Get up close and personal with the bizarre inhabitants of the Galapagos
This stunning archipelago is made up of 13 major islands, formed by enormous volcanic eruptions and only inhabited by humans less than 200 years ago. It is Darwin's living laboratory of evolution and provides unique opportunities for viewing wildlife at close range. We offer a wide range of Cruises to suit your preference and budget.
The Galapagos Islands have inspired botanists and nature-lovers alike. Charles Darwin visited in 1835 and declared "remarkable; it seems to be a little world within itself." The islands are made up of the tops of volcanoes and flourishing with endemic species. Such harsh conditions have forced rapid adaptation in the wildlife here, none more so than in the marine iguanas which had to take to the seas to survive, the only lizard to do so in the entire world.
The Galapagos National Park is dedicated to the preservation of this unique habitat and visits are carefully co-ordinated with fixed itineraries (licensed by the park authorities) for each boats so that the number of visitors at each site is carefully controlled.
The Galapagos Experience
Some of the things you can expect from your Galapagos Cruise and how to find the right boat for you.Learn More
Galapagos Islands - The Galapagos Experience
Travel in Style
If getting up close and personal to some of the world's tamest and most mind-boggling creatures, strolling along idyllic beaches in the company of lazy sea lions and snorkelling crystal-clear waters packed with eye-popping marine life sounds like your idea of a good holiday, then a Galapagos cruise is for you. In fact a cruise through the archipelago is suitable for all types of travellers, with boats in a variety of sizes and styles, many tailored for luxury or family travel. Whichever vessel you chose, you'll be guaranteed warm hospitality, complete comfort and expert guidance throughout your tour.
All the yachts in the Galapagos Islands are licensed by the authorities and have permits for a specific itinerary, so that the stops on the islands are staggered and there are not too many yachts and visitors in the same place at the same time. Limiting the number of yachts also limits the number of people that can visit the Galapagos Islands archipelago, so as to keep the islands pristine for the wildlife.
Choosing Your Cruise
You feel the movement of the sea more on small yachts than on large ones, an important factor for you to consider when choosing a yacht to cruise the Galapagos archipelago, where the islands are quite far apart and located 800 miles off the coast of Ecuador, in the Pacific Ocean. Other factors are the size of the cabins and bathrooms, the amount of space in the public areas when you have a full complement of passengers and crew and the availability of water for several showers per day. You must consider also that there is considerable noise from the water lapping against the hull, the engines, desalination plant, electricity generators. The size of the vessel and location of the cabins and decks, determines how far the cabins are for the noise to dissipate, bearing in mind that the main engines are usually in the centre of the ship, for stability.
Guests disembark regularly, in small groups of no more than 16 and led by experienced and fully-licensed nature guides, to follow trails designed to take you up close to the wildlife, without disturbing them. Itineraries are carefully planned to offer the best experience possible for you, taking into account the season and activity levels of the birds, reptiles and sea life which reside in the Galapagos. The islands go through a yearly 'cycle of nature', with each month bringing something different to see. One of our undoubted highlights is the extraordinary mating dance of the waved albatross, which takes place during April and May.
The guides are licensed and trained by the Galapagos authorities in three grades, with grade three being the best and most experienced.
Fabulous Marine Life
The nutrient-rich waters here create a colourful spectacle below the surface, with astonishing marine life flourishing throughout the archipelago. Most itineraries offer regular snorkeling opportunities to experience a very different side to the Galapagos, often encountering playful sea lion pups, Green Sea turtles, penguins or the world's only sea-going iguanas as you do so. The cruises also afford ample chances to observe the rugged coastlines of the islands in smaller panga boats and, during certain times of the year, it is possible to watch a variety of whales and dolphins passing through on their migrations.
The Perfect Combination
A trip to the Galapagos Islands can be combined with visits to some of Ecuador's other world-renowned destinations, including Quito's world heritage centre, the cinematic Avenue of the Volcanoes and the mysterious Amazon rainforest, with its colourful birdlife and fascinating indigenous communities.
