeed to Pacific Green Turtles, and observe white tip sharks basking in knee deep water in lava tubes at Las Tintoreras.

Of volcanic scenery, southern Isabela is home to volcanic caldera second only in scale to Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater. Volcan Sierra Negra is 6 miles (10 km) across. To reach the closest point of the crater edge involves an overland drive by 4WD and then a between 45 mins to 1 ½ hour hill walk. On a dry sunny day this can be relatively easy. When cloud comes in and there is rain, the going can be very difficult. The summit can often be seen from the southern coast. On days when cloud obscures a view, you will often trek above this layer for clear views across the crater. When you get there the scale is difficult to absorb, with the potential for outstanding views to Alcedo Volcano and to the southern coast.

If the crater edge is your goal then we can fit another location or two into your day. If you want to trek further then Cerro Chico is wonderful target, involving a walk along a portion of the crater edge and then through ever decreasing vegetation to where multicoloured rocks and dry lava flows mark the area where Sierra Negra erupted in 2005. Just beneath the surface, the rocks can be very hot. Views from this area extend far north to the enourmous Elizabeth Bay and Fernandina Island.

There are many more scenic, wildlife and marine life highlights to describe, so contact us to discuss further. In terms of activities, snorkelling is important to enjoy these trips to the full. So is some amount of walking, but this needn't be particularly strenuous and in some location a slow and detailed examination of the abundant wildlife and marine life is called for. For those keen on some adventurous activity, a trek to Cerro Chico is long and can be hot; mountain biking is an ideal way to explore some of the forest and southern coast; and sea kayaking is incorporated into our monthly 6 day small group programmes.

Photographic, wildlife and underwater video opportunities are wonderful. A housing to a camera or video is strongly recommended.


4 Days Isabela based itinerary

Please note that itinerary order may be adjusted to optimise for tides and to fit in with your transport to and from Isabela Island.

Day 1: Arrive Puerto Villamil, Isabela

You will be met by your private guide as you arrive into Puerto Villamil in Isabela.

You will be taken to your lovely beachside hotel. After you have settled in, you will be taken into town for lunch. This may, if you wish, include seasonal seafood highlights such as blue lobster.

In the afternoon you will be taken first overland and then by boat to Las Tintoreras - a set of islets close to the shore of Isabela. These beautiful islets, with their blue waters, vibrant green vegetation and stark black and white volcanic rocks, provide opportunities to see a huge amount of wildlife and marine life. This includes white tip sharks, basking in shallow waters of a lava tunnel; Galapagos penguins; marine iguanas at all stages of development; sealions; Pacific green turtles; lava lizards; black octopus; bright orange crabs and more. On land you will be able to walk slowly amongst the lava observing and photographing the flora and fauna at close range.

In the late afternoon you can either enjoy your hotel, its pool, lounge and facilities; or take a stroll onto one of the most beautiful golden sands beaches in South America's eastern Pacific. There is also a boardwalk close by which is excellent for spotting Darwin's finches, snapes and marine iguanas in amongst mangroves. A similar boardwalk a few hundred yards away is often and ideal point from which to see flamingos.

Day 2: Volcan Sierra Negra

After breakfast, you will be collected from the hotel by 4WD and taken north to the lower slopes of Volcan Sierra Negra. You will then start trekking through guava trees and native flora to the rim of the crater. Depending upon the weather, the trek will take about 45 mins to 1 ½ hours. When dry the walk is easy. Fog and rain can make it slippy.

The rim of the crater is just the start of trekking opportunities. You will next set off along the crater edge and later to the caldera of Cerro Chico which last erupted in 2005. The lava formations of tunnels and puffing fumeroles are wonderful to explore. The views can also be breathtaking. The distance you trek is up to you and the weather. You can discuss as you go with your private guide.

After your trek you will be taken for lunch at a highland hacienda and eat amongst organic groves from where you food comes from. Good opportunities here for birdwatching and seeing Galapagos tortoises.

On the way back to the coast you will be taken by 4WD to locations where you can observe falmingos, and then to the Giant Tortoise Breeding Project.

Late afternoon and evening free.

Day 3: Explore the Southern coast

Today you will be taken to explore the southern coast of Isabela west of Puerto Vilamil. You can do this either in 4WD with opportunities to step out and explore sections of Scalesia forest, hilltop viewpoints, beaches and coastal rock habitats where marine iguanas thrive; … or by mountain bike. Your eventual destination will be the Wall of Tears, built by convicts which after years of torment eventually escaped. Ask your guide for the full story.

Amongst the native wildlife, birdlife and botany you will see, your guide will also be helping you to find giant tortoises introduced into the wild from the Tortoise Breeding Project.

Late afternoon and evening free.

Day 4: Depart Isabela

You will be taken to the airport or port for your flight or boat out. Alternatively, consider staying a day longer to enjoy Isabela's stunning beaches, or take our 5 day option to incorporate the coastal lava tunnels where you can hope to snorkel with  giant manta rays, sharks, marine iguanas and spectacular schools of fish.

5 Days Isablea based itinerary

This itinerary is privately guided and is the same as our 4 day itinerary above, except that day 4 and 5 become...

Day 4: Coastal lava tunnels

Your private guide will collect you from your hotel and take you to where you will board a speed panga (small shared boat). You will then drive along the coast for about to some coastal lava tunnels which can provide some of the best marine life encounters in the Galapagos. Huge manta rays are one of the most exciting prospects, as well as white tip sharks and large amounts of fish life.

This trip will take most of the day, but there will be time to enjoy sunset on the beach outside what is probably the best hotel in coastal Galapagos.

Day 5: Depart Isabela

You will be taken to the airport or port for your flight or boat out.


22 Nov 2018 - 31 Dec 2020 - from £ 1,490
from US$ 1,860

4 days privately guided

Private trip prices
(price per person sharing - available throughout the year subject to availability of guides and accommodation)

5 days privately guided version add £490 / US$595

Prices include private guiding, all accommodation, transport by land & coastal and meals as per itinerary, bikes (if needed), essential safety gear, snorkeling equipment.

Prices exclude wetsuit rental, flights, meals not specified, items of a personal nature, tips.

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