Cruising around the Galapagos Islands — viewing extraordinary wildlife and natural sights by day while motoring between islands at night — is one of the best ways to experience these magical islands. On this tour, you'll visit 11 islands in the famed archipelago, observing birdlife, sea lions, marine iguanas, sharks, giant tortoises and an array of other creatures.

Highlights

  • Observe giant Galapagos turtles in their natural habitat
  • Hike up Sierra Negra Volcano, the world’s second-widest crater rim
  • Explore the unusual Rábida Island with its red, rocky landscape
  • View a natural blowhole on Española Island to see water spurt 50 ft. in the air
  • Go snorkeling at Devil's Crown, a submerged archipelago off Floreana Island
  • Visit the Charles Darwin Research Center to learn about conservation
  • Drop a postcard in the barrel at Post Office Bay and hope another visitor mails it 

Overview

This 11-day cruise is a perfect excursion for those wanting to maximize their time on the Galapagos Islands. You'll experience around a dozen islands, although some of these are quite small, such as Chinese Hat and Bartolome. Meals are covered as part of the cost of the tour and you'll overnight in a comfortable cabin. 

This itinerary includes a hike up Sierra Negra Volcano,  a tour of the Charles Darwin Research Center and spottings of the famed giant tortoises. It also includes some lesser-known sights and activities, such as the unusual Rábida Island, which has a Mars-like rocky surface. Snorkeling is one of the main activities you can do during on-shore stops, as well as hiking and wildlife photography.   

Brief Itinerary

Day  Highlights
Day 1 Arrive in San Cristobal Island, visit the interpretation center
Day 2 Española Island, wildlife spotting, natural blowhole, Gardner Bay 
Day 3 Floreana Island, Devil's Crown and Post Office Bay 
Day 4 Santa Cruz Island, Charles Darwin Research Center, giant tortoises
Day 5 Isabela Island, hike up Sierra Negra Volcano, Puerto Villamil
Day 6 Isabela Island, explore mangroves and a penguin colony
Day 7 Isabela Island, visit Urbina Bay and Tagus Cove
Day 8 Ferdinanda Island, Espinoza Point, marine iguanas, sea lions
Day 9 Santiago and Rábida islands
Day 10 Chinese Hat and Bartolome Island, hiking and snorkeling
Day 11 Departure from North Seymour Island

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San Cristobal Island, visit the interpretation center

Sea lions laze on the beach on San Cristobal Island.

The journey begins with a flight from Quito to San Cristobal Island, the easternmost island in the chain. The first stop you'll make is the interpretation center and Tijeratas Hill. The interpretation center explains the history and significance of the islands, with exhibits on biology and ecology. There are a number of marked trails that wind around the hills. You’ll get excellent views up the coast and other islands offshore including Kicker Rock (also known as León Dormido), the towering remains of a volcanic cone.

Day 2: Española Island, wildlife spotting, natural blowhole, Gardner Bay 

 Waved albatross in full wing spread flying above Española island in Suarez Point.
 

Next, you’ll travel by boat to Suarez Point on Española Island (Hood), a classic shield volcano that is one of the oldest islands in the chain at 4 million years. At Suarez Point, a trail winds for 2 km through colonies of blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas and other animals. Albatross can be seen here from late March to early December. You’ll visit a natural blowhole in the rocks shoots water more than 50 ft. in the air when the waves come crashing in. Then, at Gardner Bay, swim and observe sea lions and sharks.

Day 3: Floreana Island, Devil's Crown and Post Office Bay 

Multi-colored marine iguana located on Floreana Island.  

Next stop is Floreana Island. Here you’ll visit Cormorant Point, the best flamingo lagoon in the Galapagos. Then you'll continue to the Devil’s Crown, an almost completely submerged volcano and excellent site for snorkeling. You’ll also visit Post Office Bay, made famous for the wooden barrels once used by whalers in the 18th century to send mail home. Still today, passing visitors are encouraged to take the postcards with them to post in their home countries.

The final stop on Floreana is Baroness Lookout, where you'll get an impressive panoramic view of Floreana. The lookout is named after Baroness Eloise von Wagner, who left her life in Paris to live on the island with her two lovers in the 1930s. The Baroness was known for carrying a revolver and whip and called herself the Pirate Queen of the Galapagos. In 1934 she and one of her lovers mysteriously vanished from the island.

Day 4: Santa Cruz Island, Charles Darwin Research Station, giant tortoises

Spot giant tortoises on Santa Cruz Island. 