Learn about Charles Darwin's famed visit to the archipelago and how his legacy continues to play an integral part in the Galapagos today.Learn More
Galapagos Islands - Darwin's Islands
Theory of Evolution
Charles Darwin stayed here just five weeks, studying the behavioral patterns of the Galapagos' wildlife inhabitants in 1835. yet his name is so inextricably linked to the archipelago that you'd be forgiven for thinking he had spent half his life here. During his visit Darwin took in-depth notes and brought various specimens back home with him, the sum total of which would prove pivotal in supporting his theory of evolution and so cementing the Galapagos' place in history.
Battle for Survival
One of the great mysteries that surrounds the islands is just how such an astonishing array of creatures got to this remote volcanic archipelago in the first place. Most are assumed to have undertaken epic voyages to do so, some by air, others either swimming, drifting or catching a ride on driftwood.
The isolation and relative lack of natural predators or human interference have made the islands a relatively stable environment, in which this huge variety of wildlife has survived and thrived. The biggest threats have been posed by sporadic volcano eruptions and the periodic failing of trade winds, precipitating the devastating El Niño phenomenon. Rising water temperatures destroy the nutrients brought north by the Humboldt current, causing much of the eco-structure of the archipelago to collapse. Other challenges have been much more subtle, the day-to-day challenges of finding food sparked a process which peaked the interest of Darwin all those years ago.
Gradually, over many years, subtle differences began to emerge in many of the species found here, with physical features changing as the creatures adapt to the unique demands of the Galapagos. This process is perhaps most markedly seen in the marine iguana, whose shorter body, powerful tail and special glands allow it to dive deep in the ocean to feed on the algae which grows on the sea bed. Out of sheer necessity, it adapted to the body it needed to become the world's only sea-going lizard.
At Close Quarters
It isn't just the process of evolution, the bizarre nature of the creatures, or the sheer variety of different species that are found here that makes the islands so remarkable. What is equally remarkable is just how tame and indifferent the inhabitants are to the presence of humans. In fact some are positively curious, as anyone who has snorkeled in the company of playful sea lion pups will testify. What this means is that you can genuinely get closer to wildlife here than anywhere else in the world. You just might find that the bench you wanted to sit on is occupied by a sea lion.
To preserve the islands for future generations and to offer a degree of privacy to the wildlife, visitor numbers and access points are controlled by local authorities. Small groups are led around marked trails by fully-licensed expert guides, giving the right balance between a great experience for the guests, and the ongoing preservation of this extraordinary habitat that will forever be linked to its most celebrated visitor, whose observation and research changed the way we think about life today.
Meet the Inhabitants
Narrowing down the many weird and wonderful inhabitants to a small selection is a tough job, picking our big five even harder still. So, with apologies to the hawks, owls, pelicans, finches, lizards, fur seals, dolphins and whales, we prese…Learn More
Galapagos Islands - Meet the Inhabitants
The Big Five
If Charles Darwin is the human most readily associated with the Galapagos Islands, then his animal equivalent would surely be Lonesome George, who came to symbolise both the majesty and fragility of the world, and the importance of the ongoing conservation efforts in the archipelago. The beloved giant tortoise sadly passed away in 2012, leaving the Pinta Island sub-species extinct. Today, George's cousins can be found mainly on the island of Santa Cruz, spending much of the year in the highlands, briefly coming down to look for nesting sites around June. Able to live for up to 150 years, they fill the role of the elder statesmen of the islands and are one of the very few creatures that shy away from human presence.
If the giant tortoises are the wise elders of the archipelago, then the sea lions (particularly their pups) are the cheeky youngsters. They are the most charismatic creatures here, often seeming not just to tolerate the presence of humans, but to actually relish it. An underwater encounter with a playful pup could well be the defining moment of your visit to the archipelago, the first story you write on a postcard home (left at Post Office Bay perhaps) and a memory that keeps putting a smile on your face long after your return. On land they can be found lounging in the sun on beaches throughout the Galapagos.
