Trip Number: 14510A
Staff: Margie Tomenko
- Explore one of the world’s premier wildlife destinations
- Naturalist-led hikes and discussions in the Galapagos
- Relax aboard a first-class yacht
- Visit Colonial Quito, a World Heritage site
- All meals, lodging, entry fees, and gratuities
- On-trip transportation, including airport transfers and in-country flights
- Galapagos Certified Naturalist Guide while in the Galapagos
"The natural history of these islands is eminently curious," wrote
Charles Darwin of the Galápagos.
It is an apt description; from its unique landscapes to its comical birdlife,
this volcanic archipelago has both puzzled and stunned its visitors for more
than 400 years. Here, animals live without fear of human beings and are very
approachable, due to their isolation from natural predators, a condition created
by the very processes of evolution that first stirred Darwin to speculation
in 1835. The Galapagos Islands are among the world’s foremost wildlife
preserves, providing us with unique and amazing experiences.
Photo: Margie Tomenko
In fact, a full 50 percent of the species here 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 Galápagos
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, lava
lizards, and a prolific bird population that includes the magnificent frigate
bird, Galápagos penguins, and the blue-footed booby, just to name a few.
Darwin, of course, was the archipelago's most famous visitor; his chapter on
the Galápagos in The Voyage of the Beagle remains a classic, and is well
worth reading. He made extensive collections of plants and animals, and observations
of their natural history. This gave him sufficient material to support more
than a quarter-century of research. 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 of nature. These are the very
islands that inspired Charles Darwin in 1835. We will visit the Darwin Research
The Galapagos is a world-class destination! Darwin wasn't the only one to find
inspiration in the Galapagos. During the whaling era, Herman Melville made landfall
here, and he perpetuated the sailor's nickname: "the Enchanted Islands."
The swirling fogs that surround the islands at certain times of year gave rise
to the legend that these were floating islands.
Observe the dynamic landscape of this volcanic archipelago with its fascinating
geologic features. Watch blue-footed boobies in a mating dance ritual. Witness
frigate birds soaring just inches away. With our certified Galapagos Naturalist
Guide, we can walk right through bird rookeries, observe the parting ritual
of the albatross as it prepares to leave for its life at sea, watch the vegetarian
marine iguana (the only known sea-feeding lizard on earth), photograph the Galapagos
tortoise, and snorkel among the sea lions and penguins.
During our visit, we island-hoppers will have opportunities to do mild to moderate
hikes to surreal lava flows and vista points, watch giant tortoises, explore
tidal pools, snorkel, go birding, or hang out at the beach. On the mainland,
we will visit the Guayaquil coastal area, explore colonial Quito in the highlands,
stand exactly on the equator, and enjoy a unique cultural show.
Our home in the Galápagos will be a comfortable live-aboard motor yacht.
With our naturalist guide, we will explore the different islands, as well as
visit the Charles Darwin Research Station on the island of Santa Cruz. During
our stopovers, we will take 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.
We also visit Quito, a World Heritage site, as well as Guayaquil. These are
two of Ecuador’s largest and most fascinating cities.
Day 1: Arrive in Guayaquil, a modern city and the major sea
port of Ecuador. You will be met upon arrival and transferred to the hotel.
As most flights arrive late in the day we will not meet as a group this evening,
but the leader will be at the hotel to greet you.
Day 2: After breakfast and a short orientation meeting we
will have a city tour and museum, and some time to walk on the “Malecon”
-- the famous river walk in Guayaquil. We will return to our hotel to relax
and enjoy a welcome dinner.
Photo: Margie Tomenko
Day 3: On to the Galapagos Islands! 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 Guayaquil Airport before we leave for the islands.
After our flight from Guayaquil to Isla Baltra, we will meet our Certified Galapagos
Naturalist Guide at the airport. We will collect our luggage and continue on
to our floating home-sweet-home! We will board our comfortable motor yacht for
the duration of our tour on these fascinating islands. 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.
Days 4-9: 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.
We will visit the islands of: Santa Cruz (Indefatigable), Floreana (Santa Maria),
Espanola (Hood), San Cristobal (Chatham), Santa Fe Island (Barrington), Plaza
Sur Island, North Seymore and Bartholomew. (Note that that most islands have
two names: English and Spanish. It depends on which source you consult.)