On Santa Cruz Island, the second-largest island after Isabela, you’ll visit the Charles Darwin Research Station located on the shore of Academy Bay in the village of Puerto Ayora. Opened in 1959, the station is a base for scientists to conduct their work on the islands and you'll have an opportunity to learn about their conservation efforts.  

You'll also spend time at a tortoise breeding center and learn how these animals are prepared for life in the wild. There is excellent bird watching opportunities on the island and there will be good opportunities to spot the unique Vermillion flycatcher, known for its bright orange color. Lava tubes, sinkholes and craters can also be explored during our visit to the island — one lava tube is over 2000 m long! 

Day 5: Isabela Island, hike up Sierra Negra Volcano, Puerto Villamil

Sierra Negra Volcano, the world's second-widest crater rim.

You’ll sail next to Isabela Island. Named after Queen Isabela of Spain, this is the largest in the chain, four times larger than Santa Cruz Island. However, it is one of the younger islands, at just 1 million years old. The island is home to more wild tortoises than any other island, and due to the topography of the island, several sub-species developed.  

You’ll start the day with a brisk hike up Sierra Negra Volcano, the world’s second-widest crater rim. This will be followed by a visit a tortoise breeding center.  You’ll then visit the town of Puerto Villamil, followed by Tintoreras, small islands where you’ll spot wildlife including sea lions and reef sharks.

Day 6: Isabela Island, explore mangroves and a penguin colony

Some members of a Galapagos penguin colony.

You’ll observe birds at the mangroves of Moreno Point on Isabela. A first take the point looks like a lifeless lava flow, but upon closer inspection, you'll find a number of lagoons that provide a home for birdlife, including flamingoes. Then you'll take a panga at Elizabeth Bay to a penguin colony at Marielas Islets. There are good opportunities for snorkeling here. The panga ride continues to a mangrove where it’s possible to spot sea turtles, rays and pelicans.

Day 7: Isabela Island, visit Urbina Bay and Tagus Cove

Flightless cormorants in the Galapagos. 

Today you'll go ashore on the western side of Isabela. You'll make a wet landing at Urbina Bay, where you’ll spot turtles, rays, marine iguanas, and penguins. Flightless cormorants, birds that can swim but cannot fly, are also found here. You'll do some walking to Alcedo and Darwin volcanoes for more wildlife spotting. You’ll continue by panga to Tagus Cove to spot more birds and then walk along the cliffs to get views of Darwin Lake.

Day 8: Ferdinanda Island, Espinoza Point, marine iguanas, sea lions

Vicente Roca Point is an excellent place for diving.

Ferdinanda Island (also known as Narborough Island), the third largest island in the archipelago, is your next destination. This island is an active shield volcano that has been erupting since 2009. In 1968, part of the caldera collapsed, dropping 350 m to the floor of the volcano. 

You’ll spot wildlife all around the island for a day, including Espinoza Point, which is known for its large number of marine iguanas and flightless cormorants. Next, you’ll visit the cliffs along Vicente Roca Point, an excellent place for diving. The cliffs contains an underwater passage that opens up to hidden cove inhabited by sea lions.

Day 9: Santiago and Rábida islands

The shoreline of Rábida Island, known for its red rocks. 

You’ll continue to Puerto Egas on Santiago Island for a day. This Island is known for its black-sand beaches and grottoes which are home to seals and herons. Just off the coast of Santiago is tiny Rábida Island, which you will visit to experience the red, rocky landscape. The red color of the rocks is due to oxidation that occurred when the island was formed. The beaches here attract plenty of birdlife, including flamingoes.

Day 10: Chinese Hat and Bartolome Island, hiking and snorkeling  

Beach scene on Chinese Hat Island. 

The day starts with a visit to Chinese Hat, an islet off the coast of Santiago, which gets its names from its shape, similar to a Chinese fisherman’s hat. Colonies of marine iguanas and penguins can be spotted here.

You’ll then travel to Bartolome Island, where you can climb to the 114 m high summit for great views. Snorkeling is possible here, amid multicolored fish and penguins, at the spectacular Pinnacle Rock. At another beach on Bartolome Island (where swimming is forbidden) you'll have a chance to see white-tipped reef sharks.

Day 11: Departure from North Seymour Island

Blue-footed boobies are a common site on North Seymor Island. 

North Seymour Island is the final stop on this tour. The island is home to nesting frigate birds and blue-footed boobies. Sea lions can also be seen playing the surf. North Seymour is located just north of Baltra, which has a small airport where you will take your flight back to the mainland.  

Map

Map of Galapagos Cruise: Wildlife Watching, Snorkeling & Hiking - 11 Days
Map of Galapagos Cruise: Wildlife Watching, Snorkeling & Hiking - 11 Days