Land & Marine Iguanas
Ok, we're cheating a bit here, squeezing two iguana species into one.
The marine iguanas of the Galapagos are unique in being the only sea-going lizard anywhere in the world. Their bodies have specially adapted over time to enable them to powerfully torpedo themselves all the way down to the sea bed, where they feed on the scant algae and seaweed that grows here. Though they may look a little menacing, rest assured they are harmless vegetarians, the worst that might befall you is a warning spit through their nose if you invade their personal space a little too much! They can be seen resting on lava rocks throughout the archipelago, as well as zipping about underwater when snorkeling.
The marine iguanas of Española take on a distinctly exotic appearance during the mating season (January), turning from crimson to bright red. Otherwise their colour varies from island to island and depending on their age.
Much like their marine equivalents, land iguanas are also vegetarians, though as the name suggests, they prefer to stick to terra firma. Spread throughout the islands, they can be equally vivid as their sea-going cousins, found in various shades of yellows, reds and pinks, usually basking in the rays of the sun. The most colourful are typically found on Española and Floreana.
One of the more curious examples of co-operation in the archipelago is the service rendered to the land iguanas by the finches, who feed on the ticks which live on the backs of the iguanas, providing a meal for the finches and a free grooming service for the recipients.
It certainly isn't hard to identify the archipelago's different varieties of boobies, particularly the blue footed kind. The behaviour of these charming birds is often as colourful and comical as their distinctive feet, with their elaborate mating dances (seen on North Seymour around May) a particular highlight of the yearly cycle of nature. Unsurprisingly, their feet play a central role in the ritual, with a healthy turquoise shade being the most desirable to prospective mates. They can be seen diving dramatically into the sea, swiping unsuspecting fish below the surface, and waddling clumsy around on land.
One of the undoubted highlights of the Galapagos' cycle of nature is the start of the waved albatross mating rituals on Española, in the months of April and May. The spectacular sequence last several minutes, as the two suitors circle one another, with lots of squawking, posturing and seemingly co-ordinated dance moves, before loudly clattering their bills against one another, in what can only be described as some sort of amorous sword fight. All the while, in the background are a group of fixated and amused visitors. Given that the waved albatross is listed as critically endangered, it is a hugely important, as well as entertaining, endeavor.
The endemic waved albatross is the largest bird in the Galapagos, with a huge wingspan of up to 8 feet. It is easily identified by its large yellow bill, wavy markings and distinctive waddle.
Best of the Rest
Instantly recognisable for their huge red throat pouches, displayed by males during mating season, frigatebirds are a common sight in the skies of the archipelago. Separated into two species, the Great variety have a green tinge to their feathers, whilst Magnificent frigatebirds have a purple hue. These aggressive birds are known for their bullying hunting style, often stealing food out of the mouth of other birds, dashing to catch it before it hits the water (as they would drown if they get too wet!).
With their piercing blue eyes and large webbed feet, the flightless cormorants are a strange sight at first glance, but as the name suggests, its appearance isn't what makes this bird so unusual. Perhaps due to the lack of natural predators and the preference for a more powerful body to help catch prey in the waters of the archipelago, the endemic species has now lost its ability to fly. Instead, it has a long neck, which it puts to good use to catch passing eel, as well as non-oily feathers and strong body to help it reach great depths below the surface. The mating roles amongst flightless cormorant are reversed, with the females taking the lead, aggressively courting the males. They are seen on journeys to the western side of the archipelago.
The Galapagos penguins are the only penguins to live on, or north of, the equator. These penguins, like many Galapagos inhabitants, have had to find ways to adapt to their unusual home. Unable to sweat, they instead pant furiously, shed feathers and take regular dips in the water to keep cool. They can therefore be seen frequently both on land, as well as when snorkeling. Identified by their large bill and black head with white border, they are the second smallest penguin species and the rarest, and they are also unusual for not having a set breeding season.
The graceful Galapgos flamingo belongs to the American family and can be most frequently seen around the coast of Santa Cruz and a shallow lagoon in the north of Floreana. They sport a vibrant pink coat, thanks to their diet, using special filters in their beak to consume large amounts of brine shrimp and crustaceans, with their heads upside down.
Crabs don't often garner the attention of wildlife aficionados, but then most don't look like the Sally Lightfoot crabs of the Galapagos. Their bright rusty exterior is even more marked because they are often found scurrying around the dark black lava rocks of the archipelago's shorelines. Despite being nimble footed and able to dart off in all directions, they are amongst the most photographed of the wildlife here.
Last, but certainly not least, we come to the Green Sea turtles, often found below the surface gliding gracefully through the clear waters of the archipelago. On land, they can be seen nesting on beaches throughout the islands, their young emerging two months later to make their perilous sprint to the safety of the sea.
What to see on each island
San Cristobal Island - Sea Lions, three species of Booby, Frigate Birds
Floreana Island - Flamingos, Blue Heron, Stilts
Espanola Island (Hood) - Iguanas, Sea Lions, Waved Albatrosses, Blue Footed Boobies, Masked Boobies, Mockingbirds, Red-Billed Tropicbirds, Swallow-Tailed Gulls
Santa Cruz Island - Vermillion Flycatchers, Giant Tortoises, the Charles Darwin Research Centre- home to Giant Tortoises and land iguanas.
Genovesa Island (Tower) - Frigate Birds, Masked Boobies, Red Footed Boobies, Swallow-Tailed Gulls, Finches, Storm Petrels, Lava Gulls and Owls.
Fernandina - Marine Iguanas, Flightless Cormorants, Penguins, Sally Lightfoot Crabs, Marine Turtles, Sea Lions, Brown Noddy Terns.
Bartolomé - Penguins, Turtles, harmless Black-Tipped Reef Sharks.
Santiago - Flamingos, Marine Iguanas, Sally Lightfoot Crabs
North Seymour - Frigate Birds, Boobies, Swallow-Tailed Gulls, Brown Noddy Terns, Pelicans, Marine Iguanas.
Cycle of Nature Calendar
There's always something special to see within the archipelago. Discover some of the natural highlights of the Galapagos, throughout the calendar year.Learn More
Galapagos Islands - Cycle of Nature Calendar
Most of the species are endemic to the Galapagos Islands and can be seen all year round, though there are specific highlights at certain times of the year. Some examples are:
- Land Birds start nesting
- Marine iguanas take on bright colours on Española
- Green sea turtles arrive on beaches to nest
- Greater flamingos start nesting on Floreana
- Marine iguanas nest on Santa Cruz
- Marine Iguanas nest on Fernandina and North Seymour Islands
- Albatrosses begin to arrive on Española
- The waved albatrosses start their incredible mating dances
- Green sea turtle eggs begin to hatch
- Land iguana eggs start to hatch on Isabela
- Blue-footed boobies begin their courtship on North Seymour
- Marine iguanas eggs begin to hatch on Santa Cruz
- Waved albatrosses begin to lay their eggs
- Giant tortoises migrate from the highlands of Santa Cruz to the lowlands, to look for nesting sites
- Migrating birds pass through the islands
- Humpback whales sometimes pass by on their migration north
- Flightless cormorants begin their courtship rituals
- Sea birds are more active
- Whales and dolphin sightings more common
- Sea lions begin to have their pups on the beaches (it is possible to swim and snorkel with the juvenile sea lions all year except October.)
- Galapagos hawks start their courtship- Giant tortoises return to the highlands of Santa Cruz
- Migrant shore birds begin to arrive
- Penguins highly active around Bartolome
- Sea lions are also more active
- Fur seals begin mating season
- Lava herons start nesting
- Sea lion puppies active in water
- Brown noddies begin mating
- Giant tortoise eggs start to hatch
- Green sea turtles begin mating season
- Waved albatrosses begin to hatch
From late July to September there is more wind and the water is cooler. In September the sea can be quite choppy so is the least attractive time to cruise the Galapagos Islands archipelago, it is also the time when several yachts go into dry dock for maintenance.
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