Cruising the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14795A, International


  • Explore the “Enchanted Isles,” a premier wildlife destination
  • Marvel at the unique, unparalleled, and approachable wildlife
  • Relax on a world-class yacht


  • Galapagos certified naturalist guide in the islands
  • All on-trip transportation, including in-country flights
  • All meals, lodging, entry fees, and all gratuities 


DatesJul 27–Aug 7, 2014
StaffWayne Martin

Trip Overview

The Trip

Visiting the Galápagos Islands provides a rare chance to see unique and amazing wildlife in one the world’s foremost wildlife preserves. Observe a three-foot-long marine iguana bask on the rocks and then swim into the ocean for his vegetarian meal. Gaze on a lumbering Galápagos Land tortoise that grows to six feet in length, weighs up to 600 pounds, and may live for more than 150 years! Here, the animals are relatively without fear of humans and will not fly or scamper away when approached.                                                                

At sea, the Galápagos penguin is the only penguin north of the equator. California sea lions, whales, sharks, marine turtles also inhabit this diverse ecosystem. The Islands have remained relatively intact in retaining most of their original biodiversity. Around 95% of the species that ever occurred on the Galápagos Islands are currently still alive. The World Wildlife Federation found 75% of the land birds, and 97% of the reptiles and mammals on the Galápagos Islands are only found here.

The bird population includes the great frigate bird, penguins, blue-footed boobies, mockingbirds, doves, albatross, hawks, gulls, cormorants, flamingos, and the world-famous Darwin finches.

Darwin, the islands' most famous Galápagos visitor, spent a mere five weeks here. Those five weeks, however, forever changed the world of science, and provided Darwin with over 25 years of research material.

We will be visiting inhabited and uninhabited islands. We will have a chance to spot sea life, such as sea birds, dolphins, sea turtles, rays, sea lions, and perhaps a whale. We will have the opportunity to snorkel to get a closer look at the marine life. On land, we will walk through a lava tunnel, stroll in tropical cloud forests, visit an active volcano, view the world’s second largest caldera, go hiking and birding, or snorkel and relax at the beach. Our days will be filled with activity, but you will also have the freedom to just relax. An English-speaking, certified Galápagos naturalist will accompany us on our island travails, and assist us in understanding the amazing inter-relationship between plants, animals, people, and these incredible islands.

Our home in the Galápagos will be a luxurious yacht. We will explore five of the Islands with a Galápagos certified naturalist guide and visit the Charles Darwin Research Station on the island of Santa Cruz. During our stopovers, we will take mild to moderate hikes to otherworldly lava flows and vista points. We may explore tidal pools, or snorkel in protected coves with sea lions, penguins, flightless cormorants, and tropical fish.

We start our adventure in Quito, a World Heritage site, where we will visit a “cloud forest” and hummingbird preserve and stand on the equator. We end our journey through this amazing country in Guayaquil.


Day 1: We fly into Quito, a World Heritage site. We will arrive late, be picked up at the airport, and enjoy a restful night at our luxury hotel. We will not gather as a group today, due to the late arrival.

Day 2: After a tour of colonial Quito, we will visit "Mitad del Mundo" (the Middle of the World), where we stand on the equator. We will visit the Ethnographic Museum, a museum about the indigenous ethnography of Ecuador. Ethnography is a means to represent graphically and in writing the culture of a people.

Day 3: Today, we visit the spectacular, “BellaVista Cloud Forest,” a birding paradise of over 2,000 acres (700 hectares). The birds make Bellavista what it is: Tanager-Finch, Giant Antpitta, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Toucan Barbet and 8-14 species of hummingbirds. “The cloud forest is a different type of rain forest, a mysterious enchanted forest with a much more benign climate than the Amazon Basin, and no malaria.” The cloud forest has an altitude of 7,200 feet (2,250 meters). The owners are recognized as pioneers in sustainable ecotourism in the region.

Day 4: Today we are off to the Galápagos Islands! After our flight from Quito to Isla Baltra, we will meet our certified Galápagos naturalist guide at the airport. We will collect our luggage and will board our comfortable yacht. Our lodgings while cruising around the islands will be double staterooms with private bathrooms. We'll feast on gourmet meals prepared by our dedicated staff on board our yacht. Today will be spent relaxing aboard the yacht and at Las Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island. The sand is comprised of decomposed coral, a soft white sand beach where sea turtles nest.

Days 5-10: We will spend these days cruising and exploring the various islands. At each stop, our local naturalist guide will show us the wildlife, explain the history and geology of the area, and lead us to the better snorkeling and hiking areas. Most of the islands have both Spanish and English names.

We will visit the islands of Santa Cruz (The Indefatigable), Sombrero Chino (Chinese Hat) Genovesa (Tower), Santiago, Isabela, and Fernandina.

On Northern Santa Cruz Island, we will visit Dragon Hill (Cerro Dragon) and see land iguanas that were repatriated from the Darwin Research Station’s breeding program for conservation of the species. On our last day, we will return to Santa Cruz Island and visit the Charles Darwin Research Station.

Sombrero Chino: The smallest and most recently formed island, the tiny island gets its name from its appearance, which is that of a Chinese hat. A 400-meter trail starts on a small, white-sand beach hidden in a sheltered cove. Sea lions and American oystercatchers frequent the beach. We may catch glimpses of lava lizards, marine iguanas, and Sally Lightfoot crabs battling the changing tides.

On Genovesa Island, we will visit Darwin’s Bay. Don’t let the name fool you, however. Darwin never visited this island!

Composed entirely out of a shield volcano, the horseshoe-shaped island is home to Darwin Bay, which was formed out of a collapsed volcanic structure. We will have a wet landing and take an easy/moderate hike of less than a mile. We can also snorkel and kayak. We will possibly see sea lions, seals, or even a hammerhead shark here, in their natural habitats.

Also known as Bird Island, Genovesa is home to an incredible amount and variety of bird colonies, including blue-footed boobies, storm petrels, Swallow-tailed Gulls, and Galápagos mockingbirds. In the afternoon, we will go to El Barranco (Prince Philip’s Steps). El Barranco’s steep, rocky path leads up to a high cliff-face. It is a moderate hike, less than one mile. There is a marvelous view to appreciate. This site is also home to red-footed boobies, short-eared lava owls, Galápagos swallows, and Galápagos doves. We will traverse a path that passes through the seabird colonies.

Santiago Island, the fourth largest of the islands, was used as a pirate replenishing stop during the 17th and 18th centuries. Intriguing eroded rock formations are found inland. Along the shoreline merge two different types of lavas into surreal scenery. Espumilla Beach on the north end of the bay is a sea turtle nesting site. The trail inland passes a small seasonal lagoon where flamingoes and white-cheeked pintail ducks may be seen.

On the northwestern side of Santiago Island is Egas Port. Trails lead to the fur seal grottos, and we may have close views of both fur seals and sea lions in a series of rocky pools. This may be the only opportunity to see the Galápagos fur seal, once thought to be on the verge of extinction.

Isabela Island: We will spend three leisurely days cruising Isabela and Fernandina Islands. We will visit Tagus Cove and Elizabeth Bay, where we will take a two-hour dinghy ride. With an abundance of marine life and clear water, the area is perfect for snorkeling and viewing schools of colorful fish, sea lions, and perhaps sharks.

Moreno Point is located near Elizabeth Bay on the west coast of Isabela Island. This is a birdwatcher’s delight. A multitude of birds can be seen during a dinghy ride along the striking rocky shores. A moderate hike along lava rock leads to tide pools and mangroves. In the tide pools, you can spot green sea turtles or white-tip sharks. 

The Tintoreras Islets is home to a variety of wildlife. The turquoise, crystalline waters are inhabited by white-tipped reef sharks, Galápagos penguins, marine turtles, and sea lions. One of its beaches, surrounded by mangroves, is one of the few sites where marine iguanas can reproduce successfully.

The Wall of Tears: From 1945-1959, there was a penal colony on Isabella Island. Prisoners were forced to build this wall, stone by stone, in isolation. This now historical site (El Muro de las Lágrimas), towering at 65 feet (25 meters) high, took the lives of thousands during its construction.

We will hike the Sierra Negra Volcano. It boasts the largest basaltic caldera in Galápagos at 9 x 10 kilometers. There are impressive views, as well as up to seven species of finches. The north side of the caldera provides evidence of its most recent volcanic activity in 2005.

Day 11: On our last day on the yacht, we will head back to Santa Cruz Island where we will visit The Charles Darwin Research Station. It is home to tortoises that range from three inches (new hatchlings) to four feet long. Sub-species of tortoises interact with one another and many of the older tortoises are accustomed to humans, stretching out their heads for a photo opportunity. The babies are kept until they are about four years old and strong enough to survive on their own. The Research Station conducts scientific research and environmental education for conservation. Their main objectives are to promote, facilitate, design, and implement the scientific investigation necessary for the understanding of biological principles, better understanding of ecosystems, and adequate management of the islands’ natural resources.

Today we will leave our island paradise and fly to Guayaquil. We will have a city tour, have dinner at a fabulous local restaurant, and get a restful night's sleep.

Day 12: Today is our last day in Ecuador. We will share a meal together, then head for the airport, and bid a fond farewell to this wonderful country. Transportation to the Guayaquil airport is provided.

Please note: This trip starts in Quito and ends in Guayaquil -- different cities. You'll need to make your airline reservations with different start and end cities.



Getting There

You will need to arrive in Quito, Ecuador on or before day one. Our trip ends in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Many airlines fly to both cities and allow "open jaw" excursions into one city and out of another. Contact the leader before making your final arrangements. The flight to and from the Galápagos Islands is included in the trip price. Tickets for this flight will be issued to you at the airport when you leave for the islands. Your passport must be valid for at least seven months from the date of your entry into Ecuador. If you do not currently have a passport, apply for one as soon as possible.

Accommodations and Food

All meals and lodgings are provided. Our yacht will be our home while we are in the Galápagos. It sleeps 16 passengers. Each stateroom has bunk beds and a private bath. There are common areas such as the dining area, sitting area, and lounge area on deck. Although the staterooms are not large, the other areas have ample space and are comfortable.

When we are not on our yacht, we will be in centrally located hotels in Quito and Guayaquil.

Vegetarians can easily be accommodated both on the yacht and the mainland of Ecuador. 

Trip Difficulty

This is a moderate trip and can be undertaken by anyone in good health and physical condition.

If you have health or walking concerns, here is more information that will assist you in evaluating this trip. Even a walk in a progressive, busy city like Quito can be an adventure in itself. The Quito streets are uneven and hilly. You will find sidewalks with unmarked holes and exposed wires and pipes that often will trip residents as well as visitors. Steep stairs may not have handrails. This is not unusual in foreign countries.

For the Galápagos Islands, it is common to find the trails uneven, hilly, and rocky. Some are on loose lava. Even visits to the Charles Darwin Research Station will require walking on dirt trails and boardwalk. You will need to maneuver sufficiently to board boats, ranging from smaller shuttle boats and dinghies to water taxis to larger boats.

You must be reasonably steady and sure-footed enough to negotiate the various transitions and walks this trip uses to experience this unique environment. Walks can range from a few miles to five to six miles on uneven terrain and rocky surfaces.

It will not be cold except in Quito. Quito is one of those places (because it is at high elevation, but near the equator) where if you walk in the sun it is warm, but in the shade it is cool. At night, it can be cool and you will need a sweater or jacket. The average land temperature on the islands will be about 70-80 degrees. Quito, at 9,400 feet of elevation, will have cooler temperatures, and light showers are normal. The sea water temperature remains a fairly constant 70 degrees.

Equipment and Clothing

As this is a moderate trip, with full accommodations provided by the yacht, there are not any special equipment requirements. We do have many opportunities for snorkeling. The snorkeling gear can be rented from the yacht. To assure the best fit, you are encouraged to bring your own, if possible. Some type of lightwet suit will help with comfort and warmth while snorkeling. The water is typically in the 70-degree range. Your general casual clothing for warm-weather hiking and boating will work fine. You will receive clothing and packing list suggestions from the leader before the trip departs.

The leader will carry a first-aid kit for emergency use. You should provide your own personal first-aid kit for minor needs, including things such as bandages, moleskin, insect repellent, sunscreen, etc. You should consult your physician for recommended current immunizations.


  • Brower, K., Galapagos: The Flow of Wildness. Sierra Club/Ballantine Books.
  • Darwin, Charles, The Voyage of the Beagle. Doubleday Books.
  • Darwin, Charles, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.
  • Jackson, Michael H. Galapagos: A Natural History Guide. This is the best general guide to the history, geology, and plant and animal life of the islands.
  • Moore, Yui DeRoy, Galapagos Islands Lost in Time. Penguin Books.


Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward environmentally understanding parallel concerns at home and abroad.

The Galápagos Islands is one of the last oceanic archipelagos in the world that has retained nearly all the biodiversity that was present thousands of years ago. The Ecuadorian government has designated 97% of the land area as Galápagos National Park, the country’s first national park. In 1979, the Galápagos National Park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The park’s management and staff are responsible for performing permanent conservation efforts and guarding the islands according to UNESCO’s standards and regulations.

Conservation problems exist even though the Galápagos National Park is protected and monitored by the Ecuadorian government. Fishermen vie for reduced marine harvests and seek short-term profits in the taking of endangered species or overfishing. Currently, a very serious problem is the fishing of sharks for the ever-popular shark-fin soup in Asia.

The Galápagos has an unfortunate legacy of introduced animals and plants that are detrimental to the native creatures. Goats compete with native tortoises and iguanas, making food less available and destroying native vegetation. Predators, such as dogs and cats, have seriously depleted native populations by killing native animals and raiding the nests of the birds, iguanas, and tortoises. Introduced plants have spread, particularly in the moist highlands, and compete with native vegetation. People have hunted large numbers of animals in the past and have cleared great areas of native vegetation for agriculture and ranching purposes. We will visit the Darwin Research Center and observe how the conservation personnel have been actively trying to boost the threatened populations of endangered species.



Wayne began his adventures with the Sierra Club more than three decades ago, when he went snow camping in the Sierra Nevada with the Bay Area chapter. Wayne has enthusiastically led more than 50 trips, trekking the spectacular Kilimanjaro, visiting Bhutan, leading safaris in Africa, and sailing the spectacular Galapagos Islands. He also served as chair of the Sierra Club's International Outings Subcommittee. Wayne is a retired San Francisco fire fighter.

Associate Leader:

Nan Korutz

Associate Leader:

Pati Rouzer

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