At Santa Cruz, we can observe giant tortoises in the wild, as well as Darwin’s
finches, yellow warblers, Galapagos rails and paint-billed crakes. We can visit
Los Gemelos, Spanish for The Twins. This is two volcanic depressions (a pair
of craters approximately 90 feet deep) on the highest part of Santa Cruz --
a good place to see the Galapagos hawk and barn owl. The surrounding forest
is full of birds, such as the vermilion flycatcher or the yellow warbler. This
island is also where the Charles Darwin Research Station is located. The iconic
tortoise "Lonesome George" passed away on June 24, 2012 at about 100
years old (they can live to 200 years). We will visit this station and learn
of the research and preservation efforts in the Galapagos Islands.
On Floreana Island is a hill with a historic pirate cave. Near there, The National
Park Service built a corral where you can see an abundance of Galapagos tortoises
(from various islands). On the West side of Floreana, many sea sponges, sea
iguanas and sea lions can be seen. There is a small lake where flamingos and
ducks nest. We will find nice snorkeling opportunities here, too. Post Office
Bay is located at the Northern end of Floreana Island. It got this name because
in 1793, Captain James Colnett installed an empty rum barrel so that it could
serve as a post office for the whale-catching boats that frequented the Galapagos
Islands. Today, our visitors use it as a tradition. You can send a letter or
post card to yourself and see how long it takes to arrive!
The southernmost island, Española (Hood), is one of the richest wildlife
locations in the Galapagos. Located on the western tip is a rocky point that
sustains one of the most impressive and varied colonies of sea birds in Galapagos.
It is also home to a magnificent blowhole that can shoot water 50 to 60 feet
in the air, providing amazing opportunities for spectacular pictures. A 1.5-mile
hike provides incredible views along the cliffs, through Blue Footed Booby colonies,
and a beach with sea lions and marine iguanas. This island has its own species
of animals, such as the Española Mockingbird, the Española lava
lizard and the Española Marine Iguana. Its rocky shores make this site
a great place for snorkeling, with the possibility to spot the harmless white
tipped reef shards. Gardner Bay is the breeding site of nearly all of the world´s
12,000 pairs of Waved Albatrosses.
On San Cristobal Island is an eroded antique cone, which shows itself as a
majestic and monumental sight, with many forms and contrasts. It is home to
sea lions, blue-footed boobies, masked (nascar) boobies and magnificent frigate
birds. We will visit the Interpretation Center, opened in 1998 as a phase of
the project "Interpretation and Environment Education Project." You
will enjoy expositions on natural history, human history, and conservation.
The conservation efforts represent the movement to protect the wildlife and
natural environment through means of population and tourist control. This will
emphasize the importance of the Galapagos ecosystem fragility and its protection.
Photo: Margie Tomenko
South of the archipelago and between Santa Cruz and San Cristobal, with a beautiful
bay protected by natural formations against the wave strength by a rocky front
is Santa Fe Island. It has two small beaches abundant with sea lions. Snorkeling
is good, since white fin sharks, gold and leopard mantas, sea turtles and different
types and sizes of fishes are found here. From the highest part of the island,
one can observe the most beautiful views of the bay. You will see a good amount
of cactus, the feeding source of the Santa Fe Island exclusive land iguanas.
Lava lizards, terrestrial pigeons, chaffinches, fly-trappers and hawks are found
Plaza Sur Island is located east of Santa Cruz Island. The succulent plant,
common in Plaza Sur, is the second favorite food of land iguanas. Land iguanas
on Plaza Sur are smaller than those at other sites. Throughout the island are
several hybrid iguanas, a result of crossing a male marine iguana and a female
land iguana. These iguanas are unique, recognizable at first glance by their
black or gray color, with a land iguana's crest, but face and tail of the marine
iguana. There are also about 1,000 sea lions that inhabit this island.
North Seymour Island has saint sticks and salty scrublands. Frigates nest over
these plants. Blue-footed boobies profit from these conditions, since there
are big spaces among their bushes so that they can reproduce. The seagulls have
their nest at the seashores. Marine iguanas can be found there, too.
Home of the famous Pinnacle Rock, Bartholomew Island consists of an extinct
volcano with a variety of red, orange, black and even green volcanic formations.
A trail of stairs leads to the summit of the volcano, boasting one of the best
views of the islands. The beach is perfect for snorkeling and possible sightings
of the Galapagos Penguin. It is a very young island, geologically speaking.
Although our exact itinerary is not guaranteed, we expect to cruise to these
Day 10: This morning we travel back to Baltra. We leave our
island paradise by plane this afternoon and fly to Quito, the capital city of
Ecuador. Ecuador is famous for its lovely woolens, handicrafts, and works of
leather, so shoppers can spend quality time exploring the different shops. After
checking into our hotel, there may be time to explore Quito and go shopping
Day 11: We will tour colonial Quito, a World Heritage site.
Then we'll head about 14 miles north of the city to stand exactly on the equator
and visit the Ethnographic Museum inside the Equatorial Monument. Then we’ll
return to Quito for the evening, and enjoy our farewell dinner together in one
of Quito’s fine restaurants.
Day 12: It will be time to say good-bye to this lovely country
for now. Transportation to the Quito airport is provided.
Please note, the trip starts in Guayaquil, and ends in Quito. Make your airline
reservations with different start and end cities.
Occasionally, changes may occur in the trip -- either in advance or during
the trip. Please be aware that we will make every attempt to stay within this
itinerary. However, if weather, equipment, Galapagos National Park Services
or any other condition, circumstance or situation causes a change, please be
flexible and respect the decision of the leader. The safety of the group is
our number one concern. While wildlife on the Galapagos Islands is tremendous,
we cannot guarantee that you will see all species listed as examples.
Photo: Margie Tomenko
You need to arrive in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on or before day one. Our trip ends
in Quito, Ecuador. Many airlines fly to both cities and allow "open-jaw"
excursions into one city and out of the other. Contact the leader before making
your final arrangements. 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 must be valid for at least six
months from the ending date of this trip. If you don't 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 Galapagos. 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
Vegetarians can easily be accommodated both on the yacht and the mainland of
This is a moderate trip and can be undertaken by anyone in good health and
If you have health or walking concerns, here is more information that will
assist you in evaluating this trip. The expression "OSHA hasn’t been
here" applies. As you know, Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA) regulates safety standards in America. There is no OSHA in Ecuador. 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
For the Galapagos 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.
Photo: Margie Tomenko
You must have the ability and agility to handle transporting your own luggage
to and from buses, airports, and boats. Hopefully, this is incentive to pack
light! You will need to maneuver sufficiently to board boats, ranging from smaller
shuttle boats and water taxis to larger boats.
We go from our yacht home to shore in pangas (rubber boats) and land where
there are no docks. We get out of the pangas in a few inches of water and walk
to the beach.
You must be reasonably steady and sure-footed enough to negotiate the various
transitions and walks that this trip relies upon to experience this unique environment.
Walks can range from a few miles to 5-6 miles on uneven terrain and rocky surfaces.
While we will stop often for viewing wildlife, you will need to have a walking
pace that's steady enough to keep up with the group.
The berths on the boat are bunk beds. All cabins are double occupancy and have
a small private bathroom.
The average land temperature will be about 70-80 degrees. Quito, at 9,400 feet
of elevation, will have cooler temperatures, and light showers are normal. The
seawater temperature remains a fairly constant 70 degrees.
The minimum age for this trip is 12.
If you have any questions or concerns, please discuss them with your trip leader.
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 is not provided, but can be rented from
the yacht. To assure the best fit, you are encouraged to bring your own, if
possible. Some type of light wet 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 such as bandages, moleskin,
insect repellent, sunscreen, etc. You should consult your physician for recommended
- Moore, Yui DeRoy, Galapagos Islands Lost in Time. Penguin Books.
- 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.
- Schichor, Michael, Michael's Guide to Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela.
Inbal Travel Ltd.
- Rachowiecki, Rob, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands: A Travel Survival
Kit. Lonely Planet 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
- Melville, Herman. The Piazza Tales. Darwin wasn't the only one to
find inspiration in the Galápagos. During the whaling era, Herman Melville
made landfall here, and he perpetuated the sailor's nickname: Los Encantadas
or "the Enchanted Islands." Melville delivers a metaphor-rich, almost
hallucinatory account of the archipelago's history, filled with misstatements,
speculation, and poetry.
Photo: Margie Tomenko
Conservation problems exist even though the Galapagos National Park is protected
and monitored by the Ecuadorian government. Buccaneers captured tens of thousands
of tortoises for fresh meat on their voyages, bringing the population to the
edge of extinction. Fur seals were exploited and nearly driven to extinction
as well. 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 Galapagos has an unfortunate legacy of introduced animals and plants 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. Tortoise
nests are protected, and eggs and young are brought to Santa Cruz to be raised
in captivity, then released once they are no longer susceptible to predation.
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.
Margie Tomenko has been a Sierra Club member for more than 20 years, and has led trips for more than 15 years. Among the highlights are the Galapagos, Belize, Costa Rica, and various rafting and sailing trips. One of her favorite hobbies is scuba diving, so she truly enjoys viewing wildlife both above and below the water! She has been to the Galapagos five times, and is very excited to share this magical place with you. "It is so incredible to have wildlife practically pose for pictures!" If you have questions, or just want to chat about the Galapagos, please feel free to contact her.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips