Trip Number: 12760A
Staff: Pritpal Singh Kochhar
- Explore one of the world’s premier wildlife destinations
- Marvel at the diverse splendor of life in the Galapagos
- Relax aboard a first-class yacht
- All meals, lodging, and gratuities
- On-trip transportation, including airport pick-up and drop-off
- Local naturalist
Please note that the trip dates have changed
from what was originally published. If you have questions, please contact
Photo: Ellen Stein
"The natural history of these islands is eminently curious, and well deserves
attention...Considering the small size of these islands, we feel the more astonished
at the number of their aboriginal beings, and at their confined range...Hence,
both in space and time, we seem to be brought somewhat near to that great fact
-- that mystery of mysteries -- the first appearance of new beings on this earth."
-- Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (1845)
"Eminently curious" aptly describes the natural history of the Galapagos,
from its serene landscapes to its comical bird life. For more than 400 years,
this volcanic archipelago has both puzzled and stunned its visitors. Here, animals
live without fear of human beings, and it's not uncommon to see birds fly right
up to people and perch on their heads, arms, or coffee mugs. As a result, we'll
have to be careful not to step on the lizards, iguanas, and other creatures
-- they won't get out of the way for you. The ease of approach to the birds
and other animals of the Galapagos is due to their isolation from natural predators,
a condition created by the very processes of evolution that first stirred Darwin
to speculation in 1835.
In fact, a full 50 percent of the species on the "Enchanted Islands"
-- one of the world's foremost wildlife preserves -- are not found anywhere
else in the world. Such creatures include the three-foot-long vegetarian marine
iguana, which is the only known sea-feeding lizard on earth, and the Galapagos
tortoise, which can grow to six feet in length, weigh 600 pounds, and live for
150 years. The archipelago also boasts Sally Lightfoot crabs, sea lions, Galapagos
penguins, lava lizards, and a prolific bird population. The magnificent frigate
bird with an eight-foot wingspan, the blue footed booby, swallow-tailed gulls,
short-eared owls, Hood Island mockingbirds, oystercatchers, Galapagos hawks,
storm petrels, flightless cormorants, lava herons, three species of Darwin's
finches -- in short, more animals than could possibly be listed here -- are
found only in the Galapagos.
Darwin, of course, was the archipelago's most famous visitor. Leaving England
in 1831 as shipboard naturalist on the HMS Beagle, the 26-year-old Darwin visited
only four islands -- San Cristóbal, Floreana, Isabella, and Santiago
-- but managed to gather an extensive collection of plants and animals and observations
of their natural history. This voyage gave him sufficient material to support
more than a quarter-century of research. Indeed, his chapter on the Galapagos
in The Voyage of the Beagle remains a classic, and is well worth reading. Twenty-four
years later, he published the classic The Origin of Species, which shook the
foundations of biological thought and led to profound changes in man's philosophy
Photo: Ellen Stein
Darwin wasn't the only one to find inspiration in the Galapagos, either. During
the whaling era, Herman Melville made landfall here, and he perpetuated the
sailor's nickname: "the Enchanted Islands," or Los Encantadas. The
swirling fogs that surround the islands at certain times of year gave rise to
the legend that these were floating islands, their location changing as a shape-shifter
changes his guise -- hence their enchantment. In his short account of the Galapagos,
found as "The Encantadas" in The Piazza Tales, Melville delivers a
metaphor-rich, almost hallucinatory account of the archipelago's history, filled
with misstatements, speculation, and poetry.
Our home while in the Galapagos will be a comfortable live-aboard motor yacht.
With our naturalist guide, we will have time to explore the different islands,
as well as visit the Charles Darwin Research Station on the island of Santa
Cruz. During our stopovers, we island-hoppers will have opportunities to do
mild to moderate hikes to surreal lava flows and vista points, explore tidal
pools, or snorkel in protected coves with sea lions, penguins, flightless cormorants,
and tropical fish. The average land temperature will be about 70-80 degrees.
The Galapagos are part of Ecuador. Ecuador (as the name implies) lies draped
across the equator in the northwestern corner of South America. It shares a
border with Peru to the south and east, and is bounded by Colombia to the north
and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Quito, the national capital, sits centered
at the northern end of the country in an Andean valley only 14 miles south of
the equator. Guayaquil, Ecuador's other main city (and its only major port),
basks on the southern coast just north of the Peruvian border.
Day 1: Arrive in Quito. You will be met upon arrival and transferred
to our hotel in Quito.
Photo: Ellen Stein
Day 2: The trip starts with breakfast, where we will all meet
each other for the first time. We will visit the historic sights in Quito as
we acclimatize to the 9,000-foot elevation of this beautiful colonial city nestled
amidst colossal Andean peaks. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in
1978. We will visit the Historic Centre with its beautiful plazas, palaces,
and monuments. Overnight in Quito hotel.
Day 3: We will start the day early after breakfast and head
northwest into the mountains, to Bellavista Cloud Forest, passing through some
beautiful changing scenery. On route we will stop at a village and visitor complex
called the Mitad del Mundo, the Equatorial Line! Here we will learn about the
early, pre-Colombian inhabitants of the area, and discover some of the special
things about being on the Equator -- today and in the past. Travelling on, we
reach Bellavista cloud forest lodge and reserve, taking our lunch in the circular
"Dome" restaurant perched almost above the clouds with a fabulous
panoramic view. The cloud forest is home to several types of hummingbirds, toucans,
and weird (but non-dangerous!) insects, with huge trees cloaked in mosses and
orchids. In the afternoon we will do some hiking, birdwatching, or just relaxing.
At dinner with our guide/naturalist we will have an interesting discussion on
conservation issues particular to the forest. Overnight in Bellavista.
Day 4: We will wake up early for a walk in the immediate area
around the lodge, with the main goal of seeing the wide variety of birds that
come to feed around the lodge in the early morning. This will be followed by
breakfast. After one last view of the amazing scenery, we will pack our lunches
and proceed to visit other places of interest in the northern part of the country,
such as Cotacachi, dedicated to selling fine leather products, and Otavalo,
a famous market for handicrafts. We will return to Quito for dinner and a restful
night at the hotel. Overnight in Quito hotel.
Day 5: On to the Galapagos islands! After our flight from
Quito to Isla Baltra, we will board our comfortable motor yacht for the duration
of our tour on these fascinating islands.
Days 6-11: We will visit the major islands of Bartholome,
Fernandina, Isabella, Santa Cruz, and North Seymour. 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 during our stops in the islands.
We will feast on gourmet meals prepared by our dedicated staff onboard our yacht.
Day 12: We will leave our island paradise by plane and head
back to Quito. There will be some time for shopping or relaxing before our farewell
Day 13: Transportation to the Quito airport is provided. We'll
bid goodbye to this lovely country for now.
We will be flying into and out of Quito. The flight to and from the Galapagos
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 should be valid for at least six months from the starting date
of this trip. If you don't have a passport, apply for one as soon as possible.
This can be done through your local post office.
Accommodations and Food
Hotel Rio Amazonas is our luxury hotel on land 15 minutes from the airport.
While traveling throughout the Galapagos Islands, we will have a small but adequate
bunk-bed stateroom with a private bathroom. Our motor yacht has a capacity of
16 passengers. If traveling alone, rooms will be shared by gender unless otherwise
requested. Vegetarians can be accommodated.
This is a moderate trip and can be undertaken by anyone in good health and
physical condition. Hikes will be limited to a few miles. Overall elevation
gains and losses will be minimal, though some trails are steep in spots. Trails
can be somewhat rocky at times, requiring sturdy shoes. Viewing some species
will require hikes to view them.
Equipment and Clothing
Photo: Ellen Stein
You will need clothing suitable for casual, warm-weather hiking and boating.
A suggested clothing list will be sent to participants upon signing up for this
trip. Mask and snorkel, fins and wetsuits will be needed during this time of
the year.Wetsuits and snorkel gear are available for rent if needed, but it
is recommended that you bring your own mask, snorkel, and fins.
The leader will carry a first-aid kit for emergency use. You should provide
your own personal first-aid kit for minor needs such as Band-Aids, moleskin,
insect repellent, sun screen, etc. You should consult your physician for recommended
Occasionally, weather, equipment, or other conditions may cause us to make
changes to the trip. Please be aware that we will make every attempt to hold
to our itinerary, but if changes are necessary, please be flexible and respect
the decisions of the leader. The safety of the group is our #1 concern. Furthermore,
while wildlife on the Galapagos Islands is abundant, we cannot guarantee that
you will see all of the species listed here.
- Brower, K., Galapagos: The Flow of Wildness, Sierra Club/Ballantine
- Darwin, Charles, The Voyage of the Beagle, Doubleday Books.
- Darwin, Charles, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.
- Harris, M., Field Guide to the Birds of Galapagos, Taplinger Books.
- 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.
- Melville, Herman, The Piazza Tales.
- Miller, Jonathan and Borin Van Loon, Darwin for Beginners.
- Miller, Tom, The Panama Hat Trail. This is a fun and insightful
account of Ecuadorian life disguised as a novel about a man in search of Panama
- Moore, Tui DeRoy, Galapagos Islands Lost in Time, Penguin Books.
- Rachowiecki, Rob, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands: A Travel Survival
Kit, Lonely Planet Books.
- Schichor, Michael, Michael's Guide to Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela,
Inbal Travel, Ltd.
- Whymper, Edward, Travels Amongst the Great Andes of the Equator.
This exceptional book is story of the 1880 mountaineering expedition that
made eight first ascents of Ecuador's highest peaks.
The 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 Galapagos Islands have
been designated a national park by the Ecuadorian government and are closely
monitored. However, the islands still face serious conservation problems. Soon
after the islands were discovered, sailors killed tens of thousands of tortoises
for fresh meat for their voyages. This brought the turtle population to the
edge of extinction. Fur seals were exploited and nearly driven to extinction
by North American and European hunters during the 1800s. Today, fishermen vie
for reduced marine harvests and many seek short-term profits in the taking of
endangered species. Immigrants driven by population pressures come from the
mainland of Ecuador seeking a living in the tourism industry or in illegal fishing.
By the time the islands gained national park protection in 1959, the Galapagos
already had an unfortunate legacy of introduced animals and plants that were
detrimental to the native flora and fauna. Dogs, cats, pigs, goats, rats, guava
plants, and the chinchona (quinine) tree are among the non-native species introduced
by previous visitors, fishermen, and colonists. Herbivores such as 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 raiding the nests of birds, iguanas, and tortoises. Introduced
plants have spread, particularly in the moist highlands, and compete with native
vegetation.Several introduced species constitute a serious threat to native
vegetation. Of great current concern is the situation on Isabela Island, particularly
in the region around Alcedo Volcano. Here, an exploding population of feral
goats now numbers approximately 40,000. Their voracious appetite for plant life
in the region is threatening the very survival of the Alcedo subspecies of the
Galapagos tortoise, and causing deforestation and erosion.
In addition to introducing animals and plants, people have hunted large numbers
of animals in the past and have cleared great areas of native vegetation for
agriculture and ranching. Tortoises, iguanas, fur seals, doves, and other birds
have all been killed at one time or another for food or pleasure. Colonists
in the agricultural zones of the main islands are known to kill owls in considerable
numbers even now. Since 1965, conservation personnel have been working to increase
the populations of endangered species. Tortoise nests are protected, and eggs
and young are brought to Santa Cruz to be raised in captivity until they are
less susceptible to predation.
The Charles Darwin Research Station conducts and facilitates research in the
Galapagos Islands and the Galapagos Marine Resources Reserve of Ecuador. The
Darwin Station is part of the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands,
an international non-profit organization dedicated to scientific research in
the Galapagos Islands since 1959.
On this trip we will have many opportunities to discuss the challenges and
opportunities for conservation of the Galapagos Islands.
This trip requires a $200 per-person deposit. An additional payment of $300 per person is due six months prior to trip departure. International trip prices are subject to change and are based on double-occupancy or group accommodations as described above. Single rooms may not be available or may cost more than the listed price. If you have any questions regarding double occupancy, please contact the trip leader.
See the How to Apply for an Outing
section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the
trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing
up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing
approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical
Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on
the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to
the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and
notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
The Sierra Club accurately and fairly budgets and prices our trips. However, unforeseen costs such as devaluation of the dollar compared to other currencies and fuel surcharges assessed by our international providers may necessitate adjustment in trip price. We will make every effort to mitigate and absorb these fees. If a price increase is necessary, however, you will have 14 days after announcement to cancel without penalty.
Pritpal Singh Kochhar ('Pepi') was born in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas where he developed his love of the mountains. In 1976 he moved to New York City where his exposure to people of different cultural backgrounds sparked his love of travel. His wanderlust has developed his enjoyment for contemporary foods, tastes and smells. He is passionate about sharing his knowledge of foreign customs with trip participants. Besides leading Sierra Club trips he enjoys sailing, scuba diving and reading about current affairs. His love of all things Latin will stimulate many a conversation and enhance your enjoyment of the Enchanted Isles.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips